Issue #3 | September 2022

Meeting Students Where They Are

It’s a brave new world! 

As teachers and students everywhere embark on a new, post-pandemic school year unlike any other, it is becoming all too clear that the pandemic has changed how we teach and learn forevermore.

For starters, students are everywhere

Despite the daunting challenges of remote-only learning during the height of the pandemic, at least half of the nation’s 20 largest school districts will offer more full-time virtual schooling this Fall than they did before the pandemic.

Students are now learning in person in traditional classrooms, virtual-only schools, learning pods, road schools (remote learning in an RV), on “workations” with their Digital Nomad families and, in the next few years, they’ll be learning in immersive realities like the metaverse. 

As we enter the 2022-23 school year, it will be important for educators to continue focusing efforts on closing the knowledge gap and accelerating deeper learning. But meeting students where they are isn’t just about geography. It’s a wholistic approach to engaging students that considers who they are as individuals and their unique psychological, social, and emotional journey. Now more than ever, teachers need high-quality tools and support to engage today’s “anywhere student” in deeper science learning.

How does OpenSciEd empower teachers to confidently meet students where they are to give them the transformative learning they need? We explore this question in this issue of our newsletter and, later this month, on our blog. So connect with us on social and our newsletters to get our content notifications.

Enjoy this issue. And let us know how you’re meeting students where they are!

The Activate Learning Team

How OpenSciEd Helps Teachers Meet Students Where They Are

I got sent this message from a WA state science teacher today: "Working in a small district and having been transferred from middle school to high school in 2020, I'm in the unique position of having taught the same students @OpenSciEd since they were in 7th grade. 1/4" William Baur (@Pearwilliambaur)

Once again, William Baur (a science teacher based in Washington State (and a farm hand!) has shared an enlightening and inspiring experience on the power of OpenSciEd to move “learning mountains” and connect with students in transformative ways. In the first issue of this newsletter, we shared another one of his tweet-threads outlining how he used OpenSciEd to engage students in learning about the science and emotional impact of lung cancer.

In this recent short tweet-thread (a mere four tweets!), Baur shares the experience of a Washington State science teacher who was able to connect meaningfully with students using OpenSciEd. The teacher expresses surprise at the deep connection he was able to make through the curriculum. And this deep learning connection stayed with his students from junior high school through high school! This teacher’s experience is a prime example of what it means to meet students where they are and how OpenSciEd facilitates long-lasting and meaningful learning connections!

[Photo Caption: Teachers attending Activate Learning’s OpenSciEd professional learning workshop in August. Photo by Jen Guitierrez]

Three Challenges to Avoid When Implementing OpenSciEd Curriculum

In this month’s OpenSciEd blog post, we spoke to Activate Learning professional learning specialists Tracy Marmolejo (Professional Development Manager) and Jen Gutierrez (Customer Success Specialist), who run OpenSciEd implementation workshops and asked about the common patterns and trends that they heard about from the teachers they worked with. This article is a consolidation of those conversations – laying out the three major challenges that you will want to overcome during your implementation.


When School Districts Support and Celebrate Teachers Implementing OpenSciEd, Magic Happens!

Absolutely love teaching in a district that acknowledges, supports, and encourages the work I, along with an amazing crew of other facilitators, have been doing to help bring the amazing @OpenSciEd curriculum to as many classrooms as possible! #scienceisforeveryone” -- Kira VanWinkle (@KiraVanWinkle)

As we explored in a recent blog post, implementing OpenSciEd is not just about the material, it’s also about building the teacher’s confidence to make the shift to 3-dimensional teaching and learning. If teachers don’t receive unwavering support from management, high-quality training, and empathy for their current workload – they’re going to run into issues.”  Tracy Marmolejo (Professional Development Manager at Activate Learning) explains why “The biggest challenge is when school systems implement a new science program without giving the requisite time for proper teacher training.” 

