A Children’s Book that Explains Eclipses the Way You Would

Everyone across the country is getting ready to view the sky event of the decade – the All American total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017. 

Older kids may have studied eclipses in an earth science or general science class. But there is a way to get younger kids ready to view the solar eclipse. NSTA Kids Press recently published an eclipse book that we think you will want to share with your students. Please check out When the Sun Goes Dark.

In this richly illustrated, 36-page book, 12-year-old Diana and her younger brother, Sammy, want to know why their grandparents travel thousands of miles to see total eclipses of the Sun. Readers follow the kids’ questions and interactions and learn the science behind solar and lunar eclipses, what makes these sky events so special, and how to observe a solar eclipse safely. When the Sun Goes Dark provides a great introduction for families and serves as an excellent resource for teachers and librarians as they prepare for the August 21, 2017, solar eclipse that will be visible throughout North America.

Please check out the many 5-star reviews are on both the NSTA and Amazon websites

We hope your students enjoy the book and you have clear skies on August 21st.


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Kindergarten 5E Physical Science Investigation: Scientific conversations from what’s in your cupboard

Welcome to guest blogger Emily Townsend! Emily has been teaching for a decade to students of all ages, kindergarten to adult. She has a love of language that was born through her first year teaching abroad in Shijiazhuang, China. She has recently discovered that science and language learning are obvious allies, and is delighted in the gains in academic vocabulary scientific inquiry lessons can provide. She currently co-teachs in six push-in English Language Development classrooms and tries to instill a love of both subjects (science and LA) in her students. She is a hiker, camper, and want-to-be bird watcher, and lives with her husband and their dog on the Oregon coast. 

“In early childhood education, our textbooks are the materials we offer children…” (Cuffaro 2005). 

In May, after a winter of 167 days of rain, with summer in view, in a push-in class of emerging bilinguals, I shared this quote with my co-teachers and took Cuffaro’s advice to heart. A kindergarten physical science unit was born from materials found in drawers, cupboards, and recycling bins. Before any introduction or explanation to the class about force, energy, or machines, we passed out our “text”: cardboard box lids and marbles. Our inspiration was a lesson from Head Start on Science, Section 3: Physical Science (Ritz 2007).  This book takes children on investigations with blocks and magnets and, in our case, marbles, to lead them in answering their own questions about the movement and makeup of the world.

To plan our investigation and Engage, the first step in the 5E Model (Barufaldi 2002, Bybee 2014), we asked our young scientists: ‘What can we do with these materials?’  ‘What can we create?’. Motion was on their minds as well, which led to the next round of questioning; ‘How can the marble move?’, ‘In what different ways can the marble get from one side of the box to the other?’. Two lists were generated: speeds and patterns:  fast to “not moving much” and zig-zag to curvy. 

As students set out to make their marble behave in these ways, one particularly data-driven young mind raised the question, “Can we use a whiteboard to write down what happens?”. Oh, but of course, you can record your findings! Our budding scientists set out for the second ‘E’, Explore, and maneuvered their marble with “different strengths and directions of pushes and pulls” (NGSS K-PS2-1, NGSS Lead States) and, gloriously, take data. When students take the initiative, as this student led her classmates in doing, it moves the lesson from teacher-directed to student-driven. Deeper learning occurs when motivation and desire meet investigation.

Children paint with marbles on paper in a box lid.

Children paint with marbles on paper in a box lid.









We offered guiding questions as students explored, then introduced a new element: paint.  By adding a new material we heightened their learning with the opportunity for compare and contrast, and cause and effect.  Students already had one experience, so by adding a new way to explore, they were encouraged to observe changes.  Students also realized the paint created resistance for the marble where it was thick and it was more difficult to move the marble.  The effects of the paint allowed the investigation to blossom into something new. 

When whiteboards were full and box lids were decorated, students returned for the next phase of the 5E Model, Explain. They shared their findings, using their data and box lid as proof.  We asked, “How did you make a curvy and straight line?” “Did the marble stop or bounce when it reached the side?”  “Why?” Students used their own words to define the science they had encountered.  We guided the discussion with sentence frames that came up naturally, “It moved…” and “It rolled” were obvious using regular past tense.  However, students also used “It drawed..” and “It maked..”, which allowed the organic incorporation of the correct irregular past tense in language frames as the discussion continued. 

