Ed News: Unlocking STEM Pathways for All Students

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This week in education news, teacher-student relationships are important in boosting student learning; high schools across the nation are adding competitive video-gaming to its list of extracurricular activities for students; despite its reputation as a field flush with opportunity, even STEM can pose dead ends for students; former Arizona Department of Education employee resigns after she was told to make changes to parts of the draft Arizona Science Standards; current research results are in favor of early childhood experiences for students, especially those who are disadvantaged; diversifying the field of interesting and rigorous math courses could broaden students’ path to STEM and other careers; and former Kentucky Education Commissioner selected as the next president of the Southern Regional Education Board.

Introducing A Digital Science Program For Incarcerated Kids

One thing Michael Krezmien noticed about working with incarcerated teens, is that they’re not a population that typically catches the attention of education researchers—or educational funding organizations. And this is a problem, he realized, as research suggests that the consequences of failing to address the educational needs of incarcerated juveniles are dire. Because incarcerated teens are usually left out of the educational system—having either no access to good education or having been kicked out of school—they often fail to pass state mandated tests in science and cannot obtain a high school diploma. Read the article featured in Forbes magazine.

Two Studies Point To The Power Of Teacher-Student Relationships To Boost Learning

Two studies on how best to teach elementary schools students — one on the popular trend of “platooning” and one on the far less common practice of “looping” — at first would seem totally unrelated other than the fact that they both use silly words with double-o’s. “Platooning” refers to having teachers specialize in a particular subject, such as math or English, and young students switch teachers for each class. “Looping” is a term used when kids keep the same teacher for two years in a row. They don’t switch teachers for each subject and don’t switch each year. Read the article featured in the Hechinger Report.

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Out with the old, in with the new?

I am about to graduate and become a new teacher. Is it a good idea to use lesson plans that are handed to me and maybe need to be tweaked or is it better to write brand new lesson plans each year?
—G., Florida

Since I never had an entire class comprehend 100% of what I taught, I always made changes to my courses.
The most important thing, in my opinion, is to reflect on everything you do! You need to have a real willingness to learn and change in order to make things work in your classroom.

You do not need to create everything from scratch! There are a lot of bright and intelligent people out there producing great resources. You should make decisions about resources in this order:

  1. If you find or are given a resource that, after thorough review, fits perfectly to what you want to accomplish in your classroom, then use it unmodified.
  2. If you find a great-looking resource that doesn’t quite fit, then modify it.
  3. If you can’t find a great resource— make your own.

Most of your lessons, obviously, will revolve around modifying something out there.

After your lesson reflect and re-evaluate everything you used and the impact it had on your students. Make modifications as necessary. Don’t beat yourself up if a lesson bombs…just figure out why it did and do something about it.

Hope this helps!


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The ‘M’ in STEM

“Mathematics is a tool that is key to understanding science.”

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

How many? How soon? How big? How much more? These questions are of vital importance in young children’s lives and may be part of their science explorations and later investigations. “Using mathematics and computational thinking” is one of the practices described in Appendix F—Science and Engineering Practices in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

“Mathematical and computational thinking in K–2 builds on prior experience and progresses to recognizing that mathematics can be used to describe the natural and designed world(s).

  • Decide when to use qualitative vs. quantitative data.
  • Use counting and numbers to identify and describe patterns in the natural and designed world(s).
  • Describe, measure, and/or compare quantitative attributes of different objects and display the data using simple graphs.
  • Use quantitative data to compare two alternative solutions to a problem.”

-Appendix F—Science and Engineering Practices in the Next Generation Science Standards

We can use online resources on mathematical and computational thinking in early childhood to become more familiar with, and strengthen our own understanding of, math topics and ideas. 

The Erikson Early Math Collaborative describes key topics that exist in early math: Counting, Data Analysis, Measurement, Number Operations, Number Sense, Pattern, Sets, Shapes, and Spatial Relationships.

Child points to one rock in a collection. The collaborative identifies 26 foundational key mathematical concepts, or “Big Ideas,” within the Early Math Topics such as, “Shapes can be combined and separated (composed and decomposed) to make new shapes,” “Shapes can be defined and classified according to their attributes,” and  “Sets can be compared using the attribute of numerosity, and ordered by more than, less than, and equal to.” Detailed explanations and examples shine a light on these ideas and show how they can be addressed in early childhood programs. I would use the first two ideas about shapes when talking with children about their building structures and the third idea when children show me their collections of rocks or are sorting their snack mix. 

