Global Partnership for Science Education through Engagement

Think like a Scientist

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Mission Overview

GSEE/TLS seeks to create a movement that recognizes, connects, and expands the efforts of individuals and organizations seeking to stimulate all students to think like scientists who live in an emergent universe.

GSEE/TLS is responding to the major global challenge of improving science literacy by developing a movement whose goal is to teach every student to think like a scientist. It will convene teams of engaged scientists, innovative educators, citizen science, science museum leaders, and game designers. These teams will use emerging technologies to create resources and activities that are designed to inspire and teach students to think like scientists, provide teachers with new ways of thinking about the science they teach, and connect engaged teachers and students to mentors from the working scientist community. It will explore what we can do together that we cannot do separately, and search for synergies among many approaches that are being pursued simultaneously.

GSEE/TLS will focus on emergent scientific learning, defined as learning about science in some or all of the following ways:

  • In school with teachers who have been given the necessary tools, out-of-school, in teams, and on line.
  • Through concepts and phenomenon, not facts, new paradigms and connections, carrying out hands-on experiments and projects, using new probes to devise and carry out these experiments, participating in citizen science experiments, participating in new and existing experiments in learning, and emerging technologies.
  • From one another, games, peers or high school students, undergraduates, and scientists as mentors, tapes of interviews with scientists, innovative educators, citizen scientists, science museum leaders, and game designers describing their research, videos of scientific phenomenon, visits to science museums, and the media.

In emergent scientific learning, because of the many possible interactions and synergies between these different modes, the whole becomes much more than, and different from, its part.


Because improving school science education is a significant and timely global challenge to the scientific and educational communities, improving middle school science education became an important goal for the engaged scientist community represented by the Global Partnership for Science Education through Engagement (GSEE) in May, 2016.

The GSEE leadership proposed to its partners that its next major initiative should be on middle school education and asked what it’s engaged scientists could do to inspire students, provide teachers with new ways of thinking about the science they have to teach, and connect teachers and students to real working scientists who can provide demos, kits, advice, science museum experiences, and online supplementary resources.

Following a December, 2016, GSEE/China Summit in Shenzhen, and a presentation to a meeting organized by the Hong Kong Academy for Gifted Education, GSEE/TLS emerged as a partnership whose long term goal is teaching every primary and middle school student to "think like a scientist". Every student, not just would-be scientists, can learn to think like a scientist; such knowledge is essential in understanding the world we live in.

Concepts and Skills


TLS partners recognize that the book, "A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas", which served as the foundation for the Next Generation Science Standards and many state standards in the United States, is by now familiar to many teachers in the United States, and is at the heart of what it means to Think Like a Scientist.

However, it may not be directly accessible to primary and middle school students or their out-of-school mentors, as well as educators and teachers in areas outside United States, e.g. Asia, so there is a need for a document addressed to this community that summarizes the skills that go into TLS. Moreover, it is the Founding Members’ contention, that the Framework does not include an essential cross-cutting concept, that we live in an emergent universe, or a cross cutting strategy for dealing with complex problems.

So the document that follows, which is aimed at primary and middle school students, can be useful to the teaching community as well.

The Skills of Thinking Like a Scientist;
A Checklist for Students and Their Mentors

The Scientific Approach as a Habit

Be Curious – Inquire! Never accept that something is unexplainable. We just don't have the answer yet. Do not think there are black boxes; these are just boxes that we don't yet understand.

Learn to look for Patterns in your data, whether it is obtained on the web, or by recording the results of your own hands-on experiments.

Carry out Experiments or use the web to study the result of using different probes to make measurements and ask how the results might be connected.

Collaborate and Communicate through participation in group work on projects.

Scientific Concepts and Methodology

We live in an emergent universe in which the interactions between people and matter and the environment in which they exist lead to unexpected consequences and unpredictable behavior. More is different: because of these interactions, the whole is different from its parts, as everyone who has ever baked a cake knows full well.

Know how to get science-based facts, experiments, observations, and data from the web.

Know how to analyze and interpret data.

Begin to understand systematic and statistical errors in your data.

Begin to devise scenarios and logical alternatives to explain your observations. For example, what is connected to what, how your observations change with the environment in which these are carried out.

Understanding that making mistakes is part of doing experiments or carrying out observations, and can bring science forward too.

Understanding Scientific Thinking

Be Skeptical - Ask if the new fact you were told is science-based.
Consider how the parts of the system interact - can you do an experiment, apply a mathematical principle, engineer a solution, or integrate technology to show that it is true?