Another natural connection in language was body parts.  In our English Language Development classroom, this vocabulary is explicitly taught and our investigation presented a perfect opportunity to practice.  When students described how to make the marble move, they were encouraged to name the body parts used to create the movement; such as elbow, shoulder, wrist, and even waist.  Other students could then mimic their movement using the oral descriptions as a guide.

In addition, new science vocabulary was introduced.  It provided students with common language to discuss their findings.  Ramp, inclined plane, and force were pre-planned content vocabulary for the unit. Other concepts, friction and gravity, were brought up by students when describing problems and successes they encountered. When the need for these words arose in class, they were given in learner-friendly definitions.  For example, gravity came up in a discussion of the marble only rolling down the ramps.  When asked why, a student explained that things only fall down. The rest of the class agreed that they had had the same experience, so we introduced the idea of gravity, a force that pulls things to the Earth. For objects to move up a ramp, they would need another force, a student’s push. By giving students vocabulary in context of their experience, we provided meaningful exposure.  Students now had a link in their brains between their lives and Tier 3 content vocabulary (Beck, McKeown, and Kucan 2002). 

Extension, ‘E’ number four, could be done using different sizes and shapes of boxes, by adding obstacles within the box for the marble to maneuver, or by providing students with a goal of creating a picture with the paint.  These could be presented whole group or in centers. 

The 5th ‘E’, evaluation, came in the creation of roller coasters and machines during exploration with blocks and other recyclable materials to manipulate marbles. Although the goal of the unit was not to have students use simple machines, we found that introducing the everyday uses of these machines allowed students to create and explore the effects of pushes and pulls with common vocabulary. Each simple machine (inclined plane, wheel and axle, screw, wedge, and pulley) was introduced through a similar investigation, where students explored the effects of pushes and pulls on an object.  We raided our classrooms for on-hand materials to use in these explorations.  A marshmallow, ruler, and pencil were used for a lever, cardboard cylinders and a heavy box for wheels and axles (Ashbrook 2016), and a pencil, spool, and string for pulleys.  After each exploration, we named the machines they created and identified their use in our everyday lives. In the end, students combined their knowledge for the 5th ‘E’, evaluation, and created roller coasters, using many simple machines, with blocks and other recyclable materials.

In each exploration, students were given a goal and the necessary equipment to reach it.  Each time we were amazed by their scientific and engineering design ingenuity, their curiosity, and ability to apply new knowledge to their current schema.  All around the room, among children of all backgrounds and language proficiency levels, we heard, “I love science time!”.

Works Cited:

Ashbrook, Peggy. 2016. Chapter 17: “Roll with It!” Science Learning in the Early Years: Activities for PreK-2. Arlington, VA: National Science Teachers Association, 2016. 99-104. 

Barufaldi, Jim. 5E Model of Instruction. Austin: CSCOPE, July 2002.


Beck, Isabel L., McKeown, Margaret G., Kucan, Linda. 2002. Bringing Words to Life: Robust Vocabulary Instruction. New York City: The Guilford Press.

Bybee, Rodger. 2014. Guest Editorial: The BSCS 5E Instructional Model: Personal Reflections and Contemporary Implications. Science and Children. 51(8): 10-13

Cuffaro, Harriet K. “Block Building: Opportunities for Learning.” Community Playthings.  Community Playthings, 1 Feb. 2005. Web. 21 June 2017.


NGSS Lead States. 2013. Next Generation Science Standards: For states, by states. Washington, DC: National Academies Press. 


Ritz, William C. Ed. 2007. A Head Start on Science: Encouraging a Sense of Wonder: 89 Activities for Children Ages 3-7. Arlington, VA: NSTA Press

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Ed News: How Trump’s Budget Would Gut Innovations In Teacher Training

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This week in education news, controversy over science education nothing new in Oklahoma; President’s budget would zero out the funding for innovations in teacher training; the debate over teaching climate change in U.S. schools heats up; experiential learning helps students own their future; computer science educators should prepare students with how to deal with pressing ethical questions related to the capabilities of technology; mentors for new teachers found to boost student achievement; and NSTA and the STEM Education Coalition warn the U.S. Department of Education that excluding science as a top priority in new state education plans would be a mistake.