Playing games is one way to provide experiences that build young children’s understanding of mathematical and computational thinking. The Iowa Regents’ Center for Early Developmental Education at the University of Northern Iowa lists games for children ages 3-8, some commercial and some they developed. Nearly every game can be printed out and all have rules rewritten to be kid-friendly. They are linked to standards and include notes for the educator for each game, indicating its value for mathematical learning.

Math resources for early childhood learning communities include articles in the journal Teaching Young Children from the National Association for the Education of Young Children: 

McLennan, Deanna Pecaski. Math Learning—and a Touch of Science—in the Outdoor World. Teaching Young Children. April/May 2017 10(4):

Reed, Kristen E., and Jessica Mercer Young. 2018. Play Games, Learn Math! Pattern Block Puzzles. Teaching Young Children. April/May 2018. 11(4): 20-23

Reed, Kristen E., and Jessica Mercer Young. 2018. Play Games, Learn Math! Two Numbers: Games with Cards and Dice. Teaching Young Children. February/March 2018. 11(3): 21-25 

Reed, Kristen E., and Jessica Mercer Young. 2018. Play Games, Learn Math! Explore Numbers and Counting with Dot Card and Finger Games. Teaching Young Children. October/November 2017. 11(1). 

The game board for "Jumping on the Lily Pad" math game. Two rows of lily pads numbered 1 to 10 with a pond at the top after 10.

“Jumping on the Lily Pads” game board.

Reed and Young’s work creating games that teach math concepts is also published online at the Education Development Center, Inc website and includes printable math mini-books for families. 

Learn how to play “How Many Are Hiding?,” “Two Numbers,” and “Jumping on the Lily Pads” and then engage your children in playing and learning math concepts.

What resources do you use to foster your children’s use of mathematics and computational thinking?

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folder icon  Safety

Power Tool Safety in Science Labs


The use of power tools, such as table saws, drill presses, and miter saws, is becoming more common in science and STEM laboratories. All power tools have special mechanical and non-mechanical safety hazards that can result in injuries, including abrasions, burns, and fractures. This blog post describes machine-guarding safety protocols that schools need to develop to minimize such safety hazards.

Why machine guards matter

Machine guards are fixed, interlocked, or adjustable physical barriers critical to protecting their operators and those working in the surrounding area from hazards. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), machine guarding prevents such safety hazards as rotating parts, flying chips, and sparks.

Types of hazards

Machine operators should be mindful of the following hazards before using a machine or power tool.

Operation points are locations where the machine bends, bores, cuts, or shapes the stock being fed through the machine.

Hazardous movements are machine parts with rotating, reciprocating (up-down motions), and transverse motions (materials moving in a continuous line).

Pinch/shear points are parts of a machine where a body part or clothing could be caught between a moving machine part and a stationary object such as a belt, cam, connecting rods, or other source of energy transmission.

Non-mechanical hazards include chips, flying splinters, splashes, or sparks that are created while the machine is operating.

Safety rules for machine guards

The following list by North Carolina State University’s Department of Environmental Health Safety offers simple tips to follow when using machines and machine guards.

1. Be sure that moving mechanisms are clear of people and objects.

2. Be sure that workers are not wearing any jewelry or loose clothing that could get snagged in the machine.

3. Keep an eye on overheard moving parts, like pulleys, for potential hazards.

4. Check that guards are in place at all points where you could contact moving parts before turning the machine on.

5. Understand how to turn power on and off if you should have to do so quickly.

6. Read the manufacturer’s instructions on how to operate the machine safely and correctly.

7. Feed material into the machine with push sticks, not your hands.

8. Take it easy. Rushing through a job is one of the major causes of accidents.

9. Make sure maintenance is performed when required. If you think your equipment might have missed its scheduled maintenance let your supervisor know.

10. Use lockout/tagout procedures when a machine needs repair or maintenance. Turn the machine and the power to the machine off and tag it so that no one tries to use it. (This prevents the release of hazardous energy while employees perform servicing and maintenance.)

