Legislative Update: Can Schools Use Federal Funds for Guns and Firearms Training?

A huge controversy over whether districts and states can use funds from the new federal education law to purchase guns and pay for firearms training is still ongoing, weeks after the issue first surfaced in an article published in the New York Times.

 Earlier this summer two states asked the Department of Education if it was allowable to use the Every Student Succeeds Act ESSA Title IVA (Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants) grant funds to train and arm school marshals.  The flexible block grant program under Title IVA  Part authorizes activities in three broad areas:

  • Providing students with a well-rounded education (e.g., college and career counseling, STEM, music and arts, civics, IB/AP, computer science)
  • Supporting safe and healthy students (e.g., comprehensive school mental health, drug and violence prevention, training on trauma-informed practices, health and physical education) and
  • Supporting the effective use of technology (e.g., professional development, blended and personalized learning, and devices). More on how Title iVA can be used for STEM education here.

A few weeks ago, Education Secretary DeVos indicated she would not take a position as to whether districts could use federal funding in ESSA for purchasing guns and providing firearms training saying that Congress—not the Administration—had to specify if Title IVA grant funds could be used for these purposes.

A letter from 44 Senate Democrats and a letter from 170 House Democrats have urged the Ed Secretary to expressly prohibit states or school districts from using federal funds to buy guns.  

NSTA joined a number of other education groups on a September 19 letter calling on Secretary DeVos to clarify that Title IV-A funds should be used for their original intent and cites examples that support gun-free campuses in current law that “clearly shows that the Administration’s proposal is counter to congressional intent. “

 A September 17 letter from a coalition of than 100 civil rights groups calls on Secretary DeVos to “immediately publicly clarify that ESSA funds cannot be used for weapons.”

Stay tuned.

FY 2019 Spending Bill Includes Gains for Education

On September 18 the Senate passed the final version of the FY2019 education appropriations bill that rejects the Administration’s request to eliminate key K-12 education programs and instead includes an increase in federal spending for education programs in FY2019.

The Labor, HHS, and Education FY2019 is  part of a “mini-bus” bill that was paired with the Department of Defense spending bill and attached to a short tem continuing resolution (CR) that will fund other federal programs  until December 7 (after the midterm elections).

The House will vote on the bill next week and then send the spending package to President Trump for his signature. 

The Education Department overall would receive an additional $581 million compared to the current fiscal year funding.

The Title IV-A (the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grant) under ESSA, which can be used by districts and states to fund STEM programs, will receive $1.17 billion, a $70 million increase over last year. 

Title I funding was increased by $125 million and special education funding under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act was increased by $87 million to $12.4 billion.

Funding for charter schools was increased by $40 million, bringing the overall level to $440 million.

The Perkins Career and Technical Education program, received a $70 million increase up to $1.3 billion, and afterschool programs in Title IVB 21st Century Community Learning Centers received a slight increase of approximately $10 million for FY2019.

Read the bill here and check out the AIP budget tracker for STEM education here.

And finally,

NSTA joined other scientific associations to support University of Oklahoma meteorologist Kelvin Droegemeier’s nomination in the Senate to lead the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. The letter states “The President faces a wide range of domestic and international challenges, from protecting national and energy security, to ensuring U.S. economic competitiveness, curing diseases, bolstering agriculture and responding to natural disasters. These challenges share one thing in common: the need for scientific knowledge and technological expertise to address them successfully.” Read the letter here and more on the nominee here.

Stay tuned, and watch for more updates in future issues of NSTA Express.

Jodi Peterson is the Assistant Executive Director of Communication, Legislative & Public Affairs for the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and Chair of the STEM Education Coalition. Reach her via e-mail at jpeterson@nsta.org or via Twitter at @stemedadvocate.

The mission of NSTA is to promote excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all.

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Problem-Based Learning: An Essential Tool in Each K-12 Science Educator’s Toolkit

Problem-based learning (PBL) is a strategy that is tailor made for teaching science. Under the PBL framework, students actively drive the learning process, one that takes them through rich and authentic, but incompletely defined, scenarios. This educational approach requires students to collaborate with others to analyze the problem that’s presented, ask questions, propose hypotheses, identify the information needed to solve the problem, and seek related information via literature searches and scientific investigations.

Implementing PBL for the classroom, however, can be challenging for science educators as curriculum resources are hard to find. That’s one of the reasons why veteran science educators Tom McConnell, Joyce Parker, and Janet Eberhardt teamed up to write Problem-Based Learning in the Physical Science Classroom. This book first takes readers through the overall PBL structure and discusses how it can be applied to the K-12 classroom. Then the authors share a collection of PBL problems which were developed by content experts who participated in the PBL Project for Teachers, a National Science Foundation –created professional development opportunity that used the PBL framework to help science educators develop a deeper understanding of science concepts across eight different content strands.

