Spark Science Learning Through Children’s Trade Books

Research points to the benefits to student learning that come from teaching reading in the content areas, such as in science class. The National Research Council noted in a summary report of their workshop Literacy for Science that “when students have a reason to read, a reason to learn terminology, and compelling and interesting content, their level of engagement increases, as well as their stamina and cognitive effort.” Give your students new reasons to read by incorporating captivating science texts in your lessons. Add the newest NSTA Kids books or selections from NSTA’s annual list of Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students, K–12 to your classroom library this fall. 

Explore New NSTA Kids Books

Notable Notebooks: Scientists and Their Writings, by Jessica Fries-Gaither, will inspire young scientists with its colorful and lively glimpses inside the notebooks of famous scientists such as Galileo and Jane Goodall. After learning the many ways scientists use their notebooks to sketch observations, record data, or jot their thoughts, students can follow the four steps provided to launch their own journals of discovery. Browse sample pages of this fascinating new children’s book from one of the authors of NSTA’s award-winning elementary-level book Inquiring Scientists, Inquiring Readers. Notable Notebooks cover
From Flower to Fruit, by Richard and Kathleen Konicek-Moran, draws readers in with the twin charms of rich illustrations and an engaging narrative to explore the mysteries of how seeds become plants and the importance of flowers in every ecosystem. Six kid-friendly activities and background information for parents and teachers complement the text. See these sample pages to glimpse the wonders awaiting budding botanists in this new resource. Richard Konicek-Moran is author of the popular NSTA Press series Everyday Science Mysteries.  From Fruit to Flower book cover
 Next Time You See a Cloud, by Emily Morgan, reveals some fascinating science behind the beautiful displays of ever-changing clouds we see in the sky. The book answers all kinds of questions: What are clouds made of? Why are some clouds white? Which clouds mean fair weather is coming, and which ones mean rain is on the way? Take a look inside at the beautiful photos and detailed information conveyed in this new book in the award-winning Next Time You See series.  Next Time You See a Cloud book cover
For additional science resources for curious kids, explore more books in the award-winning NSTA Kids series. And be sure to check out the extensive list of Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students, K–12, selected each year by NSTA and the Children’s Book Council.
NSTA Press also provides a wealth of lessons on how to incorporate children’s trade books and other texts into science class through the Picture-Perfect Science series; Teaching Science Through Trade Books; Inquiring Scientists, Inquiring Readers for elementary grades; the forthcoming Inquiring Scientists, Inquiring Readers in Middle School; Once Upon a Life Science Book; and Once Upon an Earth Science Book.

Special Fall Savings From NSTA Press

Between now and November 1, 2016, save $15 off your order of $75 or more of NSTA Press books or e-books by entering promo code BKS16 at checkout in theonline Science Store. Offer valid only on orders placed for NSTA Press books or e-books on the web and may not be combined with any other offer.

NSTA’s Book Beat is also emailed as a monthly e-newsletter designed to keep NSTA Press® readers, and the wider audience of science teachers, informed about books and teacher resources available through the National Science Teachers Association. Each month’s issue highlights selected topics in science education and new content in NSTA Press books with links to free sample chapters and lessons. NSTA’s Book Beat also informs readers of special offers and discounts available through the NSTA Science Store. Click here to view past issues or to sign up to receive future issues.

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Integrating science and engineering

12722794783_496414e7e8_mIn my elementary schedule, I barely have time for science, and now I’m concerned about teaching engineering, too. I’ve never studied engineering. Can you suggest some resources? —T., New Jersey

You might feel a little more confident after reading “The Next Generation Science Standards and Engineering for Young Learners: Beyond Bridges and Egg Drops”  from the October 2013 issue of NSTA’s elementary journal, Science and Children (S&C). The article has a chart comparing science and engineering practices, and you can see the overlaps and similarities. It seems that the thinking involved in inquiry and problem solving are similar, whether students are investigating natural phenomenon (science) or applying their knowledge to design products or processes to solve a problem or need (engineering).

