Spotlight: Navigating Science Texts with Wiley Blevins

April 11th saw the first webinar in the Twig Science Spotlight series. Author and Early Reading Specialist, Wiley Blevins, gave some top tips on the importance of teaching students how to navigate informational text. Here’s a quick introduction to what Wiley discussed:


What was the last thing you read? The chances are it wasn’t a novel. Perhaps it was a road sign, an email, or an instruction. Research suggests that 90% of what we read as adults is informational. That’s why, the balance between literary and informational text shifts as students move through the grades, with 50% of Grade 4 texts being informational compared to 70% in Grade 12.  We are preparing them for the real-world demands they’ll face when they leave school.


An increased emphasis on informational text can also help students to achieve more in school. High-stakes tests contain non-fiction, and some students, known as Info-Kids, prefer reading this type of text.


So, we know informational text is important, but why is it challenging? There are four main reasons:


  1. Text Features – From boldfaced words to headings, graphics, sidebars, and captions – understanding how to navigate text (what to read and in what order),  is something we have to formally teach students so they can access informational text.
  2. Text Structures – Most fiction has a common and predictable structure: a beginning, a middle, and an end. However, when it comes to non-fiction, there are lots of structures authors use. These organizational patterns are identified by the signal words that help to alert us to these structures. These signal words need to be formally taught.
  3. Content  – Understanding content is challenging for many students because it requires abstract thinking, integrating ideas across paragraphs and pages; recognizing complex cause-and-effect relationships; comparing and contrasting information from a range of sources mean that students often hit a wall.
  4. Vocabulary – Before a student leaves elementary school, they need to have learnt at least 75,000 new vocabulary words. These don’t come just from formal teaching. We know that many of these words come from Read-Alouds and from wide reading. Selecting academic words with extensive usage across texts should be the focus of our instruction.


For more information on these challenges and lots of ideas on how to overcome them, watch the full webinar now.

Bett Awards 2018 Finalist

Reach Out Reporter shortlisted for Bett Award 2018

Well, we have just received the email—Reach Out Reporter has been shortlisted as a finalist for a Bett Award 2018!

With two awards (an ERA and a Learning on Screen Award) already firmly under their belt, the team at Imperial College London and Twig Education are so proud to be part of the continuing success of this digital tool for teachers.

Shortlisted in the ‘Free Digital Content or Open Educational Resources’ category, here is what one teacher had to say about the resource:

“Reach Out Reporter is easily my favourite free resource for teachers to come out in recent years. For a number of years I had been trying to come up with a sustainable way to keep children in my school up to date with current news from the scientific world that they would understand and be interested in, but it proved to be such a huge task that I did not have much success. Until now, I don’t believe there has been any collection of this sort that allows teachers to quickly and easily share current science news from a trusted and reliable source that is accessible to the children”.

Kathryn Horan
Teacher & Science Leader, Greenhill Primary School
Early Years Science PGCE Tutor, University of Leeds

With judging taking place early December, and the Bett Awards taking place early next year, we will have our fingers crossed as we continue to bring you the latest topical science news in Reach Out Reporter.

Business Vision

What is Phenomena-based Learning?

Phenomena-based learning (PhenoBL) has been in the spotlight recently. First popularized due to Finland’s decision to revolutionize their curriculum in 2016, this buzzword is back on everyone’s lips again. This time, it’s in connection to the Next Generation Science Standards. We decided to demystify exactly what phenomenon-based learning is, and why it’s becoming increasingly popular.

Finland’s Phenomenal Institute says that in phenomena-based learning and teaching, “holistic real-world phenomena provide the starting point for learning. The phenomena are studied as complete entities, in their real context, and the information and skills related to them are studied by crossing the boundaries between subjects”.

In simpler words, PhenoBL is a method of understanding a phenomenon—an observable event—using various methods and perspectives, which may often overlap. PhenoBL takes a broad, multi-faceted look at events and occurrences happening in the real world, such as climate change, migration, or even the European Union. Looking at these subjects from a number of different angles helps the students to truly understand the workings of natural and societal events. We’ve created a quick shortlist of all the features of PhenoBL to give you a quick overview of what it means in terms of teaching in the classroom:

