Here’s Why Elementary Science Teachers Will Love #NSTA18 Atlanta

NSTA is headed to Atlanta for our 2018 National Conference on Science Education, March 15-18, and we have incredible things in store for elementary teachers!

The first thing you’ll want to put on your schedule is the Elementary Extravaganza on Friday, March 16. Here’s video from a recent extravaganza, and this year’s promises to be just as exciting.

elementary extravaganza video cover 

Cultivate Curiosity

Speaker Picture

Make time for the Mary C. McCurdy Lecture: Cultivating Every Child’s Curiosity in the Natural World, taking place Thursday, March 15, 2:00–3:00 PM, in the Georgia World Congress Center, B309.

Young children are naturally curious about how the world works and are capable of sophisticated thinking and reasoning. In the age of an ambitious framework and the Next Generation Science Standards, there is a compelling focus on young children—nurturing their wonder about phenomena and equipping them to engage in scientific discourse and practices for investigating the natural world. Presenter Carla Zembal-Saul (professor of science education and the Kahn Professor of STEM Education at Penn State University) will share the approaches that elementary teachers are using to leverage children’s natural curiosity in early grades to support three-dimensional learning in science. Special attention will be given to approaches intended to engage English language learners.

Sink Your Teeth Into These Sessions

Just a few of the sessions we can’t wait to join:

  • Georgia Science Innovation Exposition Share-a-Thon
  • Connecting Makerspaces to the NGSS and CCSS
  • The Virtual Vet: Elementary Learners (Grades 3–5) as Scientists in a Serious Educational Game
  • Use Science, Coding, and Robotics in the Elementary Classroom to Solve Real-World Problems
  • Bird Enthusiasts Engineer Mindful Science
  • Train Like an Astronaut with STEM
  • Butterfly Gardening Using Native Plants
  • NSTA Press® Session: EUREKA! Grade 3–5 Science Activities and Stories
  • CSSS-Sponsored Session: Supporting Language and Literacy Through 3-D Science Instruction in Early Grades
  • Fake News! Helping Students Understand the Process of Science
  • iPads to Support Literacy in Science
  • Science on the Go: Using Museum Resources to Support Place-Based Learning
  • CESI-Sponsored Session: Transforming and Creating “Predict, Observe, Explain” Sequences for Lower Elementary Science
  • Failure Is NOT an Option—It’s Required
  • Fun Weird Science Phenomena
  • NARST-Sponsored Session: Investigating and Designing Paper Airplanes
  • Science at the Dollar Store: 2018 Version!
  • Integrating Crosscutting Concepts and Math Using NSTA Recommended Trade Books
  • Underrepresented Groups in Educational Science Comics
  • Paul F-Brandwein Lecture: Citizen Science: How Ordinary People Are Changing the Face of Discovery

Continue reading …

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Testy Lab Behavior

I have a few students who test me, as well as my mentor teacher, in most directions and instructions that we give and will abuse the science materials. Any suggestions on how to address this behavior?
– D., Maryland

Let me put your mind at ease. Everyone has encountered these students! I wish I could give you a single answer but this kind of behavior could be based on so many factors that you and your mentor probably have a better idea of what’s driving them than me. You might want to ask other teachers how they have handled these students. Perhaps check with the school counsellors.

I employed a Three Strike Rule to deal with student behavior. On Strike One, I would take the students aside and calmly, but directly tell them what they were doing wrong and that it needed to stop. For Strike Two I would pull each student out of the class individually to have a stern chat, reminding them of our previous discussions. I would even say, “Strike Two,” and ask them if they knew baseball. If there was a Strike Three, offenders would be ‘Out!’ Here you have several options: call home, ban them from the next lab, not allow them to choose who to work with, assign worksheets instead of hands-on labs, and so on. It is very important that you follow through on Strike Three regardless of excuses or begging. It is time to face the consequences.

Hope this helps!

Photo Credit: stuartpilbrow at Flickr via Wikimedia Commons

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Ed News: Coaching Is A Promising PD Strategy For Early Educators

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This week in education news, new report provides guidance on effective coaching models for teachers working with young children; one third of college students in the U.S. change their majors at least once; Iowa’s STEM director chosen for White House position; new poll finds that most Americans harbor concerns about the quality of STEM education in the U.S. and see it as “middling” compared with that of other advanced nations; and Pew Research Center releases seven facts about the STEM workforce.

