LINCS Online Course: Engaging Adult Learners in Science

LINCS is adding the opportunity for professional development for its members in the form of a series of optional online courses developed by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education’s Literacy Information and Communication System (LINCS) Resource Collection initiative. These online courses are self-paced, freely available, and accessible 24 hours a day through the LINCS Learning Portal. The courses will enable users to work at their own pace, at a time that is most convenient to them.


Online Course: Engaging Adult Learners in Science

This course provides an overview of the relevance and importance of science in the adult basic education/adult secondary education (ABE/ASE) classroom and introduces the use of scientific practices in the ABE/ASE classroom. The course is self-paced and features three modules: (1) Understanding the Importance of Scientific Literacy for Adult Learners; (2) Exploring the Scientific Practices; and (3) Observing the Scientific Practices in the Classroom. The modules link to this discussion thread (Title: LINCS Online Course: Engaging Adult Learners in Science) within the LINCS Community Science group to provide opportunities for you to discuss how to apply the course information in your teaching with your colleagues from around the country.


Use this discussion thread to post your responses to the questions below from the LINCS online course, Engaging Adult Learners in Science. Please share your comments to any of the following questions, or post a general comment or feedback on the course.

  •  Who are you?
  • What real-life problems or tasks do your students encounter? Which of these tasks or problems require an understanding of science? How have you have taken advantage of a science-related teachable moment that arose in your classroom?
  • What are some modeling activities you have used in your classroom to teach science?
  • What other ways can you think of for incorporating this practice in your classroom within other subject areas, such as reading or math or in helping students prepare for the GED?
  • How have you engaged students in developing and using models and using mathematical and computational thinking in your classroom?
  • How have you engaged students in analyzing and interpreting data in your classroom?
  • How have you engaged students in constructing explanations and designing solutions in your classroom?
  • Have you applied your newly acquired knowledge to help adult learners become science literate?


COURSE UPDATE: 03-06-2014

The Advancing Science, Serving Society (AAAS) recently migrated their content and updated their search engines. In Session 1: Understanding the Importance of Scientific Literacy for Adult Learners,  on the Getting Answers to Personal or Family Issues screen, there is an Extend Your Learning activity that asks participants to explore the AAAS website to plan reading and writing activities contextualized around the scientific concepts covered in the plain-language booklets on topics like diabetes, obesity, HIV/AIDS, and high blood pressure. The original link to the plain-language booklet: no longer works. To complete this activity, please use this link instead: Thank you.



This online course was developed under the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Vocational and Adult Education’s Literacy Information and Communication System (LINCS) Resource Collection initiative under Contract No. ED-VAE-11-C-0048.


The new LINCS Learning Portal offers adult educators free online professional development courses from a variety of OVAE initiatives. Join today at:


Hi Dorjan and Fellow Science Course Takers:

I'm in Session 1...thinking about a real-life problem my students have raised.  I work with students online but each month we come together in a computer lab to help boost momentum.  There is no eating or drinking in the lab and we got to talking about how much water people need to drink each day.  One student has a father who says, "Eight glasses of water each day, no matter what."  Many of the students typically show up with water bottles that they park on a table just inside the lab door. Many of them estimated that they typically drink more than eight glasses of some liquid eacj day. Some students estimated that they only drink three or four glasses of water a day,except when the weather is very hot.  We talked about what qualifies as water; why their needs might vary on different days.

Then, being good online learners, we "googled" and reviewed several websites.  The one we got the most out of was  

Cynthia Zafft

The minimal amount of water a health adult living in a moderate climate loses every day is about one liter. This is the so called obligatory water loss due to invisible perspiration, breathing and urination. Sweating not included.

We need to drink as much as needed to replace the water lost. One liter of obligatory loss plus at least about 500 mL sweat probably makes the minimal water intake for adults about 1.5 liters.

According to USDA, 2.7 liters per day for most women and 3.7 liters for most men is an "Adequate Amount" of water per day - most adults with a sedentary life style and living in moderate climates would be well hydrated by consuming this much water (from beverages and foods combined). 



In Session 3 of the online course, Engaging Adult Learners in Science, there is a question about using models to teach students.  One model that I've used was developed by a fellow teacher and LINCS Health Literacy expert, Julie McKinney.  It consisted of the parts of the digestive tract and words with arrows that describe a step in digestion (e.g., saliva containing amylase that breaks down starches in food, as we chew).  Using the pictures of organs and words & arrows, teachers and students can model the process of digestion for different types of food (carbohydrates, fats, proteins, amino acids).  Simple and fun.


There is a book series called Taking Sides.  Each book in the series focuses on a specific category, such as health care, sustainability, a variety of social and political issues, etc. The book then provides two readings on hot topic in that general category.  For example, the health care book might have two articles on the drug approval process.  One side might support the current drug approval process while the other article might make the case for a fast-track process. The opposing articles are typically detailed and thoughtful.

Students can help locate articles. For example, I recently read an article that didn't support recycling programs that allow comingling paper, glass, metal, and plastic because there is a certain amount of contamination. I'm holding on to that article because I bet my students would be able to locate a second article that says participation in recycling goes up when we don't have to separate our recyclables....and that's a good thing, right?