In her blog, Early education in engineering and design, Peggy Ashbrook examines the engineering skills that even our youngest students already have. She provides insights, resources, and suggestions for building on these.

The Engineering Encounters column in S&C includes strategies that integrate engineering with science, support teaching children how to design solutions, and explore the ways engineers conduct their work.

Other S&C articles describe lessons with engineering components, too, and most lessons include a chart showing the connections to science and engineering practices in the Next Generation Science Standards.

You’re not alone in your concern. Most science teachers don’t have a background in engineering per se, so have fun with your young engineers and learn along with them!



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Navigating a New Role

This year, as a science supervisor, I will be observing teachers. I’m not sure whether I should interact with them during classroom visits if I see something that could be improved. How involved should I be? —J., Pennsylvania

You have a wonderful opportunity to observe (and learn from) a variety of teachers and share your expertise.

Discuss with your administrator what your role(s) should be: evaluator, mentor, observer, or coach. How often are you expected to visit each classroom? How long are your observations (a whole class period vs. a brief walk-through)? Are there protocols or procedures you are expected to follow? These parameters can determine how involved you become, and your rapport with the teachers will depend on whether they see you as an intrusive administrator or a trusted colleague.

When you’re in a classroom, intervene immediately if you notice a safety issue. Otherwise, be discreet. You don’t want to undermine the teacher or react to an event without knowing the context. You can call a teacher’s attention to something without interrupting the class. Perhaps while students are working, you could have a quiet chat with the teacher or give the teacher a note.

Afterwards, reflect on your observations before meeting with the teacher. How will they help the teacher improve instruction or relationships with students? As an observer/evaluator, I would debrief with teachers with discussion-starting questions: How did you know that students were engaged? What would happen if…? Did you notice that…? What happened right before I came in? What happened after I left?

The supervisory process is time-consuming, but reflection and face-to-face discussions can make it worthwhile for everyone.

[The article, “Should Supervisors Intervene During Classroom Visits?” (Kappan, October 2015) has a good discussion on in-class coaching.]


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How to Evaluate NGSS Lessons and Units with the New Improved EQuIP Rubric for Science

text-based headerThe Educators Evaluating the Quality of Instructional Products (EQuIP) Rubric for science provides criteria by which to measure the degree to which lessons and units are designed for the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The rubric is a joint project of Achieve, Inc., and NSTA and was originally released shortly after the NGSS were finalized.

The purpose of the rubric and review process is to: (1) review existing lessons and units to determine what revisions are needed; (2) provide constructive criterion-based feedback and suggestions for improvement to developers; (3) identify exemplars/models for teachers’ use within and across states; and (4) to inform the development of new lessons, units, and other instructional materials. 

Revisions were recently made to the rubric. Matt Krehbiel, assistant director of science for Achieve, Inc., highlights some of the changes in the following Q&A. 

Q: What are the major changes that were made to the rubric?

A: The two biggest changes in the rubric are the addition of a scoring guide to the response form and the reorganization of criteria in the first two categories of the rubric. The details of these and other changes are outlined in Rubric Changes for Version 3.0 online.

Q: Why were the changes made?

A: The scoring guide was added to support the evaluation of lessons and units in a more concrete way. This version of the rubric will be used to vet lessons and units by the Peer Review Panel with the goal of identifying and sharing high quality lessons designed for the NGSS. The scoring guide supports the process of selecting high quality examples.

The criteria were reorganized to provide greater clarity about what designing lessons and units for the NGSS really looks like. While training thousands of educators to use the EQuIP Rubric for Science, we have observed where people struggle to understand the intent of the criteria and revised these sections for greater clarity.

Q: How were the changes made?

A: It was a team effort. Feedback from the thousands of educators using the EQuIP Rubric for Science across the United States was combined with feedback from those leading professional learning using the rubric and the revisions were guided by the same group of experts that authored previous versions of the EQuIP Rubric for Science. It was a year-long, iterative process that included piloting several drafts with groups of teachers for specific feedback on the clarity and utility of the changes.

Q: What does the new rubric allow me to do?