  1. Getting real: The real world is the bedrock of PhenoBL—providing a much-needed starting point that is repeated at every stage. Students and teachers choose to focus on a real-world phenomena: rain, space travel, or perhaps something problematic, like soil erosion. Students study a phenomenon that interests them, and use scientific enquiry and problem-solving skills with the aim of understanding it and demystifying it.
  2. Question and more questions: PhenoBL thrives on curiosity, and so students are encouraged to question what is around them. It’s not a revolutionary concept. Centuries ago, Socrates used a similar method of questioning to guide his students—in order to find the right answers, they had to know how to ask the right questions. PhenoBL echoes this approach, prioritizing how over why in order to inspire students to make observations.
  3. Contextualize: Phenomenon-based learning builds tangible connections between curriculum theory and the real world, but it also serves to link the various, separate subjects that students learn in schools. For example, the Egyptian pyramids display an acute knowledge of physics engineering, both of which require precise, complex calculations. Similarly, the study of fossils and sedimented craters—a perfect mix of geography and science—have helped scientists come to understand the Earth’s biodiversity millions of years ago.
  4. Change in a teacher’s role: PhenoBL recasts the teacher’s role, changing them from a provider of knowledge to a guide that helps students find knowledge on their own. This might initially be a slightly uncomfortable proposition for both teachers and students—watching students struggle prompts many teachers to want to jump in with the answer. But stick with the altered lesson structure: the aim is still to achieve learning goals.
  5. Other skills: The beauty of PhenoBL is that it also integrates the learning of important social skills, such as clear communication and the ability to function in a team. PhenoBL also encourages the use of other pedagogy models: project-based learning, integrated-learning, and inquiry-based learning, to name just a few.

So do we really need PhenoBL? Absolutely! In a world that is changing rapidly, PhenoBL lays the foundation for truly preparing the next generation to think and act like real-world scientists. PhenoBL allows students to own the learning process, transforming them from passive participants within education to active learners. What’s more, PhenoBL goes a step further in addressing the STEM crisis by combining it with the creativity of the arts, giving the next generation a rounded, holistic education.

Want to find out how PhenoBL works with our products? Contact us today.

Low Section Of Man Standing By Dinosaur Footprint On Rock

Why should kids study dinosaurs?

The word paleontology might not always inspire a lot of general interest, and yet we’d be hard pressed to find a kid who doesn’t love dinosaurs. The giant reptiles that roamed the Earth millions of years ago continue to captivate the interest of young and old alike. But what makes these extinct beasts so popular? The late paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould attributed the popularity of dinosaurs to three main qualities: they were big; they were fierce; most importantly, they are extinct – and there’s merit to this theory.


Many of the well-known dinosaurs, such as the Tyrannosaurus rex, the Brachiosaurus, or the Triceratops were all massive animals. But there are also other, considerably smaller dinosaurs that defy this theory – look at the Compsognathus, the Hadrocodium and the Microraptor. No matter their size, dinosaurs manage to capture interests.


Ferocity also has a major part to play in terms of popularity. Humans love the thrill of danger – we go bungee jumping, ride rollercoasters and watch horror films. Dinosaurs are as fierce as they come, but of course, they can’t hurt anyone – they’re extinct. They provide the ultimate leap of the imagination.


Finally, possibly the biggest contributing factor to dinosaurs’ popularity is the mystery around the their disappearance. After millions of years successfully roaming the Earth, their sudden mass extinction continues to haunt the human imagination: What killed the dinosaurs?


So, is it worth studying a group of animals that has been extinct for 65 million years? We certainly think so. Here are four reasons why:


1.The study of fossils – yes, including those of dinosaurs – are invaluable to scientists trying to understand climate change. A recent scientific expedition saw a team of scientists drilling into the crater long believed to have been caused by the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs. The extensive process, documented by the BBC, helped scientists understand what happened the day the collision happened. Scientists theorise that the asteroid was travelling at 64,000 km/h when it smashed into the Earth – so hard, and with so much energy, that it vapourised the ocean and completely obliterated the asteroid. The surrounding sea floor was forced outwards and upwards to extraordinary heights before collapsing in on itself, forming a ring 141 km in diameter. Earth’s climate was changed drastically: the Sun’s light and heat was blocked out by the ash cloud that rose as a result of the impact. Fossil evidence has helped scientists to understand all this, and more.


2. The study of dinosaurs is crucial to understanding to the mechanics of evolution. More than 700 species of dinosaurs have been found and identified so far, but there are hundreds more unknown. There is a huge amount of variation within the species we know: the Triceratops has the largest skull ever recorded, and the hadrosaur continually replaced its teeth as they wore out. What’s more, there are even creatures living today –like birds, turtles and crocodiles – that share evolutionary lineage with dinosaurs.