Be a Complex Problem Solver recognizing that almost all problems are complex in that there is no single cause and therefore no single solution. So to make progress you need to experiment - try several solutions at once, and then determine from observations which combination works best

Connect - ask whether there are connections between different kinds of emergent collective behavior (e.g. birds flocking, fish schooling), or between the results of an experiment/observation and one of the Big Ideas in Science.


The Smithsonian Science Education Center [SSEC], under the leadership of Carol O'Donnell, is establishing, as a new component of the SSEC, a distributed network, whose working title is the Network for Emergent Scientific Learning [NESL].

NESL would encourage its branches partners to:

  • Play a lead role in defining and implementing Phase One of GSEE/TLS.
  • Set goals and track progress in the same way, facilitating continuous improvement.
  • Coordinate collective efforts to maximize the end result.
  • Build trust and relationships among all participants and develop easy ways for them to communicate.
  • Serve as a backbone team dedicated to orchestrating the work of the group.
  • Fundraise to support the above efforts.

NESL will convene engaged scientists and engaged science education innovators to catalyze critical conversations on the role of emergence and emergent behavior in solving complex problems in science education. Participants will inform, connect and expand their activities and. Through their collective impact, demonstrate firsthand how scientific learning emerges. The focus will be on cooperation and not competition.

NESL is establishing TLS/Resources to inform the network of existing efforts and is initiating new efforts aimed at bringing the different efforts of the participating partners into a common framework in a few well selected pilot programs.

NESL will establish its website on Until then, the Summit website will be transformed into a temporary home for a website that introduces GSEE/TLS to a broad audience. It will be maintained by the ScienceAtHome development team, and updated on a regular basis.

Partners, Leaders and Advisors

The GSEE/TLS Global Partnership is based on two guiding principles:

  • Bringing in as partners, institutions with innovative school science programs.
  • Finding ways to connect and expand their work, so that the emergent whole becomes greater than and different from the sum of its parts. By doing so, it seeks advice from a distinguished group of engaged scientists and innovative educators.

GSEE/TLS Partners are institutions with innovative science programs for primary and middle schools who wish to collaborate with the other members of the GSEE/TLS community to collect, organize, develop, and disseminate quality teaching materials. TLS/Hong Kong [CDGT-HKUST] and [HKAGE] has agreed to be the initial lead GSEE/TLS Global Partner.

The TLS Partners believe that they can only make a truly global impact if collaboration between experts in many fields is fostered and it is recognized that that global problems can only be addressed through interdisciplinary collaboration. In so doing, our plan for network activities aligns well with the didactic principles of TLS.
One of NESL's pilot projects, TLS/Aspen (described later in this document) is expected to be a model for how input from the growing number of partner organizations of the TLS initiative can play a significant role in developing a new activity

The partners will form working groups to identify and develop online supplementary materials for primary and middle school students that describe and connect them to the Big Ideas, visualizations, games, citizen science experiments, and exhibits and to find ways to make these available to a global audience of students and their teachers in afterschool and out-of-school settings.

Institutions in the founding group

Below is the current list of institutions in the founding group of GSEE/TLS Partners.

Global Founding Partners

GSEE - David Pines

ICAM - Piers Coleman, Rajiv Singh

LAMAP - Daniel Rouhan, Pierre Lena

TLS/Hong Kong, Lead Partner


GSEE/China - Hong Ding

FutureForum - Hong Ding

Dali Center for the Arts and the Sciences - Hong Ding


ScienceAtHome - Jacob Sherson, Janet Rafner


GSEE/Japan - Akito Arima, Kazuo Kitahara, Kazuo Nishimura

Japan Science and Technology Agency - Michiharu Nakamura

Osaka School System - Kazuo Nishimura

Kyoto University Science Museum - Terufumi Ohno



American Institute of Physics - Philip W. Hammer

American Physical Society - Laura Greene, Rebecca Thompson

Annenberg Public Policy Center - Kathleen Jamieson

Caltech - Tom Rosenbaum, Cassandra Hori

CREATE for STEM Institute, MSU - Joe Krajcik, Bob Geier

Exploratorium - Tom Rockwell, Rob Semper

Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation - Janet Coffey

Investigative Science Learning Environment, Rutgers - Eugenia Ektina

Oregon State University - Jane Lubchenco, Martin Storksdieck

Smithsonian Science Education Center - Carol O’Donnell], Lead US Partne

Stanford University - Janet Carlson,Deborah Gordon

UC Berkeley - John Howarth, Alessandra Lanzara, Barbara Nagle, Saul Perlmutter, Zack Powell