Controversy Over Science Education Nothing New In Oklahoma

Science teacher Heather Johnston has fielded an increase in student questions about the concept of rising temperatures across the planet, an example of the intensifying political debate over climate change creeping into her classroom. But even when a student might express disbelief in the scientific theory, Johnston, who teaches at Norman High School, views it as an opportunity to invite students to practice their scientific investigation skills. Click here to read the article featured in Tulsa World.

How Trump’s Budget Would Gut Innovations In Teacher Training

It’s no secret that traditional teacher training and “professional development” can feel far removed from the real world of the classroom. That’s daunting to many who might enter the profession, frustrating to many already there — and ultimately hurtful to students. So when Louisiana announced that every new teacher in the state would receive a full year of “residency-based” training, modeled on how doctors learn their craft, the question the rest of the country should have asked is, “How do we make that happen here?” Unfortunately, the Trump administration is moving in precisely the opposite direction, with a plan to zero out the funding for innovations like Louisiana’s. Click here to read the article featured on The 74.

Continue reading …

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Successful interviews

As a recent graduate, I’m preparing for interviews. Do you have any hints for successful interviews? —A., Minnesota

I’ve been on interview committees, and when applicants have comparable credentials, little things can make an impression. In addition to what your college mentors recommended for interviewing, I’d suggest the following.

Do some research before the interview in case you’re asked what you know about the school or community. Look for nearby science-related resources (parks, museums, nature centers, etc.). Learn a little about the history of the community and what it’s famous for. Visit the school’s website to learn about the school culture, facilities, extracurricular activities. Look over the student and faculty handbooks if they are available online.

I’m sure your college mentors suggested answering questions completely and succinctly. Don’t fake a response or answer with unrelated information. If you don’t know an answer, write the question down and add it to your list of things to learn about.

Even though you know to dress professionally for the interview, you could accessorize subtly with the school colors. Turn off your cell phone before the interview and arrive in time to mentally organize yourself. Also organize any materials you bring to the interview.

Shake hands firmly and repeat names as you are introduced. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Dr. Jones.” Even though you’ll be nervous, show your enthusiasm and personality.

Purge your personal social media sites of inappropriate information or photos. Don’t share things that you would not want your future students and their parents (and school administrators) to see.

The committee may ask if you have any questions. Show your interest by asking

  • What is the school’s philosophy toward science instruction?
  • What mentoring and professional development activities are available?
  • What kind of lab resources and technology are available?
  • What is the role of extracurricular activities in the school?
  • How do teachers use community resources that you identified before the interview?

Good luck!

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Science Teachers Needed to Support Libraries’ Solar Eclipse Events

Public libraries across the country are receiving 2 million eclipse viewing glasses and a booklet of information to help prepare the public to view the sky event of the decade – the All American total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017.  (This distribution of glasses is supported by the Moore Foundation and Google.)

Please consider helping your local library in this effort to inform the public. You can find a map showing libraries near you that are involved in distributing glasses at http://www.starnetlibraries.org/. Suggestions for how your students can be Eclipse Outreach Agents to assist libraries, your school and other community groups are in the March issues of Science Scope and The Science Teacher.  If you are planning to go see the total eclipse, you can still be a hero for your librarian in the months before the eclipse

You may also want to let libraries know about the newest NSTA Kids Press book, When the Sun Goes Dark, for 8 to 13 year olds. It’s in the form of a story, but encourages families to do activities with simple home materials to understand what causes eclipses and how to view them safely.

Thanks for considering being a resource to your local library.

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Stuck in the Middle?

A short story about one Massachusetts middle school deciding between a layered or integrated curriculum format

I’m going to date myself by stating this, but as a middle schooler, I used to love those “Choose Your Own Adventure” books that gave you the power to choose how the story unfolded.  Remember those?!  If not, the short of it was that at various points in the book you could make choices as to what direction you wanted the story to go.  The choices you made affected the fate of the characters and how the book ended.  If you didn’t like the results, you could go back and make different selections until you created an ending that pleased you.  It was awesome!  So this leads me to the question…What adventure are we choosing for our students?

“Create Your Own Adventure”

As middle school educators, we are also given a choice of story direction when we decide how and what we teach.  Collectively, we are responsible to tell the complete science story by providing essential chapters for our students as they move from one grade level to the next.  So, as it pertains to content delivery, what path is best for your students?  Does an integrated curriculum format lead to better story comprehension for your students versus if they experienced a layered approach?  Proceed with caution: you will not find the answers to those questions here!  Sorry, it’s not my place.  This is more of a food for thought piece that will provide you with a little insight into the curriculum transition experiences of one Massachusetts middle school.