I like to look at graphs.  For example, after studying how to read a graph (title, axis labels, etc), the students and I look at a graph about the amount of trash generated in the United States.  Current information from the EPA now covers 1960-2011 (Municipal Solid Waste; see  Since the graph is tracking more than one thing, it's pretty complex.  I like to ask, "What are some things this graph is telling us?"


Hi Susan:

Originally, I was kind of concerned about the movement away from the scientific method.  I've always used that as a starting point know, the students would have trouble right away.  They would focus on memorizing the wording I was using for the sequence, etc.  The foundation for this course is on scientific practices (questioning, modeling, investigating, interpreting, using math, explaining, arguing, and communicating).  Not only is it a more user friendly framework, it is clear from both the activities of scientists and students (It was a pleasure to "meet" instructor Christina Chuey and her students!) that setting up formal experiments is really only a portion of the work that goes on.  But--we might develop a question and investigate to answer to the question; we might create a graph of information and then interprete what we see; many different configurations of scientific practices.

I hope to hear from others taking the course...especially about the framework.


Ooh!  I like this subject.  We're trying to address greener practices among our staff, and I want to find a way to have the conversation with my students.  I will take a look at it and see what I can do around fractions, too, since that's what we're currently working on.


Sue P.


My name is Kathie Penick and I teach an Adult Basic Education Class in Southeastern Oklahoma. In this part of our state we have a high poverty and low literacy rate. We also have issues with the weather as well as basic health care. In our state we have problems with flooding, drought, tornadoes, and forest fires. I have in the past taught lessons on conservation, how and why tornadoes occur, as well as tornado safety, and safety measures for burning  brush and debris.I usuallyteach on one of these subjects when one of the issues have occurred in our communities.

I have had students research using the computer what are the major causes of forest fires.I have had them research how many tornadoes we have had in our area,what were some of the worst years for tornado out breaks, what are some of the newest information on tornado safety. I have used a hand held mixer and a fish tank to simulate a tornado to my class.By doing the research they are able to read and formulate opinions on the natural disaster issues that affects them. In the future I think I will still have them to do the research on natural disaster, but I will take it one step further and have them to compile their information in to graphs and charts. or power point presentations so that the information can be shared and understood over and over.In the past I have had the students write an essay over their information but I think that graphs or charts would be more interesting to their fellow classmates. This class has helped me to understand that most of us are visual learners and that it easier to learn if you can see what is being explained. I have not started a lesson using the tools that have been mentioned yet but I have planned one for next weeks classes over nutriton and health using some of the links provided in this class



Kathie, these are great examples of using the weather to engage adult learners.  The tornadoes in Oklahoma (and other parts of the US), wildfires, and other natural disasters have certainly caused tragic loss of life and major destruction.  Your emphasis on their causes and on preparedness activities are excellent ideas.  There certainly are many sources of information on the web, and I really like your use of hands-on activities (hand-held mixer in a fish tank).

How about examples from other people on this discussion list?


I just finished a 10-month project in Massachusetts to build the capacity of ABE instructros and counselors to teach about clean energy concepts and career pathways. You'll find the ABE Clean Energy Ambassadors curriculum resources guide we developed at

The approach was multi-disciplinary and flexible  - designed for instructors of any subject to incorporate information/concepts about energy efficiency and clean energy technologies and the implications for home, community, work/careers into their classrooms and counseling activities. That is to say that we didn't focus exclusively on science instruction.

I was excited to see the Engaging Adult Learners in Science course released this summer, though it was too late for our project.  I previewed the course last week and think it would be a wonderful preparatory or pre-requisite activity for the next round of Clean Energy Ambassadors training to give participants some foundation and context for thinking about integrating the science concepts and the importance of science literacy. 

Dear Sandy,

Thanks for your assessment of the first science course, and for the link you gave to the ABE Clean Energy Abassadors site.  If you use the Engaging Adult Learners course in your next round of the Clean Energy Ambassadors training, it will be great to have the feedback from instructors!

Cheers, Susan


Hello Everyone,

I am an ABLE/GED instructor in Cincinnati, Ohio.  I work for a small, private Catholic Organization that serves 2 Cincinnati zip codes.  We are also a satellite for the Cincinnati Public Schools ABLE/GED program.  Our students come from all over the city.  We have been working with a managed enrollment structure since 2009.  This has allowed us to create classes with a relatively stable and committed student population -- much more stable and consistent than when we had an open-door policy.  As we approach 2014 and new requirements for the GED, we need to re-vamp our curriculum.  I am tasked with re-working Science lessons.  This could be considered laughable when one considers that my background is in History and Foreign Language; however, I believe my advantage is that I can more easily break down scientific concepts in ways that average adults can understand them.  I am also naturally curious, a characteristic important to gaining any sort of scientific knowledge.

I have recently been invited to join the American Institute of Research's Open Educational Resource STEM Science User Group.  This is a project commissioned by the OVAE.  We will be researching and implementing usage of OERs in the adult education classroom.  I am greatly looking forward to this endeavor, which will eventually lead to a depository of Science OERs specifically for adult education.  The final phase will include PD training related to these OERs.