Report: Coaching Is A Promising PD Strategy For Early Educators

As school leaders plan professional learning for their teachers, a new report provides guidance on effective coaching models for teachers working with young children. “Primetime for Coaching: Improving Instructional Coaching in Early Childhood Education,” from Bellwether Education Partners, recommends that administrators choose coaching strategies that fit into an overall professional development approach, consider cost-effective options, such as virtual coaches, and include assistant teachers and other support personnel in coaching plans. Read the brief featured in Education DIVE.

Study: One Third Of STEM Students In US Change Majors

Most college students in the United States choose their major, or main field of study for their degree, before or during their first year. And about one third of college students in the U.S. change majors at least once. Many who change majors began in science, technology, engineering and math – in other words, STEM fields. Read the article featured on

Continue reading …

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Choosing resources for early childhood science learning

Early Childhood Resources Review column logoChoosing resources for early childhood science learning that are scientifically accurate, developmentally appropriate, and reference research about learning, requires educators to have time to review resources ourselves, or access to reviews by experienced early childhood educators. The Early Childhood Resource Review column in Science and Children is a source you can trust to locate such resources. These columns review books and other resources and are written by various experienced educators. They are available in the print and digital versions of Science and Children. Take a look at these titles and search your print library or the digital access portal for the issues listed. This is a resource for NSTA members. If you are not yet a member, take a look at the Early Childhood and Elementary Forums in the NSTA Learning Center (free to all with registration) for resource recommendations. 

Date of column, Author of column, title or name of resource(s), Publisher, Date.

  • First page of an Early Childhood Resource Review columnECRR February 2014, 51(6): 28-29. Ingrid Chalufour. Constructivism Across the Curriculum in Early Childhood Classrooms: Big Ideas as Inspiration. Pearson Allyn and Bacon. 2008. 
  • ECRR April/May 2014. 51(8): 26-27. Peggy Ashbrook. Starting With Science. Marcia Talhelm Edson. Stenhouse. 2013. 
  • ECRR December 2014.52(4): 16-17. Beth Dykstra Van Meeteren. Building Structures With Young Children. Ingrid Chalufour, Karen Worth, and EDC. Redleaf Press 2004. 
  • ECRR February 2015, 52(6): 24-25. Cindy Hoisington and Jeff Winokur. Tools of Science Inquiry That Support Life Science Investigations. 
  • ECRR April/May 2015, 52(8): 28-29. Jorie Quinn. Connecting Animals and Children in Early Childhood by Patty Born Selly. Redleaf Press 2014. 
  • ECRR November 2015, 53(3): 24-25. Gail Laubenthal, Gardening with Young Children by Sara Starbuck, Marla Olthof, and Karen Midden. Redleaf Press 2014. 
  • ECRR January 2016, 53(5): 24-25. Cindy Hoisington and Jeff Winokur. Tools for Physical Science Inquiry.
  • ECRR Summer 2016. 53(9): 24-25. Patty Born Selly. Growing Up WILD by Project WILD, Council for Environmental Education 2009.
  • ECRR November 2016, 54(3): 30-31. Allison J. Barness. Young Investigators: The Project Approach in the Early Years, 3rd edition by Judy Harris Helm and Lilian Katz. Teachers College Press 2016.
  • ECRR February 2017. 54(6): 20-21. Ryan Andrew Nivens. Robot Turtles: the Game for Little Programmers by Dan Shapiro at Thinkfun.
  • ECRR Summer 2017. 54(9): 21. Peggy Ashbrook. Creative Block Play: A Comprehensive Guide to Learning Through Building by Rosanne Regan Hansel. Redleaf Press 2016.
  • ECRR November 2017. 55(3): 20-21. Julie Petcu. Journey North’s Tulip Test Gardens Project. 

Do you have a resource you’d recommend for reviewing for the Early Childhood Resource Review Column? Contact the column editor, Sonia Yoshizawa and make a suggestion! Click here and scroll down to learn more.  