The authors also ensured that the problems they included are useful to science educators by including information that aligns the objectives and learning outcomes for each problem with the NGSS—and can be taught to learners with differing levels of prior knowledge.

The book’s chapters are arranged as follows:

  • Chapter 1 discusses why PBL should be an essential tool in each teacher’s teaching toolbox. The authors provide background on how PBL was developed, how it works across a range of disciplines, and the basic framework for a PBL lesson.
  • Chapter 2 covers the alignment of the PBL problems and the analytical framework of the NGSS.
  • Chapter 3 takes science educators through strategies for facilitating the PBL lessons.
  • Chapter 4 shares tips on how teachers can group students, manage information, and assess student learning throughout the process.
  • Chapters 5-8 present designed and tested problems (describing motion, forces and motion, engineering energy transformations, or engineering, electricity and magnetism), show the NGSS alignment, and provide teacher and student resources about the science concept and the problem.

The authors readily acknowledge there are far more science problems that the 14 that they present in this book that would make excellent PBL topics. That’s why they included a final chapter, one that shares strategies for teachers to write their own PBL lessons and offer tips for creating problems that are “rich, engaging, and ideal for addressing the standards you need to teach.”

This book is the third volume in NSTA’s PBL series, the first of which presented life science problems and the second volume that offered problems specifically written for teaching Earth and space science.

“There is a lot to like about this text,” said Peggy Ertmer, professor emeritus of Learning Design and Technology at Purdue University, and founding editor of the Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-Based Learning. “Implementing PBL is difficult for teachers, and few curriculum guides are available to support their efforts. This book fills that gap by providing the kinds of strategies and examples teachers need to facilitate open-ended inquiry in science classrooms.”

Read the free sample chapter, “Facilitating Problem-Based Learning,” to understand how to help students: function in a self-directed classroom; establish discussion guidelines and procedures, launch the problem, and generate hypotheses; develop a plan for gathering information; and share what they found. Teachers are given helpful information on how to assess their students’ learning and how to use the assessment results to respond to student needs.

This book is also available as an e-book. It’s also available as part of a set of three books: Problem-Based Learning in the Earth and Space, Life Science, and the Physical Science Classroom, K-12.

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Ideas and inspiration from NSTA’s September 2018 K-12 journals

Whether you’re looking for ideas on systems thinking, adding strategies to your teaching repertoire, or creativity in science, this month’s K-12 journals have it all. Regardless of what grade level or subject you teach, check out all three journals. As you skim through the article titles and description, you may find ideas for lessons that would be interesting your students or the inspiration to adapt a lesson to your heeds or create/share your own.

NSTA members, as always, have access to the articles in all journals! Click on the links to read or add to your library.

Science Scope – Earth Systems

From the Editor’s Desk: Earth: The Ultimate Recycler “…I’ve found students don’t always easily comprehend the importance or the mechanisms behind geoscience processes. Even something as simple as the water cycle is fraught with misunderstanding as students tend to harbor ideas that range from thinking that the water coming from various sources in their house differs in terms of its potability, to thinking that the water from a water bottle has never been part of the water cycle.”

Articles in this issue that describe lessons (many of which use the 5E model) include a helpful sidebar documenting the big idea, essential pre-knowledge, time, safety issues, and cost. The lessons also include connections with the NGSS.

These monthly columns continue to provide background knowledge and classroom ideas:

For more on the content that provides a context for projects and strategies described in this issue, see the SciLinks topics Air Masses, Biotic/Abiotic Factors, Clouds, Decomposers, Ecosystems, Flooding and Society, Floods, Greenhouse Effect, Ozone, Phases of Matter, Plate Tectonics, Rock Classification, Rock Cycle, UV Index, Tornadoes, U.S. National Parks, Water Cycle, Water Quality, Watersheds, Weather, Weather Forecasting


Keep reading for The Science Teacher and Science & Children.

Continue reading …

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Isopods—your favorite animal? Children are fascinated

What you call these small animals probably depends on where you grew up. Pillbug, sowbug, roly-poly, woodlice, potato bug, cochinilla, slater, and Armadillidium vulgare are some of the names I’ve heard for my favorite animal, the isopod. What kind of animal is it? To answer this question begin by making close observations, taking comfort in knowing that they will not scratch, bite, or sting you, and they don’t smell bad and are not sticky. And they are relatively sturdy animals that can be handled without damaging them, and the common land species are plentiful in many places so are not endangered. Avoid touching other invertebrates such as spiders, bees, and centipedes because they may bite or sting. And wash your hands after handling the isopods, just in case.