My overall goal is to move myself and my students beyond reading about science, and immerse ourselves more fully into seeing our personal connection with science and doing science; whether this be through project-based learning or otherwise.

Hello, Sue,

What tools and strategies are you using to re-vamp the science curriculum for your ABLE/GED program?  I agree that one can often break down scientific concepts for average adults without an academic background in science, in that ABE instructors have learned how to be good translators of information in to great teaching.  It sounds as if you have already been doing this.  I hope we'll hear more from you!


Cheers, Susan

There are a lot of ways science can be relevant to my students in their day-to-day lives.  Their health is a huge topic.  From discussing ways to keep their brains healthy so they can best be prepared to learn, to helping them learn more about chronic conditions they may be dealing with.  Additionally, their children may have health issues that have huge effects on their lives.  In their communities, there are issues of environmental health: from how smoking affects oneself and others to how general pollution can affect one's quality of life.  Many of our students live in food deserts.  This provides an opportunity to talk about growing one's own food: how to do it and the benefits of it. 

Some of our students may have a variety of means ((from very efficient to inefficient) of accomplishing things.  This can lead to a discussion on energy and the laws of motion.

Although we don't have the number of extreme weather events that happen on the coasts, the plains or in the dry west, it's easy enough to make a clear connection to these and how they do affect us, with any view from an environmental to an economic perspective.  We can also look at how the weather patterns have changed in our region and discuss the effects: from obvious to subtle.

We can look at the number of trees and other greenery in individual neighborhoods and discuss how trees affect air quality and local ecosystems.

We can look at household cleaning products and talk about their properties: their effectiveness, their healthiness, whether or not there are less polluting substitutes.

I haven't taught Science for a while, but very much look forward to finding teachable moments around students' lives as I prepare for teaching it in the new year.

Actually, a comment made by a teacher at our agency sparked a whole project for our GED learner group.  A comment was made about sugar causing diabetes.  That prompted a cross curriculum activity called Nutrition Mythbusters.  I had students list many things they had heard about nutrition and health related issues. Next, we began researching each of them to support its truth or debunk it as a myth.  It was a great way to get students doing research online, writing, creating  Power Point presentations, creating a healthy food shopping budget and cooking a healthy meal for the staff.  They had to learn to write a business letter and present the budget needed to buy the food for the meal to the executive director for approval.  The staff and the families of the students were invited to enjoy the presentation as they ate the meal.  It was a huge success and many of the staff stated that they learned a lot of things they did not know before. 

One of the students in the class had several family members who had health related issues and she had to do much research on diet to help them.  Others started reading the lablels on the snacks in the classroom and making different food choices as a result.  It was fun and interesting, as well as developing many new skills along the way. 

I haven't used nearly enough models, at this point, but I'm not teaching enough Science, lately.  Anyway, I once had my students interact the movement of the earth around the sun.  One student was the sun, while another walked around with a globe that was spinning in the correct direction.  We talked about the number of days in a year, the equinoxes and solstices, the equator, the poles, and the seasons.  It was really helpful for them to understand how the angle of the sun at different times of the year affects the temperatures. 

For another class, I built a DNA helix out of different colored pipe cleaners.  I made it so it would "unzip" to show how the different molecules recombine during reproduction.

For human body systems, I have referred students to diagrams in books, mainly.

We haven't had to do a lot of this, yet, due to just getting as many students through the current GED test as possible.  Regardless, I look forward to using this teaching practice in many settings, because the "engaging" calls for deeper learning.  In my experience, the best way to engage students in anything is to find out what they're interested in, so I'd probably start with a questionnaire of some sort.  Otherwise, I'd base my planning on what I already know about them. 

I might start off with something on my own agenda, but which also definitely works with their interest in returning to school.  One of our biggest wishes is to help our students increase their study skills so that they know what to do to best receive and retain what they learn in class.  We don't offer enough time, in our program, for students to do all the studying they will need for each week.  We talk to them about how they must find ways to put in time at home, do homework and simply study whatever they learn.  Many don't, and aren't always sure how to proceed. 

I would love to get students involved in researching information that shows the effectiveness of good study habits, then have a discussion/debate on the different techniques they researched, as to which they believe are the most useful for them.  I could also have they look into how diet or sleep affects brain capacity, to start thinking about whether and how they might make changes in their eating habits.

In terms of tying in to Reading or Math subjects, there are many options. offers arguments from 2 sides of an issue on many topics: politics, money, business, health.  Many of these could be researched to engage both reading and math skills, and require students to examine and/or create mathematical models to form their argument.


Dear SueP and Deb,

Thanks so much for these great ideas about integrating science into adult education.  The models of the DNA with pipecleaners and the reasons for the seasons on Earth are great examples that don't take a major investment in equipment nor time. 

The use of diagrams in books for human anatomy was mentioned.  Here is another online activity, from the Smithsonian Museum of American History, which might be a quick review.  Has anyone use this?




One of the real life problems my students face is transportation 

issues to and from class.  We have had an especially harsh winter here in Pennsylvania and several weeks ago we experienced a phenomenon called frozen fog.

