FLIR ONE Thermal Imaging Camera


The imaginations of middle school and high school students will be fully engaged in the science classroom with the FLIR ONE Thermal Imaging Camera. This camera’s thermal capabilities offer students the ability to explore things invisible to the human eye. By using the Thermal Camera, students will investigate the world of thermodynamics in a manner that parallels the excitement and mystery evoked by sitting on the edge of your seat during a cutting-edge science fiction movie.


How does it work?

What we can see with naked eye is restricted to visible light. Therefore, when you consider the electromagnetic spectrum (EM), which encompasses radio waves, microwaves, infrared light, visible light, ultraviolet light, x-rays, and gamma rays, it becomes evident that what we can see with our eyes is limited. As an example, devices such as military night vision goggles make it possible to see images in the dark. In a similar way, the FLIR ONE Thermal Imaging Camera is a device for us to “see” beyond visible light.

Thermal-imaging cameras, like the FLIR ONE, can “see” heat signatures, which are converted to display variations of temperatures, e.g., How an icy soft drink contrasts with the flame on a candle. This is because all objects emit thermal energy and the hotter the object; the more energy given off by the object. The energy emitted is known as the “heat signature.” Hence, every object has a different heat signature; and it’s those signatures that are detected by thermal imagers like the FLIR ONE. Moreover, since thermal cameras are not concerned with visible light, regardless of lighting conditions, thermal cameras can detect the different heat signatures in a variety of situations. Therefore, images of temperature variations can be observed with this type of device.



FLIR ONE Thermal Imaging Camera Compatibility

The Thermal Camera is easily compatible and made for the iPhone and the iPad. It is very easy to use and since no interface is needed, it is a snap to get it operational for the classroom. Subsequently, teachers will have no problem having students connect the device for experiments. The first step, however, is load the free Vernier Thermal Analysis for FLIR ONE application, which is available for download on the iTunes App Store  []. It requires iOS 9.0 or better and should be installed before connecting the camera to your device.  The Vernier Thermal Analysis for FLIR ONE application is simple to access and takes only a few minutes to upload.


As explained in the iTunes store:

“Vernier Thermal Analysis for FLIR ONE allows you to mark up to four locations or regions on a thermal image. In a selected region, you can determine minimum, maximum, or average temperature. Graph temperature data live during an experiment, then export to our Graphical Analysis app for further analysis. Thermal image videos can also be exported to the Photos app.

Cool for graphing temperature changes over time. Crashes occasionally. It doesn’t seem like all the settings available on the iPad version are available on the iPhone, like the ability to manually set the temperature range or shift the offset between the visible and thermal cameras. It would also be nice if the video playback could be accelerated. (if these features are available I haven’t been able to find them.) I like how it is possible to change the settings after the experiment is complete. Lots of export options. All in all, next to Flir’s app this is the most useful one I’ve found. But, like the Flir One app it doesn’t seem possible to adjust the MSX enhancement or disable the visible camera, which I think is the greatest drawback to that app. Under some conditions the MSX enhancement adds so much noise that it obscures the thermal information.”

The Thermal Camera, in conjunction with the Thermal Analysis app, can do much more than simply detect heat. Students will also be able to record and graph live temperature data from up to four locations on an image. This will allow them to compare the temperature data between different locations during an experiment. Furthermore, each picture taken with this device will also simultaneously take a standard picture, providing greater detail of the image.

The FLIR ONE can be used across the science content areas  (i.e., physics, chemistry, earth science, biology, etc.) and will definitely enhance the study of thermodynamics for students– especially for visual learners! Below are samples of links to ideas for classroom experiments:

Rubbing erasers, hands and ice:

Knife and wooden spoon:

Cups and clothes:



The FLIR ONE Thermal Camera is a new technology application that engages students into meaningful and exciting inquiry-based learning! Undoubtedly, this user-friendly device has a kaleidoscope of meaningful uses for 21st Century science classrooms! There is little doubt that its use will spawn creativity and heighten the interest of thermodynamics content for students!

Equipment and Cost:


Cost: $249


Edwin P. Christmann is a professor and chairman of the secondary education department and graduate coordinator of the mathematics and science teaching program at Slippery Rock University in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania. Anthony Balos is a graduate student and a research assistant in the secondary education program at Slippery Rock University in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania.

