Volunteer Tools

*Note that these resources are designed for volunteers who have already been to a BASIS Orientation. If you haven’t been to an orientation yet, please register here.

Do you want to...
 Find a BASIS lesson to teach?
Customize a BASIS lesson around your interests?
Deepen the impact of your classroom visits?

  • Lesson Plan Library: In our Lesson Plan Library, you’ll find a list of kid-tested lessons across disciplines for each grade level, all ready to be taught!
  • If you find one you like, contact the BASIS Program Manager to arrange a training session. At the training session you’ll receive all necessary materials, run through the lesson, and be coached on classroom management. We can also help you tailor the lesson to your STEM interests.
  • If you don’t see one you like, email the BASIS Program Manager, who may be able to help you find a lesson from our more extensive archive.


Integrate your personal STEM story

  • Being a role model is an important part of being a BASIS volunteer. Begin your lesson by introducing yourselves! Every team member should take a moment at the start of the lesson to explain who they are and what they study/do as a scientist or engineer.
  • Feel free to tell your "story," as in giving an elevator pitch to 8-year-olds. Why did you become a scientist? What made you interested in your topic? What interests do you have outside of STEM? Why should students be interested in you?
  • Think about how to make your story relatable to students. Did you fall in love with entomology while hunting for cool bugs on the playground as a kid? Do you see connections between your work with angular momentum and your love of ballet or skateboarding?
  • Some volunteers choose to bring photos, props, or demos to illustrate the kinds of things they do in the lab, or hobbies they especially enjoy outside of STEM.
  • And remember, you can also weave your story throughout your lesson through examples from your own life, and/or return to it with Q&A at the end.

Tailor the topic introduction

  • Science lessons can be a great classroom equalizer. You can help by ensuring that all students have the background knowledge they need to take meaning from the hands-on investigation with a strong, engaging topic introduction.
  • Think about how your STEM story can act as a lead-in to the topic intro. There are almost always valuable connections you can make to help students contextualize the lesson and better understand your role as a scientist.
    • If you're a particle physicist teaching a lesson on germs, can you help students see that you're interested in things that are too small to be seen, like the ones the class will explore today? The connection is in scale.
    • If you study penguin habitats, but you're teaching a lesson on local ocean conservation, can you help students connect local actions to the broader marine ecosystem? The connection is in ecosystem interdependence.
    • If you are a biomolecular engineer teaching a lesson on building marshmallow-toothpick "skyscrapers," can you explain how you use modeling in your work, just like the ones they are creating?
    • Remember, your research is connected to the lesson because you are all constructing explanations or designing solutions through STEM!
  • Devise a personalized intro that supports the "storyline(suggested progression) of a strong lesson, according to the new Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS): Phenomenon → Question → Investigation → Connections.
    1. First, students consider a phenomenon to which they can all relate
    2. ​Second, students identify a valuable, testable question to ask about the phenomenon
    3. Third, students investigate the question so they can "figure out" an answer themselves
    4. Finally, students connect their conclusions back to the original question and the bigger picture.
    • More info on NGSS can be found in the "Deepen Your Impact" section below.
  • Your topic intro should cover the "phenomenon" and "question" phases of the storyline. What general phenomenon are students going to explore? For example:
    • We feel a pounding in our chest after we run around at recess. What is causing that feeling?
    • Magnets stick to the whiteboard/refrigerator, even though they don't feel sticky. What's going on?
    • My classmates and I have some facial features in common, but we all look different. Why?
    • After it rains, puddles form on the sidewalk - but when the sun comes out, the puddles disappear. Where do they go?
    • Trees have much more mass than the seeds they started from. Where does all that mas come from?
  • There are lots of unique ways you can engage students in thinking about the phenomenon and question, based on your STEM background. You might:
    • Bring in specialized demos that spark students' interest in the phenomenon or inspire a particular question
    • Bring in images from your research or fieldwork that illustrate the phenomenon: photos of a gate split by the San Andreas fault; photos of you holding a particular reptile; photos of your chromatography set-up in the lab; etc.
    • Share a story that deepens students' understanding of the phenomenon. For example, introduce plate tectonics with a story about your exploration of fossils found in both Brazil and Nigeria; introduce the term "atmosphere" by discussing how you feel short of breath when doing fieldwork at high elevations (bring pics!); or introduce an egg drop challenge with images of or a storybook about the Mars rover and its landing gear.
    • Tip: Storybooks are a great way to engage K-1 students. Storybooks have mixed results in grade 2, and are generally not successful in grades 3-6.
  • It helps to ask students what they already know about the phenomenon, both to engage them in the inquiry process and to see if you need to adjust the intro a bit. Some teams use a "Know-Wonder-Learn" chart: have students brainstorm things they already know about the phenomenon that they're going to explore; ask them what kinds of things they wonder about the phenomenon; and after they've completed the hands-on activities, ask students to share what they've learned about the phenomenon during the lesson.

