The Debrief

Content that ignites Science and Engineering Practices

Rebecca Wilkin
Mar 10, 2020

I’ve always had a passion for the natural world. In elementary school, I loved writing about and drawing exotic plants and animals. When I reached high school, that interest developed into a fascination with human anatomy and evolution; and in college, it led me to pursue a degree in biology and science writing. Now as a member of the Newsela team, I can apply my love for writing and science to help students learn about science concepts in their everyday lives.

As an editorial assistant on the Newsela Science team, I ensure that our content will help students master all aspects of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). That means finding content that not only builds core content knowledge, but also supports students as they develop science and engineering skills in the context of broader scientific themes. I spend a lot of my time reading and determining which articles will best support teachers and students working towards the NGSS standards. To meet these needs, I source and edit articles from a variety of science content partners. 

Some of my favorite partner publications include NASA, Science News for Students and Science Friday (though there are so many others!). These providers allow us to help teachers apply science and engineering practices in the classroom. For example, a NASA article about the discovery of a new planet might prompt students to engage in these practices, like asking questions, carrying out investigations, or engaging in discussions using evidence. 

How real-world scientific discoveries can excite students in the classroom

I love highlighting scientific discoveries that teach students about the intersection of humans, animals, and the environment. One article that comes to mind is “When giant penguins roamed the Earth,” adapted from Cricket Media. The article, which is intended for an elementary audience, discusses how a group of teenage explorers discovered a massive fossil in New Zealand. Millions of years ago, when warmer climates allowed prehistoric penguin species to thrive in New Zealand and Antarctica, some of the now-extinct penguins grew to more than 6 feet tall!


What I loved about this article is that it connects fossil research to the concept of modern climate change leading to the extinction of five endangered penguin species alive today. I partnered with our multimedia editor to create a graph comparing prehistoric penguins to today’s penguins, with the goal of helping students compare the relative sizes of the creatures using an engaging visual diagram. Teachers can use this article to illustrate several science concepts, such as the study of fossil evidence, adaptation and environmental change. And just maybe, articles like this one can spark students’ interest in science or a future STEM career.


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