Mastering Scientific Practices With Technology

In this video, columnist Ben Smith shares information from the Science 2.0 column, “Mastering Scientific Practices With Technology,” that appeared in a recent issue of The Science Teacher. Read the article here


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Adding More STEM to the School Day

Middle school students dissect a frog as part of a hands-on lesson from Science from Scientists, an in-school enrichment program in Massachusetts and California.

Middle school students dissect a frog as part of a hands-on lesson from Science from
Scientists, an in-school enrichment program in Massachusetts and California. (Photo by Arturo Martinez)

Schools seeking to enhance students’ learning of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) are adopting in-school STEM enrichment programs that reach student populations in need of additional learning opportunities, connect students with scientists, and/or provide more challenging curriculum. One such program, Science from Scientists (SfS), was established in 2002 “to help teachers with challenges in presenting science content,” says Erika Ebbel Angle, SfS founder and executive director. “Some teachers may have taken only one science course, or [find that] students need more science for test preparation,” she observes. “Teachers have told us that the only way to reach all of their students is through an in-school program.”

SfS offers an In-School Module-Based STEM enrichment program that brings two scientists to grades 4–8 classrooms every other week during the school year “to work with teachers and bring content [that supports] the NGSS [Next Generation Science Standards] and MCAS [Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System],” explains Angle. Teachers can choose from more than 85 hands-on STEM lessons, and the scientists “bring the necessary materials with them.”

The program aims “to inspire students and improve both attitudes and aptitudes,” she notes. The scientists conduct “pre- and post-assessments every other week” to chart students’ progress, she relates.

“The program succeeds because teachers see us as a great resource to bolster their curriculum and let students interact with scientists as role models,” Angle contends. While SfS “isn’t genderspecific,” it exposes boys and girls to female role models, she notes.

SfS has been adopted by 46 schools in Massachusetts and California, and “many districts seek us out,” she notes. Assessments have shown that “SfS raises standardized test scores by an average of 25% in our partner schools,” she reports.

SfS is provided free to public schools during the first two years. (Privateschools must pay for the entire program.) During year three, public schools start bearing the program’s costs. SfS “can help schools get grants and offers fundraising ideas,” says Angle. The goal for year four is “to have the program be self-funded in districts where we have relationships,” she explains, but SfS can help with funding if a district isn’t able to cover all the costs. “If we have classroom teachers who want us, we are committed,” she maintains.

An Import From Israel

“Twelve years ago, we were looking for out-of-the-box-type science improvement programs for Jewish day schools in the United States,” recalls Judy Lebovits, vice president and director of the Center for Initiatives in Jewish Education (CIJE). CIJE connected with the Israel Center for Excellence through Education to bring the Excellence 2000 (E2K) program to Jewish schools in the United States. Aimed at highly motivated math and science students, the program also has been adopted by several U.S. public schools and implemented in 77 schools nationwide, she reports.

E2K’s 24 modules involve “teaching totally hands-on, cultivating personal excellence, fostering creativity, and learning how to learn,” and appeal to “students who…like to tinker,” she contends. Each module starts with a story and a problem to solve, then students begin to experiment. “The kids come up with the formula on their own…They can take the answer and apply it to other situations,” she observes.

Carmel Academy in Greenwich, Connecticut, uses E2K with gifted sixth and seventh graders. Grades 6–8 science teacher and E2K coach Rhonda Ginsberg says the program “is a chance for students to do pure science” and design their own experiments. Last year, students designed and tested insulation for a polar bear’s cave, for example.

Often E2K students “bring back what they’ve learned to the regular science class,” and Ginsberg says she has “moved some of the E2K material into the regular science class.”

E2K students compete in national and international competitions and have won 10 awards, which “has created excitement around science,” she relates. They compete online with students from 25 other schools in a competition held in Israel. “The scientists in Israel were blown away at how fast my kids answered the questions,” she reports.

Not all gifted students are admitted to E2K. Ginsberg evaluates fifth-grade candidates, meeting with their science and math teachers to determine their “thinking ability,” she explains. Her biggest challenge is “how to say no to a kid who isn’t yet there analytically and to [his or her] parents. It’s tough.”

Kindergarten Enrichment

When the Batavia, Illinois, Public Schools downsized kindergarten classes from full-day to half-day, some parents complained. Seeking a solution, the district contacted the Batavia Park District, which supervises the area’s parks and recreation facilities and activities. The Batavia Park District designed an enrichment program, now in its fourth year, to extend the school day to six-and-a-half hours for kindergarteners whose parents were willing to pay for it. “About one-third of [area] kindergarteners are enrolled in our program,” says Sarah Schneider, kindergarten enrichment teacher for the Batavia Park District.

The program runs in each of the school district’s six elementary schools, with its own classroom and teacher. “In half-day kindergarten, the kids are only able to do core literacy and math; there’s not a lot of time for science and social studies,” Schneider observes. “We have a solid science program to get kids interested in science early on.