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Working cooperatively

I’m frustrated by my sixth graders. When they’re supposed to be working cooperatively, they are unfocused—it seems more like a social event. By middle school, shouldn’t students know how to work cooperatively? Or are they too immature? – G., Virgina

Immaturity is not an excuse. I’ve seen wonderful cooperative learning taking place in kindergarten classes, with teacher guidance, modeling, and monitoring.

One might assume students have specific skill sets and experiences, but I’ve learned never to take anything for granted. If the students attended different elementary schools, their science backgrounds and the emphasis schools placed on science investigations will vary. You may have to teach (or remind) students what cooperative learning in science looks like.

Defining roles is a key component. Common roles in middle level science labs include group leader, presenter, data recorder, measurer, equipment manager, liaison/questioner, artist/illustrator, online researcher, timekeeper, and notetaker. Depending on the size of the groups, some roles can be combined.

It may help to have students define the roles, giving them ownership in the process. Ask, “What would a data recorder do?” (Students must answer without using the words data or recorder.) You can add suggestions, especially on safety. Job descriptions could be shared as posters, student-created videos, or put into students’ notebooks. Rotate roles periodically so all students have a chance to experience each one.

If some students lack polished interpersonal skills, start with brief, structured activities. Model cooperative behaviors and share examples of appropriate (and inappropriate) language.

To keep the groups focused and on-task, be sure students understand the purpose and the learning goals for the project or investigation and monitor them as they work.

Middle schoolers are capable of working cooperatively, and their enthusiasm is a bonus!



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Join the National Day of Action for Full Funding of ESSA Student Success


Science educators, teacher leaders, and others in the STEM education community are encouraged to join thousands of K-12 educators, counselors, technology specialists, and librarians on October 26 for the national “Day of Action” to urge Congress to fully fund the flexible block grant (Student Support and Academic Enrichment Title IV, Part A) recently authorized in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

The Student Support and Academic Enrichment (SSAE) block grant is designed to ensure that high needs districts have access to programs that foster safe and healthy students, provide students with a well-rounded education, and increase the effective use of technology in our nation’s schools. 

Districts can choose to spend their Title IV/A dollars to improve instruction and student engagement in STEM by:

  • Expanding high-quality STEM courses;
  • Increasing access to STEM for underserved and at risk student populations;
  • Supporting the participation of students in STEM nonprofit competitions (such as robotics, science research, invention, mathematics, computer science, and technology competitions);
  • Providing hands-on learning opportunities in STEM;
  • Integrating other academic subjects, including the arts, into STEM subject programs;
  • Creating or enhancing STEM specialty schools;
  • Integrating classroom based and afterschool and informal STEM instruction; and
  • Expanding environmental education. 

Advocates are trying to drive the highest possible funding level for the program, and are asking their members to call on lawmakers to fully fund this program.

Send a pre-written letter to your Member of Congress via the STEM Education Coalition Congressional Action Center

Call or email the Member’s office and ask to speak to the legislative assistant who handles appropriations issues. Call the Capitol Hill switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask to be connected to your member of Congress.  If the legislative assistant is not in, you can leave a voicemail with your request. A sample script can be found here.

Send a tweet to your members of Congress.

Read the press release on the Title IV/A National Day of Action here.

It is important we get as many teachers as possible to contact their member of Congress. This is the first year for this grant program so it is critical that Congress appropriates a robust level of funding.  Questions? Email me at

ED Releases Guidance on Title IVA Programs

The U.S. Department of Education has released its guidance document on Title IV,A Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grant (mentioned above). The guidance provides key information on the provisions of the new SSAE program including a discussion of the allowable uses of funds, role of the SEA, fiscal responsibilities, and the local application requirements.  Read more here.

Sign the STEM Education Coalition letter to State Stakeholders on ESSA Implementation

The STEM Education Coalition is circulating a letter among the STEM education community asking stakeholders and interested organizations to join onto a sign-on letter that calls for state and local policymakers to prioritize STEM as they put together plans to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act. View the letter here; if your organization would like to sign on, please contact Lindsey Gardner of the Coalition at with your organization’s name and contact info.  The deadline to sign on is Friday, November 4.