In addition, machine guards must be secure and tamper-proof so that no one can bypass or remove them. A guard that interferes with the operation in performing the job might be blocked or removed, but this is too dangerous to do. Guards need to be properly used to not only keep workers safe but to perform the job. Guards may need to oiled or greased occasionally to remain functional, but the guard should never be removed because doing so may cause the guard to not function properly or present a sharp hazard. Finally, a guard should never obstruct an operator’s view.


OSHA’s major goal for workers using power tools is to guard all machinery and equipment to eliminate a number of hazards. Always make sure safety guards are in place and that they are working properly, clean, and inspected before use.

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

NSTA resources and safety issue papers
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I Can’t, in My Heart, Go Back to Our Old Curriculum

That was my response this week at our middle school science staff meeting.  We’ve spent the last two school years exploring the new Michigan standards (which are identical to NGSS) and trying out units from different curriculum programs.  While the pace has seemed excruciatingly slow at times, it’s been necessary to allow everyone to learn, grow, and come to consensus.  Which is where we were at this week – we’ve all agreed to pilot the two finalists in the first semester next school year, and then go back to our old curriculum while we prepare for full launch of the selected NGSS curriculum in the fall of 2019.

But I can’t do it.  I can’t ever go back.

For the past two years, I’ve been pilot-teaching the Mi-STAR (mi-star.mtu.edu) NGSS-aligned curriculum – in a 5E structure, with phenomena, modeling, arguing from evidence, and coming to consensus to evaluate and solve local problems, with engineering integrated in every unit – and it has become my joy.  While the teaching world reels with pay cuts and privatization and standardized testing and teacher shortages, making me frustrated and worried for our profession – I can still close my door, and have my joy.

I am joyful about the potential for NGSS curricula to change the world for our kids.  The ever elusive goals of leveling the playing field, closing the achievement gap, reaching all learners, is happening, right now, in my classroom.

My school is economically and racially diverse.  Located in an affluent community that borders one of the highest poverty neighborhoods in the country, we are a rich mixture.  Our lower income, minority kids, like their peers in every state, have often been “left behind.”  Until now.  And I’m positively joyful about it.

An NGSS-aligned curriculum like Mi-STAR starts each unit with a real-life, locally relevant problem, and none of my kids know the answer.  It doesn’t matter if they’ve traveled the world and can master college texts, or if they rarely leave their block and struggle to read at grade level.  Even learning disabilities aren’t barriers any more, because all of my kids can problem-solve in this unit structure.  All of my kids can ask good questions for our bubble maps.  All of them can uncover concepts in labs and activities, share their findings, connect them to the problem, and then apply their new skills and knowledge in another context.   All of them can use criteria and constraints, and optimize, and reason like engineers.  Even my cognitively impaired kids are learning with a little scaffolding from our incredible special ed teachers.   The typical compliance behaviors, like turning in homework on time, outlining chapters, and memorizing flashcards for tests, are no longer the focus of our classroom.  And my kids are thriving.

I’ve done a little action research, and here’s what I see:  while my at-risk kids’ pre-test scores are very low, their post-test scores are well within the range of the class average.   The minority kids in my heterogeneous classes have post-test scores nearly equal to my homogeneous honors class.  We’re literally leveling the playing field and closing the gap.  This works!  NGSS really works!

Which is why I can’t ever go back.  In an academic world full of stress, teaching NGSS has become my joy.

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What a Misplaced Mattress Teaches Kids About Scientific Push and Pull Forces

Good morning! Time to head out the door and start the day.

Wait. What’s that thing up there in the tree? It’s … a bed. And it’s hanging upside down.


How did that happen?

So Begins a Delightful Mystery

Curious students will have fun solving the mystery in Kristel Pushes and Pulls. NSTA author Morris McCormick’s eBooks+ Kids Enhanced E-book combines engaging, full-color graphics with dynamic enhancements and interactive features for students to learn, share, and explore. Animations, simulations, and video bring content to life, while pop-up review questions and special notes help underscore the most crucial points of knowledge.

This interactive e-book takes students through a day in Kristel’s life, one in which she explores push and pull forces. Students seek answers to questions such as how forces cause objects to change position or move different distances, as well as change speed and direction. Each of Kristel’s normal, every-day activities, such as eating breakfast, cleaning her room or playing soccer, become opportunities for students to figure out just how that bed came to land on the tree in her front yard.

