Disciplinary Text Set



The group of students I am gearing my text set towards is a middle-school science class starting a unit on microbiology. My students will not have been exposed to this topic in the past, and so my texts will be used to provide some general background info before delving into more detail. Throughout the unit, students would learn information about microbiology which would help them understand material in subsequent texts. Microbes are an integral part of our ecosystem, in terms of both benefits and dangers to humans and our environment. These texts will convey the importance of the study of microbiology as well as instill interest and engagement in the students. A video “What are Microbes”, would be used as a hook to focus the students attention on the subject, and lead into an introductory print text, “The Littlest Organisms”. Following this would be two culturally relevant texts on plastic-eating bacteria and the 5-second rule (for eating food off the floor). Lastly, a print text would introduce the subject of antibiotics, before a video entitled “What Causes Antibiotic Resistance”. Another culturally relevant-text that could engage students in our area would be on the Cryptosporidium outbreak in Milwaukee in the 1990’s.


Print Text 1 –  “The Littlest Organisms.” (n.d.). Retrieved July 26, 2017, from http://www.biology4kids.com/files/micro_main.html


The text is an introduction to the field and study of microbiology, and of microbes in particular. It begins with a description of what microbes are and how they were discovered, before moving on to describe several of their characteristics. I have also selected another part of this reading to include with this text, the basics on bacteria. This section describes the basic structure of bacteria, as well as what they look like and what they do. Both sections are introductory in nature and are filled with vocab terms necessary for the study of microbes.

Text Complexity Analysis:

Reading Levels
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level Grade 4.7
Automated Readability Index Grade 4.8
Coleman-Liau Grade 7.6
Flesch Reading Ease 80.0/100
Gunning fog index Grade 8.1
Laesbarhedsindex (LIX) Formula 29.5 = below school year 5
SMOG Index Grade 8.5
Average grade level Grade 6.7 (mean of above)

Storytoolz gave this reading an average grade level of 6.7, which I feel is just about right as I would place it at a 6-7th grade level. This reading has a clear purpose stated at the beginning and at the top of each section. Additionally, there are several headings directing student thinking. There are a number of vocabulary terms listed in this reading, and while some may be unfamiliar to students, most are defined in the reading, while others offer sufficient context clues. The knowledge demands of this reading are not too significant, the most difficult being the knowledge of some cell structures, which would be learned prior to this unit. Vocabulary terms that may need instructional support include:

  • Microbe
  • Microbiologist
  • Heterotrophic
  • Autotrophic
  • Protozoan
  • Amoeba
  • Nucleoid
  • Ribosomess
  • Cellulose

The purpose of selecting this text it to give students background information on microbes, and on bacteria in particular. This is a rather complex field of study in science, and the lower level of text complexity is a good starting point for the students. This would pair well with a more complex task, such as a lab where students must find the “patient zero” of a spreadable disease. Students would “spread” the disease by pouring water into each others’ cups, some contaminated with a chemical to be tested for. Working backwards from who shared with who, they could determine the originator. This reading will serve two purposes. One is to introduce them to new terms and concepts. The other would be to activate prior knowledge on the study of cell structures, energy consumption and reproduction.


Print text 2 – “Issue Overview: Antibiotic Resistance.” (2016, Oct 6). Retrieved 7/24/17 from https://newsela-media.s3.amazonaws.com/pdfs/overview-antibiotic-resistance-21205-article_only.pdf?AWSAccessKeyId=AKIAIOXSRXVQ3RGAX2FA&Expires=1501089699&Signature=EusOUnZjSIqKg5%2FgKKuPTtUtwYY%3D


Multimedia text 1 – Wu, Kevin. “What Causes Antibiotic Resistance?” YouTube, script editor: Alex Gendler, animation by Brett Underhill, 7 Aug, 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=znnp-Ivj2ek&feature=youtu.be

This video lecture starts with a short introduction to bacteria. Following is a description of how they can cause death and disease. This leads into a discussion of the use of antibiotics and how they are becoming less effective. The text then goes on to tell how bacteria have evolved and mutated to become resistant to antibiotics, and how some strains of bacteria are forming “superbugs”. Finally, the article ends with some ways that scientists are trying to fight these bacteria, and ways that people can help slow the development of antibiotic-resistant bugs.