UIUC - Mats Selen, Celia Elliott, Tony Leggett

*National Academies and NAS - Marcia McNutt

*AAAS - Rush Holt , JoEllen Roseman, Barbara Schall

*Invited, but not yet confirmed

The Leadership Team

The GSEE/TLS leadership team follows and connects the activities and resources described below, asks what other individuals or institutions might usefully become involved, and what funding sources should be considered for Phase One of its activities. Its members are:

Kathleen Jamieson, Director, Annenberg School for Public Policy

T.K..Ng, Director, Hong Kong Academy for Gifted Education

Carol O’Donnell, Director, Smithsonian Science Education Center

David Pines, Co-Founder in Residence, Santa Fe institute

Mats Selen, Physics Dept., UIUC

Jacob Sherson, ScienceatHome, and Physics Dept., Aarhus University

Jimmy Yeager, Leader TLS/Aspen

T.K. Ng, Carol O'Donnell, and David Pines act as Co-Chairs.

GSEE/TLS Advisors

Our advisors are leaders in the global scientific and education communities who advise the TLS Leadership on every aspect of the TLS programs and plans. Below is an initial list of those who have accepted membership in this important group.

Bruce Alberts, NAS President Emeritus, and Founder of SERP, UCSF

Kathleen Jamieson, Dean, Annenberg School for Public Policy, University of Pennsylvania

Anthony Leggett, UIUC, 2003 Nobel Laureate in Physics

Alan Leshner, CEO Emeritus, AAAS

John Mather, NASA, 2006 Nobel Laureate in Physics

Saul Perlmutter, 2009 Nobel Laureate in Physics

Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal

Jeremy Sabloff, President-emeritus, Santa Fe Institute

Barbara Schaal, Washington University, President, AAAS

Founding Summit

The TLS founding summit was held June 8-12, 2017 in Aspen, Colorado.
Leaders of GSEE/TLS in China, Denmark, France, Hong Kong, and the US met with a number of US leaders of scientific societies, school curriculum development centers and science museums to share information about their respective efforts in after-school science education and projects on which they might collaborate.

The US institutions represented there were the American Museum of Natural History, American Institute of Physics, American Physical Society, Michigan State’s CREATE for STEM Institute, the Exploratorium, the Smithsonian Science Education Center, Stanford's Center to Support Excellence In Teaching, TLS/Aspen, UC Berkeley's Lawrence Hall of Science and University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) Department of Physics.

Those from abroad were the Foundation LAMAP, the Hong Kong Academy for Gifted Education, the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Aarhus University's ScienceAtHome.

They considered an infrastructure for TLS/USA and discussed a number of proposed after-school activities for Phase One [2017-2019] of GSEE/TLS, including developing Inquire!, a supplementary afterschool curriculum manual containing hands-on and virtual experiments for primary and middle school students that describes and connects students to the Big Ideas, visualizations, games, citizen science experiments, and exhibits; and TLS/Aspen, an experiment in high school mentor-led out-of-school education for middle school students that will begin in the 2017-2018 school year.

Phase One Activities


Inquire! is being developed as an on-line manual for out-of-school science education. It uses both hands-on experiments and on-line virtual experiments to teach The Scientific Approach as a Habit and Understanding Scientific Thinking and connect these to the Big Ideas and other valuable online resources.

The hands-on experiments being developed for primary and middle school audiences take advantage of the work in Hong Kong by the Hong Kong University for Science and Technology (kids@ust program developed by TK Ng) and in the US on NGSS, hands-on experiments and kits that have been developed by LAMAP, SERP, CAPSI, The Exploratorium, the Koshland Science Museum, and especially at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign (PHYS123 and the IOLab science activities developed by Mets Selen).

In the manual, the hands-on experiments will be grouped together according to topics and will involve group games, supplemented and expanded in scope by the on-line games and projects being developed by Aarhus University in ScienceAtHome under the leadership of Jacob Sherson. It will provide examples of how the materials can be adapted to different after-school classroom settings and local environments and will be available in different languages, beginning with English and Chinese. The users of Inquire! will have the assistance of the Inquire! development team. It is expected that a trial version of Inquire! with 5-10 topics will be available at Summer 2018. A complete version of Inquire! will be available at 2020-2021, with around 40-50 topics of experiments/activities.