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

Installing Glass Walls and Doors in the Science Classroom, a commentary in Science Scope, describes what collaborative teacher teams “look like” in science and is appropriate for teachers at all grade levels to begin or fine-tune the process with a sample agenda, frameworks, and ideas for team-building and reflection.

February is the month for the annual Great Backyard Bird Count. Find out how you and your students can get involved in Citizen Science: Birds, Binoculars, and Biodiversity, The data are available to students and are used in ongoing research projects.

Science & Children – Meeting the Needs of ALL Students

Editor’s Note: Removing Barriers: “Science is for ALL. Not just students who are highly capable physically and mentally. Meeting the needs of the entire population is what we do. Remove as many barriers as possible, make learning accessible, and support students as they find their strengths to build on… The purpose of the modifications is not to change what they [students with physical disabilities] conceptually learn, it is to support them in learning.”

The lessons described in the articles have a chart showing connections with the NGSS and many include classroom materials and illustrations of student work.

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 Alternative Energy Sources, Erosion, Forces and Motion, Heat and Temperature, Matter, Metals/Nonmetals, Nature of Science, Renewable and Nonrenewable Energy, Scientists, Seed Germination, Sound, Sun, Water Cycle, Watersheds, Ways to Measure

Continue reading …

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Eureka! Grade 3-5 Science Activities and Stories

Elementary teachers have to balance the challenges of literacy instruction with high stakes testing and content area instruction.  What teachers need to achieve this delicate balance is a text that can be both an instructional tool and a step-by-step guide for building thought-provoking lessons. Enter Eureka! Grade 3-5 Science Activities and Stories by Donna Farland-Smith and Julie Thomas.

What makes this book unique is the focus on the lives and discoveries of famous scientists and inventors. The book includes 27 lessons and recommends children’s trade book biographies to accompany each lesson. Biography subjects include astronomer Galileo Galilei, primatologist Jane Goodall, astronomer Annie Jump Cannon, and engineer William Kamkwamba. Also, each chapter has literature-based lessons that support the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

“Our bold new idea is that biographies of scientists can allow you to highlight the human dimension of scientists and engineers while you encourage science learning. We think these stories will broaden students’ perceptions of scientists and engineers as real people and add explicit and implicit opportunities for them to consider science and engineering careers,” Farland-Smith and Thomas state in the introductory chapter.

An interesting dimension of the book is the focus on character traits. “Each featured scientist and engineer is introduced with a character trait. These capture the unique human qualities of the scientists and introduce the human assets of scientists’ dispositions. It is important to mention that every individual has such traits, and the focus here is on helping students understand that scientists and engineers are people and express personal, human traits that enable them to be successful,” the authors state.

The book helps to make science more real and relatable. Students can explore the character traits, processes, practices, successes and failures of scientists who have helped to change our society and improve our lives, and imagine themselves making important discoveries of their own.

For example, in the second chapter, which focuses on the trait of “thinker,” students will learn about Philo Farnsworth, who invented television. Using their thinking and tinkering skills, students will develop their own inventions or create a replica of an invention from recyclables or everyday materials. With this lesson, teachers can spark a conversation about how inventions can have a great impact on a society during a particular time in history.

Students will practice asking questions, troubleshooting, and working through the steps of the design process to create something that just about every child loves: a TV. In addition, the lesson connects to the NGSS by asking students to define and delimit engineering problems, as they learn how to eliminate materials and unsuccessful designs in the creation of their invention. They will also get to practice communicating with their peers about proposed solutions and their design process.

To learn more about Eureka! Grades 3-5 Science Activities and Stories, read the sample chapter here.

This book is also available as an e-book.

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Growing a Turnip and Growing Professionally: Resources at every step of the way

Resources that support early childhood science learning may be ideas or lesson plans for specific investigations by children, or be information for educators about children’s learning progressions, research into how children learn, science content information for adults, or an extensive analysis of the state of early science education. 

Where do you get the support you need to grow your science teaching skills and knowledge?

