Help Your Science Students Write!

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Too often I hear my physics students complain about writing: they think it's important only in English classes. As teachers we know otherwise, but incorporating more writing into our classes can be demanding--especially when we have to get through core content. Working at SAS Curriculum Pathways this summer, I've discovered Writing Navigator, a simple, beneficial, and free suite of tools to support writing in any classroom. Writing Navigator can address science literacy goals because it's accessible and easy to differentiate. Moreover, it improves students' writing abilities while the teachers focus on content knowledge.

Unless scientists effectively disseminate their findings in print, progress stalls--both within a discipline and in society as a whole.  Yet students often fail to appreciate the importance of scientific writing since it's rarely emphasized in STEM fields. According to Cornell University's president, David Skorton, "many ... [scientists]never received the education in the humanities or social sciences that would allow us to explain to nonscientists what we do and why it is important." When researchers talk about key skills for student and professional scientists, however, writing effectively is near the top of the list.

Writing Navigator makes it easy for students to revise their written work, in this case reviewing their use of prepositional phrases.

Writing Navigator makes it easy for students to revise their written work, in this case reviewing their use of prepositional phrases.

Accessible for free for all students on PCs and Macs, as well as on Chromebooks and mobile devices, Writing Navigator offers an effective way to support students' learning and writing. Using Google Docs? We even have an add-on! Students can easily use it in science because all of the supporting material on clarity, structure, and so on can be found directly in the resource itself, which consists of four tools: Writing Planner, Writing Drafter, Writing Reviser, and Writing Publisher. This means the teacher does not need to spend time introducing those skills. Most students have their own mobile device, so incorporating Writing Navigator into the science classroom becomes much easier.

Students at the same level of scientific ability may not necessarily write at the same level. Writing Navigator can help differentiate support. You or the student can use the tools to target specific changes in a lab report or another piece of writing. Feedback is necessary to improve writing, but not all science teachers are trained to give this feedback. Writing Navigator provides this crucial support. Students can receive individualized--rather than generic--writing support. If a student has trouble being concise, the teacher can instruct him to use the wordiness components in Writing Navigator. Other students, perhaps mastering that particular skill, can focus on thesis statements or other key issues. Science teachers can identify content problems and use Writing Navigator to supplement their feedback.

Writing Navigator promotes revision, a key process in scientific inquiry. That skill is easily transferable to and from an inquiry-based lab. For example, students can create a hypothesis, test it, and revise it. This is the same process writers use, and students benefit from seeing those connections. Writing Navigator also helps students write succinctly, a skill crucial to scientific clarity.

Finding the time to teach writing in science can often feel unmanageable, but it is essential if teachers are trying to make sure their students are college and career ready. Writing Navigator is intuitive and benefits the student in all areas of study. I used Writing Navigator for this blog post, and (trust me) the process was much smoother as a result. I know students will benefit from this suite of tools when approaching my writing assignments. Next time you assign writing in science class, try Writing Navigator. You won't regret it!

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About Author

Alexandra Solender

Alexandra Solender is a member of the Curriculum Pathways Summer Institute and is a teacher at Holly Springs High School in Holly Springs, North Carolina. She earned undergraduate degrees in physics and science education from Elon University and is a Kenan Fellow. She currently teaches AP Physics 1, AP Physics C, and Honors Physics and has also taught Academic Physics, Physical Science, and Astronomy. You can connect with her on twitter @SolenderPhysics or through email at asolender@wcpss.net.

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