We watched a You tube video on frozen fog.  It showed a person throwing hot water into the air of extremely cold temperatures. It turned from a liquid into a gas. Students, along with myself, we're amazed at the unusual results.  We talked about what would normally happen at different air temperatures, if we performed the same experiment.  In addition, we discussed why the frozen fog rarely happens and how different temperatures in various levels of the atmosphere effect our weather. After the video, students read an article on frozen fog and answered questions to check their reading comprehension.

 We looked at various photos of frozen fog taken in the Midwest which led to a discussion about geography and why the weather condition occured more frequently in other parts of the country. Students seemed intrigued by the lesson and I was glad I deviated from the lesson plan that day to talk about the current Science event.


Dear Hoppl,

Thanks for your posting.  You've given a great example of how a current problem or event can be used to teach multiple things, and to use multiple skills.  What a rich experience your students had with that lesson.  Did you find all the resources yourself, or did some students assist with an Internet search?  And why is it that frozen fog is rarely seen in Pennsylvania as contrasted to the Midwest?

Most of the country is experiencing problems with bad weather, from the drought in California to the unusual snow that has paralyzed the South, Middle Atlantic, and East sections of the US.  Has anyone else recently used weather in your teaching?

I've been inactive in this course, and am trying to get back to finishing it.  I love this lesson!  The weather is such an obvious topic.  Funny I didn't think of it.  Of course, I'm not teaching Science at the moment, but am tasked with creating the curriculum.  Thank you for the ideas!

I'm a PA adult education professional development specialist working with ABE/GED teachers in a rural part of the state. I'm participating in the Engaging Adult Learners in Science course to learn more about teaching science (especially in preparation for the 2014 GED so I can share information and ideas with our instructors).

Here are some real-life problems our learners experience that could be used to teach science content and pratices:

Erratic weather patterns we've experienced lately make students curious about how meteorologists predict weather; Simply looking at radar images, weather maps and the graphs you can find on sites such as The Weather Channel (, or a great app called Intellicast (also a website at can help students understand weather. These sites often also have videos that explain weather concepts in more detail. With all the snow storms we've had in PA lately, I think students would be very curious about this topic.

In our Family Literacy program, nutrition is a major focus, not only healthy eating for the adults but also what they feed their children. Rather than simply lecture students about their poor food choices, why not introduce topics about human biology (basic anatomy and human body systems such as the digestive system) and introduce these lessons by linking them to the students and their own eating patterns. Ask students to keep a simple journal of what they eat and what they feed their children over the course of a week and use this as the basis for lessons, asking students to explore the impact their choices have on their long-term health and the health of their children. The University of Minnesota has an excellent site called Taking Charge of Your Health and Well-Being ( A great resource from this site is the section called "How Does Food Impact Health?" ( Let students draw their own conclusions about the impact their food choices have on their health and well-being.

I've taught science concepts to younger children and found that a "hands-on" approach really keeps their interest. Experiencing processes within the water cycle such as freezing water, boiling it, showing condensation by placing a clear glass plate above the boiling water and so on may seem a bit juvenile for adults, but I wouldn't count these experiments out. We're finding that many of our younger adult learners (recent high school dropouts) have not been exposed to many science concepts since they were in elementary school. These activities will "bring back memories" and can then be related to more advanced resources about the water cycle such as the one provided by the US Geological Survey ( Start simple, with a simple, real-life experience or demonstration that may be familiar to students, and then introduce more complex concepts, linking their prior knowledge to new learning.

Students' interest in cars can lead to discussions about emissions and the environment. Students could research which car models have the lowest emissions and why.

There are quite a few popular television shows that focus on a variety of science concepts -- shows that feature forensic investigation or the direct application of science to real-world situations while proving or debunking common misconceptions and urban legends (think MythBusters).The Discovery Channel has a website that provides information about the science behind Myth Buster episodes and also talks about the "scientific method" used on the shows ( Also think about how many TV crime shows mention DNA evidence; find out what students think the investigators mean when they talk about DNA evidence and use this as the start of lessons about genetic concepts.


This doesn't fall under that category of real-life experiences, but this idea may be effective with younger students who just don't find science very interesting. Think of movies and other pop culture media that students are interested in and how science concepts can be related. YouTube has many film clips and short scenes from movies that could be used at the beginning of class to capture students' attention. You could even use the popular "zombie" trend to talk about infection -- viruses, how we transmit disease and how that impacts the human population world-wide.


Dear Mary,

You have given us some great examples of real-life problems that lend themselves to teaching and learning science.  Your ideas related to the water cycle exemplify this...starting with a demonstration or hands-on experiment of condensation and evaporation first and then moving on to some more advanced material.  The water cycle resource at also contains a great chart of data.  This makes a great tie-in to numeracy and to the practice of reading graphs and charts.  As you indicate, these examples can be great pathways to the discussion of larger concepts.  I think your examples are quite appropriate to adult learners.  For example, who has not had cooking experience (and disasters) when distracted from paying attention to boiling, condensation, and evaporation!

