Helen Quinn

Twig talks to… Helen Quinn

Theoretical physicist Helen Quinn chaired the National Research Council committee that created A Framework for K–12 Science Education—the foundation of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) program. As such, she was instrumental in building the program that focuses on new ways of teaching and learning science, in which students are supported to think like scientists and engineers in investigating natural phenomena and engineering design problems.

Twig Education CEO Catherine Cahn spoke to Helen about how NGSS will change the way that science is taught in elementary school and why this stage in students’ development is key.

Catherine Cahn: How can we inspire a love of science in students at a young age?

Helen Quinn: To encourage students to learn, to want to learn, means you have to find ways of engaging them in activities which they find interesting and rewarding, but are also learning activities. That’s the kind of situation where kids get turned on—not just to becoming scientists, but to becoming learners and to becoming thinkers. That is what we want to see in elementary school science.

CC: When did you first develop an interest in science yourself?

HQ: I was very fortunate to go to an elementary school that was very progressive. It was actually a new school on 50 acres of bushland with only three classrooms, and so we had a huge outdoor area to explore and study. We didn’t call it science, we called it nature study. We went out and figured out what plants grew where and why. We just spent a lot of time exploring and finding out what was going on, and that was just part of the way that school functioned at that time. And it gave me a grounding in being curious and asking questions that has served me in good stead throughout my career as a scientist.

CC: What is your vision of how the Next Generation Science Standards will transform elementary science education?

HQ: Science should be one of the things that makes school fun and interesting for kids and engages kids in wanting to learn. That is done by the right kind of activity, putting the right kind of material in front of the children that will make them curious and make them want to ask questions—and then the support for them to investigate and find the answer to those questions and to think for themselves. In my experience, that experience gets kids not just more interested in learning science but generally more interested in learning.

CC: How will this shift in elementary science benefit students?

HQ: What young students think about is what do they like to do and what is interesting to them. What would they like to read about? What are they interested to find out more about? If they are only exposed to sports as something that’s interesting and fun to do and read about, then they become interested in sports. If they’re exposed to engineering and the design process, and have fun designing things, then they become more interested in “Where can I get more such opportunities?”—and maybe eventually they’ll start thinking about becoming engineers or scientists.

CC: Can you describe how you think that a successful science experience in elementary builds the foundation for success in secondary school in all subjects?

HQ: I think the issue of middle school children being turned off to science is partly an issue of middle school children who’ve been turned off to learning by their elementary school experiences. Learning is a sequential process—everything we learn we build on our prior knowledge, and the richer and deeper our prior knowledge is the more we are ready to learn the next thing. A good elementary school science program is designed to build a base for the kind of science learning that needs to happen in middle school, and the middle school program builds a base for the kind of science learning that’s to go on in secondary school. At each level, you’re revisiting topics but revisiting them at a greater depth. So if you’ve built the base, you can start at a different place and go further with the topic.

CC: How do we encourage people from all backgrounds to consider STEM careers?

HQ: Put it this way—people don’t choose a career they’ve never heard of. Just knowing that there are people that do science rather than that “science is just a bunch of facts that I have to know”—or knowing there are people who design things rather than just thinking things exist because they exist—is really important in order to even begin to think about careers that are different from those of their parents.

Assessing Learning – Primary Kids

School girls interacting at lesson

It can be tricky to assess young children. You don’t want to put them through written tests, but you do want to understand what they’re learning. To get a good grasp of what stage of their learning they are at, it’s necessary to do some formative, continuous assessment.

There are many things that can be done throughout lessons to give you an idea of how your class is doing. Here are some ideas…

Brainstorming and creating mind maps 

This activity is perfect both to assess prior knowledge and to see how much your students have learned at the end of studying a topic. It can be done in smaller groups or with the whole class, and gives you as a teacher a chance to see how much your students already know about a topic. You can also find out what misconceptions students might have.

Once you’ve finished studying a topic, you can create a new mind map and compare it to the original. This way, both you and your students get an overview of what they have learned! 

Group or one-to-one discussions

Again, this activity can be used both to assess prior knowledge and to check what students have learned at the end. Simply put students in pairs or in small groups and ask them to discuss what they think they know about a topic, while you walk around listening to them.

Repeat this exercise at the end of a topic, and ask your students to explain to each other what they have learned. A good way to ask them to phrase it is “I used to think X, now I think X, and it’s because…” This allows them to reflect on their own learning and how they’ve progressed. 

Peer assessment

If you give tasks, drawings, questionnaires or similar to your students to complete, have them compare answers with a peer once they’re done. Ask them to think about whether their answers are different, and if so why, and what they could do to change this. This allows children to take responsibility for their own learning and to reflect on their progress.

