Relating weather watching to periodic nature events

Children building in the snow.Two-years-olds may be too young to remember the seasonal changes that happened in the last year but they are not too young to understand and talk about the natural changes that happen on a shorter time scale—the cycle of day and night. Looking for the Moon can be a nighttime or daytime activity. Older children remember events that occur seasonally—leaves dropping from deciduous trees or the occasionally heavy snow that closed school and made new play opportunities in their familiar landscape. All ages are affected by regional changes such as annual flooding, summertime dry spells, and changes in animal behavior. Hunting seasons are tied to annual animal lifecycles. 

Migration of animals such as toads and bears are the focus of community efforts to make residents aware of the seasonal changes in animal activity. In some regions, all are fascinated and sometimes freaked out by the appearance of a large number of cicadas, an insect that has a life cycle that for some species takes more than a decade. Regional experts, such as naturalist Alonso Abugattas, can help us make sense of changes we don’t understand. 

Those occasional events are memorable. Observation and documentation are strategies that help children (and scientists) make sense of the everyday and occasional changes in their environment (NGSS practices). Children can make simple documentation of the daily weather and relate it to the seasonal cycles that affect living organisms. If your children are recording the daily temperature in relative or standard measurement, they can look back and see how many days with “hot” temperatures occurred before their pea seeds sprouted, cicadas emerged, or the swimming pools opened.

Cloud chart from NASA/NOAAChildren who are not yet reading numerals or able to count the small marks on a thermometer can read the colors on a thermometer with color-coded groups of 10-20 degrees of temperature. They can hold a cloud chart against the sky to match cloud types or collect and measure precipitation. A class’ daily “weather report” of sunny/cloudy/rainy/windy/snowy becomes much more meaningful when their sky cover and temperature data from the year is displayed so children can see patterns and relate changes in weather to changes in the life cycles of the plants and animals in their neighborhood. Early childhood educators are discussing weather education in the NSTA Learning Center Early Childhood Forum, one place to learn how to extend children’s understanding of the relationship between daily weather and seasons, and how those changes affect living organisms.

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Ed News: Teacher Speak – What PD Actually Works?

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This week in education news, 12 Texas students injured in outdoor science experiment involving fire; student misconceptions about the teaching profession, as well as a lack of discussion on the part of professors, contribute to the current shortage of STEM teachers; President Trump’s new budget proposal would boost school choice; and according to NCTQ’s new report only 16 teacher prep programs ranked as top tier.

12 Texas Preschoolers Hurt In Blast From Color-Changing Fire Experiment Gone Wrong

An outdoor science experiment involving fire at a Texas Presbyterian preschool went terribly wrong Tuesday, injuring 12 students — six of whom were transported to a hospital with burns. A group of preschoolers were gathered outside to watch a teacher change the color of fire using different chemicals. The teacher mixed boric acid with methanol and tried to light it on fire. Nothing happened, so the teacher added more alcohol and lit the mixture again. Then there was an explosion. Click here to read the article featured in the Washington Post.

Teachers Speak: What PD Actually Works?

Even with the best technology in the world, there is one key element that determines student success: a high-quality, highly-effective teacher. In fact, some research estimates that teachers can impact students’ lifetime earnings by 10 to 20 percent, which can increase the U.S. gross domestic product by tens of trillions of dollars. And professional development (PD) is critical in helping teachers as they continue to hone their skills and evolve as educators. But what kind of PD is most effective, and does the kind of PD that helps teachers best change as teachers become more experienced? Click here to read the article featured in eSchool News.

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Legislative Update: Trump Budget Proposes Cuts in Education

President Trump’s budget is not expected out until Tuesday, May 23, but the Washington Post is reporting that the Administration is planning massive cuts to the U.S. Department of Education, and is proposing  that another $1 billion be provided for school choice programs. (In related news, Secretary DeVos is expected to unveil the Administration’s school choice plan during a speech on Monday, May 22.)