Real-Life Content (and Context)

McCormick, who has been an elementary school educator in the Los Angeles School District for well over a decade, used his professional as well as personal expertise to form the book’s content. His daughter served as the inspiration for Kristel, the lead character. Observing how his own children engage with technology at home, as well as his students in the classroom, McCormick knew that a good story needed to be embedded within this engaging teaching tool to encourage kids to want to explore it.  

Where the e-book started conceptually, McCormick admits, was nothing like where ended up.

“In Round I, I was asking myself, ‘What have I gotten myself into?’” McCormick laughs in recalling the creative process.

“I wrote a story … much more like a Dr. Seuss children’s book. After much conversation with my editor, I knew that I needed to build in curriculum and a teacher’s manual. With that expert guidance, I was able to flesh out how to do this.”

The events in the story were intentionally chosen so that children everywhere could relate. The same thought was given to making Kristel’s family ethnically diverse, McCormick added.

“We are a racially blended family; my own family mirrors what America looks like. I wanted kids everywhere to ‘see’ themselves in this book.”

McCormick, who admits to being old enough “to remember using a rotary phone,” welcomes the addition of teaching tools such as Enhanced E-books.

“I would love to see teaching tools like this be transformed into virtual reality where kids are transported right into the story,” he said.

“The kids we are teaching today? Everyone is connected—even in the poorest neighborhoods,” he added. “I teach in a Title I school and at least half of my students come to the classroom with an electronic device. Our students today will be coding at whatever job they do in the future. They will be exponentially ahead of where we are in school right now.”

The Student Becomes the Teacher

McCormick now teaches in the same credentialing program that he went through in becoming certified to teach.

Teachers, he stressed, must catch up. With their own students.

“We teach children to be lifelong learners. I’m a National Board-certified teacher. I have to continue to learn to keep my certification current. We have to change what we are teaching in our credentialing programs. New teachers need to be prepared for today’s classrooms and to be able to grow with their students.

“Student engagement is everything,” McCormick explained. “If we can get student buy-in, then learning happens. We have to meet students where they are. Think about adult learners at a professional development conference. If we don’t like what we are hearing, what do we do? We get up and leave. Unfortunately, children don’t get that opportunity. We have to understand what children want to learn and get their buy in. I do this with my own children at home; why should the classroom be any different?”

Survey after survey confirms that kids use technology at home that harnesses their attraction for learning. Through entertainment, McCormick said.

“An e-book can replicate this. It brings that piece of entertainment to learning.”

As for what’s next for this NSTA author? He’s already conceptualizing his next NSTA e-book. He admits that the pressure is on him to “produce.”

“My son … he’s seen his sister ‘on the big screen’ in our house, so he’s asked, ‘Where am I, daddy?’”

“I told him that he’s in the next book.”

Learn about other titles in the eBooks+ Kids series.

About the Author: Morris McCormick is a graduate of CSUN (ACT-Elementary Ed)/ MA-Curriculum & Instruction). He’s National Board Certified (Middle Childhood Generalist), Level 2 Google Educator, and a trainer for the Boston Museum’s Engineering is Elementary curriculum. He currently teaches at Arminta Street Elementary in North Hollywood, as well as, ‘Math Methods’ courses at Cal State Northridge.

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

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Wild Spirits: Measuring Life and Death with the Pasco Wireless CO2 sensor

A student once asked me why if carbon dioxide is so much heavier than air, how come the lower atmosphere doesn’t become thick with CO2 and kill everything?

“Umm, well…because it…umm…doesn’t?”

The student then asked if I was going to was going to answer her question with another question? Which of course is also a question. So how many questions are we up to now?

Anyway, before we all panic and run to higher ground, let’s stem the fear with the simple answer that convection (wind) and diffusion (mixing) keep the CO2 concentration in check and evenly distributed. But first, some history before moving on to measuring CO2.

Amazingly, the identification of carbon dioxide as a discrete substance was first reported a full two years before Sir Isaac Newton was born. In fact Galileo still had two good years of research left in his bones before taking his final break.