“We have a Delta Education [science] curriculum consisting of six different lessons: oceans, trees, insects and spiders, weather, body and senses, and health and nutrition…[S]ome of us also study the rainforest, arctic animals, space, pumpkins, and basic chemical mixtures,” she explains. “[We chose the curriculum] because we didn’t want to teach the same topics taught by the [school district’s teachers] in preschool,” she relates.

“Our kids are very well prepared for first grade because they’re in school for a full day and getting extra content,” she reports. “We don’t worry about [test] scores; we just make sure students are engaged, growing, and getting something positive out of it.” Without the testing, “we’re able to hold smaller classes with more creative projects.”

Schneider notes there is a trend in some districts to return to all-day kindergarten, which would mean the end of the enrichment program. She believes this could be a real loss for students because district teachers “won’t have the flexibility that we do.” 

This article originally appeared in the February 2016 issue of NSTA Reports, the member newspaper of the National Science Teachers Association. Each month, NSTA members receive NSTA Reports featuring news on science education, the association, and more. Not a member? Learn how NSTA can help you become the best science teacher you can be.

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

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Prepare your students for next year’s eclipse with Solar Science

Great extras accompany this book, including safety glasses for viewing the eclipse and an Observer’s Guide to the All-American Total Solar Eclipse.

solarscience“On Monday, August 21, 2017, a total eclipse of the Sun will be visible in the continental United States for the first time in almost 40 years. A total eclipse is when the Sun is completely hidden by the Moon, the sky becomes dark, and the Sun’s faint atmosphere (corona) becomes visible—looking like a beautiful halo. This total eclipse will only be visible on a narrow track stretching across the United States from Oregon to South Carolina. No other country will get to see the total eclipse this time.”

To help prepare middle schoolers for an optimum experience of this wondrous event, NSTA Press has published a great new resource: Solar Science: Exploring Sunspots, Seasons, Eclipses, and More. This curriculum resource is written specifically to align with the three-dimensional (3D) learning encouraged by the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Its learning experiences engage students in using real data to learn solar science and effectively integrate the Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCIs), Science Practices (SPs), and Crosscutting Concepts (CCC) associated with solar astronomy at the middle school level.

solarglassesAuthors Dennis Schatz and Andrew Fraknoi are award-winning experts in astronomy and science education. Schatz is the Senior Advisor at the Pacific Science Center, and Andrew Fraknoi is the Chair of the Astronomy Department at Foothill College. Both authors regularly lead local and national professional development sessions for teachers at many different levels.

They paired up to write this book because they know there will be tremendous interest in the eclipse and that teachers will want to prepare their students to understand relevant science topics the year before and the year after.

The 45 classroom-tested, hands-on, inquiry-based activities are organized into four sections

  1. Understanding and Tracking the Daily Motion of the Sun: What does the Sun do in the sky each day, and how does that relate to our notions of time and direction?
  2. Understanding and Tracking the Annual Motion of the Sun and the Seasons: How does the Sun’s motion and position in the sky vary throughout the year, and how does that relate to our ideas of a calendar and the seasons?
  3. Solar Activity and Space Weather: What phenomena do we observe on the surface and in the atmosphere of the Sun, and how do these influence what we observe and how we live our lives on Earth?
  4. The Sun, the Moon, and the Earth Together: Phases, Eclipses, and More: How do the relationships among the Earth, the Moon, and the Sun produce solar and lunar eclipses?

Ideally suited for teachers, informal science educators, youth group leaders, curriculum specialists, and teacher trainers, these versatile activities can be used one at a time, as the basis of a stand-alone unit on the Sun, or as a comprehensive curriculum.

Whether or not you buy a copy of Solar Science, you can download a free observing guide for the upcoming solar eclipse to share with students and their families as well as community partners. This eight-page guide includes everything you need to know regarding where and when to see the eclipse, how to observe the eclipse safely, and how to understand and explain what causes it.

NSTA Press has developed many online extras, including downloadable worksheets and charts to accompany lessons. This book is also available as an e-book.

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NSTA’s K-12 February 2016 Science Education Journals Online

NSTA’s K-12 February 2016 Science Education Journals Onlinev2

Looking to take advantage of the creative approaches that STEAM offers students? Want to explain to your students how traits are passed down from one generation to another? Are your students fascinated with nanoscience? The February K–12 journals from the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) have the answers you need. Written by science teachers for science teachers, these peer-reviewed journals are targeted to your teaching level and are packed with lesson plans, expert advice, and ideas for using whatever time/space you have available. Browse the February issues; they are online (see below), in members’ mailboxes, and ready to inspire teachers!