The experiments in Inquire! aim to teach students the Scientific Approach as a Habit and Understanding Scientific Thinking and will be connected to the Big Ideas in Science so that a holistic picture of our scientific understanding of our world can be communicated to the students. The more recent ideas of emergence, the use of the IOLab sensor, and the practices of AI and Big Data will also be incorporated into some experiments/activities in Inquire so that students are connected to the most recent developments in Science and Technology.

Inquire! is being developed and supported by the Hong Kong Academy for Gifted Education and the Hong Kong University for Science and Technology through a grant from the government of Hong Kong.


TLS/Aspen is an experimental after school program in which high school students act as mentors who expose middle school students to ideas, concepts, and methods that help them learn to think like scientists.

Thanks to the initiative of two Aspen high school students, Jesse Lopez and Luca Morrow-Yeager, TLS/Aspen will be launched as a 'proof of concept' experiment during the school year, 2017-2018. Eighth graders from the Aspen Middle School, Aspen Country Day School, and the Aspen Community School will meet with their mentors, Jesse and Luca, on Wednesday afternoons for two hours/week. During the fall semester they anticipate enrolling 8-10 eighth grade students for ten sessions. In the second semester they anticipate an additional twenty students who will join the program for 12-15 sessions.

The effort is being led by Jimmy Yeager, a local restaurant owner who thinks like a scientist and will take responsibility for raising the funds needed to help guarantee its success. Jesse and Luca will be coached by Jackie Francis, a science program specialist, Aspen High School and Middle School teachers and Aspen-area scientists acting as local Mentors. Initial input on the content of the program will come from David Pines, a part-time Aspen resident, and, as advisors and consultants, Janet Rafner (Bohr Institute, Copenhagen and ScienceAtHome), Mats Selen (iOLab inventor, Physics Dept. University of Illinois at Urbana), Jacob Sherson (ScienceAtHome , Aarhus University, Denmark), and members of the Exploratorium staff (San Francisco).

TLS/Aspen is an experiment that is being designed to help students understand and integrate the skills of thinking like a scientist described in TLS/Concepts. Its guiding philosophy is, What we don’t understand, we explain to each other. It will involve learning in teams and make great use of online resources, as it tests segments of TLS!, beginning with an introduction to emergence, emergent behavior and what it means to live in an emergent universe. It will include Games and Citizen Science Experiments in segments that introduce new Big Ideas in Science. It will explore the use of the IOLab sensor as a way for students to measure and collect data on their surroundings. An important facet of the experiment will be discussions tying the ideas together in order to better understand complex natural systems and societal issues.

Toward the end of each semester the student teams will begin work on creative endeavors that encapsulate what they have learned. These can range from online exhibits or virtual experiments to songs, poems, dances, art, or cell-phone videos. The projects will then form an organic exhibition for their peers and will be documented online at the TLS website. Interviews with the students, mentors, parents, and scientists, will be recorded and used as feedback to assess and refine the course. The Aspen development team is also currently exploring the possibility of using games or engaging apps to help assess and track students' problem solving skills as they progress through the course.

Some of the middle school graduates of the TLS/Aspen program will be encouraged to become mentors for the following year, so that the program is easily sustained. To make it easy for the program to be replicated or adapted elsewhere, the TLS/Aspen team will organize an Aspen workshop in the summer of 2018 for prospective mentors and educators interested in duplicating the program developed in Aspen. Based on the interest to date in TLS/Aspen, its leaders hope that as many as ten mentors will attend. TLS/Aspen would begin to replicate rapidly, if in the summer of 2019, each of these were then able to hold workshops for an additional ten mentors and educators.

Think Like A Scientist (TLS)

TLS! is a collection of online segments that are contributions to an online multimedia flexible supplement to afterschool science education and existing curricula.

Addressed to middle school teachers, mentors, and students, each segment will begin with textual materials based on concepts, experiments, and data accessible online, and include links to online exhibits, games, citizen science experiments, visualizations, and guides for teachers. It will include TLS/Interviews - videotaped ~5 minute interviews with leading scientists who describe for a middle school teacher and student audience how they think about a current research topic and the results they obtained.

