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Reading & Writing in the Disciplines

Science in the Real World: A Biotech Startup

Follow engineer Aaron Oppenheimer in his efforts to manufacture and distribute medical equipment to high-needs communities, especially those in remote parts of the developing world who are impacted by HIV/AIDS.

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The Real World videos in the Reading and Writing in the Disciplines course support teachers’ daily efforts to effectively teach students using the Common Core State Standards as benchmarks for success. Through stories of professionals working toward social justice in different disciplines, these videos can serve as a tool for showing students the role that literacy plays in mathematics, science, history, and the English language arts in creating dynamic career paths. When students ask how these core discipline areas are relevant to their lives, this video series presents passionate professionals as career role models who are making a positive difference in the world. From the development of technical, social, and critical thinking skills to the advancement of social justice and community development, the videos will benefit both students’ professional and personal development.

Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts

Concepts from the grades 6–12 standards highlighted in this video include:

  • Key Ideas and Details: Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts. Determine the central ideas or conclusions of a text; provide an accurate summary of the text distinct from prior knowledge or opinions. Follow precisely a complex multistep procedure when carrying out experiments, taking measurements, or performing technical tasks; analyze the specific results based on explanations in the text.
  • Production and Distribution of Writing: Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
  • Production and Distribution of Writing: Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and present the relationships between information and ideas clearly and efficiently.
  • Craft and Structure: Analyze the author’s purpose in providing an explanation, describing a procedure, or discussing an experiment in a text, identifying important issues that remain unresolved.
  • Integration of Knowledge and Ideas: Synthesize information from a range of sources (e.g., texts, experiments, simulations) into a coherent understanding of a process, phenomenon, or concept, resolving conflicting information when possible.

In the Classroom

This video demonstrates the interactive relationship between content knowledge, literacy practices, and social justice action in the workplace. Students often wonder how the work they do at school relates to their own lives and ask questions such as “How is this relevant to my life?” or “How can science change the world?” These videos can help students answer these questions and consider the types of careers that will inspire them and perhaps have a positive impact on the world and their community.

Aaron Oppenheimer shares the necessity for precise and shared vocabulary and critical thinking skills in science. This video can show students the benefits of peer collaboration and the process of scientific inquiry and experimentation. Teachers can show students how scientists and engineers can change the world through providing the data and technology needed to battle HIV/AIDS.

Connections to selected classroom videos (see links below):

  • Reading and Writing Scientific Abstracts, in which students learn how to create their project summaries as abstracts, to write concisely, and to organize their thoughts through referencing abstract structures
  • Creating a Culture of Collaboration, in which students learn how scientists communicate their findings and thrive through teamwork and how even wrong answers can move them in the right direction through the process of scientific inquiry

The Video

This video follows engineer Aaron Oppenheimer in his efforts to manufacture and distribute medical equipment to high-needs communities, especially those in remote parts of the developing world who are impacted by HIV/AIDS. This video gives teachers a tool to inspire students to improve their use of language, communication, writing, experimentation, and analytical skills through applied science. Through systematic group sessions and peer-to-peer presentations, Oppenheimer’s team also demonstrates the need for developing sound arguments and the need for consensus in supporting research findings. Curricular strands include reading, writing, literacy, language, communication, and critical thinking. Core subjects include science, English, and mathematics.

Oppenheimer stresses the necessity of developing shared vocabulary, critical thinking, and communications skills. “So, you know, that’s where writing skills, and especially speaking skills, are important in our staff, because we spend a whole lot of time saying to each other, ‘This is the problem that I’m seeing. These are the issues that I’m dealing with.’ If you can’t communicate that to me, then I can’t really help you. And, in fact, I might go off and do something else because I misunderstood,” says Oppenheimer.

This video shows the complex steps of scientific inquiry, measuring results, and processing information from several sources. In science, peer-to-peer feedback is an integral part of the process of scientific inquiry and gives students a real-world example of how scientists work together. “It’s important that everybody sees the data, understands why you’re concluding what you’re concluding, and at least agrees that the next steps are probably the right next steps. We also will repeat an experiment…. An experiment that will cause us to change direction is an experiment we want to repeat a few times before we actually do anything different,“ says Oppenheimer.

This video shows the connections to literacy instruction through its emphasis on writing abstracts and reports. Reading is highlighted in the need for research, source verification, and interpreting analytics. Communication skill development is emphasized through the need for shared vocabulary and presentations.

Suggested questions for viewing the videos with students:

  • What are the reading and writing practices that you see?
  • Who is performing them?
  • Who benefits from the use of those practices in the video?

These questions give students the opportunity to see literacy in a real-world context. They become aware of a diverse array of people using a variety of literacy practices. And they can imagine or speculate about their own potential for creating value in the world through their literacy practices.

Social Justice Education Reference Texts

  • Sexuality and Social Justice in Africa by Mark Epprecht
  • HIV/AIDS: Global Frontiers in Prevention/Intervention by Cynthia Pope,
  • Renee T. White, and Robert Malow

Series Directory

Reading & Writing in the Disciplines


Produced by WGBH Educational Foundation. 2015.
  • Closed Captioning
  • ISBN: 1-57680-906-4