Tailor the hands-on activity

  • The lesson plans in our Lesson Plan Library include some of the best hands-on activities we could find, but volunteers often bring great new ideas to BASIS lessons!
  • Your department or lab may have equipment, materials, and/or demos that can be checked out, which can enhance students' learning experiences. For example:
    • Dry ice can enrich students' exploration of states of matter
    • Specimens of different insects can enhance a genetics lesson
    • Brains checked out from the anatomy store room can bring a neuroscience lesson to life
    • Solar- or wind-powered batteries can help incorporate environmental awareness into an engineering lesson
    • Demos checked out from the Physics Department offer new ways for students to explore magnets, forces, etc. 
  • Some of our lessons can be easily tweaked to related topics. For example, a lesson on genetic variation that currently focuses on birds can be adapted with similar activities focused on beetles, humans, etc. This is a great opportunity to bring in a citizen science project, or devise a new activity that distils your own research into an elementary-friendly hands-on investigation. We recommend Pinterest (especially the CRS Pinterest pages), BrainPopHowtosmile, and the lessons in our Lesson Plan Library for inspiration and resources.
  • If you plan to introduce any new activities, please email the BASIS Program Manager, as we will need to review any safety or classroom management requirements and inform teachers of the change.

Conclude with connections to your research

  • Even if you don't think your current research is directly relevant to the lesson content, there are almost always valuable connections you can make to help students contextualize the lesson and better understand your role as a scientist. See "Tailor the topic introduction" above.
  • Leave time at the end for students to ask questions, not only about the lesson, but also about your research and what it's like to be a scientist!

Reach out to CRS to start developing your own original lesson

  • We encourage volunteers who would like to develop their own lesson to start with one of the existing lessons first, to get a feel for the classroom.
  • Once you've gotten some experience with BASIS, we'll be happy to coach you through the process of developing your own original lesson. 
  • Our lesson development coaching includes training on how to integrate your ideas with CA science standards. See "Understand the Science Education Context with NGSS" below for great resources on the standards, including the suggested "lesson storyline," and to see at what grade your interests fit.
  • Coaching also includes activity development with an eye toward materials management, classroom management, and logistics. Take a look through the Lesson Plan Library to see if something similar exists and can be used as a tried-and-tested foundation to build on.
  • All new BASIS lessons "go live" in our BASIS Lesson Plan Template. Download the Template to see the layout and read some handy tips on mapping out a lesson.
  • Contact the BASIS Program Manager for more information, or to get started!