A: The new rubric allows for a more specific conversation about what is “quality” in terms of designing lessons and units for the NGSS. Together with professional learning support, the new rubric helps users become better able to identify lessons and units that are designed for the NGSS, better able to revise lessons and units of their own, and helps deepen their understanding of the standards themselves and what they expect of students and teachers. It is important to note that the rubric is best used within a community and, when used this way, it can also establish or reinforce a common language and understanding for what high quality lessons and units designed for the NGSS look like.

text-based header: Matt KrehbielMatt Krehbiel is Assistant Director of Science for Achieve, Inc. Reach him at and follow him on twitter at @ksscienceguy.



Visit NSTA’s NGSS@NSTA Hub for hundreds of vetted classroom resources, professional learning opportunities, publications,ebooks and more; connect with your teacher colleagues on the NGSS listservs (members can sign up here); and join us for discussions around NGSS at an upcoming conference.

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

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

Start off the school year with ideas and resources from your NSTA colleagues.

Science and ChildrenSharing Products: Science Exhibitions and Beyond

The featured articles this month describe how teachers and students can go beyond traditional replicas and science fairs to create products and processes that showcase their learning and problem-solving skills (and their creativity)

For more on the content that provides a context for these projects and strategies see the SciLinks topics Arachnida, Bioluminescence, Buoyancy, Current Electricity, Electric Current, How does nature reuse materials?, Insects, Nutrition, Parts of a Plant, Plants as Food, Watersheds.

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Safety, risk and hazards

As preschool and child care continue and a new school year begins, it’s a good time to refresh our memories about safety practices.

Children wearing goggles as they make borax & glue "slime"Goggles are not common in early childhood programs but they should be. Children love to dress up and goggles add to the “realness” of their science exploration. We use goggles when we make “slime” (The Early Years: Nurturing Young Chemists, 2006). One never knows when a planned activity will be taken in a new direction by a child’s actions. As part of a sensory investigation, I planned for children to try to identify a food item by its scent. Four foods, lemon (fruit), cinnamon sticks (bark), onion (bulb), and coffee beans (seeds), were in small opaque containers covered with squares of cloth so the children could smell but not see them. We used the “wafting” technique of waving the air towards our noses so we didn’t press them up against the cloth and share germs. So far, all was good. When we removed the cloth, children could see and identify the items or confirm their guess. One child looked into the container of cinnamon sticks and then blew into it. Small bits of cinnamon lofted into the air and into his eyes. Like sand grains, the bits were sharp and could have scratched his cornea (but didn’t). From then on we wore goggles during this activity and many others, such as when making playdough, because of the possibility of salt grains scratching children’s corneas.

The Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research’s “Eye injury: Tips to protect vision” has many suggestions. A cause for eye injury that I wasn’t aware of is flying rubber bands. Children use rubber bands in all sorts of ways once they are old enough not to chew on them.

Take a look at Ken Roy’s column, “Safety First: Safer Science Explorations for Young Children” in the March 2015 issue of Science and Children, to learn how to prepare for safer science explorations. Then read his blog posts to see how safety practices begun in early childhood are the beginning of what teachers (and children) will need to be aware of in upper grades.  

In “Risky Play and Children’s Safety: Balancing Priorities for Optimal Child Development” published in the International Journal Of Environmental Research And Public Health [9(9): 3134–3148], the authors discuss whether imposing too many restrictions on children’s outdoor risky play may be hampering their development. They state that “it is timely and important to reflect on our approach towards safety with respect to children’s outdoor risky play opportunities and to consider the impact on healthy child development.” They encourage an approach that “focuses on eliminating hazards, which Wallach (1992) defines as a source of harm that is not obvious to the child, such that the potential for injury is hidden, such as a broken railing; but does not eliminate all risks, which involve a situation that allows the child to recognize and evaluate the challenge and decide on a course of action that is not dangerous, but may still involve an element of risk.”

The Alliance for Childhood organization “promotes policies and practices that support children’s healthy development, love of learning, and joy in living.” Their publication, Adventure: The value of risk in children’s playby Joan Almon, is an introduction to the topic of adventurous play and risk. It could be a good read for a staff and parent book discussion.