Text Complexity Analysis:

Reading Levels
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level Grade 11.2
Automated Readability Index Grade 12.6
Coleman-Liau Grade 13.4
Flesch Reading Ease 47.9/100
Gunning fog index Grade 14.7
Laesbarhedsindex (LIX) Formula 48.9 = school year 9
SMOG Index Grade 13.1
Average grade level Grade 13 (mean of above)

Storytoolz scored this reading at a grade level of 13.1, which I find to be too high. There are several characteristics of this text which would cause me to place it at a 6-8th grade level. The purpose of this video is clearly stated in the title, and references to it are made throughout. Additionally, the knowledge demands of the text are not too difficult for the lower age group. Some topics in the text which could cause trouble, such as the form and function of antibiotics, would have previously been covered in class. Lastly, while there are several vocab terms which would be unfamiliar to students, they are all accompanied by direct context clues and video animations describing the processes and structures named. Some of these vocab terms include:

  • Synthesize
  • Mutation
  • Resistance
  • Staphylococcus
  • MRSA
  • Beta-lactams
  • Quinolones

There are several reasons that I would select this text for my students. Students would have been exposed to antibiotics and bacteria, so this article would be activating that prior knowledge. This text would then help in the introduction of antibiotic-resistance. Students can relate to this as they know about the use of antibiotics and products such as hand-sanitizers, and would begin to understand how in using them they are helping to create even more dangerous superbugs. Finally, this video is engaging and fun for middle-school students, keeping a high interest level in the content. I feel that this text is a good match for task complexity, as not only have they been previously introduced to bacteria and antibiotics, but antibiotic resistance is not a difficult concept to grasp as a result. Therefore, while this text is slightly more complex in terms of vocabulary, the task is easier. Such a task could be a short lab where we compare two slices of bread for bacterial growth. One piece would be touched by everyone in the class, the other by no one. 

Multimedia text 2: Perkins, Susan. “What Are Microbes?” American Museum of Natural History (website), commentary by Susan Perkins, no date, http://www.amnh.org/explore/ology/microbiology/ask-a-scientist-about-microbes


Culturally Relevant text 1: Akron Beacon Journal Staff. (2014, April 4). “Study’s 5-second rule results disputed” (Newsela Staff, Ed.). Retrieved July 26, 2017, from https://newsela.com/articles/fivesecond-rule/id/3257/


This text is in regards to an idea very familiar to middle school students, the five-second rule for eating food off the floor. It begins with a study which tested food dropped on the floor for two different bacteria. It goes on to describe investigative processes different researchers have done to test that theory. Several “experts” are identified and quoted with regards to their interpretation of the results of those studies.

Text Complexity Analysis:

Reading Levels
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level Grade 8.0
Automated Readability Index Grade 9.7
Coleman-Liau Grade 10.8
Flesch Reading Ease 67.2/100 (plain English)
Gunning fog index Grade 10.5
Laesbarhedsindex (LIX) Formula 42.5 = school year 7
SMOG Index Grade 9.9
Average grade level Grade 9.8 (mean of above)


Storytoolz has scored this text with a grade level of 9.8, which again I find to be too high for this selection. There are several vocabulary terms in the paper which may have caused the quantitative score to increase. However, these include the names of bacteria and viruses, which would not be difficult for the students to understand. The rest of the terminology used in the article is actually rather simple. The text itself is broken down into shorter sections with clear headings, denoting its purpose. The  knowledge demands do include a little bit of introduction to microbiology, for example the beginning of the unit for this text set. For these reasons I would place this text at a 7th grade reading level. Some more complicated vocabulary terms include:

  • Contamination
  • Replicate
  • Escherichia coli
  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Salmonella typhimurium
  • Norovirus

There are several reasons which I would select this text for my students, and also why it would be culturally relevant. Number one would be the fact that bacteria exist all around us and within each of us, relating it to the students. I would also select this text for the ease with which my students could read and understand the information. Another reason to select this text is that students at the middle school age tend to be more interested in things that “gross them out”, such as bacteria on food. Another good reason to use this text is that it walks students through several research studies on the topic, giving them an understanding of how they are conducted. A final reason to select this text is that which would make it most culturally relevant – the incorporation of the five-second rule. All students would have heard of this, and many would have put it into practice themselves. Here they would be given the opportunity to see the science behind it and decide for themselves if they want to eat the food. I feel that the ease of this text would flow well with a more difficult task, such as a laboratory activity where students test food for bacteria.