As segments of TLS! are developed, these will be presented online to a global audience so that middle school students can study it in mentor-led after-school activities and educators can become familiar with our emerging supplementary materials. TLS! will convey Scientific Methodology and Concepts to middle school students and provide a concrete example of an experiment-based, concept-based, and data-based approach. Middle school teachers, mentors, and administrators may wish to use it to bring about change in the school curricula, while it offers middle school students everywhere an opportunity to learn how to think like a scientist outside the classroom.

Drafts of a number of initial segments will be developed for use in TLS/Aspen and tested there. Some further ideas about TLS are given in Appendix 2.

The Smithsonian Science Education Center [SSEC] is exploring the possibility of becoming the lead partner of TLS/USA. As the lead TLS/USA partner it would oversee Think Like a Scientist [TLS!].


TLS/Interviews are videotapes of scientist interviews made for a middle school audience; these can play an important role in the online materials we develop for out-of-school classes and be put on You Tube for use by teachers during school hours.

Each ~60-minute raw interview should be thought of as a case study in how a scientist thinks. We want to give examples of how curious and skeptical scientists approach a problem. The presentations must be jargon-free, addressed to a middle school audience, with a focus on ideas, not a series of facts, and illustrate how scientists follow their curiosity, put a topic in context, carry out research, and relate it to some of the Big Ideas in Science.

Each interview should answer/illustrate a question of interest to middle schoolers. Questions to be asked by the videographer include:

  • What motivated the scientist?
  • What was her approach? Were there false starts?
  • How did her discovery build on what was already known?
  • What is her take-away message - the most important aspect of thinking like a scientist she wishes the viewer to learn?

The videos will then be edited into ~5 minute segments that convey the excitement, challenge, and fun of doing science. The interviews can be stand-alone [i.e. be put on You Tube or the TLS website, as well as serving as introductions to topics in Inquire! and TLS!

The first audience will be the students and mentors who take part in the TLS/Aspen experiment and the TLS/ Responders. The interviews will be made available for use by the GSEE/TLS Partners and we will make every effort to inform after school programs and middle school teachers everywhere about their existence. We wish to understand what will incline kids look at these and consider ways we might help make future You Tube versions go viral.

TLS/Interviews is based at, and supported by, the Annenberg Public Policy Center. Kathleen The first interviews will be filmed in the summer of 2017 and tested out on focus groups selected from the Aspen middle school mentors and students who take part in TLS/Aspen and a group of 9-11 year old students in the Philadelphia area. Kathleen Jamieson and David Pines serve as PI's for the project.

Resources and Responders


TLS/Resources is a list of important resources and related projects. While the emerging TLS community collectively has many contacts and is familiar with many projects and possible curriculum materials, information on existing similar projects and related research has to be assembled in a systematic fashion for the participants in the initiative.

We will begin with initiatives and websites that were brought to our attention by the Summit participants. During the summer of 2017, HKAGE will hire two interns who, under the supervision of T.K. Ng, will expand this important catalogue by searching the web for comparable efforts and relevant websites.
The TLS community can then update it annually.

TLS/Resources will be an important component of NESL and the SSEC.


In every case, as materials are developed, the responsible TLS team will ensure that we gather feedback from TLS/Responders.

TLS/Responders is an initial target audience of first responders to whom our materials are communicated as they are initially developed. Their membership will differ from country to country, and will depend upon the type of material being produced, but will in general include the following:

  • Teachers at schools connected to GSEE/TLS Partners including those who have been part of earlier initiatives developed for primary and middle schools by LAMAP, SERP and CAPSI.
  • Students and teachers who are, or have been, part of Citizen Science Experiments.
  • Advisors and developers of exhibits developed by science museums for primary and middle school students.
  • Selected US charter school founders, teachers, students, and parents.
  • Selected additional science educators and curriculum developers.

This group is invited to provide feedback on the materials they receive, assess its potential impact, and suggest ways to broaden our audience. We will use their feedback to improve the online materials in Inquire!, TLS!, and their hands-on presentation in after-school classes and science days.


Seed funding for GSEE/TLS activities in the US is being provided by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and for TLS/Interviews, by the Annenberg School for Public Policy.

Funding for Inquire! and other activities in Hong Kong is being provided by a grant from the Government of Hong Kong; funding for TLS/Aspen is being provided by gifts from individuals and foundations in the Aspen area.
Funding for NESL and other GSEE/TLS activities is being sought in China, Denmark, Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan, and the US.


To find out more about TLS, please contact
Prof. David Pines
Co-Founder in Residence, Santa Fe Institute.