Searching for isopods, observing their behavior, and where they are found introduces children to a kind of animal that likes damp places. Reading about them, creating a container habitat, and caring for the isopods provides young children with multiple occasions to observe their body structure and learn that they are different from familiar animals such as worms, caterpillars and butterflies, fish, birds, and pet dogs in many ways. Children build on their prior experiences each time they are engaged with a science concept. Using a simple hand lens will reveal small details. Taking and enlarging digital photographs is also a good way to see small body parts.

Any enclosed habitat becomes soiled over time and needs to be refreshed. Children delight in misting the container with water and adding leaves. Your isopods will need some fresh soil and decaying vegetable matter, preferably from the area where you found them.

I wrote about the value of children’s open exploration of phenomenon and materials in the Early Years column in the September 2018 Science and Children. The activity page, “Exploring Isopods,” gives beginning instructions for implementing this open exploration. Learn more about open exploration in the Young Scientist books. See other articles in Science and Children about learning through observing isopods by searching on the “Your Elementary Classroom” page or in the NSTA Learning Center for “isopod.” I’m not the only educator who likes these animals!

University of Florida's page on isopodsBioKids page on isopodsOnline there are scientific studies about these cute animals and an International Symposium on Terrestrial Isopod Biology. Here are two online sites that have additional information for children and educators. How will your children share what they learn through observation?

Featured Creatures, Entomology and Nematology Department, University of Florida.


BioKids, Kids’ Inquiry of Diverse Species


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Ed News: Climate Change Is Not Up For Debate.

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This week in education news, West Virginia hasn’t externally tested whether the SAT test’s “Analysis in Science” section actually measures what students are learning in their science classrooms; New Teacher Center unveils new coaching standards; teachers face barriers to using data in the classroom, including a lack of time and training to put data to work for students; and national teachers group confront climate denial.

WV Hasn’t Externally Tested SAT’s Alignment To State’s Science Standards

The West Virginia Department of Education hasn’t yet had an external, independent study done of whether the SAT test’s “Analysis in Science” section actually measures what Mountain State students are learning in their science classrooms. The department, nevertheless, plans to report SAT science scores to the federal government, at least for last school year. Read the article featured in the Charleston Gazette-Mail.

New Teacher Center Releases Instructional Coaching Standards

The Santa Cruz, California-based New Teacher Center has released standards for instructional coaching programs and practices that are intended to improve teacher effectiveness, support teacher leadership, and create more equitable learning experiences for students. Read the brief featured in Education DIVE.

Continue reading …

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Teaching Climate Science? Leading Teachers and Scientists Explain NSTA’s New Position Statement and Answer Your Questions

EarthNSTA recently issued a position statement calling for greater support for science educators in teaching evidence-based science, including climate science and climate change. The statement promotes the teaching of climate science as any other established field of science and calls on teachers to reject pressures to eliminate or de-emphasize climate-based science concepts in science instruction. The statement acknowledges the decades of research and overwhelming scientific consensus indicating with increasing certainty that Earth’s climate is changing, largely due to human impacts. It also establishes that any controversies regarding climate change and its causes that are based on social, economic, or political arguments—and not scientific evidence—should not be part of a science curriculum. Read more about the statement and access climate resources at www.nsta.org/climate.

NSTA has asked a few members of the position statement panel to give science teachers further insights on important issues related to the teaching of climate science.

What are the key takeaways from NSTA’s position statement on the teaching of climate science?

When I think about classroom teachers, I know that they wish the best for their students, especially in preparing them for the challenges they will face once they leave school. In order to do that, and to best refine their own science knowledge and skills, teachers need the very best findings and tools that science can offer. They also need to know that other stakeholders will support them in the classroom. This position statement lays out a beacon in all of the noise that surrounds the teaching of the science of climate and climate change. The statement expresses not just the urgency and critical importance of understanding climate change, but also offers constructive tools for distinguishing science from non-science around climate change. It also lays out what teachers themselves should perhaps demand of other stakeholders if their students are to leave school with tools for resilience in dealing with future climate change effects and not face the future with sense of despair over the environment.

Eric J. Pyle (Chair)
Professor, Department of Geology & Environmental Science
Coordinator, Science Teacher Preparation, College of Science & Mathematics
James Madison University
Harrisonburg, Virginia


What challenges do K–12 teachers face teaching climate science and how can this statement help them?

This statement addresses three of the challenges that K12 teachers face when teaching climate change: teacher-training, lesson planning, and networking. Continue reading …

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folder icon  Safety

Fridge and Freezer Safety

This blog post describes steps teachers should take to ensure that laboratory freezers and refrigerators are free from safety hazards. Science teachers should adhere to the following standard operating procedures, via the University of Texas at Austin.