Susan Cowles

Thanks Mary for the Internet resource Taking Charge of Your Health and Well-Being.  Nutrition and health are always topics of discussion in my adult ed classes.  I find that many students are happy to share their home remedies and personal solutions for anything from poison ivy to indigestion.  Often these suggestions are shared with an authority of truth without questioning, investigating, and evaluating.  I hope to be able to act as the guide in the classroom who prompts the right questions and encourages the “thoughtful interaction” that will lead to my students making decisions based on demonstrating the elements of scientific practice.

I have one student who is on a personal mission to eliminate chemicals in her home because she has heard from a celebrity on television about some negative health effects. We had a discussion in class on how easy it is accept what some people say as truth and discussed how we can make better decisions by investigating for ourselves.  The class prompted questions:  What are the chemicals? What kinds of side effects? Are these chemicals in other products?  What other products are available that will clean and disinfect that do not contain these chemicals? Options were investigated and a few homemade remedies were tested.  I asked one of the students to share her results with the class and she was very proud. I think we are off to a good start!

Hello.  I am an adult educator in a Family Literacy GED class, and I have had conversations with several colleagues about concerns over the increased rigor of the new GED science test.  I look forward to getting some fresh ideas and better insights into how to better prepare students for science.

Like several others have said, many of my students' real life science needs and teachable moments come from health concerns.  I have a current student with sickle cell disease, which has led us to explore the genetics of this inherited condition.  Another student had a baby born with a rare and life-threatening syndrome, which gave us good cause to research its symptoms and treatments.

I have also used natural disasters and weather events as teachable moments, particularly this harsh winter, as several others have indicated.  I find that students are fascinated with studying the planets and the basics of the earth's origins, rhythns and place in the universe.  You Tube videos offer such a rich supply of videos that make these things vividly clear, and a program called "Celestia" and even Google Earth have been wonderful resources to draw on.         


Your instincts seem right to me: connect science learning with what your students are interested in, what they care about.

One interest you didn't mention is cooking. Lots of science there. TV 411 is a free video magazine for adult learners. They have a series that focuses on (the science behind) cooking! Take a look.

A few weeks ago I posted the message below. If you -- or others -- are interested in reviewing science videos, please let me know.

David J. Rosen


Science teaching colleagues, program administrators and professional development staff,

If you have experience teaching science, please read the announcement below. If you work with teachers who have interest and experience in teaching science, please share the announcement, and also encourage teachers to join the LINCS Science Community of Practice.

We are looking for adult education teachers with experience in teaching science to work in a private LINCS online science group to 1) create a list of free, online science instructional videos for adult and out-of-school youth learners, and 2) review and discuss some of the videos. The goal is to create reviews of videos that have engaging science content and good science instruction. The video list would be used to help adult learners, including those with little science content knowledge, and it might also include science professional development videos for teachers. We would select videos from the list, and review them using a simple online form. In the online group we also might discuss how to use science instruction videos with students.   

The project’s purpose is to enhance face-to-face science teaching with good videos to use in class, for classes that have access to a computer and multimedia projector. Many of the videos can be downloaded and saved to a portable drive, so that teachers can use them even if they don’t have Internet access in their classroom.  Students can also watch the videos on their own, outside class, from wherever they might access the web. 

This is a volunteer effort. It will not require a great deal of time for each person to review two-five videos (some of which are quite short.) Each video will be reviewed by at least two teachers. The group’s goal might be to review a total of 10-20 videos. If we get at least six people who want to do this, we’ll begin in March, 2014. 

If you want to join the project, or if you have questions, please email David at We hope from time to time to post reports here on its progress.

David J. Rosen,

Susan Cowles,

I agree Donna, that students are fascinated with studying the Earth and the bigger picture.  My students are very rural and limited in their experiences and scope.  Providing Google Earth activiites and actual photos and videos of places and how they are connected to us makes so much more an impact.  We challenge each other often to find more learning sites.  This course is also providing rich resources that I am very glad to take back to the classroom.


My name is Lori Ventura and I am an instructor of ABE/GED and remediation classes at Community Action Southwest.  We are located in Washington and Greene Counties which are south of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  I have been an instructor for 12 years.  My students range from recent dropouts to 60+ year old dislocated workers.  My classes are open door/open exit classes.  Students come and go as they wish.  My classes are usually one on one instruction because I have all levels of students with different goals together, each and every day.  We tried to have managed classrooms, but it is very difficult because of the barriers that my students all have.

COURSE UPDATE: 03-06-2014 - Advancing Science, Serving Society (AAAS) Website Changes

Hello everyone,

The Advancing Science, Serving Society (AAAS) recently migrated their content and updated their search engines. In Session 1: Understanding the Importance of Scientific Literacy for Adult Learners,  on the Getting Answers to Personal or Family Issues screen, there is an Extend Your Learning activity that asks participants to explore the AAAS website to plan reading and writing activities contextualized around the scientific concepts covered in the plain-language booklets on topics like diabetes, obesity, HIV/AIDS, and high blood pressure. The original link to the plain-language booklet: no longer works.

To complete this activity, please use this link instead:

Thank you!

