Five Ways to Use Social and Emotional Learning in the Science Classroom

5 Ways to Use Social and Emotional Learning in the Science Classroom

The skills we want to help young students develop don’t just include those directly connected to the subjects being taught. The Next Generation Science Standards give guidance on how students should investigate matter, forces, and living things, of course, but they also emphasize skills like working in teams, collaboration, and engaging in argument from evidence. These skills are important parts of students’ social and emotional learning (SEL), but why is SEL so important and what makes it ideal for bringing into science lessons?

Science lessons provide great opportunities to give students investigative problems they must work together to solve. The engineering design process is a perfect opportunity to encourage students to team up, develop and test ideas, appreciate each other’s creativity, and talk about their successes and failures.

As students work in teams, they’re learning to communicate, to respect the ideas of others, and to understand why everybody’s role is important. These are essential aspects not only of classroom collaboration, but also of being part of society. Good teamwork improves students’ social skills. It makes them more self-confident. It even reduces bullying. And it helps children to go on to become successful adults.

That’s why we made teamwork a fundamental component of Twig Science. It’s there in all of our story-driven investigation modules, and we also created special 3-D Team Challenge mini-modules totally focused on teambuilding and how scientists and engineers work in teams. In doing so, we came up with some useful ideas for increasing the SEL value of lessons that we thought we’d share with you—you’ll find all of these in the Twig Science Team Challenges and investigations, but they could be adapted for any lesson.

Here are our favorite five ideas:

1. Student-agreed Science Expectations – Children hate being told what to do when they don’t understand why they’ve got to do it.

It’s a good idea to get students discussing the factors that create a productive learning environment. Guide them to come up with their own ideas for how investigations should be carried out in an environment that encourages collaboration and respect. Children hate being told what to do when they don’t understand why they’ve got to do it—but if they are included in creating the rules, they respect and learn from them. Twig Science mini-modules include sections where students brainstorm “Science Expectations.” They think about what good teamwork involves and how it could work better, and they produce a Science Expectations poster to display in the classroom throughout the year. Examples of Science Expectations could include “We respect each other,” “We let everyone share their ideas,” “We encourage each other,” or “Everyone helps to clean up.”

2. Team-building exercises – Prepare students for just about every situation they’ll ever encounter in their professional and personal lives!

Before getting students to embark on in-depth, full-length engineering investigations, it can be helpful to have them take part in shorter, low-stakes team-building exercises. In the Twig Science mini-modules, we suggest various icebreaker activities, storytelling games, and classroom discussions. These get students engaging in civil discourse, deliberating, debating, building consensus, compromising, communicating effectively, and giving presentations. These are incredibly valuable skills that not only prepare students for the longform storyline investigations that make up the main Twig Science modules—they prepare them for just about every situation they’ll ever encounter in their professional and personal lives!

3. Reflection points – Students review and discuss their work as a form of self-assessment.

Involving students every step of the way in thinking about what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and how they could do it better helps to embed the skills that they are developing. We made sure to put frequent reflection points in Twig Science to give students a chance to discuss how teams are working together and whether everyone is getting their chance to take part. The important thing about reflection is that it’s a form of self-assessment. You’re not grading the students, and there are no correct or incorrect responses. The purpose of the discussion is for students to think about the investigation processes and to share and reflect on different ideas. What have they enjoyed? What was easy and what was challenging? How do their experiences in their teams connect to experiences outside the classroom?

4. Real-world connections –  Get students acting out behaviors that they’ll be able to use again and again throughout their lives.

A big part of Twig Science collaborative investigations is how they connect to the way real-life scientists and engineers work in teams. Giving students this real-world connection adds meaning and purpose to what they’re doing. As they take on the roles of scientists and engineers, they’re acting out behaviors that they’ll be able to use again and again throughout their lives. They’ll understand that scientists, too, have team roles. They listen to each other. They’re respectful when they disagree. They build on each other’s ideas. Students will associate these attitudes with success as they act them out and become used to recognizing them in the world around them.