Jodi Peterson is Assistant Executive Director of Legislative Affairs for the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and Chair of the STEM Education Coalition. e-mail Peterson at; follow her on Twitter at @stemedadvocate.

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Best STEM Books for K-12: List Coming Soon from NSTA

blog header reading "Best STEM Books for K-12, Coming November 2016"

Over the last few years, members of the teaching community have asked for a list of books containing the best STEM content for K–12. So we’re thrilled to be working on that now and to be able to invite readers to join us in late November, when we announce the list. Please bookmark this site (Best STEM Books for K–12), and follow NSTA on Twitter or Facebook to see if your favorite books make the list.


When an acronym becomes so common that users forget its origins, it can take on a life of its own. That’s what’s happened to STEM. The integration of mathematics, engineering, technology, and science began as a model (“METS”) in grant funding. From a basket category for college and career, STEM has now become a model for education from early childhood onward.

But the journey from a paradigm to implementation has proved challenging in school settings. In many schools “silos” still exist; Teachers of each discipline form a community of learning and cooperate in their ideas, but often the ways of knowing in each discipline remain.

STEM is more than a concept diagram with connections among four (or more) subject areas. It’s a unique way of knowing and exploring the world. The STEM approach involves the essence of the practices of science and engineering. Tools like mathematics, technology, and communication skills are interwoven in STEM explorations. That seamlessness is what challenges educators around the world.

Nowhere is that more obvious than when teachers look to find literature to integrate into a STEM curriculum. NSTA has worked with the Children’s Book Council for 45 years to identify Outstanding Science Trade Books. Often in their annotations the reviewers have indicated the winners were great for STEM curricula.

But are they really STEM? Experts, including the NSTA Board, were interested in the question. The first draft of a new set of criteria came from J. Carrie Launius at the University of Missouri.  In her research, Launius proposed that redefining the STEM literature genre would not only improve teachers’ understanding of the approach but would raise the level of understanding among students.

To represent the philosophy of STEM, NSTA invited a unique collaboration with three other groups, the American Association of Engineering Educators, the International Technology and Engineering Educators Association, and the mathematics reps from Society of Elementary Presidential Awardees. Through almost a year of study, the group came up with these criteria for the best STEM literature for young readers:

STEM Superlatives

The best books would invite STEM‐like thinking by

  • Modeling real‐world innovation
  • Embracing real‐world design, invention and innovation
  • Connecting with authentic experiences
  • Showing assimilation of new ideas
  • Illustrating teamwork, diverse skills, creativity, and cooperation
  • Inviting divergent thinking and doing
  • Integrating interdisciplinary and creative approaches
  • Exploring multiple solutions to problems
  • Addressing connections between STEM disciplines
  • Exploring Engineering Habits of Mind
    • Systems thinking
    • Creativity
    • Optimization
    • Collaboration

STEM in Practice

The best STEM books might represent the practices of science and engineering by:

  •  Asking questions, solving problems, designing and redesigning
  •  Integrating STEM disciplines
  •  Showing the progressive changes that characterize invention and/or engineering by
  •  Demonstrating designing or redesigning, improving, building, or repairing a product or idea
  • Showing the process of working through trial and error
  •  Progressively developing better engineering solutions
  •  Analyzing efforts and makes necessary modifications along the way
  •  Illustrates at points, failure might happen and that is acceptable providing reflection and learning occurs.
    •  Communication
    •  Ethical considerations

Challenging criteria, to be sure. What might be most startling is what they don’t include: specific requirements for extensive content in any of the individual subject areas. This was a subject of extensive discussion by the group. In the end, they decided that while a great integrated STEM book might have a lot of content, a book might represent the best STEM attitudes and practices an be just plain “inviting.”

Next, the Children’s Book Council took over, contacting dozens of publishers to let them know the effort was underway. And the results: Astounding! While in most years about 150 books are submitted for Outstanding Science Trade Books, the first solicitation for Best STEM Books drew more than double that many.

But of course, it was a new process and a new vision.  Among the entries were many really great books about science, some new approaches to mathematics and some fascinating engineering stories. But were they STEM? Did they tell? Or invite?