Like so many have already stated, most of the real life science topics discussed are health and weather related.  Our discussions usually do not continue after the initial discussion.  I have focused more on reading comprehension of science articles and scientific vocabulary so that the learner was prepared for the old GED test.  Again, we are not currently offering managed classrooms.  We have tried in the past, but in our area, with all of the barriers, it did not work.  When possible, we do work as a class but many times class attendance is so sporadic that when we do class work, it is never the exact same students in attendance from one day to the next.  One day I can have fifteen students in class and then the next day have one. My classes are designed to work one on one.  I also have students who are on a time limit when it comes to getting their GED.  Some are already employed and have a deadline to passing the test.  If they do not do it in a given amount of time, they may lose their job.  They want to focus solely on the information needed to be able to pass the test so they can continue to support their families.

All of the information that I have read on all of the different posts sounds wonderful and engaging, but for me, it is almost impossible to do.  The students who engage in the discussions on health or weather will individually research the topic to acquire the knowledge that they need.  Others are so narrowly focused on the test that they do not want to participate in discussions.  I could try to explain the benefits of group activities but they are so determined to learn the basic knowledge needed to pass the test and I cannot change their minds.

So far I have used the internet - youtube videos- to show students models.  There is just not enough time allotted for the class to use models.  I used the video on mitosis.  It was an animated video, and the students had a good understanding of the process of mitosis.

I am enjoying this course and learning a lot.  I especially like the eight scientific practices in everyday life.

In preparing my class for the new GED test, they have a writing assignment weekly.  Recently, in Social Studies we read about Early Democratic Documents and wrote a comparison of these documents with the Bill of Right.  Another, was when we were studying Civics and Government, we looked at the constitution and the duties and responsibilities of the president and congress to determine if they were  acting in accordance with what was stated in the constitution. The students had to research their actions from the news media and any personal experiences. (This was during the sequestration and budget and the debt ceiling debates.)

  •  Who are you?
    • Glenda Rose, PD Center Specialist for the Texas Research-based Adult Instruction Network (TRAIN PD)
    • I have been teaching ESOL since 1987.
  • What real-life problems or tasks do your students encounter? Which of these tasks or problems require an understanding of science? How have you have taken advantage of a science-related teachable moment that arose in your classroom?
    • Many of the problems my students encountered related to health, either understanding an illness/disease or understanding doctor's orders.  I took advantage of these issues as they came up to discuss the science of different body systems (particularly endocrine and respiratory).  In general, I did not provide "the answer," but grouped students with similar concerns and set them off on PBL. 
  • What are some modeling activities you have used in your classroom to teach science?
    • In learning how to do a science fair project, I used "I do - we do- you do."  Because most of the students had never done a science fair project, it was important to model the process from beginning to end with a short experiment, then doing one as a class on a longer experiment, before letting them adventure off on their own. 
  • What other ways can you think of for incorporating this practice in your classroom within other subject areas, such as reading or math or in helping students prepare for the GED?
    • My classes were generally "Themed base" which always offered opportunities for incorporating reading, listening, math and science.  For example, the theme "Texas" led to project based learning on animals and plants in Texas.  The theme of "Water" led to PBL on various things including the water cycle, conservation, and global warming (melting of the ice caps).
  • How have you engaged students in developing and using models and using mathematical and computational thinking in your classroom?
    • Students learned how to create graphs in MS Office products.  Math was a required part of our day, so anytime I could incorporate it into the theme and science, I did.) 
  • How have you engaged students in analyzing and interpreting data in your classroom?
    • We frequently practiced critically interpreting graphs, charts, and statistics reported in media.
  • How have you engaged students in constructing explanations and designing solutions in your classroom?
    • Mainly through PBL, but also through individual projects and reports.

Hello, Glenda,

Thanks for posting this interesting description of the various things you have done to incorporate science into the teaching and learning of a lot of skills.  I am interested in the themes you have used in your classes, as well as your use of PBL and of the technique "I do..we do".  Could you give a bit more of a description of how you used that latter technique with the science fair example?  Did students actually produce science fair projects?

Also, we have a discussion thread on the topic of PBL.  I see that you have already found it and have posted additional comments.  Thanks!

In your experience, what are the essentials that make PBL a success?

Cheers, Susan


What real life problems or tasks do your students encounter that you can turn into teachable moments?

Students frequently bring up health issues, but also we used the polar vortex last year to talk about the effects of global warming, and the ebola epidemic to discuss how health practices in the country protect us from such outbreaks that occur in other, poorer countries.  


What are some modeling activities you have used in the classroom to teach Science?

I love You-tube. Sometimes it takes a little time to find the right video to model a certain scientific law or concept...not too long, not too simple, not too deep, but I have learned alot through my research and I can provide my students with an engaging model to deepen their understanding.  

Interactive notebooks.  I am a little hit and miss on this because it takes more than a little time to find quality interactive notebooks, but when I can the students seem to get alot out of them.

I made some simple machines to model work=force X distance. 

How do you incorporate engaging in argument from evidence in other subject areas.

Using evidence to support an argument is valuable in every day life, so I feel very strongly about teaching students to use this in all subject areas.  You can look at current events, the cases of police brutality in the news and the public reaction to it; look at government decisions on events in history.... how long we took to join in WWII, how long we stayed in the Viet Nam war, or on politics in general...the different views of the Republicans vs. Democrats.  