Science and Children sc_feb16_cov

The addition of the arts to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) adds a new dimension to lessons. As you’ll find in this issue of S&C, STEAM brings forth creative approaches to STEM that will enhance student learning, from brainstorming to communication skills.

Featured articles (please note, only those marked “free” are available to nonmembers without a fee):

Science Scopess_feb16_cov

When looking for information on genetics and heredity, X or Y can mark the spot to start your search. Dig into the activities in this issue to learn more about how traits are passed from one generation to the next. We are sure you will uncover a valuable lesson or two among the trees, peas, and telephone chatter.

Featured articles (please note, only those marked “free” are available to nonmembers without a fee):

The Science Teachertst_feb16_cov

Nanoscience development affects almost every discipline of science, engineering, and technology. Not surprisingly, “the science of small” is also finding its way into science classrooms. In general, nano refers to a billionth of a meter—about 1/50,000 the width of a hair follicle. The term nanoparticle usually refers to small materials with a size of between 1 and 100 nanometers (nm). Because nanoparticles are so small, they have a greater surface-area-to-volume ratio, causing them to be more reactive than larger particles and useful for various applications. Nanoscience is just one of many activities and investigations covered in this issue, which also looks at wildlife cover boards, using socio-scientific issues to teach argumentation, and finding patterns in chemical compounds.

Featured articles (please note, only those marked “free” are available to nonmembers without a fee):

Get these journals in your mailbox as well as your inbox—become an NSTA member!

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

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ECE galore in January 2016 Science and Children!

Writing about my science teaching for early childhood educators means thinking about a potential community that spans geographic distance and different biomes, seasons, cultures, educational backgrounds, ethnicities, and teaching careers, among other differences. How we are the same is in our desire to be a teacher of science who helps all children build their understandings of the natural and human-made world in a developmentally appropriate way.

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“Flipped” meetings

As the science chairperson, I’d like to change the format of our monthly afterschool meetings. Do you have any ideas what we can do in terms of professional development or other projects? It seems like we don’t get much accomplished with our current format. —C., Virginia

Let’s face it—at the end of the day most teachers are tired and concerned with evaluating student work, getting home to their families, heading off to another job or a graduate class, and/or preparing for the next lesson. The after-school time is precious and not something to spend on mundane informational issues or idle chatter.

My experience also included meetings in which we read over information items (deadlines, changes in policy, upcoming events). We complained about situations without coming to any decisions. Some colleagues graded papers or watched the clock. We often left these hour-long contractual meetings with a list of tasks to accomplish individually on our own time (e.g., strategic planning, supply orders, professional development plans). So I’m glad to hear that you want to facilitate something more productive.

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Zika, @neiltyson, and flick picks from POTUS: Twitter tales for science teachers

You can’t believe everything you see in social media, but when something’s popular on Twitter/Facebook/Snapchat, it’s sure to be something you can use to catch students’ attention. The stories that caught our eye this week run the gamut from truly frightening to beautifully inspirational. Spoiler alert… Neil deGrasse Tyson is NOT the astrophysicist with the biggest Twitter following!

Why is a 50-year old disease just gaining notoriety in the U.S.?


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Ideas and information from NSTA’s January K-12 journals

All three journals this month include the article Addressing Three Common Myths About the Next Generation Science Standards – another must-read article that applies to all grade levels and science subjects.

Science and Children – Physical Science in Early Childhood

Our youngest students are inquisitive about the physical world – gravity, matter, weather, motion, the solar system, sound, light… Here are suggestions for building on their natural curiosity and their questions about the world around them.

For more on the content that provides a context for these projects and strategies see the SciLinks websites for Colors, Forces and Motions, Light, Matter, Pinhole Images, Properties of Matter, Reflection, Reptiles, Sound, States of Matter, UV Index, Vibration.

Continue for Science Scope and The Science Teacher.

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Teacher Professional Learning: Transforming Teacher Practice

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I encourage STEM educators (and administrators) across the U.S. to read and understand Science Teachers’ Learning: Enhancing Opportunities, Creating Supportive Contexts, a terrific report just released by the National Academies of Science (NAS), Engineering and Medicine.

The National Academy report illuminates practical recommendations and lays out the supportive environment and professional learning experiences teachers need and which are critical to the enactment and application of the three-dimensional teaching and learning espoused in A Framework for K–12 Science Education and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

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Positive classroom environments support teaching science

Children observing at the fish tank.Science teaching is only a part of the work of early childhood science educators. Supporting children’s development of social-emotional skills and executive function are foremost in every activity we engage children in.

When children feel safe in the class is when they can exercise their curiosity and ask questions that lead to looking for answers and thinking about what they find out. To learn more about making all children welcome in my classroom I read several books, the notes from one book club and participate in another. Colleagues also sent links to articles that guide early childhood educators in creating positive classroom climates.

Here are some resources about supporting all children. I hope you will continue to expand my understanding by posting additional resources and links to articles.

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