The traffic card system

This system is a perfect way for you as a teacher to get a visual overview of how your students are doing. At the end of a lesson or a series of lessons, ask your students to rate their knowledge of various issues or topics either red, yellow, or green. Red means they still struggle, yellow means they understand a bit, but not completely, and green means they are 100% comfortable with the topic. This means you’ll be able to see which students are struggling and might need more help, and also what topics are proving challenging and need to be revisited!

Games and activities

To add some fun into assessment, why not use games and activities? Tigtag lessons contain review films with activities like “Odd One Out”, “True or False?” and “Spot the Difference.” These are perfect to play for your class, letting them guess the right answers. Tigtag Jr also includes digital games and quizzes that provide engaging ways for children to assess their learning. 

Assessing primary children is really about making sure they understand what they’re learning, and for teachers to be able to encourage them to progress. Regular formative assessment is absolutely key, and if you’re using these ideas it really doesn’t have to be strenuous – it can simply be a natural part of each lesson. 

How Twig Science Supports Your Literacy Block

How do you stop your students’ struggles with proficiency in listening, speaking, reading, and writing from holding them back in science class? Want to find ways for students to take what they learn in science and apply them to English Language Arts? How will your English Learners’ accelerated scientific language acquisition help them in the ELPAC?

Twig Science helps you to develop independent and motivated readers/writers when you pair Twig Science in English or Español with your English or Spanish Language Arts approach.

The table below outlines the Twig Science components, benefits, and opportunities for alignment with your literacy block.

Literacy Approach & GroupingTwig Science 
Built-In NGSS Text Types
Instructional Benefit and Opportunities for Transfer
See, Hear, and Read-Aloud
__ Designated ELD

1000s of Videos

• Based on NGSS standards and phenomena

• Building language skills, background knowledge, and vocabulary

• Closed captioning for text tracking and academic vocabulary

• Infographics as context models
Read-AloudsPrior-Knowledge Read-Alouds

Science and Engineering Trade Books
• Background knowledge / academic content vocabulary

• Expert informational text writing models

• A range of inspiring expert scientific writing models
Shared Reading and WritingTwig Books• Applying English Language Arts skills and strategies to hands-on, digital, and reading investigations

• Stanford SCALE Language Routines

• Tier 3 word walls
Small GroupsColorful Leveled Readers with Mini-Lessons
(On-Level, Above-Level, English Learner, Below-Level)
• Close reading strategies to build science content knowledge.

• First and second reads, text-dependent questions, text features, and multiple writing opportunities. 

• Additional informational text leveled reading with a focus on science content standards
Integrated ELDEmerging, Bridging, and Expanding Levels (language acquisition support built into Teacher Edition lessons)• Additional support for English Language Development

• Impactful scaffolds to accelerate English language proficiency.

• Giving students  confidence in speaking, reading, writing, and listening domains
Designated ELDMonitoring English Language Proficiency (ELPAC tasks built into TE)

EL Leveled Reader Lessons
(with text to speech)
• ELPAC-like tasks to accelerate student language proficiency

• Additional support for English Language Development

• Text supports, additional definitions, context clues, special features, labels, and tools
PhonicsLeveled Reader Lessons
(On-Level  in Teacher Edition—Below-Level, English Learner, and Above-Level online)

Stanford SCALE Language Routines
• Decoding support with phonemic awareness, phonics, word study, and fluency

• Enhanced Tier 2 Vocabulary Routines

• Language of Science Routines
Designated ELD
Twig Science Tools
(videos, visuals, games, activities)
• Backmapping to previous grades, standards, performance expectations, and topics

• Closing foundational gaps in language and background knowledge
Independent ReadingTwig Book

Leveled Readers

Twig Science Reporter (weekly science news and sources)

Trade Books
• Additional informational text leveled reading with a focus on science content standards

• Weekly science news updates, fact packs, features, and articles

• Lessons to extend thinking and learning

To explore these opportunities in more detail, visit www.twigscience.com. If you want to discuss Twig Science with your local consultant, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Introducing Twig and Tigtag Science Dates Calendars

Sometimes it can be tricky to come up with something fun and topical to teach during science class. But don’t worry, we’ve got your back. 

The Twig and Tigtag Science Dates Calendars take both holidays and observance days (official and unofficial) throughout the year and connect them to relevant Twig or Tigtag films. The calendars contain a short description of the holiday or observance day, and link to a film to watch with your class. Perfect for when you don’t know what to teach! 

To get your Twig or Tigtag Calendar, simply click the link below, hit the blue “Download” button to save the .ics file, and import it to your Google or iCal calendar:

Download your Twig Calendar: https://learn.twigeducation.com/twig-science-calendar-download

Download your Tigtag Calendar: https://learn.twigeducation.com/tigtag-science-calendar-download

Unsure how to download and add the calendar to your computer? We’ve put together videos that walks you through the process: 

How to Add Your Science Dates Calendar…

… to iCal 


… to Google Calendar