Now, 378 years later, carbon dioxide is a not just a proportion of our atmosphere, but potentially an indicator of the health of our one-and-only planet.  Our current concentration of CO2 is 405 ppm or parts per million. Estimates of pre-industrial levels of CO2 are around 280 meaning there has been a substantial and statistically significant increase in the global CO2 level.

For all its danger, Carbon dioxide is an elegant molecule that contain two oxygen atoms 180 degrees apart tied to a single carbon atom through double bonds.  Often symbolically written as O=C=O, carbon dioxide is an odorless, colorless gas that is 60% denser than the average handful of air.

Chemist Jan Baptist van Helmont discovered that when charcoal was burned in a closed container, the mass of the ash was less than that of the charcoal at the beginning. His inference was that the missing charcoal mass had been turned into an some sort of invisible material that was named a “wild spirit” essentially meaning a gas.

That gas also just happens to absorb wavelengths in the infrared of exactly 4.27 microns allowing a digital sensor to record changes in the concentration of light with a 4.27 micron wavelength. And those concentrations can be measured with a known light source and a known sensor. More specifically a thermal sensor that converts temperature to electricity which makes sense since we are working in the infrared.

Essentially, the physics behind Pasco Wireless CO2 sensor works like a mini greenhouse effect where the particular IR wave that is the same size as a CO2 molecule is projected across a space that contains the gas to be measured. As the infrared waves move through the space, the CO2 molecules absorb the IR. So the more CO2 in the sampled gas, the less IR that reaches the detector. This type of sensor is called an NDIR or nondispersive infrared sensor. You could imagine it like measuring the amount of dust in or snow in the air by noticing how much less road your car headlights illuminate.

Continue reading …

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Kindergarten Citizen Scientists: Taking Action to Save the Earth

My kindergarten students recently became citizen scientists as they investigated their big questions about the natural world around them. The snow finally melted, the critters have made their appearance, and the plants are beginning to bloom. It’s early May, and Spring has finally arrived—not a moment too soon. Our class has been out walking on our school trails, observing the signs of life that finally have appeared!

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How much to teach?

I am a student teacher in a kindergarten class and I have been struggling with focusing on laying the foundation for my students. But how much is too little? How much is too much for students at such an emergent level? —Y., Arizona


This is something teachers in all grades grapple with! The first person I would go to is your cooperating teacher and other kindergarten teachers. They have taught this curriculum and should have a good idea of the expectations and will likely fill your repertoire with all kinds of strategies they have used. Next, look at the curriculum support documents. There should be activities, lessons, and assessment strategies that have been identified or created by the department of education to help you out. Check out your state’s science teachers’ association for their resources. Develop a professional development plan in which you attend and participate in as many opportunities to learn, network, and share ideas about your curriculum.

Your students probably have diverse backgrounds and abilities. Don’t be too afraid to over-estimate your students. It is probably better to back track to simpler stuff than underestimate your students’ comprehension of the content.

Foremost, reflect on everything you do and make self-assessments by asking yourself: Are my students getting this? How do I know? And, regardless of whether the lesson worked well or not, How can I teach this differently? From your reflections, you can create informal and formal assessments that will help guide you and determine your students’ understanding.

Hope this helps!

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Ed News: AZ Science Educators Raise Alarms About Revised K-12 Standards

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This week in education news, should STEM evolve in STEAM; North Carolina teacher rally for increased teacher pay and education spending; Chicago will invest $75 million to renovate the high school science labs; new middle school genetics and genealogy curriculum will be featured in the National Science Foundation’s STEM for All Video Showcase; and Artificial Intelligence’s progression has been evolving at unbelievable speeds.

Science Educators Raise Alarms About Revised K-12 Standards

The standards for teaching Science, and History, to Arizona school kids are undergoing their first revisions in more than a decade. A committee of 100 educators, parents and community members hammered out the Science document in a year-long process. But the Department of Education made unexpected last-minute changes, shifting from big ideas to vocabulary words and watering down the concept of evolution. Read the article featured on KNAU.org.

Is STEM Better Off As STEAM?

Should STEM evolve into STEAM? Bringing up the STEM versus STEAM debate to 100 people might elicit 30 different reactions. Supplementing the hard sciences with art may seem like a simple matter, but there are several well-reasoned arguments for and against STEAM. Read the article featured in Engineering 360.

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