This unit on Earth’s resources and human impact begins with students observing news stories and headlines of drought and flood events across the United States. Students figure out that these drought and flood events are not normal and that both kinds of events seem to be related to rising temperatures. This prompts them to develop an initial model to explain how rising temperatures could cause both droughts and floods and leads students to wonder what could cause rising temperatures, too. This initial work sets students up to ask questions related to the query: How do changes in Earth’s system impact our communities and what can we do about it?
Students spend the first lesson set gathering evidence for how a change in temperature affects evaporation, precipitation, and other parts of Earth’s water system. They use evidence to support a scientific explanation that two climate variables (temperature and precipitation) are changing precipitation patterns in the case sites they investigated. Students figure out that the rising temperatures are caused by an imbalance in Earth’s carbon system, resulting in a variety of problems in different communities. The unit ends with students evaluating different kinds of solutions to these problems and how they are implemented in communities. Students work through a systematic evaluation process to consider (1) each solution’s potential to solve the carbon imbalance, (2) tradeoffs associated with solutions based on student-identified constraints, and (3) whether the solution in question makes sense for their community’s stakeholders.
Additional Unit Information
This unit builds toward the following NGSS Performance Expectations (PEs):
MS-ESS3-1. Construct a scientific explanation based on evidence for how the uneven distributions of Earth’s mineral, energy, and groundwater resources are the result of past and current geoscience processes.
MS-ESS3-3.* Apply scientific principles to design a method for monitoring and minimizing a human impact on the environment.
MS-ESS3-4. Construct an argument supported by evidence for how increases in human population and per-capita consumption of natural resources impact Earth’s systems.
MS-ESS3-5. Ask questions to clarify evidence of the factors that have caused the rise in global temperatures over the past century.
MS-ETS1-2.* Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.
*Performance Expectations marked with an asterisk are partially developed in this unit and shared with other units. Review the OpenSciEd Scope and Sequence for more information.
The unit expands students’ understanding of particle models and energy transfer, which include these Grade 6–8 DCI elements:
ESS3.A. Humans depend on Earth’s land, ocean, atmosphere, and biosphere for many different resources. Minerals, fresh water, and biosphere resources are limited, and many are not renewable or replaceable over human lifetimes. These resources are distributed unevenly around the planet as a result of past geologic processes. The anchor phenomenon launches students into a series of investigations in lesson set 1 about how fresh water resources are changing in communities. Some places have too much and some too little. By lesson set two, students examine the role of fossil fuel use for energy, and in Lesson 10, there is an explicit opportunity to explore the formation and uneven distribution of fossil fuels specifically, that is then broadened to other resources.
ESS3.C. Human activities have significantly altered the biosphere, sometimes damaging or destroying natural habitats and causing the extinction of other species. But changes to Earth’s environments can have different impacts (negative and positive) for different living things. Students developed this idea in the Palm Oil Unit, but will apply this idea again in this unit as they make connections across human activity and global change. In the previous unit, students designed land use systems to minimize impact on natural habitats and the biosphere (element #1). In this unit, students investigate how changes in Earth’s environments include negative consequences of changing the normal precipitation patterns in those places. They figure out that consumption of natural resources, like fossil fuels, is impacting Earth’s system, but there are activities and technologies that can minimize the impact (element #2).
ESS3.C. Typically as human populations and per‑capita consumption of natural resources increase, so do the negative impacts on Earth, unless the activities and technologies involved are engineered otherwise. In lesson set 2, students gather evidence to show an initial correlation between human activity (specifically combustion of fossil fuels) and increased atmospheric CO2, which is causing elevated air temperatures and changing precipitation patterns. Lesson set 3 provides students opportunities to better understand the ways in which activities and technologies are engineered to correct the carbon imbalance and help communities adapt to changes they are already experiencing.
ESS3.D. Human activities, such as the release of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels, are major factors in the current rise in Earth’s mean surface temperature (global warming). Reducing the level of climate change and reducing human vulnerability to whatever climate changes do occur depend on the understanding of climate science, engineering capabilities, and other kinds of knowledge, such as understanding human behavior and applying that knowledge wisely in decisions and activities. Throughout this unit, but particularly lesson sets 2 and 3, students gather evidence and build a case that the composition of greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere are changing due to the combustion of fossil fuels. This change in composition is the result of increased emissions of CO2 into the atmosphere from human activity. Students spend lesson set 3 learning about different scales of solutions that are aimed at either reducing CO2 emissions, capturing atmospheric CO2, or helping vulnerable communities adapt to changes they are experiencing now.