As expected, the budget would also eliminate funding for Title IV-A, the ESSA block grant that would target funds to every state and district. The Washington Post states, “The Trump administration would dedicate no money to a fund for student support and academic enrichment that is meant to help schools pay for, among other things, mental-health services, anti-bullying initiatives, physical education, Advanced Placement courses and science and engineering instruction. Congress created the fund, which totals $400 million this fiscal year, by rolling together several smaller programs. Lawmakers authorized as much as $1.65 billion, but the administration’s budget for it in the next fiscal year is zero.”

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Build Your Middle Level STEM Repertoire This Summer at the 6th Annual STEM Forum & Expo

I want to personally invite as many middle level educators as possible to attend the 6th Annual STEM Forum & Expo, hosted by NSTA. This year’s roster of middle level sessions explores a wide array of STEM education professional development. NSTA is partnering with other top STEM organizations to bring you the best content: 

These groups will lead hands-on workshops geared toward teachers establishing STEM programs in their schools, STEM leaders in rural districts, and teachers who are new to computer science and engineering.

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How to Safeguard Your Lab

Many of the chemicals on the Department of Homeland Security’s Anti-Terrorism Standards Chemicals of Interest List can be found in high school storerooms. These chemicals may be prone to theft and unauthorized lab experiments. Some terrorist websites have even suggested that their operatives pose as students to acquire hazardous chemical, biological, or radiological agents (NAP 2011).

To meet this challenge, science teachers, their supervisors, and administrators need to provide a secure working environment by making their labs more secure.

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Dive In! Immersion in Science Practices for High School Students

Are you ready to integrate science practices into your classroom?

How feasible are student-directed science investigations within the curricular expectations at your school? How can you create opportunities for student-directed investigations in the classroom? Have you ever considered partnering with a scientist to add depth to your lessons?

These are some of the central questions of the new book Dive In! Immersion in Science Practices for High School Students by Karen J. Graham, Lara M. Gengarelly, Barbara A. Hopkins, and Melissa A. Lombard.

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Coaching a colleague

I coach teachers at an elementary school. One teacher is trying to improve his science instruction (one of the school goals), but he’s struggling with classroom management and organization during class activities. I’ve shared some ideas, but I’m looking for more. —S., Pennsylvania

Many teachers did not experience hands-on science as students and may be unsure how to create planned and purposeful opportunities for their own students. If science is the only time in which students are expected to work in groups, with hands-on materials, or with less structure, they may think of science as free time or not as important as teacher-directed lessons.

In addition to observing the teacher, notice what the students are (or are not) doing and how the classroom is arranged. Ask the teacher questions like: What went well—and why? What were the greatest challenges? What do you think about…? Did you notice today when…? What would happen if…? What works well for you in other subjects? His responses and your observations could lead to an action plan that could include strategies such as (and these were among those suggested to me by a mentor when I was struggling!):

  • Begin the activity or investigation by stating the purpose, outcomes (e.g., report, graph, drawing, summary, notebook entry), and how it connects with the learning goals or expectations of the unit.
  • Establish routines so students know what kinds of behaviors are expected and acceptable.
  • Prepare and label materials in advance and have designated places for them to be accessed and returned.
  • Assign and explain group roles before starting the activity.
  • Stop an activity when students engage in unsafe behaviors.

Above all, encourage the teacher to give himself time to persevere and to reflect on each activity as part of a continuous effort to improve.



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Ed News: The Search For A Middle Ground Between Teacher And Administrator

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This week in education news, should teachers stay in the classroom or move to an administrator role; President Trump orders hard look at federal reach on K-12 policy; the nation’s elementary school children still receive thin and infrequent science instruction; DeVos reiterates school choice agenda and suggests scrapping the Higher Education Act; and teachers’ concerns lead to changes in California’s testing contract.

A New Wave Of Bills Takes Aim At Science In The Classroom

In Idaho, lawmakers removed references to climate change from the state’s science standards. In Alabama and Indiana, they passed resolutions urging support for educators who teach “diverse” views on climate change, evolution and human cloning. And in Florida, the legislature on Friday adopted one bill that would give educators and students more freedom to express religious beliefs in school, and a second that would give residents new power to oppose classroom materials they dislike — including science textbooks. Click here to read the article featured on PBS Frontline.