As I watch young neighborhood children running with sticks and crossing the residential street by themselves, I think, “As a teacher I would never allow that to happen, but as a parent I did.” As a parent I was okay with a certain amount of risk because I was the one who would have to take my child to the doctor for any injury. The Center for Disease Control says, “most child injuries can be prevented” and offers suggestions on how Child's face with scrapes after a fall while playing the hokey pokeyinjuries can be prevented. One of my neighboring children has an arm cast for a break that happened during tumbling with a slightly older sibling. Another child got these scrapes on his face while playing the Hokey Pokey! We can be aware of hazards but children will still face risks, and learn from these encounters.

In addition to protecting children’s safety, do you protect yourself? How do you protect your eyes when pouring bleach to make the solution for sanitizing tables? Do you wash hands as frequently as we ask children to? What are your safety measures and stories? I’m feeling virtuous because I just got a flu shot! 

Wallach F. 1992. Playground safety: What did we do wrong? Park. Recreat. 1992;27:52–57.

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Changes in How We See Scientific Inquiry

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Ask 20 teachers what scientific inquiry is and it’s possible you’ll receive 20 different answers. From a series of proscribed steps to a lab-based free-for-all, conceptions have shifted over time. In the National Research Council’s (NRC) 1996 National Science Education Standards (NSES), inquiry held a prominent position as its own content area, but the term rarely comes up in its 2012 Framework for K–12 Science Education (Framework). What Ever Happened to Scientific Inquiry, a report by the Midwest Comprehensive Center and myself, details how notions of inquiry have changed in recent history, particularly as seen within the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). A further section of the report that won’t be described here analyzes how the science standards of upper Midwest states describe inquiry.

In preparing this report, we reviewed articles about science inquiry from both current and historical perspectives, analyzed national science standards and related documents, and interviewed national science education experts.

Historical beginnings

In the early 20th century, John Dewey proposed a list of five steps scientists use in their work, intending to emphasize their reflective work practices, but educators instead interpreted those ideas as the five linear steps to doing science. Pedagogy and curricula through the 20th century showed the increasing popularity of labs with proscribed procedures and the idea of a set “scientific method.”  

Standards era shift

In 1993, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Benchmarks of Science Literacy clearly pushed on this idea of a set method and discussed inquiry as a “habit of mind.” The 1996 NSES attempted to further clarify notions of inquiry with the five big ideas of inquiry in its own section of the content standards. With a follow-up report, Inquiry and the National Science Education Standards (2000), the NRC stated that, “Students do not come to understand inquiry simply by learning words such as ‘hypothesis’ and ‘inference’ or by memorizing procedures such as ‘the steps of the scientific method.’”. In the NSES, inquiry instead described the way scientists study the world and build explanations based on evidence.

Teachers nevertheless continued to use the scientific method as a convenient way to organize scientific investigations and what it means to think like a scientist, and instructional materials supported this approach. Textbooks today continue to include separate chapters on a scientific method. According to Dr. Joe Krajcik, a member of the NGSS writing team, “While well intentioned, when the National Science [Education] Standards assigned inquiry to its own separate content area, it meant that inquiry remained separate from other science learning.” And, thus, got its own chapter in the textbook! Therefore, as noted by Dr. Melissa Braaten, a professor at the University of Colorado-Boulder, “In schools, inquiry had come to mean one narrow image of doing formulaic, defined experiments. Teachers would refer to it as ‘the scientific method’ like it was a titled thing.”

Framework and the NGSS

The writers of the Framework and consequent NGSS aimed to clarify ideas of scientific practice, moving away from varying ideas of “inquiry.” As emphasized by Dr. Helen Quinn, a researcher with the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center and chair of the NRC Framework committee, “While it is what we do—we inquire—scientists do not use the term inquiry.”

To summarize, in this report we emphasize four big ideas from the Framework and NGSS that take the place of some traditional conceptions of inquiry:

1) Inquiry is a means for constructing scientific understanding; it’s not a content area

Students should be involved in asking questions and investigating natural phenomena in the world around them. Instead of learning steps of a scientific method, they’re doing science.