• Designate one employee to oversee the laboratory refrigerator and freezer.
• Do not store food in refrigerators or freezers that store chemicals.
• To avoid biological and chemical cross-contamination, do not store food and beverages with bacteria plates, chemical solutions, and specimens in the same refrigerator.
• Clean out refrigerators and freezers on a regular basis.
• Seal/cap, securely place, and label containers stored in the refrigerator or freezer. Do not use aluminum foil, corks, and glass stoppers as caps for containers.
• Store all liquid chemicals in plastic trays.
• Appropriately label all stored items.
• Regularly review the inventory of refrigerators and freezers to ensure the contents are compatible.
• Know the shelf life and amount of stored chemicals. Each chemical contains decomposition products that could be hazardous over time.
• Power outages and technology failures can affect stored contents. Watch out for unusual odors and vapors from chemicals after such an event.
• Inspect the appliance at least once per month.
• Post an up-to-date inventory on the refrigerator door.
• Properly install the refrigerator, making sure that it is grounded. No extension cord should be used.
• Place the refrigerator and freezer away from lab exits. Continue reading …

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3D classroom – with 3D!

How can you use 3D printers in your science classroom?
— S., Alabama


Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) projects are the first thing that comes to my mind when I think about using 3D printers. You could have students design and fabricate parts for robots and other projects. There are many websites that share object files for printing difficult parts like battery holders, gears, chassis, and so on.

Other physics-related/STEM design ideas:

  • Small cars for kinematics and dynamics experiments
  • Catapults and trebuchets
  • Wind generators: start with windmills then attach them to small electric motors.
  • Pan flutes, recorders or whistles. Have students calculate lengths to get frequencies they want.
  • Center of gravity: create objects that balance on a point.

For chemistry, students could create 3D representations of the abstract and unseen aspects of the atomic world. Before you print them, make sure you compare the cost to purchasing molecular kits. In time, you could build up your stock of models so all your students can have manipulatives. Some design ideas:

  • Molecular models
  • Bohr model representations with perhaps 3D orbitals
  • s, p, d, f electron orbitals
  • Small containers or coolers to minimize heat transfer.
  • Prototype tools to handle simulated dangerous chemicals

A 3D printer can enhance students’ learning of a host of biochemicals, structures and functions in biology, such as DNA, enzymes, replication, transcription, translation, cell membranes, cells, nephrons, and hearts!

Hope this helps!

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Vernier: Go Direct Light and Color


The Go Direct Light and Color Sensor is a powerful and versatile light sensor that measures visible light, the ultraviolet electromagnetic spectrum, and does color analysis. As seen in the video, by using an RGB color sensor, the relative primary colors of light can be detected with this device.

As seen in Image 1., the Go Direct Light and Color connects wirelessly via Bluetooth® or wired via USB to your device, e.g., laptop, etc. Once connected, Vernier’s Go Direct Light and Color Sensor combines the power of multiple sensors to measure light intensity in the visible range and UV portions of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Another excellent benefit of the Go Direct Light and Color Sensor has multiple options to measure light intensity in the visible range and UV portions of the electromagnetic spectrum and can be used for the study of visible light intensity, UV light intensity, and color investigations. Moreover, the sensor connects to the Graphical Analysis 4 app, which facilitates student understanding with real-time graphs of experimental data and intuitive analysis tools. Continue reading …

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Keep it grounded. Keep it real.

I’ve been teaching science for three years. My students seem to see science as an abstract subject and have trouble imagining it. How can I help my students appreciate the lessons more with limited time and resources?
—R., Philippines


I think the way to teach science with less abstraction is to ground your lessons in observable phenomena. Students build up knowledge and understanding by examining and investigating commonplace events. These don’t have to be expensive demonstrations—just simple, everyday observations, pictures or videos. There are many websites that provide these phenomenon and storylines to make just such learning happen. The NSTA Learning Center and NGSS Hub are excellent places to search for these. One example: A time-lapse video of tree shadows moving during the day can be a springboard to investigating the motion of planets. Case studies are similar to using phenomenon-based teaching and there are many websites that provide examples to use in science classrooms.

Inquiry projects allowing students to select their topics are another way for students to dive into a concept and demystify it. They will take ownership for their learning and it will be more meaningful to them.

Integrate the nature of science and how scientists think and work into your teaching. I think people disbelieve scientific claims and call them abstract because they don’t understand how scientists draw conclusions or the continual change inherent in the nature of scientific knowledge. Students should discover that science isn’t magical or arcane, it is hard work and conclusions based on the best evidence.

You can accomplish all these things with the smallest of budgets.

Keep it grounded. Keep it real. And, of course, keep it fun!

Hope this helps!

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