ETS1.B. There are systematic processes for evaluating solutions with respect to how well they meet the criteria and constraints of a problem. Students work through a diverse set of solutions throughout lesson set 3 with a focus on reducing CO2 emissions. They define the problem and criteria for solutions to reduce atmospheric CO2 levels, they consider tradeoffs in the solutions and the scales at which the solution has to effectively occur, and then they develop a suite of solutions they feel are viable for their community or school.
Asking Questions and Defining Problems. This unit intentionally develops this practice. Students engage in this practice in substantial ways by asking questions and defining problems related to a complex socio-scientific issue. While students have had substantial experience with aspects of this practice in previous OpenSciEd units, this unit engages students in (1) asking questions that require sufficient and empirical evidence to answer, and (2)for the first time in middle school, asking questions to challenge the premise of an argument.
Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking. This unit intentionally develops this practice. Students continue to develop and use mathematical concepts of rate and ratio reasoning to make sense of phenomena. This is similar to the work they did in the previous unit, the Palm Oil Unit. However, they add to this practice by using math to make sense of percent change in GHGs over time, proportional relationships between GHGs and temperature, rates of carbon fluxes that lead to imbalance, and rates of carbon offset that can solve the carbon imbalance. They also engage in using digital tools to create and/or analyze graphs of data to determine trends and patterns over time. Finally, they use mathematical concepts to support their decisions about whether carbon solutions meet the class agreed-upon criteria and constraints to reduce the carbon imbalance.
Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information. This practice is key to the sensemaking in this unit. Throughout the unit, students obtain information from informational texts, videos, tweets, graphs, maps, simulations, and data visualization tools. The integration of information across multiple forms of media is substantial. In Lesson 4, for example, they obtain additional information about components of the water system, and are cued to evaluate the claims made by scientists and other reliable, valid sources and the data they use to support their claims. Students also engage significantly with this practice in Lesson 17 as they evaluate and communicate carbon solutions to their chosen stakeholder audience.
The following practices are also key to the sensemaking in the unit:
- Developing and Using Models
- Analyzing and Interpreting Data
- Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions
- Engaging in Argument from Evidence
Stability and Change. This crosscutting concept is intentionally developed in this unit. From the first lesson in the unit, students use the lens of stability and change. In their initial models, students explain how a small change intemperature could lead to large changes, like floods and droughts. They work toward a scientific explanation for why different communities’ water resources are changing from a small rise in temperature (in Lessons 5 and 6). Stability and Change stays in the foreground throughout lesson set 2 as students make sense of the current level of greenhouse gas concentrations in comparison to short-term and long-term data. In the final lesson set, students ask questions about different CO2 reducing solutions and how gradual changes over time might lead to a reduction in atmospheric carbon dioxide and global temperatures. One aspect of the final project is to communicate a message about how small changes in behavior or the use of technology, when done across a larger group of people over a sustained time, can have a greater impact on atmospheric CO2.
Cause and Effect. This crosscutting concept is key to the sensemaking in this unit. In lesson set 1, students begin developing a cause-and-effect diagram that explains changing precipitation patterns in communities. They continue this work in lesson set 2 as they question whether rising concentrations of gases in the atmosphere are correlationally or causally related to temperature change (Lesson 7). From this point forward, they use the lens of cause-and-effect as they make sense of the mechanisms that regulate temperatures in the atmosphere. Students gather evidence to support the causal relationships (by Lesson 10). Their final consensus carbon system model (Lesson 11) and cause-and-effect diagram for the unit (Lesson 12), combines all evidence to establish a causal relationship between fossil fuel use and changing water resources and the floods and droughts observed in the anchor lesson.