An investigation

A sprouting turnip set into a clear cup of water.Have you used the tops of carrots or the bottoms of celery to grow new leaves? A turnip with stubs of green leaves still present will also continue growing if it is set into a cup of water, just touching the water. Children observe the parts of plants and, through experience, learn that plants need water if (when) the water is used up and the leaves wilt. The turnip “greens” can be harvested with a pair of scissors and fed to worms in the classroom vermicomposting bin or to other “compost critters” in a terrarium. The February 2013 issue of Science and Children has several articles about worms and composting (free to members of NSTA and a small fee for others). I like to keep a turnip on the windowsilll as a winter garden, adding to children’s experience with plants and promoting thoughts of spring gardening. 

Learning progressions in science education

Page two of the NGSS Appendix E Progressions.If you haven’t yet been introduced to the Next Generation Science Standards for K-12 (NGSS), or just want a refresher, I recommend starting with the NGSS “Appendix E – Progressions Within the Next Generation Science Standards” where you can read about the approach that is “intended to increase coherence in K-12 science education” and learn how less complex ideas explored in early childhood (K-2) build to more sophisticated and difficult concepts appropriate for upper grades.  For example, if you wonder what kindergarteners should know about the planets in our solar system, see Earth Science Standards ESS1.A and ESS1.B K-2 progression: “Patterns of movement of the sun, moon, and stars as seen from Earth can be observed, described, and predicted” and begin with having children make observations and drawings of the Moon in daytime for a few minutes each time you can be outside when it is visible. Over several months the drawings will reveal a pattern of the phases of the Moon, a phenomenon to think about as children explore making shadows. 


Next Generation Science Standards logoResearch into how children (people) learn grounds the 3 dimensional structure of the NGSS—science or engineering practices, a core disciplinary idea, and a crosscutting concept. These two books are part of the research behind the NGSS. They are available at no cost online and can be easily searched online or downloaded. 

National Research Council. 2000. How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School: Expanded Edition. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. Taking Science to School book cover 

National Research Council. 2007. Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. 

Science content information for adults

Seal of the Outstanding Science Trade Book listWhen talking about science phenomenon with children I may find myself wondering about it longer than the children are interested. Other times they ask questions I don’t have answers to. On these occasions I turn to resources meant for people older than 8 years old. Sometimes a non-fiction book in the children’s section of the library provides the additional information in language that is easy to understand. See the books listed in the NSTA Recommends pages to find books with accurate, engaging science content. See also the lists of just the Outstanding Science Trade Books, chosen by a book review panel appointed by the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA)  and assembled in cooperation with the Children’s Book Council. The gorgeous book covers and informative descriptions will help you choose the books you need. 

"Science 101: Background boosters for elementary teachersOther NSTA resources for adult learning include the “SciPacks” in the Do-it-yourself Learning section of the Learning Center or the “Science 101” columns from Science and Children. Some resources are free but many require membership or a small fee. See other resources listed in on the page Books & Resources: NSTA Initiative for Learners 0–5

Cover photo of New America's multimedia guidebook to Transforming the Early Education WorkforceAnalysis of the state of early science education

Transforming the Early Education Workforce: A Multimedia Guidebook is an online resource from New America about the National Research Council’s 2015 report, Transforming the Workforce for Children Birth Through Age 8 which explores the “science of child development, looks at implications for the professionals who work with children through examining the current capacities and practices of the workforce, the settings in which they work, the policies and infrastructure that set qualifications and provide professional learning, and the government agencies and other funders who support and oversee these systems.” The report makes recommendations to improve the quality of professional practice and the practice environment for care and education professionals, creating “a blueprint for action that builds on a unifying foundation of child development and early learning, shared knowledge and competencies for care and education professionals, and principles for effective professional learning.”

New America’s guide opens through portals for policymakers, for the workforce, and for higher ed, but has a place to “start from the beginning” to get an overview of this transformation. You can follow a guided path through the multimedia guidebook or jump around, going to the Child Development and Early Learning section, checking the glossary, or viewing videos where they are embedded in the guidebook or out of context. 

As early childhood educators we need a wide range of resources! I hope you found something here that is helpful and that you will share other resources you use in a comment below.

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Ed News: Nebraska Aims To Ease Path For Future Teachers

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This week in education news, state officials want to keep more candidates in Nebraska’s teacher-preparation pipeline by easing testing requirements; Maine considering relaxing certification standards to get more teachers into the classrooms; new study finds that merit-based bonuses help raise student test scores; vocational education classes play a role in math and science education in California schools; preparing today’s students for the future workforce is a society-wide effort; and different data needed to track the quality of STEM undergrad education.