5. Language routines – Communication is a fundamental component of teamwork.

How students use language is an important indicator of their levels of understanding and respect. Communication is a fundamental component of teamwork, which involves a careful balance of being able to express ideas and opinions and also listen to those of others. It’s directly connected to our social and emotional development, because language is our primary method of expressing what we feel about ourselves and each other and describing what we agree and disagree about. Twig Science includes a number of repeated language routines (e.g. Turn and Talk, Collect and Display) that structure the way students use language in investigations. They’re encouraged to use the words they feel comfortable using—without the need for formal “perfection”—while given the support to connect these to scientific vocabulary when they’re ready. The language routines support English Learners—and other students who lack confidence—to take part fully in discussions. Communicating in an inclusive, encouraging, understanding environment leads to confidence, and confident communication increases students’ ability to work well as team members in the classroom and as successful and respectful citizens.

We hope you find these ideas useful—we’d love to hear what you think!

Instructional Shifts in the NGSS

"The difference in the verbs used in the NGSS tells the story. Gone is the conception of science education as an abstract recall of facts. Instead, students demonstrate proficiency in science by engaging in actual scientific practices—in this case, developing models, designing solutions and constructing arguments… The resulting implications for classroom practice could not be greater."

—NGSS Adoption and Implementation Workbook

The CA NGSS aim to prepare CA students to be future citizens and future scientists. Covering every grade and scientific discipline, the standards detail the 21st century scientific skills that students should acquire. 

The standards emphasize “three-dimensional” (3-D) learning, incorporating three different dimensions:Scientific and Engineering Practices (SEPs), Disciplinary Core ideas (DCIs), and Crosscutting Concepts (CCCs).

These three dimensions encourage students to see science as more than just a series of isolated facts. Students are encouraged to view science as an interrelated world of inquiry and phenomena, and they learn processes, ideas, and concepts that are relevant to all the sciences.

The NGSS represent a fundamental shift in science education, with a new approach to teaching. Teachers are encouraged to use a range of different strategies to engage students and provide opportunities for them to show what they have learned.

The 2016 Science Framework for California Public Schools lists 16 instructional shifts in science education that should be addressed by science programs used to teach the CA NGSS. These instructional shifts are presented in a clear “More of this…” and “Less of this…” format.

When creating Twig Science, we spent a lot of time thinking about these instructional shifts. Because Twig Science was created for the NGSS from the ground up, these instructional shifts are embedded at every level of the program. They’re called out to your students through BLUE and PINK text in their Twig Books.

To help you get to grips with the instructional shifts, we’ve created a simple printable checklist to use as a guide to whether the program you’re looking at will help you implement these instructional shifts in the classroom. Right-click on the image below and select “Save image as…” to download the checklist.

“More of this…” and “Less of this…” statements are quoted directly from the 2016 Science Framework for California Public Schools, Chapter 11, pp. 5–6.

Environmental Principles and Concepts (EPCs) and the NGSS

You might’ve heard about California’s Environmental Principles and Concepts (EPCs)—but what are they, actually? And how do they affect teaching the NGSS? 

The EPCs were developed in 2004 by over 100 scientists and technical experts, with the purpose of highlighting the strong link between human societies and the natural world. The EPCs consist of five overarching environmental principles and 15 supporting concepts, which are meant to influence the topics that are taught in K–12 schools. In science teaching, they are additional standards that should be covered, in addition to the NGSS standards described by the California Framework.

For Twig Science, we have taken great care to cover all of the EPCs across all grades, so that you don’t need to worry about them. You can simply teach lesson by lesson, safe in the knowledge that you will be covering all NGSS standards and all EPCs. 

Let’s break down the EPCs to see what’s going on—and take a look at some examples of how they work in the context of Twig Science.

Principle 1: People Depend on Natural Systems

The first EPC highlights that humans rely on the natural world for food and other goods and services. As a result, the health of the planet directly affects the health of human life and the future of our societies and communities. 

An example of how we implement this is in Grade 5, Module 3: H2O Response Team. Here, students become hydrologists, investigating the growing problem of water scarcity. They investigate why humans rely so heavily on freshwater and what can threaten our supply of it. Finally, they come up with a campaign to save water.  

Principle 2: People Influence Natural Systems

The life and health of wildlife, marine life, trees and plants are all affected by human behavior, especially with growing populations and increased consumption. This principle stresses that everything from politics and economics to agriculture has a noticeable effect on natural systems.