Scale, Proportion, and Quantity. This crosscutting concept is key to the sensemaking in this unit. Students use scale, proportion, and quantity to make sense of the magnitude of change in greenhouse gases and the proportional relationship they have with temperature. In lesson 7 they examine the concentration of gases in the atmosphere and calculate the percent change over a 100-year time frame. Students see that some gases make up a small proportion of the atmosphere, but those same gases are changing by a notable amount. In Lesson 8, students develop a model idea that the concentration of GHGs in the atmosphere are proportionally related to temperatures. They use this relationship in Lesson 13 to problematize the magnitude of reduction in carbon dioxide emissions that must happen to see a temperature decline. In Lesson 14 students calculate a carbon savings rate per person. They scale this number to larger populations. Throughout this process, students work with different quantities to understand the magnitude of reduction in carbon dioxide emissions that is possible with different degrees of participation in changed behaviors.
The following crosscutting concepts are also key to the sensemaking in the unit:
- Systems and System Models
- Energy and Matter
Which elements of NOS are developed in the unit?
- Science investigations use a variety of methods and tools to make measurements and observations. (NOS-SEP)
- Science depends on evaluating proposed explanations.(NOS-SEP)
- Theories are explanations for observable phenomena & Science theories are based on a body of evidence developed over time. (NOS-SEP)
- Science is a way of knowing used by many people, not just scientists. (NOS-CCC)
- Scientists and engineers are guided by habits of mind such as intellectual honesty, tolerance of ambiguity, skepticism, and openness to new ideas. (NOS-CCC)
- Advances in technology influence the progress of science and science has influenced advances in technology. (NOS-CCC)
- Scientific knowledge can describe the consequences of actions but does not necessarily prescribe the decisions that society takes. (NOS-CCC)
How are they developed?
- Throughout the unit, students examine and collect data from a variety of sources (including measurement tools and observations). For example, students also learn methods in which science can investigate data from past millenia using air bubbles trapped in ancient ice cores.
- Students investigate common ideas for why Earth’s atmosphere is a higher temperature than in the past, with resources to explore alternative explanations (e.g., ozone hole, getting closer to the sun). Students also evaluate proposed design solutions in how well they will address the carbon imbalance problem.
- In Lesson 12, there is an opportunity to introduce students to the term, theory, as a powerful scientific explanation that explains many phenomena and is supported by a body of evidence. There is opportunity for a rich discussion on what ‘theory’ means in science as compared to outside of science.
- The first portion of the unit draws upon accounts and knowledge from community individuals who are experiencing shifting changes in temperature and precipitation in their community. This includes accounts from residents, farmers, and members of the Navajo Nation. The accounts draw upon local, long-term knowledge of water resources and precipitation and temperature patterns within communities. Additionally, during the transfer task, traditional knowledge of the rural, Indigenous communities of Alaska is valued and used to make claims about changes occuring in the arctic, including changes to the sea ice and local ecosystems that are anomalous to traditional seasonal patterns.
- Students explore different ideas to explain why air temperatures are rising around Earth. They do this to ensure that they have explored multiple possible explanations for why something might be happening before they pursue investigating the changes to atmosphere composition further.
- Students investigate trends in CO2 data over millennia and also the last few hundreds years. As part of this work, students learn about scientific and technological advancements that changed the energy sources used by people, which then requires science to study those energy sources and what impact they may have. Students also encounter technological solutions to minimize carbon sources and/or increase carbon sinks, though these technologies are not yet widely available.
- Students develop a causal model for why climates are changing, but as they investigate possible solutions, students realize that making decisions to solve societal problems can be more complex and they must consider community problems and needs and solutions available in those contexts.
Which elements of ETS are developed in the unit?
- All human activity draws on natural resources and has both short and long-term consequences, positive as well as negative, for the health of people and the natural environment.
- The uses of technologies and any limitations on their use are driven by individual or societal needs, desires, and values; by the findings of scientific research; and by differences in such factors as climate, natural resources, and economic conditions.
- Technology use varies over time and from region to region.
How are they developed?
- Students investigate the energy resources that humans depend upon to power our world, including the positive aspects of developing new energy sources (e.g., ability to power cars) as well as the negative aspects (e.g., producing extra CO2 into the atmosphere).
- Students evaluate possible solutions and learn that some technologies are more feasible, usable, or meet other criteria and constraints in some communities versus others. Communities have needs and limitations that must be accounted for as they implement new technologies.