To give you some background, I am a seventh grade science teacher and I also serve as the science academic coordinator at my school.  Two years ago, our department began to look at the proposed draft of the new MA standards and it didn’t take us too long to realize that we were going to have a decision on our hands.  Should we stay with the “layered cake” format that we have been utilizing for years or do we make the change to a spiral/integrated approach?  Both formats have benefits, but which option is the best fit for our students?  The Massachusetts Department of Secondary and Elementary Education (DESE) recommends an integrated curriculum delivery but leaves the decision in the hands of the districts.  For those districts that are considering to spiral, a range of approaches are provided.  These include:  Both feet in (e.g., all grades 6-8 start at the same time), phase in by grade level (e.g., gr. 6 one year, gr. 7 the next, …), phase in units/topics (e.g., everyone change a few units this year, a few more next year), phase in science & engineering practices first, then content later, and/or plan for different structure (e.g., move to ES science specialists; MS science teacher looping).  To help us make our decision, we focused on the vision of the new standards.

The science and technology/engineering standards are intended to drive engaging, relevant, rigorous, and coherent instruction that emphasizes student mastery of both disciplinary core ideas (concepts) and application of science and engineering practices (skills) to support student readiness for citizenship, college, and careers.  

We also took a look at several documents provided by the MA DESE to help us understand the shift in vision from that of the MA 2001/06 standards.  You can find these documents here.  A few of the resources that we relied heavily on were:

Continue reading …

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Summer suggestions

I teach fourth grade, looping with them to fifth. I’m thinking of ways to keep my students and their families involved with science over the summer. I don’t have a lot of money to spend.  —D., Florida

Since you’ll see the students next year, you have a wonderful opportunity for action research on the results of summer enrichment opportunities and the extent to which students participate. You’ll get a range of responses— some families will participate readily, while others may have different priorities or time constraints.

Start with a letter to parents describing the project, emphasizing that it will not be graded. Provide a list of books available in a local library and websites related to the topics students will address next year, giving students the opportunity to preview and increase their prior knowledge and experiences.

Students could make journals with suggestions on each page for something to observe, illustrate, and write about (e.g., weather observations, phases of the moon, stars, pet behavior, insects, clouds, their neighborhoods, reflections on readings, vacation adventures). Having made the journals, they may be more motivated to use them.

Avoid sending home worksheets that are not effective learning opportunities (e.g., word searches, mazes, coloring pages).

Share information about free events at local parks, nature centers, libraries, or museums. Encourage students to record their experiences and photographs in their journal or online class resource.

Suggest topics for family activities:

  • Story-starters (What was your favorite outdoor adventure? How have inventions and technology changed over the years? Where does our food come from?),
  • Games such as I Spy to find objects that match a given characteristic.
  • Cooking together, reinforcing measurement and nutrition
  • Planting seeds and observe plant growth

Next year, look at the students’ journals to see what interested them.


Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/fontplaydotcom/504443770/

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Legislative Update: ESSA, STEM Funding, and More

Every Student Succeeds Act

Looking for funding sources for STEM activities, resources and professional learning this fall? Take a look at this powerpoint on the Every Student Succeeds Act, the new federal education law, which includes key highlights that will be in place later this year and federal funding for STEM initiatives.

Update on FY2018 Appropriations

 “I think it’s likely the kinds of cuts proposed in this budget will not occur, so we really need to fully understand your priorities and why they are your priorities,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos during opening remarks at the recent Senate hearing on the FY2018 budget submitted by President Trump.

Continue reading …

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Ed News: More Must Be Done To Strengthen Girls Interest In STEM Fields

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This week in education news, more must be done to increase girls interest in the STEM fields; Florida needs a scientifically literate public; an English teacher’s video explains why teaching is so tiring; misconceptions about climate change common among science teachers; and cash-strapped school systems are turning to traveling teaching teams to help supplement their course offerings, especially in STEM.

Iowa Teaching Standards Don’t Say Humans Cause Climate Change, But…

At first, people who reject predominant scientific findings that humans are the main cause of climate change may be glad that new public-school science standards don’t require teachers to teach that. But if inquiry-based teaching guides under development in the Iowa K-12 Climate Science Education Initiative are used, students may reach that determination on their own, educators say. Click here to read the article featured in the Des Moines Register.