1. Understand the science education context with NGSS

  • The brand new Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are changing the way science is taught in the US! NGSS moves science education away from textbooks and content learning, and toward question- and practice-based learning. NGSS also includes engineering. The National Science Teacher's Association explains the value of NGSS in this 3-minute video.
  • BASIS lessons can be valuable models for teachers who are just learning this new way of teaching science. After all, you are the experts on scientific inquiry and STEM practices!
  • NGSS lessons are guided by a phenomenon- and question-driven "storyline": Phenomenon → Question → Investigation → Connections.
    1. First, students consider a phenomenon to which they can all relate (from personal experience, from a lesson, from a storybook, etc.)
    2. From there, students identify a valuable, testable question to ask about the phenomenon
    3. Next, students investigate the question, finding possible answers to help explain the phenomenon. The emphasis is on guiding students to "figure it out" themselves
    4. Finally, students their conclusions back to the original question and the bigger picture
    • This short video explains the value of the NGSS storyline
  • Every NGSS lesson is also framed in terms of three "dimensions" of science learning: Scientific & Engineering Practices, Core Ideas, and Crosscutting Concepts. The 8 Scientific & Engineering Practices, 13 Core Ideas, and 7 Crosscutting Concepts help students make connections across disciplines and build on knowledge as they progress through different grade levels. The 3 dimensions are consistent across all grade levels, though of course the depth and complexity of topics will advance with each grade. Every NGSS lesson - including BASIS lessons - includes one or two of the Practices, Ideas, and Concepts. 
    • ​Watch an overview of 3-dimensional learning here
    • Explore the 13 Core Ideas with this short video
    • Explore the 7 Crosscutting Concepts with this short video
    • Explore the 8 Scientific & Engineering Practices with this short video
    • See a reference list of the 8 Practices and 7 Crosscutting Concepts here
  • Although all units and lessons will draw on these same 8 Scientific & Engineering Practices, 7 Crosscutting Concepts, and 13 Core Ideas, specific topics will change with each gradeTo see at what grade level your specific STEM interests are taught under NGSS, see our Topics-By-Grade summary sheet.
  • Think about how you can reinforce NGSS concepts, including the 3 dimensions and the storyline, for students and teachers. Not only can this enhance the impact of your lesson on students, but it can help teachers integrate your BASIS lesson into their broader curriculum. Watch this short video for a great example of how to integrate NGSS language and concepts.
  • More NGSS resources can be found on our educators' page or the NGSS website.

2. Improve your pre-lesson preparation

  • Prepare in advance using our pre-lesson checklist.
  • Know your lesson plan by heart. Teachers consistently report that BASIS lessons are outstanding because of how well teams are prepared. On the other hand, if teachers have critiques, it’s generally because of a team’s lack of preparation.
  • Have a materials management strategy: for example, make a plan for passing out materials. It’s best to wait until the last minute to pass anything out, so students don’t get distracted by them. Some teams create sets of materials in Ziploc bags to save time. You can also remove temptation by collecting materials from students as soon as they’re no longer needed (especially with younger kids).
  • Memorize your lesson. You've probably experienced how painful it is to sit through a lecture or speech read from a script. Don't subject kids to it either! Maximize student engagement by speaking extemporaneously.

3. Keep your lesson adaptable

  • Ask students what they know about your topic, and adjust your instruction based on their background knowledge (or lack thereof). Consider using a "Know-Wonder-Learn" chart at a tool: have students brainstorm things they already know about the phenomenon they're going to explore (record answers on the board); ask them what kinds of things they wonder about the phenomenon (record answers on the board); and after they've completed the hands-on activities, ask students to share what they've learned about the phenomenon during the lesson (again, record answers on the board).
  • Email the teacher in advance to ask for suggestions on how to meet the needs of any English Language Learners or students with special needs in their particular class. You might think about adapting your vocabulary, pace, or content. (See section 6 below).
  • Define a clear “take-away” message you’d like students to grasp at the end of your lesson. Keep it in mind throughout the lesson to keep students – and yourself – on track. 
  • Respond to restlessness if students get antsy. Try changing course: start an activity, tell a story, ask a question, transition into a demo, etc.
  • Ask the teacher for help if you need it. Teachers are required to be in the classroom during your lesson. 
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff! Things don’t always go as planned, especially when it comes to kids. Focus on your take-away, and remember that your impact will be different for different students.