- Students learn about existing and new, innovative technologies designed to address carbon in the atmosphere or help communities adapt to changes. They investigate how the use of technology varies across communities and is adopted at different rates.
The unit is broken into three lesson sets. Lesson set 1 investigates how rising temperature could be related to changes in precipitation and other water resources for communities. In this first lesson set students establish that the long-term trends in two climate variables (i.e., temperature and precipitation) are changing over time for many communities. Students use their understanding from ESS2.C and ESS2.D to make sense of changing precipitation patterns, and they also start to see how human communities rely on freshwater resources (ESS3.A, freshwater resources). Students develop an understanding of “climate change” as a measure of a change in long-term temperature and precipitation for a place. In the second lesson set students investigate the cause of rising temperature. Students gather evidence about changing greenhouse gas concentration and the link between GHGs and burning fossil fuels. Students must use ideas from ESS3.A (mineral resources), ESS3.C (per-capita consumption), and ESS3.D (greenhouse gases, fossil fuels) to make sense of rising temperatures. They situate what they learn about the combustion of fossil fuels in the context of a simplified terrestrial-based carbon system. Students bring additional ideas from the physical sciences (PS1.B, PS3.A) and life sciences (PS2.B) to develop and use the carbon system model to explain how temperature change has resulted from a carbon imbalance. Students evaluate solutions (ETS1.B) in the final lesson set. The beginning of this lesson set problematizes the solutions so that students begin their evaluation process recognizing the complex nature of carbon solutions, which need to consider more than science to solve. Students explore different technologies and changes to human behavior (ESS3.D) that must occur to solve the carbon imbalance problem, while also meeting societal constraints and the needs of stakeholders.
This unit is designed to be the last unit of 7th grade in the OpenSciEd Scope and Sequence. It comes after critical units that build some needed foundational ideas, such as OpenSciEd Unit 6.3: Why does a lot of hail, rain, or snow fall at some times and not others? (Storms Unit), OpenSciEd Unit 7.1: How can we make something new that was not there before? (Bath Bombs Unit), OpenSciEd Unit 7.4: Where does food come from, and where does it go next? (Maple Syrup Unit), OpenSciEd Unit 7.5: How does changing an ecosystem affect what lives there? (Palm Oil Unit).
As a result of this placement in the Scope and Sequence, almost all elements of the SEPs and CCCs have been introduced to the students in either the six units for sixth grade, or the first five units of 7th grade. The scaffolding for these practices and concepts accounts for students to be able to engage in them independently, but also provides scaffolds for students who may still struggle with aspects of the SEPs and CCCs.
This is the final unit in 7th grade in the OpenSciEd Scope and Sequence. Given this placement, several modifications would need to be made if teaching this unit earlier or later in the middle-school curriculum. These include:
- If taught before the Bath Bombs Unit or at the start of the school year, supplemental teaching of classroom norms, setting up the Driving Question Board, and asking open-ended and testable questions would need to be added. (These supports are built into Unit 7.1.)
- Given the anchoring phenomenon, this unit relies a great deal on students understanding water cycling concepts from 5th grade and the Storms Unit (ESS2.C The Role of Water in Earth’s Surface Processes). In 5th grade students figure out major freshwater reservoirs (components of the water system), which includes groundwater and glaciers. In the Storms Unit, students add to their understanding of the processes that move water through this system (e.g., evaporation, precipitation, etc.). These concepts are important for building students’ initial Earth’s Water System Model at the start of Lesson 2. If students do not know about freshwater reservoirs from 5th grade or water cycling processes from 6th grade, consider starting with an initial Earth’s Water System Model that is not fully developed. Add new components and interactions (and the vocabulary that goes along with them) as students figure out which ones matter in the context of the phenomena. For example, add new components, like groundwater and snow/ice, after students explore the StoryMap and learn that some communities get their water from these sources. Add precipitation as students explore the precipitation data in Lesson 2. Add evaporation to the model after Lesson 3. Essentially you will need to build the model across Lessons 2-4, rather than all at once at the start of Lesson 2.