I occasionally use the "poster method" for problem solving in math.  Students first work out a math problem independently, then each student presents their strategies to their small group.  The small group chooses the best method to put on their poster.  Then each small group moves from poster to poster (one person stays with each poster to explain the method they chose and why) to see how different groups solved the problem.  Then  the group returns to their original poster to discuss whether they feel they have a valid way of solving the problem or have learned a new strategy they find quicker, easier, or clearer.  It gives students a chance to defend their strategy, as well as viewing/ learning other strategies. 

Hello, Anita,

Thanks so much for writing these thoughtful responses to the questions in the LINCS online course, "Engaging the Adult Learner in Science".  Your examples provide lots to think about.  I especially like your explanation of how you use the poster method in math, and your insistence on the practice of using evidence to support an argument.  As you say, this is valuable in all subject areas, and it is an important life skill.

Because you use You Tube videos, I wonder if you might be interesting in joining the upcoming Science Video Review Project.  This will be the second time that a group of instructors has spent a little time evaluating videos for instruction in adult education programs.  It sounds as if you have a lot to offer the group!  Others of you who might be reading this are invited to join, as well.  For more information, please check out this discussion thread at and contact David Rosen for more information.

Cheers, Susan



In my unique situation, the main problems my students face revolve how to pass time and remain safe while incarcerated.  One of the factors related to remaining safe would be how to remain health and understand the various ways the germs quickly can infect a whole cell block.  Understanding the basics of contagions and pathogens is a relevant science topic.  So far, the only science moment I have had was in using the balancing of chemical equations as a logic puzzle with two of my students who thought they were good at solving sudokus.

Hello, Gerrit,

Many thanks for your comments.

I agree with you that topics in health are good ways into science. Contagions and pathogens are quite relevant topics, whether it be germs in a cell block or Ebola in west Africa.

Could you tell us more about your use of chemical equations as a logic puzzle?

You remind us that many students and instructors are working in special situations without Internet access, such as correctional facilities and community-based organizations.  Do you have the ability to take online resources and use them offline?  We have discussed this with the Correctional Education Community of Practice, which you might also want to join.

For those of you who are interested in solutions to the challenge of using online resources in an offline manner, as well as many other interesting topics, please check out the Correctional Education discussion group at





Right now, I do not have many opportunities for modeling activities due to the logistics of the correctional learning environment.  When it comes to explaining atoms, particles, and forces, I have to use diagrams, paper balls, and a lot of imagination.  I'm curious to know what types of modeling activities others have used in a corrections environment such as a jail

Gerrit, I know how challenging this can be, because several years ago we tried to use manipulatives in teaching math throughout the Oregon system of adult basic education.  Some who worked in correctional facilities could use things, at the discretion of the warden, and other items were strictly off-limits.  It sounds as if you have been very creative in your work with atoms and particles.  What suggestions do others have on the topic of modeling in restricted facilities?  It is often so true that students really benefit from modeling activities to enhance reading for understanding.  How about suggestions from some of the rest of this discussion group?



Argument is an effective tool for engaging learners in content, even science (sorry, as a licensed English teacher I couldn't resist).  Science content can be incorporated into reading by providing learners with articles on various controversial topics and then having them locate and cite evidence supporting both sides of the issue.  Math can be used in calculating various examples of benefits from a specific controversial practice and comparing it against the results of current practices (how much extra oil is harvested by fracking vs. conventional drilling and the profits that result, etc.).


Gerrit, you have given us some great examples of the ways in which science can be the subject matter for teaching basic skills.  There are so many topics in science that are continuously in the news.  And, I think the more discussion around these topics (climate change, fracking, other environmental issues), the better that students see reflections of their thinking in the media.  Students also then feel more a part of the national discussion about these issues, rather than reading about more abstract topics.  Good for you!!!  I think that English teachers are great ones for using science topics to integrate with their teaching of reading and writing!

Have others of you found similar results?

Cheers, Susan

  •  Who are you?

Joe Walsh, GED instructor at the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians in Philadelphia

  • What real-life problems or tasks do your students encounter? Which of these tasks or problems require an understanding of science? How have you have taken advantage of a science-related teachable moment that arose in your classroom?

Many of the science issues arise in the health care field: antibiotic use (as in the course), acupuncture, homeopathy, etc. When these are brought up we deal with them from a plausibilty and evidence viewpoint.

  • What are some modeling activities you have used in your classroom to teach science?

My favorite modeling activity is teaching about the cause of the seasons. This is a fairly direct model and easily clarifies misconceptions.

  • What other ways can you think of for incorporating this practice in your classroom within other subject areas, such as reading or math or in helping students prepare for the GED?

I believe that science instruction is the best method to teach reading and math. The requirement is to make the science reading and math calculations and graphics relevant. We tend to think of the subjects as individual silos, but in reality they can be combined. Models of plate tectonics are easily made from foam; of evolution and speciation with paint color chips; of hydrogen bonding with sticky magnets held out from the body simulating hydrogens; etc.