Nebraska Aims To Ease Path For Future Teachers

State officials want to keep more candidates in Nebraska’s teacher-preparation pipeline by easing testing requirements. What’s clogging things up, they say, is a test Nebraska adopted three years ago to screen applicants for teacher-education programs. Read the article featured in the Omaha World-Herald.

Pa. Can Do More To Upgrade STEM Education

As a practicing Pennsylvania classroom science teacher for more than 30 years and a National STEM Teacher Ambassador, I appreciate the good work Gov. Tom Wolf has done for education and his advocacy to increase resources for education. His recent Op-Ed “Why it’s essential for Pennsylvania to invest in education” points out how far the state has come in regard to education. I agree we have come a long way, but there are two significant impediments that state lawmakers and leadership could be addressing in regard to the state of STEM education in Pennsylvania. Read the opinion piece featured in The Delaware County Daily Times.

Continue reading …

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NASA Grants Rocket Informal Ed Ahead

As part of a NASA CP4SMPVC grant to Fairchild Tropical
Botanic Garden in Coral Gables, Florida, middle and high
school students have identified 91 varieties of edible plants
suitable for zero-gravity growth. Photo courtesy of Andrew Kearns, Jose Marti MAST 6–12 Academy

Grants from NASA’s Competitive Program for Science Museums, Planetariums, and NASA Visitor Centers (CP4SMPVC) enable the agency to partner with informal education venues to enhance their space science related–programs and engage teachers and students in NASA’s mission. But the CP4SMPVC hasn’t awarded new grants since early 2017. Why should science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) teachers care about this?

Teachers and students partnering with Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Coral Gables, Florida, on the Growing Beyond Earth (GBE) STEM education program care because in the first two years of Fairchild’s $1.25 million, four-year CP4SMPVC grant for the program, middle and high school students identified 91 varieties of edible plants suitable for zero-gravity growth in the International Space Station’s plant growth facility. GBE students have tested 106 varieties of plants so far as part of the Fairchild Challenge, a Miami-based environmental science competition, according to Amy Padolf, Fairchild’s director of education. Padolf and Carl Lewis, Fairchild’s director, designed GBE with researchers at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

According to Padolf, 136 classrooms in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Monroe counties participate, and GBE will expand to “another 15 in Palm Beach County” and be tested at the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Columbus, Ohio.

With the grant funding, which began in 2016 and will last until 2020, “we give schools all the equipment necessary to conduct the research, along with rigid research protocols from NASA scientists, and provide training for the teachers,” Padolf explains. The schools grow the plants, collect data, and “input it into spreadsheets that are shared with NASA researchers… It’s one of the few NASA grant projects that is feeding their research,” she points out. Continue reading …

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Model-making and engineering in a preK program

Through visits to other programs, reading books, attending conferences and webinars, and having conversations with colleagues, I continue to learn about teaching young children. In conversation, preschool teacher Barbara Foster related how children used engineering design to make a model that represents their experience. She helps children deepen their understanding of natural phenomena through documentation of experiences and observations, making models, and reflecting on the documentation. The program uses emergent curriculum—they “believe that children learn best when engaged in work and play that is meaningful to them.”

Here’s Barbara:

A group of older children were working with their teacher on developing a model of a forest by posting paintings on the walls of the stairway landing. I approached my group of students to see what they wanted to add to the forest. The resulting project the class worked on involved using science and engineering practices (making a model, using tools), redesigning the process when it wasn’t working, and seeing how the part fit into the whole (core idea in science PS1.A Structure of matter. See page 108).

We took a really long time to make a model of the paper wasp nest that had been removed from a tree in summer. First we made paper, beginning with tearing scrap paper up and soaking it for a very long time. But that didn’t work so we tried using hand beaters but that wasn’t sufficient so I found out how to do it—put the paper and water in the blender to make the paper pulp. With adult help the children used a screen frame to lift out a small amount of pulp to make a page of new paper. The pulp was smelly and a little too tactile for the children’s  comfort so I took the it home to make a few more pages.  Continue reading …

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