3. Scientists around the world today are undertaking extensive research on extinction, using dinosaur fossils to understand the biodiversity of the Earth millions of years ago. Human activity has severely altered Earth’s biodiversity, and succeeded in entirely wiping out hundreds of species. By studying extinction and the subsequent effect it has on food chains and Earth’s ecosystems, scientists can begin to understand the complex relationships between species and their surroundings.


4. Despite the popularity of dinosaurs, the general public knows very little about fossils and their distant origins. Some people believe that dinosaurs can be resurrected through the extraction of DNA found in fossils – although yes, that was mainly the fault of the film Jurassic Park. But on a different level, people simply don’t know how to uncover and excavate fossils properly. Precious samples are being discovered by people all over the world, but a lack of proper education on how to dig up and handle fossils means that many specimens end up getting damaged, sometimes irreplaceably so.


As our world changes, scientists continue to research dinosaurs, and for good reason. Whether it’s to gain an in-depth understanding of the animals in the hope of finally, unequivocally figuring out the actual cause of the mass extinction, or to gain a better understanding of the Earth’s ecology – there’s no denying the importance of studying dinosaurs!

Helen Quinn talks to Twig about NGSS

As many of you will know, America is about to undergo a sea change in science education and Helen is firmly at the heart of that transformation. She chaired the National Academy of Sciences committee that created the Framework for K-12 Science Education – the foundation of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The NGSS program is a new way of teaching and learning science where students are supported to think like scientists and ‘figure things out’ rather than memorize key facts.


As you can imagine, our conversation with Helen dived straight into the Next Generation Science Standards; specifically, why she thinks the introduction of these new standards is needed so urgently, and her vision for what she hopes they will achieve.


“[Science] gives us the knowledge that allows us to think through the impact of our actions in a different way, and I want every citizen to have that knowledge and be able to affect the future in ways that are constructive and positive.”


So if you’re looking for some inspiration or just a reminder of why you work in education for a living, just click the link and watch the interview with Helen. We hope you’ll leave with a sense of reinforced purpose. We know we did.


View a clip from the interview here:

What is SEL and why is it important?

Growing up in the 21st century is hard work. Children and adolescents today face a unique set of challenges that have never been seen before. The advent of the digital age and popularity of social media coupled with globalisation and the current economic climate have brought their own share of issues that have a drastic effect on the youth today. Ninety percent of school leaders have reported an increase in the number of students experiencing anxiety or stress over the last five years. One way of dealing with this is to implement social and emotional learning (SEL) in school.


Why would social and emotional learning benefit young people?

Our everyday lives consist of hundreds of interactions on both personal and social levels. This means that it is essential for us to understand and manage individual emotions so that we can understand the emotions of others. Social and emotional skills are fundamental in shaping future citizens and workforce as they help prevent and reduce behaviours such as bullying and violence.


Social and emotional learning refers to skills that allow individuals to understand and manage emotions with respect to themselves and others. They are then able to forge positive relationships, develop empathy for others and learn responsibility. CASEL, the organisation behind this framework, define five primary skills that they would like to see develop in young people:


Self-awareness: The ability to accurately assess one’s strengths and limitations, with a well-grounded sense of confidence, optimism, and a “growth mindset”.

Self-management: The ability to successfully regulate one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviours in different situations – effectively managing stress, controlling impulses, and motivating oneself.

Social awareness: The ability to take the perspective of and empathise with others, including those from diverse backgrounds and cultures, and the ability to understand social and ethical norms for behaviour.

Relationship skills: The ability to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships with diverse individuals and groups, and the ability to cooperate with others, resist inappropriate social pressure and seek and offer help when needed.

Responsible decision-making: The ability to make constructive choices about personal behaviour and social interactions based on ethical standards, safety concerns, and social norms.


Why should social and emotional learning be implemented in school?

Students in OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries spend a huge amount of time in school – an average of 7,750 hours in school over the course of their primary and lower secondary education. Schools also bring children from various ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds together via the common goal of learning. Should this learning be limited to academia? Absolutely not – never has an emphasis on social and emotional learning SEL been more important than now. Young people today are under relentless scrutiny, both academically and socially, making it crucial to provide them with an environment they can deem safe and inclusive. Schools are an obvious choice – not just because of the sheer amount of time that is spent there, but also because it already has the essential infrastructure for any sort of learning.


If implemented properly, social and emotional learning can have a far-reaching impact, and play a vital role in how future generations treat both one another and the planet.