Months of reading and rich discussions ensued. Books were read, rated and re-examined. Judges struggled to separate the content of the books from the ways that creative STEM teachers could use them.

What Will Make the List?

But in the end, the process worked. The collaboration among teachers from different backgrounds proved that STEM works—in all sorts of problem-solving situations.

The result is a list of BEST STEM books that the associations hope will help influence not just publishing but education at all levels. The field is blooming!

So the Associations and their representatives invite you to enjoy the first list of the best STEM literature—coming in November. We can’t wait to share!

2016 Selection Committee

Juliana Texley, NSTA Past President; Carrie Launius, NSTA District XI Director, Retired K-12 Classroom Teacher, St. Louis, MO; Christine Royce, Professor, Department of Teacher Education, Shippensburg University; Pamela S. Lottero-Perdue, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Science Education, Director, Integrated STEM Instructional Leadership (PreK-6) Post-Baccalaureate Program, Department of Physics, Astronomy & Geosciences, Towson University, Chair, Pre-College Engineering Education Division, American Society for Engineering Education; Peggy Carlisle, Gifted Education Teacher, Pecan Park Elementary School, Jackson, MS; Sharon Brusic, Professor & Coordinator for Technology & Engineering Education, Dept. of Applied Engineering, Safety & Technology, Millersville University of Pennsylvania, Millersville, PA; Suzanne Flynn, Professor, Lesley University/Cambridge College, Fort Myers, FL; Thomas Roberts, VP of Programming for ITEEA Children’s Council, Doctoral Candidate in STEM Education at the University of Kentucky; Kathy Renfrew, Proficiency Based Learning Team, Science Specialist, Agency of Education , Barre, VT; Diana Ibarra, Shuyuan Science and Sustainability Programs Manager, The Independent Schools Foundation Academy, Hong Kong.

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

2016 Area Conferences

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Health Wise: If Students Injure Their Heads

Football battle

In a recent anonymous online survey, (KH 2015) asked parents and coaches what they should do if a child takes a hit to the head on a playing field. The correct answer—according to numerous health associations and laws in all 50 states and the District of Columbia—is that the child should immediately stop playing or practicing and then get checked out by a doctor before returning to the field.

About half of parents and almost as many coaches did not know that they should take those steps, according to the survey (KH 2015). Some parents told us that they would allow a child to get right back in the game or wait just 15 minutes before resuming the sport. Others said they would stop the child from playing but would not check in with a doctor.

Teachers need to know the correct steps to take, too, because “concussions can happen any time a student’s head comes into contact with a hard object, such as a floor, desk, or another student’s head or body,” according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) factsheet for teachers (CDC 2015).

“Teachers and school counselors may be the first to notice changes in their students,” the CDC says (CDC 2015). “The signs and symptoms can take time to appear and can become evident during concentration and learning activities in the classroom. Send a student to the school nurse or another professional designated to address health issues, if you notice or suspect that a student has: 1. Any kind of forceful blow to the head or to the body that results in rapid movement of the head and 2. Any change in the student’s behavior, thinking, or physical functioning.”

Even days after a student takes a hit to the head, the CDC says (CDC 2015), teachers should notify the school nurse if a student

  • appears dazed or stunned,
  • is confused about or can’t recall events,
  • repeats questions or answers questions slowly,
  • shows behavior or personality changes,
  • forgets class schedule or assignments, or
  • loses consciousness (even briefly).

In addition to limiting physical activity, a student healing from a concussion may need cognitive rest and special school accommodations, says Dr. Rupal Christine Gupta, a pediatrician and former medical editor. To recover, a student may

  • miss class time until cleared by a doctor;
  • need to avoid activities that require concentration, such as quizzes or tests;
  • need more time for instruction, homework, and tests;
  • need to wear sunglasses due to light sensitivity; and
  • benefit from having a 504 education plan (see “On the web”).

A student may also need speech-language therapy, environmental adaptations, and curriculum modifications, the CDC says (CDC 2015).

“Students may start to feel better before the concussion is fully healed,” Gupta says. “But all symptoms—including those affecting mood, thinking, and balance—must be back to normal, without the help of medicine, before students can return to normal activities. Getting another injury before the concussion fully heals could cause serious, long-term health problems. Some people have even died after getting a second concussion before the first one fully healed.”