4. Use effective science communication

  • Make eye contact, as you would in any presentation.
  • Show an interest in the audience. 
  • Speak in a normal, natural voice. There's no need to talk down (even with the youngest of students), just because they’re kids! It's not that the kids aren't as smart as you - it's that they haven't progressed as far in their education (yet).
  • Speak extemporaneously, rather than reading from a prompt, just as you’d expect your teachers to.
  • Use analogies to explain complex concepts. For example, DNA can be thought of as a cookbook that contains recipes (genes) for organisms. Analogies are especially helpful in explaining scale: "If an atom was the size of a football field, the nucleus would be the size of a marble in the middle of the field!" "Jupiter over 365 million miles away from us. If you tried to walk there, even at your fastest, it would take you not 5 days; not 50 days; not 500 days; not 5000 days; not 50,000 days; not even 500,000 days; but over 5,000,000 days! [add zeros on the board as you go]. That's over 13,000 years. Is anyone here that old?"
  • Try turning your statements into questions. For example, the statement, These wispy white clouds high in the atmosphere are called cirrus clouds!can be framed in question-based form: “What do you observe about the clouds in this picture? What shape are they? What color? Do they seem high in the sky or low toward the ground? Great! These are called cirrus clouds!
  • Be aware of your non-verbal communication. For example, using open, welcoming, energetic body language can help engage students and reinforce learning.

5. Encourage broad, diverse participation

  • Make your lesson accessible to all learners: say, write, and show. Some students learn best by listening; others by reading; others by speaking; others by experiencing; and so on.
  • Use lots of visuals – photos, charts, specimens, maps, words on the board – and refer back to them frequently. A "KWL" chart can be a nice place to start, especially for younger students.
  • Randomize student selection. It’s tempting to call on eager students, but give everyone a chance.
  • Wait 3 seconds before calling on students to answer a question. You’ll be impressed with how many more (and often, more diverse) hands go up.
  • Be flexible in how you communicate questions and responses, reiterating information in different ways if needed.
  • Sandwich critiques inside positive feedback.
    • ​For example, for students going off-topic with long answers to a question: “It sounds like you have a lot of great observations to share. I’m going to interrupt you to call on someone who hasn’t spoken yet, but if there’s time at the end we can come back to you.”
    • Or, if someone offers an incorrect answer: “That’s a great guess, based on our earlier observation that magnets have two poles. It’s not the correct answer to this question, but I’m glad you were paying such close attention!”
  • Praise the process, not just the product, to encourage students to value growth and improvement.
  • Be aware of micromessages, both positive and negative, that can make students feel valued and welcomed into STEM - or, on the flip side, they can make certain groups feel devalued and unwelcome. For example, consider calling students "scientists" instead of "guys" or "boys and girls."
  • For resources on adapting for students with special needs, email the BASIS Program Manager.

6. Adapt for English Language Learners

  • Ask the teacher ahead of time if they would like you to adapt your lesson to accommodate English Language Learners (ELL) in their class. If so, ask for any recommended strategies.
  • Use nonlinguistic representations. ELL students tend to have a harder time processing spoken language. You can help by writing all vocabulary and instructions on the board; providing diagrams and images of new concepts; sharing photos of phenomena; etc. It's the old "say, write, show" technique.
  • Introduce new vocabulary thoughtfully. Be explicit about new and important words, and write them on the board. Better yet, list all the words and terms in your lesson that might be new for an ELL student, and if it looks like it might be overwhelming, omit some or use alternatives.
  • Be aware of culturally-specific speech, like slang and idioms, which might be confusing. Are they "seeing eye to eye" or "agreeing"?
  • Be mindful of homonyms. The "table" students sit at is different from a scientific "table"; the "plot" of land they're modelling is different from the "plot" of their book. Check in to ensure everyone is on the same page.
  • ​Walk students through the steps of the hands-on activity by modeling the procedures in front of the class.
  • Adapt your hands-on activity to accommodate teamwork in small groups and encourage peer discussion. Teamwork is a great opportunity for ELL students to practice English without the pressure of an all-class discussion, or to get clarification from peers in the language they are most comfortable with.