The Search For A Middle Ground Between Teacher And Administrator

It’s a question that all teachers ask themselves — or in many cases are asked by friends and family — stay in the classroom and continue to teach or move to an administrative role? For educators in the United States, moving up to a principal or other school leadership position is often the go-to path in order to advance their careers and make more money. The dilemma is that a large number of teachers have little interest in leaving the classroom. Click here to read the article featured in Education World.

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The 6th Annual STEM Forum & Expo is the Place to Be for Upper Elementary Educators

Any and all upper elementary educators looking to build their repertoire of STEM knowledge would benefit from attending the 6th Annual STEM Forum & Expo.  The Expo will be held in Kissimmee/Orlando, Florida from July 12-14. The event promises to meet the needs of educators just beginning their journey into the STEM world and those who may be teaching at fully developed STEM institutions. Because the forum is organized by grade level strands, teachers will be able to focus on sessions, discussions, and presentations geared to their students’ specific needs and interests. Organizing by grade level will help upper elementary educators who would like to learn some middle level concepts or strategies as well as those would may want to learn some early elementary concepts and strategies. The Expo gives you full control of how you’d like to experience it. 

Whether you’re drawn to literacy integration, are looking to maximize the ‘M” of mathematics in STEM, or are curious as how the engineering design thought process can be ignited with art, upper elementary educators will find over 30 different hands on workshops, nearly 20 presentations, as well as many other panels and sessions to attend at the STEM Forum, all of which are presented by leaders in STEM education. Sessions like Where It Stops, Nobody Knows: ELA Through STEM are great for teachers who want to incorporate literacy in their STEM classrooms, and Designing with Electrical Circuits are sure to capture a students imagination. There is no doubt that the event will provide attendees with the latest information on STEM content, resources, teaching strategies, and research.  While there, educators and administrations are encouraged to network with each other, STEM leaders, informal educators, as well as policy makers from around the nation and the world building unprecedented collaborations in STEM education. With such high quality and specialized offerings, how could Upper Elementary educators not attend the STEM Forum and Expo?

Sandra Kellerman is a fourth-grade teacher at Lyman Elementary School, where she uses STEM-related projects such as making rafts from popsicle sticks to get her students engaged in STEM. Her top priority is to educate conference attendees on the importance of STEM in classrooms with limited resources and funding. She is currently on the steering committee as the upper elementary strand leader for the 6th Annual STEM Forum & Expo. 

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

Future NSTA Conferences

2017 STEM Forum & Expo
Kissimmee/Orlando, July 12–14

2017 Area Conferences

Baltimore, October 5–7
Milwaukee, November 9–11
New Orleans, Nov. 30–Dec. 2

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Why are we doing this?

I have some chemistry students who ask “Why do we have to learn this?” How can I address this other saying “you’ll need it in college.” —D., Delaware

Why are we studying this? What good is this?

It’s easy to answer student questions like these with “because it will be on the test” or “because it’s in the textbook,” but this usually doesn’t satisfy the student. As you noted “you’ll need this someday” is equally frustrating because information is readily available electronically, and we can’t predict what careers and interests students will have in the future.

Some students enjoy science, and their interest is independent of class activities. Others are skeptical and may need to be convinced that a topic is worth learning. Teachers can make science interesting and relevant by sharing their enthusiasm and using thought-provoking investigations or activities, multimedia and visuals, a variety of instructional strategies, cooperative learning, and opportunities for students to use their curiosity and creativity.

As you plan a unit, consider the goal or performance expectation. What content is essential? How can I use a variety of practices to make it interesting? How does the unit connect with or build on what students already know? Does it provide background for future learning? How does it relate to real-life events or other subject areas? How can students personalize this information?

It may help to introduce each unit with essential questions focused on a big idea or theme. During each lesson, revisit the questions, connecting any new content or experiences. If the questions are posted in the classroom or in the students’ science notebooks, they are a constant reminder of why students are learning about the topic. Eventually, students may come up with their own questions and learning goals.



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