2) Inquiry is a fluid set of practices that scientists use

As Dr. Krajcik notes, “Having the eight practices doesn’t mean that you start with a question, then move on to the next practice… There is no linearity implied. The practices are tied together and any one of them could lead to another.” Further, when working with the practices or discussing their use as a class, they shouldn’t be numbered.

3) Inquiry involves three-dimensional learning

The science and engineering practices are the means to gain scientific knowledge while investigating phenomena with a lens of the crosscutting concepts. Or, in other words from Matt Krehbiel, assistant director of science at Achieve, Inc., inquiry is “woven into science learning throughout the year, where practices are exercised and integrated with learning of the crosscutting concepts and disciplinary core ideas.”

4) Inquiry is independent from science pedagogy

Inquiry-based teaching is essential, but it’s not the only appropriate type of instruction. Varying instructional practices based on student learning needs make sense.

Final thoughts

I’m certainly not suggesting that you shouldn’t do inquiry-based lessons; however, I would suggest that you rip out the chapter of your textbook on the scientific method and consider ways to structure labs beyond hypothesis testing. There are as many ways to “do science” as there are scientists, so allow the practices to infuse your instruction where they naturally and logically fit rather than in any prescribed way. 


A former middle school science teacher and education researcher, Kevin J. B. Anderson, PhD, NBCT, is the Science Education Consultant at the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

Visit NSTA’s NGSS@NSTA Hub for hundreds of vetted classroom resources, professional learning opportunities, publications, ebooks and more; connect with your teacher colleagues on the NGSS listservs (members can sign up here); and join us for discussions around NGSS at an upcoming conference.

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

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Posted in Next Generation Science Standards | Tagged , , | 14 Responses

Feeling stressed

I’m a first-year middle school life science teacher. After a few weeks, I am really stressed with all of the planning and paperwork. Any resources or words of encouragement? —L., New York

Welcome to science teaching! Every teacher has gone through what you’re experiencing, even if they had a great student teaching experience. Fortunately, there are resources to help.

NSTA’s email lists  have timely advice on specific questions concerning content, the Next Generation Science Standards, safety, classroom management, assessments, and more. NSTA journals have lessons that you can adapt. Other NSTA publications, such as those mentioned in Tips for the First Day of School, also address your concerns.

It’s easy to get bogged down in the time-consuming details of lesson planning and evaluating student work, but remember to look occasionally at the big picture. A recent higher education blog post described What Every Incoming Science Student Should Know. The author’s suggestions can be modified for what incoming science teachers should know:

  • Decide what you want your students to gain from your class. They may forget the bulletin boards or elaborate presentations, but they’ll remember if you fostered a love of learning and an appreciation for science and if you respected them and gave them choices.
  • Help students become independent learners. Teach notetaking skills rather than preparing lots of handouts. Encourage students to ask (and answer) their own questions. Recognize your students’ creativity and curiosity.
  • Whenever possible, help students make the connections among science, the “real world,” and their own interests.
  • Take time for yourself and don’t neglect your health. Have a support group of mentors and other first-year teachers to relax with and share adventures.
  • Understand that real teaching is hard. Allow yourself to make mistakes (but not when it comes to student safety!). Reflect on, learn from, and then let go of the mistakes.

Think about your successes every day— there will be many! Good luck!



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folder icon  Safety

How Safe Is Your Eyewash?

According to a recent article in Safety + Health magazine, Honeywell Safety Products had to recall about 9,700 bottles of Eyesaline emergency eyewash solution due to “a low risk of contamination” of bacteria that can cause eye infections (NSC 2016).

Science teachers need to see if they have this type of eyewash solution and also need to take care of the eyewash stations that have sat in their labs during the summer. Eyewash can mitigate eye injuries when there is exposure to physical and chemical irritants or biological agents.

An Infosheet by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration gives background information on the American National Standards Institute standard Z358.1-2014. The standard states that for plumbed systems, “the eyewash must deliver tepid flushing fluid (15.6–37.8°C or 60–100°F) to eyes not less than 1.5 liters per minute (0.4 gpm) for a minimum of 15 minutes” (OSHA 2015).