- While this unit is about climate and climate change, it was intentionally sequenced at the end of 7th grade, as opposed to following 6th grade, because students’ understanding of Earth’s carbon system is heavily dependent upon students learning of conservation of matter through reactions (the Bath Bombs Unit), cellular respiration in living organisms (the Inside Our Bodies Unit), and photosynthesis and matter cycling in ecosystems (the Maple Syrup Unit). In each of these units, students figure out chemical processes that transform carbon. This is essential for students to understand prior to Lesson 10 when students will make sense of combustion of fossil fuels and Lesson 11 where they make sense of how combustion results in a carbon imbalance in the whole system. If teaching this unit out of order, Lesson 10 and 11 may need to be modified to better support students in articulating what is happening to carbon during the different carbon transforming processes. For example, students may need more support tracing atoms and conserving the atoms through reactions.
- This unit is highly dependent on 6th-grade math concepts, such as rate, percent, and proportion. If this unit is taught in 6th grade, it is suggested to work very closely with a 6th-grade math teacher to understand when students will learn the mathematical concepts and process (listed below) so that this unit can reinforce those concepts in a real-world problem context but not come before students have developed these ideas in their math classes (or working in conjunction with math and science simultaneously).
Throughout the unit, students will engage in mathematical thinking, rate and ratio reasoning, and encounter many histograms, line graphs, and/or scatterplots that they will need to interpret. In particular, Lessons 7, 8, 9, 10, 13, and 14 utilize a number of math concepts in the context of explaining phenomena and solving problems.
Prerequisite math concepts that are helpful include:
- CCSS.Math.Content.6.RP.A.1 Understand the concept of a ratio and use ratio language to describe a ratio relationship between two quantities.
- CCSS.Math.Content.6.RP.A.2 Understand the concept of a unit rate a/b associated with a ratio a:b with b ≠ 0, and use rate language in the context of a ratio relationship.
- CCSS.Math.Content.6.RP.A.3 Use ratio and rate reasoning to solve real-world and mathematical problems.
- CCSS.Math.Content.6.NS.B.3 Fluently add, subtract, multiply, and divide multi-digit decimals using the standard algorithm for each operation.
- CCSS.Math.Content.6.SP.B.5.c Giving quantitative measures of center (median and/or mean) and variability (interquartile range and/or mean absolute deviation), as well as describing any overall pattern and any striking deviations from the overall pattern, with reference to the context in which the data were gathered.
- In Lessons 8, 13, and 14, students start to develop an understanding of the proportional relationship between greenhouse gas concentrations and air temperature. Proportional relationships are a focus of math learning in 7th grade (CCSS.Math.Content.7.RP.A.2 Recognize and represent proportional relationships between quantities). Because this unit falls at the end of the 7th-grade school year, it is likely that your students have learned about proportional relationships. However, talk with your math colleagues to confirm so that you can better anticipate what students will understand or not understand as they work to establish this relationship.
- In Lessons 9 and 10 students encounter graphs that show exponential growth. Focus on the overall trends upward and avoid discussing the shape of the curve and the exponential function, which is a high school math concept.
This is a substantial unit requiring 6-7 weeks of instructional time with 45 minute class periods. The length of the unit can be modified in the following ways.
To shorten or condense parts of the unit without eliminating important sensemaking for students:
- Lesson 3: If students have had the Storms Unit, they do not need to repeat the temperature and humidity lab, though the setup here is slightly modified compared to the previous unit. You can leverage their prior experience of the lab, then provide data for analysis.
- Lessons 5 or 6: Choose only one assessment (either the assessment from Lesson 5 OR from Lesson 6) to use at the end of lesson set 1.
- Lesson 9: Eliminate the lab experience, and have students explore the long-term (800,000 years) CO2 data analyzing the given graphs in the StoryMap.
- Lesson 10: Have students explore the more recent CO2 data using graphs provided in the student edition (instead of using Tuva)
- Lesson 11: Choose a more scaffolded version of the carbon system model to reduce time needed to fully develop the model. There are three options offered in Guidance on Carbon System Model Templates
- Lesson 15: Reduce the total number of solutions to even fewer than 12 and reduce the number of solutions to be read by individual students.
- Lesson 16: Review and analyze two community plans as a class instead of analyzing in groups.