In The Red List (Grade 6, Module 3) students take on the roles of ecologists on a mission to save endangered species from extinction. They research the threats these species face and what conservationists do to protect them, before coming up with their own conservation plan. 

Principle 3: Natural Systems Change in Ways that People Benefit From and Can Influence

Natural systems depend on cycles and processes—such as the changing seasons. This principle highlights how these natural cycles are also crucial to human life, and how human activity can change them—both in harmful and in positive ways.

As an example, students examine the way that landforms change, in Save the Island (Grade 2, Module 4). They research ways that landforms change and discover how humans have come up with engineering solutions to, for example, hold back floods or slow down erosions. Using what they’ve learned, they come up with a plan to save the island of Tangier, which is at risk of disappearing because of coastal erosion. 

Principle 4: There are no Permanent or Impermeable Boundaries that Prevent Matter from Flowing Between Systems

Principle 4 emphasizes that anything created by humans can easily end up in natural systems—and vice versa. Some things, like plastic waste and oil spills can be very damaging, whereas other things may have a neutral (or sometimes even a beneficial) effect. 

To apply this, students become science journalists in Sparks Energy, Inc. (Grade 4, Module 2), and investigate the consequences of how we get energy: from coal, oil and nuclear, to renewable sources like air and wind. In teams, students carry out research, investigations and interviews, and write an exclusive article from their findings.  

Principle 5: Decisions Affecting Resources and Natural Systems are Complex and Involve Many Factors

This principle considers how politicians and other people in power must take into account social, economic, political and environmental factors when making decisions about the use of natural resources—and how these factors are changing over time. 

In Cities of the Future (Grade 6, Module 4), students become decision-makers as they design an environmentally friendly city of the future. After investigating the impact of human activities on the environment—using case studies, real-life examples, and data—they must balance the needs of a population with the protection of the natural environment, as they plan their cities. 

It is becoming increasingly obvious that human activities can have a detrimental effect on the natural world, and individuals are becoming increasingly aware of these issues, as last week’s global climate march demonstrated.

Your students are growing up in a tumultuous time. Given the right guidance, they may become future scientists, making groundbreaking discoveries and creating revolutionary inventions. Through incorporating the EPCs, Twig Science ensures that students get a thorough understanding of current issues and the chance to think of ways to create solutions.

The Global Climate Strike

Members of the Twig Science team show off their banners at the march against climate change.

In August 2018, 16-year-old Greta Thunberg started the “School Strike for Climate” movement. Every Friday, she would sit outside the Swedish Parliament in Stockholm, urging politicians to take the climate crisis seriously. Soon, students across the world followed her example. 

One year later, on September 20th 2019, millions of people around the world came together in the Global Climate Strike. Both teenagers and adults marched through the streets, with the aim to put pressure on politicians to take action against climate change. 

Organizers have estimated that over 4 million people participated, across 2,500 events in 163 countries. At Twig, we share scientists’ concern about the climate, and to show our support, some of our staff created their own signs and participated in the march.

The UN Climate Summit

Only a few days later, on Monday the 23rd, the UN Climate Summit was held in New York. The UN Secretary-General António Gueterres invited world leaders to discuss the Paris Agreement—a policy that has been signed by 194 countries.

The aim of the agreement is to keep the average global temperature rise below 2°C, and if possible, even below 1.5°C. In order to achieve this, countries need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45% over the next ten years, and achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. 

Having a net zero carbon footprint—or being carbon neutral—means either stopping all carbon emissions altogether, or making sure to balance any emissions through offsetting—for example planting trees—or through carbon dioxide removal

But countries need to take concrete action and come up with clear plans in order to achieve these goals, which is what was discussed at the UN summit. Changes will be made across renewable energy, agriculture, forest and ocean management, infrastructure, and finance. 

What can you do? 

There are many things that we can do as individuals to reduce our carbon footprint. Here are some ideas: incorporate more vegetarian meals into your week; limit your food waste; use public transport, walk or cycle; buy less stuff (especially clothes); be careful to not use unnecessary water; give to charities such as WWF; and—perhaps most importantly—use your voice to put pressure on politicians through voting or signing petitions. 