Classroom activity
Students can conduct an anonymous survey of peers and faculty to assess awareness of proper concussion protocols, then create data-informed public service announcements to improve knowledge schoolwide. Students can adapt their survey questions from a quiz for teens (see “On the web”).

Michael E. Bratsis is senior editor for Kids Health in the Classroom ( Send comments, questions, or suggestions to

On the web
For educators
Lesson plan:
Physiological effects of a concussion:
Tips on 504 plans:

For students
Concussions mini-site in English and Spanish:
Concussions quiz:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 2015. A fact sheet for teachers, counselors, and school professionals. (KH). 2015. Concussions: What parents and coaches say.

Editor’s Note

This article was originally published in the October 2016 issue of The Science Teacher journal from the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA).

Get Involved With NSTA!

Join NSTA today and receive The Science Teacher, tst_oct16_covthe peer-reviewed journal just for high school teachers; to write for the journal, see our Author Guidelines and Call for Papers; connect on the high school level science teaching list (members can sign up on the list server); or consider joining your peers at future NSTA conferences.

The mission of NSTA is to promote excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all. Learn more about the Next Generation Science Standards at the NGSS@NSTA Hub.

Future NSTA Conferences

2016 Area Conferences

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Computer Science Should Supplement, not Supplant Science Education

Text-based header reading "No one argues that American students need more computational skills.  Yet computer science should not be used to take the place of science graduation requirements that, in many states, now only require 2 to 3 science related classes across an entire four year high school program."

Computer science (CS) aficionados have a lot to celebrate recently.

Just today, new Frameworks for Computer Science were released. A few weeks ago, a new law (AB2329) signed by California Governor Jerry Brown will bring computer science to every grade in the state’s public schools. Federal legislation introduced in September– the Computer Science for All Act–would authorize $250 million for competitive grants to states and local education agencies solely for computer science education.

These efforts are largely due to the CS for All initiative, a national campaign fueled by the White House and lead by the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the National Science Foundation, and the U.S. Department of Education to expand federal investments in CS education and support teacher professional development.  On Sept. 16 NSF Science Foundation awarded more than $25 million in grants to support of CS for All.

Earlier this fall the Education Commission on the States issued a report that says 20 states are allowing high school students to count a computer science course as a math or science credit toward graduation. This is up from 14 states when the same report first was issued last year.  While the requirements vary from state to state, the report also notes that has identified eight states that have authorized computer science to fulfill a math or science credit through “non-policy means,” such as board resolutions or public announcements.  Change the Equation called the state policies to make computer science count towards graduation “a decisive step in the right direction.”  

We disagree.

No one argues that American students need more computational skills.  Yet computer science should not be used to take the place of science graduation requirements that, in many states, now only require 2 to 3 science related classes across an entire four year high school program.

There is a lot of conversation about STEM and what it means to offer a world class STEM education. Computer science is part of STEM but we need to better understand the differences and distinctions between content areas as they relate to STEM and computer science in our schools. What is not being discussed by many of these decision makers in this rush to embrace computer science is how CS fits within the context of a quality STEM education.

Right now many states are working toward the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) vision of STEM teaching and learning (and many more embracing the NGSS foundational practices outlined in the Framework for K-12 Science Education).  Computer Science principles can be found in the NGSS. Science and Engineering Practices include developing and using models, and using mathematics and computational thinking.  In the integrated STEM classroom, using the principles of NGSS, educators are working to seek out real-world, relevant, authentic problems that would be of interest to students and ask them to apply computational thinking to solve the problem using data analysis, visualization, seeking patterns, and computation.

And as everyone knows, time in the school schedule is VERY limited and providing computer science as on a separate track cuts the instructional time pie even more, and sets up another silo in high schools.  Instead of competing with the limited time now dedicated across the K12 curriculum for teaching science, we need to work together toward a solution that incorporates all the STEM disciplines.