OSHA further notes, “Whether permanently connected to a potable water source (plumbed) or has self-contained flushing fluid, improper maintenance may present health hazards that can worsen or cause additional damage to a worker’s eye” (OSHA 2015).

If students or school employees use an eyewash that is not properly maintained, biological organisms can come in contact with the eye or skin, or may even be inhaled. Eyes also may be more susceptible to infection after being injured. Eyewashes not properly maintained may serve as a breeding ground for a host of organisms and present serious health hazards. OSHA mentions the following organisms as examples (OSHA 2015):

  • Acanthamoeba—a microscopic single cell organism (amoeba) that may cause eye infections.
  • Pseudomonas—infections typically caused by a common bacteria species.
  • Legionella—bacteria that may cause Legionnaires’ disease, a serious lung infection.

Teachers need to check manufacturer’s instructions regarding how often and how long the eyewash needs to be flushed to reduce or eliminate biological contaminants, which often require a once-a-week flushing regimen. To maintain self-contained eyewash units, consult the manufacturer’s instructions for appropriate procedures.

It is important to first try working with your school administration to address your safety concerns. If your concern is not addressed, you have a right, as an employee, to file a complaint, under which OSHA will conduct an on-site inspection for potential hazards and determine whether your employer is following OSHA rules (OSHA 2014, p. 11).

Teachers or union representatives can call OSHA with questions or additional information at 1-800-321-OSHA. However, many states operate their own OSHA-approved safety and health program. Visit OSHA’s website to determine if your workplace is under Federal OSHA, a state OSHA plan, or other individual state department.

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


National Safety Council. 2016. Safety + Health. Honeywell Issues Voluntary Recall of Eyesaline Eyewash. August 23.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). 2015. Health effects from contaminated water in eyewash stations.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). 2014. Workers’ rights.

NSTA resources and safety issue papers

NSTA resources and safety issue papers


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Teaching about farms

With the fall harvest season coming up, planning begins for family and class fieldtrips to local farms and farm markets. People who live in farming communities have a much different understanding of what a farm can be than those who live in urban or suburban communities. The Maryland Agricultural Education Foundation, Inc. explains why we should teach about agriculture: “Incorporating agriculture into teaching and learning creates the foundation that students, as future citizens, need to make educated decisions regarding food choices and nutrition, community issues, land use planning, and natural resource conservation.” 

Child and teacher work together to use an apple peeler simple machineGetting to know where our food comes from is the first step and teachers want to plan meaningful, accurate experiences so young children can become familiar with food sources. We have tastings of different apple varieties, children graph their favorite flavor, and we read How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World by Marjorie Priceman (Dragonfly Books 1996).  My children enjoy seeing live farm animals at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Zoo where even the chickens have names. At Oxon Cove Park & Oxon Hill Farm, which replicates a historical farm, the Pre-k to 1st grade program on Animal Life on the Farm introduces children to the milking cows and chickens. (There is a PreK-1 teachers’ guide, Animal Life on the Farm to help teach about the animals and that they provide us with milk, eggs, wool and meat.)

Heritage pig at Claude Moore Colonial FarmWe also visit the Claude Moore Colonial Farm in McLean, Virginia, “a living history museum that portrays family life on a small, low-income farm just prior to the Revolutionary War” where they raise tobacco, wheat, rye, corn, apples and vegetables, and heritage breeds that represent animals that were present in Virginia in the late 18th century.  The children delight in seeing live cattle, hogs and geese. Many children get their first experience with live farm animals at these museum farms. 

If we don’t live near farms of any kind, we can reach out to those who do for help in designing curriculum about food sources. National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) members have been answering one teacher’s request for help planning a social studies and science unit on farms for kindergarten students. The teacher’s planning began with activities such as, making homemade butter, milking a pretend cow, meeting and petting a real bunny, making a scarecrow, planting a vegetable garden, and meeting a real farmer. Continue reading …

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