More Must Be Done To Stoke Girls Interest In STEM Fields

The gaps between genders, in terms of STEM interest and proficiency (as well as concerns about a shortage in the number of qualified applicants for future STEM jobs), has spurred private industries, the public sector and educational institutions to respond. Women make up only 24% of STEM workers, despite being 48% of the country’s workforce, according to information from the U.S. Department of Commerce. Click here to read the brief featured in Education DIVE.

Continue reading …

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folder icon  Safety

The Requirements of Emergency Showers and Eyewash Stations

Most science teachers know that emergency showers and eyewash stations are needed in the presence of potential biological, chemical, and physical hazards. But which ones should they choose, and how should they be installed, operated, and maintained? The best place for answers is the American National Standard for Emergency Eyewash and Shower Equipment (ANSI/ISEA Z358.1).

Plumed vs. self-contained showers

Science labs and lecture rooms should only use plumbed showers (which are connected to a continuous source of drinking water) instead of self-contained showers (which contain their own flushing fluid). That’s because laboratory accidents require a continuous flow of water for at least 15 minutes. Note: Some elementary science classrooms with limited use of hazardous chemicals might only require an eyewash station. To make sure, conduct a hazards analysis and risks assessment to determine if a shower might also be needed.

Shower specifications

The ANSI/ISEA Z358.1 standard suggests that:

• the shower must provide tepid flushing fluid (15.6–37.8°C or 60–100°F).
• the valve can be activated in one second or less.
• the shower heads should be positioned from 208 to 244 cm above the work surface.
• the spray pattern will have a minimum diameter of 50.8 cm at 152.4 cm above the work surface.
• flow rate should be equal to 75.7 liters/minute for a minimum of 15 minutes at 20.7 Newtons per square centimeter.
• the center of the spray pattern must be located at least 40.6 cm from any obstruction.


• showers must be located in the same room as the hazard, in a well-lit area with appropriate signage and within reach to hazards such as caustic acids.
• the pathway to the shower must be free from obstructions.
• provisions must be made to prevent an unauthorized shutoff, if shutoff valves are installed in the supply line.

Maintenance and training

• plumbed emergency showers must be flushed weekly to make sure they operate correctly.
• all employees must be trained to use the equipment prior to working with or near hazards.
• all showers must be inspected annually to make sure they meet ANSI Z358.1 performance requirements.
• showers must have tags with the date of the last inspection printed on them.

Eyewash specifications

The installation and maintenance and training requirements for eyewash stations are virtually the same as emergency showers’. The specifications, however, are a bit different. The standard states that:

• eyewash stations must provide tepid flushing fluid (15.6–37.8°C or 60–100°F)
• valves should activate in one second or less.
• the fluid should flow between 83.8 to 134.6 cm from the work surface.
• eyewash stations should be 15.2 cm from the wall or nearest obstruction.
• stations should deliver 1.5 liters per minute of tepid water for 15 minutes, at 20.7 Newtons per square centimeter.
• shower heads and flushing fluid units must be covered with plastic caps to protect them from airborne contaminants.
• the removal of any protective devices, including eye and face protection and protective clothing, must not require a separate motion by the user.

Drench hoses

For some schools, emergency shower and eyewash stations may be outside of their budget. These schools may opt for the drench hose system instead, as long as it meets the performance requirements in the ANSI Z358.1standard.

A drench hose is a supplemental device connected to a laboratory sink. Drench hoses flush the eyes, face, and body. The installation and maintenance and training are the same as those of emergency showers and eyewash stations.

In the end

Contractors who install these units, facility managers, and/or safety compliance officers have the responsibility to certify that the emergency eyewash and showers meet the ANSI Z358.1standard. The custodian is usually responsible for inspecting and activating the emergency shower, eyewash station, and drench hoses each week. The annual inspection, as recommended by the ANSI standard, should check for problems such as valve leakage, clogged openings and lines, and adequate fluid volume. A work record of these inspections should be kept.

Submit questions regarding safety in K–12 to Ken Roy at safesci@sbcglobal.net, or leave him a comment below. Follow Ken Roy on Twitter: @drroysafersci.

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