One solution? Schools and educators should be encouraged to teach the basics of CS through regular K-8 math and science classes (perhaps using Project GUTS and Bootstrap as models of how to do so), then promote the Exploring Computer Science course for all kids (but calling it ‘Problem Solving and Computational Thinking’) so math and science (and CTE) teachers can teach it.  AP and programming should be offered as electives in high school for those kids who want to study more.

US students are doing so poorly in science (and math) on international tests such as PISA and TIMMS, it is hard to believe that anyone would advocate for reducing the amount of class time spent on teaching and learning these subjects. We suppose that permitting students to take another science course in place of a math course for graduation credit might help those scores, but even the strongest science advocates would not make that proposal. Replacing science with computer science is just as shortsighted.

NSTA supports computer science instruction and believes that educators should integrate computer science across the existing standards and disciplines. This visible and growing national priority solely devoted to computer science and the rush to replace graduation credits at the expense of the science education is problematic.  We need all students to develop skills and competencies in problem-solving, critical thinking, creativity and collaboration, and this can be done in STEM classrooms nationwide that embrace and integrate computer science.  State policy makers should look for ways to supplement, not supplant, computer science credits in high school graduation requirements so that science education credits are not compromised.

Dr. David L. Evans is the Executive Director of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA). Reach him at or via Twitter @devans_NSTA.

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

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folder icon  Safety

An Acknowledgment Form Is Safer Than a Contract

The school year is well under way. But before students enter science labs, they must turn in a safety acknowledgment form.

After completing introductory safety training, as noted in NSTA’s Duty of Care (NSTA 2014), review and have students and their parent or guardian sign a safety acknowledgement form (see Resource), stating safety practices and protocols. In addition, test students on the safety training before they begin any lab work.

It’s important to know the difference between a safety acknowledgement form and a safety contract. Generally, a teenager can enter into a legal contract at age 18, so younger students should only be asked to sign a safety acknowledgment form. By signing a safety acknowledgment form, students confirm that they have been informed that the lab can be an unsafe place, and that they have agreed to follow safety procedures and protocols.

The science teacher needs to keep the original copy of the forms on file for the duration of the class. The statute of limitations for negligence in most states is three years from the date of harm. If there is an accident in the classroom or lab, the teacher should compile safety information records, including the acknowledgement form and accident report, and provide copies of the records to his or her school district. In the event of an accident, these documents should be kept until the statute of limitations run out. In some rare cases, when parents refuse to sign the safety acknowledgment form, teachers need to date, sign, and note the fact that the parent refused to sign the form.

Once the lab investigations are under way, science teachers also have the responsibility to:

1. Inspect for safety before, during, and at the close of activities, and monitor student behavior and equipment to help foster a safer learning environment.

2. Enforce appropriate safety behavior and apply a well-defined progressive disciplinary policy, which involves a progression of steps, starting with a verbal warning and escalating to removal from class.

3. Follow-up on maintenance to ensure engineering controls and personal protective equipment are operational and meet the manufacturers’ standards. If the ventilation cap on a chemical splash goggle has been removed, for instance, take the goggle out of operation.

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


National Science Teachers Association (NSTA). 2014. NSTA—Duty or Standard of Care.


Safety acknowledgment form—

NSTA resources and safety issue papers


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Focus on Physics: Skateboard Physics

spotAs with all sports, skateboarding involves a lot of intriguing physics. I’ve marveled at the maneuvers of skilled skateboarder Alex Hewitt (my grandson). When traveling along a horizontal surface, Alex crouches and then springs upward with his skateboard to continue horizontal motion along a nearly half-meter-high elevated surface (above).

He could easily do the same while wearing roller skates, which would be no big deal because the roller skates would be attached to his feet. But in no way is his skateboard so attached. So how does the skateboard manage to follow him along his upward trajectory? Furthermore, by what means does the board gain gravitational potential energy with no applied upward force and no apparent loss in kinetic energy?

This amazing feat bothered me because it seemed to contradict the laws of physics. I then watched a slow-motion video of Alex to learn how he does it.


Figure 1. The downward force on the tail of the board rotates the board upward.

Exerting a torque about the axis of the rear wheels
The leap that Alex executes is called an ollie, a blend of the physics of linear and rotational motion. While heading for the elevated surface, he crouches and springs directly upward while exerting a downward force on the tail of the board that produces a torque about the rear wheels. (Torque = force × distance about a rotational axis.) This quick downward snap of the tail, with or without its making contact with the ground, causes the board to rotate upward into the air (Figure 1).