To extend or enhance the unit, consider the following:
- Lesson 7: Have students read about common ideas related to the warming atmosphere using Exploring Possible Causes of Warming
- Lesson 8: Use the full PhET simulation for students to more fully explore ideas; however, please note that this simulation uses high school level ideas and should only be offered to students who have fully mastered the middle school ideas.
- Lesson 9: Have students explore the long-term (800,000 years) CO2 data using the Tuva platform.
- Lesson 10: Have students explore the more recent CO2 data using the Tuva platform.
- Lesson 10: Include the uneven distribution of fossil fuel extension in Extension Opportunity: Uneven Distribution of Fossil Fuel Resources, Fossil Fuel Formation Illustrations, and Fossil Fuels Long Ago and Today.
- Lesson 15: Create and include any locally utilized or considered carbon solutions to the Solutions Cards. These can sometimes be found in local community plans.
- Lesson 17: Create and include any locally utilized or considered local water or heat solutions to the Water Adaptation Solutions.
- Lesson 17: This project can be extended as time is available for students to fully develop and communicate their plan to community members.
The OpenSciEd instructional model focuses on the teacher being a member of the classroom community, supporting students to figure out scientific ideas motivated by their questions about phenomena. Students iteratively build their understanding of phenomena as the unit unfolds. To match the incremental build of a full scientific explanation across the unit, the science content background necessary for you to teach individual lessons incrementally builds too. Throughout the unit, we provide just-in-time science content background for you that is specific to the Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCIs) that will be figured out in a lesson. Places to look for this guidance include the “Where we are going” and “Where we are not going” sections for each lesson. Additionally, the expected student responses, keys, and rubrics have illustrated important science ideas that should be developed in each lesson. In addition to this information, the K-12 Science Framework is a great resource to learn more about the DCIs in this unit (ESS3.A; ESS3.C; ESS3.D; ETS1.B), including what students have learned previously and where they are headed in high school. In addition to the science content background information embedded in the lesson resources, below we provide recommended resources that can help build your understanding of phenomena and Performance Expectations bundle for this unit:
To learn more about extreme weather events (e.g., floods, droughts, etc.) and/or climate change:
- EPA’s Climate Indicators: https://www.epa.gov/climate-indicators/weather-climate
- National Climate Assessment: https://nca2018.globalchange.gov/
- NOAA’s Climate Literacy: https://www.climate.gov/teaching/climate
- Paul Anderson’s Bozeman Science video on ESS3D: http://www.bozemanscience.com/ngs-ess3d-global-climate-change
To learn more about solutions and local case studies:
- NOAA’s Climate Resilience Toolkit: https://toolkit.climate.gov/
- Project Drawdown: https://drawdown.org/solutions
- Audrey Mohan, Unit Lead, BSCS Science Learning
- Whitney Smith, Unit Lead, BSCS Science Learning
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- Renee Affolter, Writer, Reviewer, & PD Design, Boston College
- Tommy Clayton, Writer and Pilot Teacher, Columbia Middle School, Berkeley Heights, NJ
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- Dawn Novak, Writer, BSCS Science Learning
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- Charles Hickey, Pilot Teacher, Weymouth Public Schools, Weymouth, MA
- Chris Newlan, Pilot Teacher, David Wooster Middle School, Stratford, CT
- Katie Van Horne, Assessment Specialist Charles Anderson, Unit Advisory Chair, Michigan State University
- Tonya Brainsky, Teacher Advisor, Taunton High School, Taunton, MA
- Melissa Johnson, Teacher Advisor, Saint Albert Schools, Council Bluffs, IA
- Beth Covitt, University of Montana
- Elizabeth de los Santos, University of Nevada, Reno
- KC Busch, North Carolina State University
- Dwanna McKay, Colorado College
- Michael Mendez, University of California, Irvine
- Frank Niepold, NOAA
- Heidi Roop, University of Minnesota
- Daniel Shephardson, Purdue University
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An integral component of OpenSciEd’s development process is external validation of alignment to the Next Generation Science Standards by NextGenScience’s Science Peer Review Panel using the EQuIP Rubric for Science. We are proud that this unit has been identified as a quality example of a science unit. You can find additional information about the EQuIP rubric and the peer review process at the nextgenscience.org website.