  • How have you engaged students in developing and using models and using mathematical and computational thinking in your classroom?

A good demo that then requires calculations is to do the classic breaking a paint stirring stick under a spread out plastic trash bag to show the weight of air. The students figure out the total weight of air pressing down on objects with variable areas.

  • How have you engaged students in analyzing and interpreting data in your classroom?

Topical articles from the New York Times often have graphs which can be analyzed. I will often first draw the graph and ask for a possible explanation of what might be the heading, x axis label, and y axis label. I will then show the reproduction of the actual graph from NYT.

  • How have you engaged students in constructing explanations and designing solutions in your classroom?

Before any demo, start by showing the demo without explanation. Students then discuss what happened and why. This elicits info on prior knowledge base and misconceptions.

  • Have you applied your newly acquired knowledge to help adult learners become science literate?

Adult learners (and to be honest younger learners as well!) come into the class with prior constructions of the world. These tend to be, in my experience, deeply ingrained, hard to uproot, and sometimes just plain wrong. It is very refreshing to be talking about something in the news that requires some scientific literacy and be able to reduce misconceptions. It amazes me how strong opinions not based on correct scientific information can be. The most dangerous people are not, to quote Donald Rumsfeld, those who don't know what they don't know, but, to quote Mark Twain, those who "know what ain't so."

Hello Joe,

I found your answers to these questions interesting and insightful. Most adult learners -- and younger students as well -- appreciate learning about something abstract (a theory, principle, concept or idea, model) with something concrete, visible and practical that they can see, touch, manipulate, and talk about with others.

I have a few questions for you:

1. Since you work a Welcoming Center I think your students are English language learners, immigrants. From my experience it is unusual to have science teaching in a program designed for immigrant learners. How did this come about in your program? Because you prepare people for the GED?

2. Do you see any special issues in teaching immigrants about science? Are these people who have had secondary or post-secondary education, including science, or are they immigrants with little formal education in their own country, or both? If both, how do you address the range of knowledge and skills?

3. I wonder if --and if so, how -- you use science videos. If so, do you use science instructional videos or something else? More important, how, exactly do you use them? what makes them effective, if you think they are?

4, How do you address the need for science equipment, for example for doing experiments? Do you have microscopes? Any lab equipment? Do you have students do virtual frog dissections on the Web? Something else?

David J. Rosen


1 and 2. My students are 90% immigrants studying for the GED. Science is one of the four tests. To be honest, I teach specifically to the test. Some of my students have more education and understand the concepts, but just need to understand the English vocabulary. About half the students have less than a high school level of educational functioning. Our courses are 10 weeks in length, so the lower functioning students may have to take the course twice. The better educated tend to do well after one pass through, having learned the concepts in their new language.

3 and 4. I do not use science videos. I do use quick demos. I try to boil down every broad science concept into 2-3 bullet points. I then do a demo on one or more of these bullet points. I do no labs, but do simulate experimental technique and analysis, as this is part of the GED test. For example, we run a simulated Coke vs Pepsi taste test, with a recognition of control variables and experimental variables. We do the descriptive statistics (on the math GED), but don't get into inferential statistics.



Dear Joe,

Thanks for your detailed comments about teaching science to immigrants.  Your examples are quite insightful and helpful.  I agree with you that science can be the foundation upon which many skills can be introduced and practiced.  I especially like your descriptions of quick demos with bullet points.  Could you give us a few additional examples of what you do with quick demos?  They certainly are a good way to work with students in situations when there is neither time nor money for science labs.  It sounds like your students show a good success rate in achieving their goals!

Cheers, Susan


Key concepts in Earth Science include earth structure and plate tectonics. For structure, I show them a golf-ball size ball of clay wrapped in cellophane. We then cut the ball in half revealing the 3 different colors of clay inside, representing the mantle, outer core, and inner core. The cellophane represents the very thin crust. For plate tectonics I use two pieces of firm foam cut with beveled edges. These pieces are pushed against each other to show the different types of plate interactions: subduction and volcanos; continental-continental with mountain building; divergence with new crust formation; and transform faults. 

Before you can discuss weather, you have to convince the students that air has mass. I do the quick demo of breaking a stirring paint stick at the edge of a table with the other end under a spread out trash bag. The stick breaks instead of the bag flying off because the air presses on the bag, and the students calculate the total amount of air mass above the bag.

For electromagnetism you can build a small motor using a battery, a magnet, and a paper clip. Current flow causes the magnet to spin. Light is an electromagnetic wave, and the students can calculate the speed of light by putting a chocolate bar in a microwave with known frequency (usually on the label inside the microwave) and determining the distance between the melt points on the bar.

These are all 15 minute demos that nicely let them visualize what is in the GED review book. One or two per class (90 minutes) is sufficient.



Hi, Joe,

Thanks so much for giving us these concrete examples of your "quick demos" for illustrating science concepts and topics.  They illustrate the ways in which an innovative instructor can work within constraints of time and budgets (and lack of lab space).  I'm wondering if there are other instructors who wish to add to this discussion thread.  We all can learn so much from each other!

Cheers, Susan