The same thing happens when you give a sharp tap to the rounded end of a spoon lying on a table. The spoon flips up into the air, just as Alex’s skateboard does. The center of masses of both the spoon and board are raised by this snap-and-flip action.


Figure 2. The downward force by the front foot on the nose of the board counters the first rotation produced by the back foot.

Exerting a second torque about the board’s center of mass
Controlling lift goes further. While the airborne board rotates upward, Alex slides his forward foot toward the nose of the board and produces a second torque, in the opposite direction (Figure 2).

This second torque raises the tail, puts the board in contact with the back foot, and levels the board before it meets the elevated surface (Figure 3, below). So we see the results of two torques, one that flips the board upward and one that levels it off. Skillfully executed, this sequence enables Alex and his skateboard to meet the elevated surface.

Energy conservation
The kinetic energy of Alex and his skateboard before and after the ollie is practically the same. Yet he and the board have gained substantial gravitational potential energy as the board rides atop the elevated surface. Does the ollie maneuver violate the conservation of energy? No, it does not. Here’s why: First, the energy that propels Alex himself is straightforward. By crouching and leaping, he converts bodily chemical energy into mechanical energy just as if he had jumped up from rest.

But what about the board? From where does it get the energy to move upward and follow Alex? The answer involves the work-energy


Figure 3. The counter rotation levels the board for a horizontal landing.

principle of mechanics (work done = change in energy). For straight-line motion, work = force × distance moved. For rotational motion, work = torque × angle moved.

Alex does work on the board when he produces a torque that flips it into projectile motion. As with all projectiles, acquired kinetic energy converts to gravitational potential energy.

Another explanation, the simplest, bypasses rotational mechanics and energy conservation. The force that Alex exerts on the tail of the board as he jams downward on it is significantly greater than both his weight and that of the board. In action-reaction fashion, this downward push produces an upward normal force (the perpendicular support force) that is also greater than the combined weights of


Figure 4. The normal force N propels Alex and the board into projectile motion.

Alex and the board (Figure 4). This increased normal force launches both Alex and the board into projectile motion.

One of the beauties of physics is that puzzles often have more than one explanation.

Hooray for the conservation of energy and for skateboarding in general. ■

Paul G. Hewitt ( is the author of the popular textbook Conceptual Physics, 12th edition, and coauthor with his daughter Leslie and nephew John Suchocki of Conceptual Physical Science, 6th edition.

On the web
See complementary tutorial screencasts on physics by the author at Watch Alex execute the ollie in slow motion in screencast 42 at

Editor’s Note

This article was originally published in the October 2016 issue of The Science Teacher journal from the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA).

Get Involved With NSTA!

Join NSTA today and receive The Science Teacher, tst_oct16_covthe peer-reviewed journal just for high school teachers; to write for the journal, see our Author Guidelines and Call for Papers; connect on the high school level science teaching list (members can sign up on the list server); or consider joining your peers at future NSTA conferences.

The mission of NSTA is to promote excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all. Learn more about the Next Generation Science Standards at the NGSS@NSTA Hub.

Future NSTA Conferences

2016 Area Conferences

Posted in The Science Teacher | 1 Response

Investigating water with Early Childhood educators

“At what age can a child begin science learning?” asked one participant at an early childhood education workshop on investigating the properties of water in a fun, scientific way using observation, documentation and reflecting on that work. The group answered the question, “As infants,” “My babies do,” and “At any age,” just as I put this photograph on the screen:

Baby splashing water in a bowl.

The educators work in diverse programs, from Head Start to Montessori to their own child care programs in their own homes. About half of the Early Childhood Care Education workforce cares for and teaches children outside of formal child care centers and preschools (NAS 2012 pg 114). I began my career in early childhood education as one of the educators who care for children in our homes, a family child care provider. At this workshop most of the educators were immigrants and their education was a varied as the countries of their birth, and we came together in our shared passion for understanding how young children learn. Everyone participated, making and playing with small drops of water (thank you Young Scientist series!); pouring, scooping and splashing water; using tubes, funnels and frames to create systems to move water; and discovering how cups with holes in various positions can also create systems (thank you UNI’s CEESTEM!). We talked about safety first, liquid/solid, noticed the “stickiness” of water, explored displacement and the force of moving water. It was fun! I’d like to claim that it was my skill as a presenter that kept the group engaged but it was their curiosity and desire to continually improve so they can be even better teachers for the children in their care.