Culturally Relevant text 2:  Mathiesen, Karl. “New Plastic-Eating Bacteria has Potential to Ease World’s Trash Glut.” The Guardian (2016, March 18). Retrieved July 26, 2017, from: https://newsela.com/articles/plasticeating-bacteria/id/15687/

Culturally Relevant text 3: Behm, Don. “Milwaukee Marks 20 Years Since Cryptosporidium Outbreak.” Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel (2013, April 6). Retrieved July 26th, 2017, from: http://archive.jsonline.com/news/milwaukee/milwaukee-marks-20-years-since-cryptosporidium-outbreak-099dio5-201783191.html/



Disciplinary Literacy Statement

In the field of science, literacy takes on many meanings. More than that, to truly be a part of the scientific community, one must be able to interpret many different forms of conveying meaning and information. While this can be broken down into many categories, two that I have come across in my reading so far involve the use of visualizations and academic language.

As discussed by Ainsworth, et. al. in Drawing to Learn Science, visualizations are integral to science. This includes not just being able to interpret visual representations of data, but being able to create representations as well. Scientists have numerous ways of communicating findings through different graphs, tables, pictures, and endless other visual representations. Students must learn to be able to identify and interpret these representations in the manner accepted by the scientific community as a whole. In this paper, they discuss using drawing as a means to teach students about science. To begin with, it is an effective strategy, as surveys have found students to be more motivated to learn when using drawing to explore, coordinate and justify their understanding. But more than that, the authors list five ways of using drawing that are especially helpful to gaining scientific literacy. Students must learn to draw to represent data/questions, etc. Another helpful tool is drawing to reason: research shows how students reason as they create and refine models under teacher guidance. Drawing can also be used as learning strategy. The article notes how much of science is visual/spatial, and drawing fits that perfectly. Developed scientific literates can also communicate their data and findings, and this is often done through visual means, which students can practice through drawing. Lastly, drawing can be used as a way to enhance engagement, and increase student’s desire to participate in the scientific community.

As mentioned, a second form of literacy in science involves the use of academic and scientific language. The language of academics used by experts in the field can be hard for students to comprehend. It is impersonal, data and research driven, concise and dense, as well as precise in the selection of terminology. On top of that is the scientific terminology that students will be unfamiliar with. These are two of the types of language expected in school that are listed by Snow in Academic Language and the Challenge of Reading for Learning about Science. This academic and scientific language is a barrier to reading comprehension. The article notes that reading accuracy and fluency does not equal comprehension. In science, many terms have multiple meaning in English, but a specific one in the discipline. Exposure to and practice using these terms in the classroom is imperative to the development of this form of scientific literacy.

In the article Literacy and Science: Each in Service of the Other, by Pearson, et. al., they begin to list ways in which learning to communicate in the language of scientists and academics can help in the learning of science content, and vice-versa. Reading of text can actually supplant the implementation of inquiry-based practices in the classroom, by default removing the experiences from the scientific community, which is experimentally driven. Instead, reading can be used as a form of inquiry itself, by using reading and writing as tools for investigation. For example, students (or scientists in the field) can produce texts to represent their understanding of a certain topic, such scientific journaling or public reporting. Both of those aspects of science communication use terminology and phrasing that is somewhat unfamiliar to students, but are common place in science literacy. This helps students learn to write and think like scientists. But this article also goes on to mention another aspect of scientific literacy – that of being able to use literacy tools to learn and reason. To be proficient in scientific literacy, it means to be able to make sense of date, draw inferences, construct evidence-based arguments, infer word meanings and construct meaning from texts. These are all characteristics of good readers in general, and indicative of a scientifically literate individual. We want students to leave the science classroom familiar with the natural world, and with key science concepts, principles and ways of thinking.

Visualization – Viruses: are they alive?



For my visualization, I picked an abstract concept that can be hard for students to understand; the general idea can stick with them for a long time, but the specifics of why aren’t always easy to remember.

When studying viruses, one of the big concepts we learn about is how they are not considered to be living things by most scientists. In order to categorize living things, several criteria were settled on which we can apply to viruses to see where they stand. For my project, I could have chosen images to represent each of these subcategories, but I felt that might make the infographic a little cluttered. So, my only real “image” is an artistic rendering of what individual virions would look like under an electron microscope. There are additional visual characteristics which aid in understanding as well. In light-blue are listed the characteristics of living things. Listed next to these are characteristics of viruses which could either confirm or reject each criterion. From each viral characteristic comes either a red line leading to the conclusion “not alive” or a green line leading to the conclusion “alive”. Students were directed at the top to either agree or disagree with the scientific conclusion that viruses are not considered alive. Additionally, at the end is a “deep thought” point, asking the students to think about a property of viruses that wasn’t covered by the list above.