Last but not least, it’s important to educate yourself. Twig Science itself provides students with a thorough grounding in how humans affect the environment, with modules like Save the Island, How to Survive an Ice Age, and Cities of the Future. Meanwhile, an easy way to engage your students in real world news, including the climate crisis, is with Twig Science Reporter—a weekly science news service bringing topical news into the classroom with engaging videos and supporting material.

Planet Hunters Find Watery Clue to Alien Life

For the first time, scientists looking for life outside the Solar System have identified a faraway planet with water vapor in its atmosphere.

For planets to be able to contain life, they must be in a star’s “Goldilocks zone,” where water is liquid—neither too close to the star (or water would evaporate in the heat) or too far away (where it would freeze).

The planet in question is called K2-18b, and it was first observed in 2015. Follow-up studies using the Hubble space telescope revealed the water in the planet’s atmosphere—possibly in the form of rain or clouds.

The discovery is an encouraging sign for scientists searching the Universe for places other than Earth where life might have developed.

Planet K2-18b is what is known as an exoplanet. “Exo” means outside, and exoplanets are outside the Solar System. Scientists who look for these distant worlds are called astronomers.

“This is the first potentially habitable planet where the temperature is right and where we now know there is water,” said University College London astronomer Angelos Tsiaras. “It’s the best candidate for habitability right now.”

Being an astronomer can be exciting, rewarding work. That’s we included it as one of dozens of STEM roles students encounter with Twig Science, the investigation-based program developed for NGSS. In the Grade 5 module Patterns in the Night Sky, students meet an astronomer and learn all about how scientists gather information about the Universe. They learn about how to spot an exoplanet—and then try to find one themselves! And that’s not all they do as astronomers. They also investigate why some stars are brighter than others, why we only see them at night, and how they seem to move across the sky. They discover how to use the night sky to navigate, explore the constellations, and investigate the reasons why we don’t fall off the Earth!

Twig Science prepares students for a whole range of careers by enabling them to experience different STEM roles, from chemist to zoologist to architects. They go from working with a Hollywood special effects department to mapping real-life earthquakes as they happen all over the world. They read about and engage with scientists and engineers—from all walks of life—doing work that makes them think, “Yeah, I could do that.”

Visit Twig Science and get your students trying out dozens of possible futures.


Twig Science News Roundup—September 2019

There’s still one week to go until the new season of Twig Science Reporter, bringing you the latest science news from around the world every Thursday. You can see the trailer for the new season on our brand-new YouTube channel. Getting excited yet? Remember to like and share!

Meantime, to satisfy your appetite for the latest science news, here are some of the coolest current science stories we’ve uncovered. Enjoy!  

Self-Repairing Teeth

Scientists in China might have discovered a way of getting teeth to repair themselves. They’ve come up with a gel that repairs tooth enamel—and kickstarts the growth of new enamel. Enamel is the hard material that covers the surface of our teeth, protecting them from decay. Unfortunately, sugary foods and drinks can damage tooth enamel—and once it’s lost, our bodies don’t grow it back. That’s why it’s so important that we look after our teeth. The scientists are hopeful that one day their gel could mean the end of fillings at the dentist—although that’s a long way in the future, so in the meantime we’d better keep avoiding unhealthy snacks!

Big Bone Dig

The Mission Jurassic dinosaur dig has closed for the winter. A collaboration between the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis and museums in the UK and the Netherlands, Mission Jurassic is a major excavation of 150-million-year-old fossils in North Wyoming. The site has already revealed gigantic skeletons of a 24-meter-long brachiosaurus and a 30-meter-long diplodocus—along with enough so-far-unsorted fossils to fill three trucks.

Hurricane from Space

Dramatic photos of Hurricane Dorian have been shared by an astronaut on the International Space Station. The second-strongest Atlantic hurricane in history has been causing havoc in the Bahamas and could be heading toward the east coast of the US, where states of emergency have been declared. And the storm looks just as bad from space, as European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano’s photographs show.

Manicures for Bats

The Cuban greater funnel-eared bat is one of the rarest in the world. In fact, it can only be found in one cave in western Cuba, which puts it at risk of becoming extinct. Conservation scientists have used an interesting technique to count these bats in order to get a sense of how at-risk they are—they painted the bats’ claws with nail varnish! Each bat got a distinctive manicure, meaning the scientists could tell them apart to count them. It turned out that around 700 bats live in the cave.