As we worked, the group discussed their ideas about science concepts and shared how to help the parents of the children they care for understand how children learn through experiences. As always, I appreciate the generosity of this education community—they listen to each other, ask questions to get the most out of the session, share materials and their expertise, and help clean up at the end.

Exploring how water drops form or absorb on various surfaces.




National Academy of Sciences (NAS). 2012. The Early Childhood Care and Education Workforce: Challenges and opportunities. Appendix B Summary of Background Data on the ECCE Workforce. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press.

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Science 2.0: Students as Empowered Learners

In the September issue of The Science Teacher, we wrote about the new standards for digital skills established by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). Now, let’s look at how the standards can be applied to science content.

This month, we discuss the Empowered Learner standard, which requires that “students leverage technology to take an active role in choosing, achieving, and demonstrating competency in their learning goals, informed by the learning sciences.” To accomplish this standard, students should meet these four performance indicators:

  • Engage in personal goal setting that includes reflection,
  • Develop the ability to build a network to support their learning,
  • Use technology to receive feedback in different forms, and
  • Understand and troubleshoot technology.

Meeting the performance indicators

Goal-setting is a critical part of the learning process. SMART Goal templates, often used in business, can ensure that students are developing personal goals. Students can use blogs (e.g., WordPress), journaling tools (e.g., Evernote), or even “media diaries” (e.g., Fotobabble and Photo 365) to share their thoughts or reflect on their goal achievement and learning. Changes to thoughts or understanding can also be seen through the evolution of student writing via track changes in Microsoft Word or revision history in Google Docs.

To become an empowered learner, students must build a network to enhance their learning. Twitter can be a powerful tool to build and grow learning spheres. Point your students in the right direction by creating a class account used to follow science-related people and groups. When starting your Twitter network, consider following NASA (@nasa), Earth Science Week (@earthsciweek), NSF Earth Science
(@NSF_EAR), and Neil DeGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson). After establishing the classroom’s virtual networks, allow students to customize their learning environment with flexible and moveable classroom arrangements, such as furniture, which foster a collaborative and “networked” classroom.

Empowered learners should be familiar with the feedback many technology tools inherently provide. It is important that students recognize the value of “adaptive learning tools,” such as Knewton, as a means to grow and develop in any content area. It is equally important that students draw upon technology tools’ interaction and peer feedback capabilities found in resources such as Google Docs, VoiceThread, or Padlet. With those commenting tools, students can share thoughts about the instruction, conclusions drawn from a lab investigation, or predictions about a future event, while quickly receiving comments from other students, teachers, or experts in the field. No matter the tool, however, gathering peer feedback develops the communication skills necessary for the requirements of this standard.

None of the performance indicators are possible without a basic understanding of how technology tools work, so that technology never serves as a barrier or distraction to learning. To illustrate the supportive nature of technology and understanding how the tools fundamentally work, use Chrome Extensions with students. Students must understand that the Chrome browser is a power productivity tool that can be enhanced by Extensions and Apps to improve learning, perform tasks, and enhance their work. As an example, head over to the Chrome Web Store and search for the “periodic table.” You will quickly find both apps and extensions that can be valuable for students.

The Empowered Learner standard allows students to develop an independence and responsibility for their learning. As students mature and advance their skills in this area, they will be ready to tackle the rest of the standards. In the next issue, we will examine the role that digital citizenship plays and the responsibility that all educators have to foster it in their classrooms.

Ben Smith ( is an educational technology program specialist, and Jared Mader ( is the director of technology, for the Lincoln Intermediate Unit in New Oxford, Pennsylvania. They conduct teacher workshops on technology in the classroom nationwide.

Editor’s Note

This article was originally published in the October 2016 issue of The Science Teacher journal from the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA).

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