By creating this visualization, I was able to think more critically about how each point would apply to the virus itself. I was also able to make my own interpretations of whether each point led to a virus being considered alive or not. This allowed me to think of different ways students may approach this problem. Seeing it visually made it easier to understand how there is sufficient evidence on each side of the argument for the question to be unsettled. Reading alone would not have allowed for seeing the argument as a whole picture with “amounts” of evidence on each side.

In completing this visualization task, it was easy for me to see how this would be beneficial for students. Viruses being alive or not is only one of many abstract concepts in science that can be hard to understand through simply reading or direct instruction. There are also many concepts that cannot be explored through laboratory, the living properties of viruses being one of them. In this simple infographic, a student could see each of the reasons why scientists make the decisions they do, and they would be able to make their own decision as well. I think this would be one of many wonderful tools to help students not only understand different topics, but also help supplement their reading and develop their literacy.

Where I Am And Where I Want To Go

When I think of what most interests me about science, and what brought me back to the subject in the first place, I think of Microbiology. I remember reading the book The Hot Zone when I was in Middle School and being completely enthralled with it. The life or death, time-pressured situations to find out what was happening and stop it drew me in right away. For those unaware, The Hot Zone follows several instances of hemorrhagic fever viruses around the world (ebola and marburg). After getting my Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and managing only one month of Graduate school, I was back as an undergrad studying Micro. I had really wanted to take Virology, as that most closely related to the topics that interested me when I was so much younger. Unfortunately UWM never offered the class, I couldn’t follow the path I wanted to, and I didn’t end up finishing that degree either. After coaching for eight years and deciding to teach, going into science was a no-brainer for me. One of the ways I plan to engage my students is teaching what really interests me, and so Viruses and the Immune Response are high on my list.

When I think of what I know on these topics, it has been 20 years since I’ve read The Hot Zone, and the last classes I took in Microbiology were in 2011. I learned first hand how our old style of learning, rote memorization, works well for passing exams, and not so great for internalizing content. I can remember bigger concepts and not so much mechanisms and structures.

Viruses are not considered to be alive by many scientists. This is because they are mostly genetic material surrounded by a protective coat called a capsid. They require a host cell to replicate. Once they find a way into a host cell, they hijack the cell’s reproductive mechanisms and use it to make copies of itself. Viruses can infect almost any living thing on earth, including bacteria. They are inefficient in a way, in that they usually kill the host cell they have infected, requiring the virus to find a new host to infect in order to stay “alive”. Vaccines, a weakened form of a virus, can be used to immunize a person against the effects of a virus. Smallpox is an example of one that was eradicated. Some viruses can infect multiple species and jump between them. Viruses can mutate and become more infectious, more deadly or more effective in other ways. Some can combine with other viruses to form newer, “deadlier” pathogens.

I feel that there are two categories to the information that I want to learn about viruses, and microbiology in general. I first of all need to re-learn material. In pulling up a page on viruses, I found that much of the information came back to me relatively easily. However that means I need to do the reading. Expecting years-(decades?!)-old material to come back simply by recall will not help my students. But more than that, I would love to learn more about viruses that I never got to in college. When I read The Hot Zone, I wanted to find a way to fight ebola, to save lives. I imagine students that learn about viruses like this and become interested in them would feel the same way. I want to learn enough about the nature of viruses to explain what is happening at the molecular level, and to be able to teach students about both the body’s response to viruses in general and how we are fighting them with science.


hot zone

Here are some quick links for further exploration on viruses and the immune response.

Wikipedia – virus

Immune Response

Here you can learn how the symptoms, expression and transmission of hemorrhagic fevers were exaggerated in The Hot Zone, causing many misconceptions about them.

And follow this link to Newsela for classroom-friendly texts on viruses and other infectious diseases, as well as immune response information.

Welcome to My Professional Blog

Hello Everyone.

My name is Matt Sostock and I’m a Master’s student in Science Education in the MACSTEP program at UW-Milwaukee. I’ve been a high school swim coach for eight years, and started coaching middle and grade school students as well two years ago. Here’s a link to the club I quit coaching to do this program! If your kids need a great team to join try North Shore Swim Club. I love making relationships with my athletes and enjoy helping them grow as human beings, more than just swimmers. I’ve also always loved science, and when I decided I wanted to make a bigger impact in children’s lives teaching was a natural progression for me. I’m very excited to learn how to become a better and more effective teacher. I’ve had a great time in our classes and interacting with my classmates so far, I look forward to more as we go along.