7. Keep it hands-on

  • Encourage kids to “figure it out” for themselves through the hands-on experiment or activity, instead of just “learn about” your topic. Avoid lecturing as much as possible.
  • Limit instructional speaking time to ten minutes or less.
  • Vary instructional techniques, using questions, demos, and activities to break up instructional time.
  • Incorporate movement by rotating students through stations, or getting them on their feet for part of an activity (this video has tips on managing younger students as they rotate through different stations).
  • Consider incorporating a song or dance for students in kindergarten or first grade, or have kids explore a concept with movement (a bonus is that music and movement can help with younger students' memory of concepts).
  • Circulate during activities to observe and assist anyone who needs help.
  • Leave enough time for everyone to finish the hands-on activity, if possible. If you have to end before everyone’s done, talk to the teacher about whether there’s time that the remaining student(s) can finish on their own, so they don’t feel left out.

8. Promote critical thinking and collaboration

  • Ask questions to promote inquiry-based learning. Guide student thinking with questions such as: Did you notice…? How many did you see? How are they alike or different? What happens if…? How could we find out…? Open-ended questions can be especially effective; you can even turn your statements into questions to facilitate student-led discussions.
  • Encourage students to ask questions themselves.
  • Encourage students to make predictions.
  • Observe student responses carefully to adjust the lesson as needed. Are your questions too complicated? Too simple? 
  • Prod students to give evidence for claims they make. 
  • Review and clarify the take-away with discussion before and after each part of the lesson. It's unlikely that all students will master all parts of every lesson. Guide students to see the meaning in what they've done (or tried to do) by explicitly addressing the take-away: what single aspect of scientific understanding do you want them to walk away with? This is likely a partial explanation of the original phenomenon they're exploring (see Section 1 above). If it's the effectiveness of one particular station you're concerned about, the take-away to emphasize is probably the connection between the station and the lesson's overall take-away.
  • Encourage collaboration among students, and make sure each student has a role to play so nobody is left out of the lesson.
  • Invite peer consultation and facilitate peer response. For example, instead of calling on a single student to answer a question, have students turn to a partner and discuss possible answers. 
  • Have students share results if possible, and summarize on the board. Ask students to share the results of their engineering design or experiment, and have them react to one another's products. If there's data involved, guide the group to identify trends in data or observations, and to identify unusual data and possible causes. 

9. Set expectations clearly

  • Wait until you have everyone’s attention before speaking. Ask the teacher if they have a preferred attention-getting strategy – if they do, make life easier on yourself and use it! Examples from local classrooms include:
    • Ringing a bell
    • Saying, "1-2-3, eyes on me!" to which students respond "1-2, eyes on you!"
    • Saying, "Clase!" to which students respond "Bueno!"
    • Whatever you choose, try to avoid raising your voice.
  • Review all safety rules
  • Recognize model behavior: For example, "I'm going to call on this student, who is sitting quietly with her hand raised."
  • Signal transitions with a change in place or materials: for example, by rotating through activity stations, or by removing materials from the previous activity and replacing them with new materials.
  • Be explicit about all steps in the hands-on activity. Reiterate instructions on the board, or demonstrate step-by-step alongside students (this is especially useful for younger students and English Language Learners, or if the activity is complicated).

10. Connect your lesson to students’ lives

  • Introduce the topic using a "phenomenon" all students can relate to and ask questions about. Have students ever noticed how no matter how hard they try, they can’t swing over the bar on a swing set? Have they ever run around at recess and felt their heart beat faster? You may also wish to introduce a phenomenon by telling a story - for example, in younger grades, through an interactive read-a-long at the start of the lesson.
  • Conclude with a wrap-up discussion that connects the hands-on activity to the big picture, with real-world examples kids can relate to: What did chromatography help us figure out about leaves? How does this help us understand Oakland in the fall? What other questions would you ask next to better understand what happens to trees in the fall?

11. Be a science role model

  • Engage and connect with your audience from the start. Get personal and share your own science story!
  • Add texture to your story with photos, props, anecdotes, and demos.
  • Model respect (no texting!). 
  • Have fun!! If you’re enjoying yourself, the kids will have a great time too!


Looking for additional training or support? Get in touch!