Lack of support is one problem Kira VanWinkle (middle school science teacher and OpenSciEd facilitator) does not have! In a recent tweet, VanWinkle shared how the awesome, unwavering support she’s getting from her district throughout her OpenSciEd professional learning process and implementation is encouraging her to not only succeed with implementation but to help other teachers to do the same. Now that’s magical! Hi-five to Kira VanWinkle and her super-supportive district!

The History of Teaching Science Using Stories: The Storyline Approach

“A story provides the missing link that makes learning meaningful” - Kif ran Egan

A Google search for OpenSciEd suggests three questions as being the most asked questions users have about OpenSciEd. The second most-often searched question about OpenSciEd is: “What is an NGSS storyline?” 

This question is popular on forums as well. To learn about how OpenSciEd uses storylines in its curriculum, you can explore their website and view samples of a Unit Storyline. And there is no shortage of helpful materials on storylines on NSTA and NGSS websites.

The Storyline Approach is an inquiry-based teaching method based upon a strategy first introduced by Kieran Egan (1986), and it’s a powerful tool for meeting students where they are. We thought we’d take a different perspective and share this insightful article from Science Scope (an NSTA publication) on the history of using the storyline to teach science, Teaching Science Using Stories: The Storyline Approach, by Aaron D. Isabelle (2007). No matter how much or little you know about the storyline approach, this article is sure to give you a different perspective and a better understanding.


[Caption: Students observing bath bombs from OpenSciEd curriculum. Photo Credit: @WhittleScience]


The Best Way to Group Students Into Scientist Circles 

This month’s thought-provoking question comes from a teacher attending an OpenSciEd webinar, “Back to School: Establishing Norms and Classroom Culture.” The webinar highlighted supports built into the OpenSciEd middle school materials that enable the development of a positive classroom culture – a must for engaging students in inquiry-based science learning. 

The following question was posted on a Padlet for the webinar and received responses from several teachers sharing how they group students. For the answer to this age-old problem, we turned to a new research study published in the journal Educational Practice and Theory that offers a new mathematical approach to grouping students.

QUESTION:  Any tips for the physical challenges of arranging students into a scientist circle? I tried this technique last year (and loved it), but it took time to move chairs and get settled. I noticed in the video they sat on their tables. Does anyone else use this approach?

ANSWERS: OpenSciEd has a great resource that lays out some of the features of a strong classroom culture that teachers should strive to build (Features of Classroom Culture that Support Equitable Sensemaking). But as one teacher who attempted to answer this question in the Padlet noted, “it really comes down to [personal] management and philosophies.” In other words, it’s complicated, and no one solution will fit all classrooms. Or is there? 

According to researchers who outlined their method for creating a mathematical model of the best way to group students for optimal learning, there is one way to group students that beats them all. Researchers found that like-skilled tiered grouping is better than cross-sectional or random grouping when the end goal is improving learning for all individuals (regardless of the subject being taught). The results showed that, mathematically speaking, grouping students with similar skill levels maximizes all individuals' total learning. One of the lead researchers explained, “If one puts like-skilled students together, instructors can teach at a level that is not too advanced or trivial for the students and optimize the overall learning of all students collectively regardless of the group.” Researchers are well aware that these results may be controversial. Their goal, they say, is to further discourse on this topic. Would you use the try method for grouping students in your classroom? 

Meet Our Curriculum Experts This Fall at These Science Conferences

Not only do we believe in meeting students where they are, we also believe in meeting teachers where they are! 

Now that live events are back in full force, we are revved up and ready for what will undoubtedly be an exciting science conference season. Take a look at our Fall 2022 conference schedule below to see where we’ll be and how you can connect with our team of curriculum and professional learning experts. 

Mark your calendars!


At Activate Learning, we believe there is a better way to engage students in STEM. Our K-12, interactive curriculum engages students with authentic learning and phenomena that are relevant and meaningful. We inspire teachers with research-based curricula that support three-dimensional learning and prepare students for the careers of tomorrow.

To learn more about how we can help bring transformational learning to your classroom, submit your info below and one of our curriculum specialists will contact you.