The Right Chemistry

Is there a way to engage those who struggle with chemistry and help them do well?
— M., Utah



When asked to name their hardest class in high school, people often list pre-calculus math, physics or English Language Arts, but I always answered chemistry! For most of us, chemistry was taught on a very theoretical level and concentrated on concepts foreign to everyday thinking: enthalpy, stoichiometry, orbitals, and so on.

I believe that the current movement toward using phenomena to teach science, connecting science to big ideas and learning more about the nature of science is a big step toward making chemistry more accessible and enjoyable for students. Science is more meaningful when we link real-life observations to scientific explanations. So, answering a question like, “How does soap work?” leads to a terrific discussion about an everyday (we hope!) event and the knowledge we need to explain it. We can even push that explanation further through the questions and investigations that arise from considering a bar of soap.

To make chemistry more engaging, get students to ask the questions and find the phenomena that they want to explore.

Hope this helps!


Photo credit: Lower Columbia College via Flickr

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

Regardless of what grade level or subject are you teach, as you skim through the article titles, you may find ideas for lessons that would be interesting your students or the inspiration to adapt/create/share your own.

Special thanks to Linda Froschauer (My Last Editor’s Note)! Under her leadership as editor of Science & Children she has provided all of us with ideas and inspiration! Rather than “retiring,” I suspect she’ll be “retooling” into other ways of contributing to science teaching and learning.

Science & Children – Learning Centers

 Another big change at S&C is the retirement of Bill Robertson, author of Science 101 which appeared in every issue. In his last column, Science 101: How Do We Best Teach and Learn Science Concepts?, he shares a technique he uses as an introduction to how people learn and how to teach for understanding rather than memorization.

The lessons described in the articles include connections with the NGSS.

  • The introductory part of Formative Assessment Probes: Using Formative Assessment Probes to Develop Elementary Learning Stations describes learning stations as more than a collection of activities. The article shows how formative assessments can be used when designing learning stations and includes a probe on magnets.
  • Explore Early has a rationale and suggestions for three approaches to exploratory science centers for young students. The authors include photographs and stories of children exploring science concepts in multi-disciplinary centers.
  • Learning centers can be a way to address the issue of “not enough time” for science. Lighting the Way to Learning Centers suggests ways to determine which standards could be addressed in centers, which activities would be appropriate, how all students can benefit, and how teachers can organize the center concept, within the context of a center on circuits.
  • The case study described in Methods & Strategies: Responsive Teaching and High-Stakes Testing shows that “teaching responsively need not compromise students’ test scores. These findings, along with rich opportunities afforded by teaching responsively, suggest that veering from the standards-mandated curriculum to pursue students’ ideas may not be as risky as many fear.”
  • Modeling in Learning Centers describes a series of learning centers that focus model-building and testing as students explore and characterize objects as living, nonliving, natural, or human-made. The article includes key questions for each center.
  • A Mystery in Motion illustrates a 5E lesson in which students used motion sensors to graph and predict future motions based on what they observed.
  • Learning centers are not a new idea. Renovating Our Science Learning Centers discusses how to adapt traditional centers into informal learning centers that support and challenge students to develop and expand their understanding of science concepts. Weather and natural disasters was the focus of the centers described in the article.
  • The Early Years: Engaging Children in Multidisciplinary Learning Centers includes an overview of how learning centers support children’s use of manipulatives, their imaginations, exploratory activities, and interdisciplinary connections. The article includes a detailed description of setting up learning centers, using the topic of seeds.
  • In addition to recommending trade books, Teaching Through Trade Books: Star Light, Star Bright has two 5E lessons (Pictures in the Stars K-2) and Stellar Science (3-5) that focus on constellations and studying star charts.

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 Butterflies, Constellations, Electric Current, Energy, Forces and Motion, Life Cycle of a Star, Light, Living Things, Magnets, Natural Disasters, Seed Germination, Simple Machines, Stars, Weather

Continue for The Science Teacher and Science Scope.

Continue reading …

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Ed News: Modern Classrooms Energize Students & Teachers

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This week in education news, a modern learning environment could be the key to making any space the right space for innovative thinking; Microsoft invests $2 million in Computer Science Teachers Association; the increased use of industrial robots has enhanced the efficiency of manufacturing, but it has also fueled a skills gap in the field; NGSS could change elementary science education; “Peanuts” and NASA partner again to inspire a passion for space exploration and STEM; survey finds that weaker math students who choose to take calculus in high school actually get the most benefit from the class; new report suggests that many graduate programs do not adequately prepare students to translate their knowledge into impact in multiple careers; and study finds science degree holders more likely to use inquiry-based teaching.

Modern Classrooms Energize Students And Teachers

Flexible workspaces that allow teachers to manipulate the classroom for changing needs can help to keep students engaged and enthusiastic. Read the article featured in Ed Tech Magazine.

Microsoft To Invest $2M In Computer Science Teachers Association

The Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA), a 25,000-member professional association dedicated to K-12 computer science education worldwide, will receive $2 million in funding over the next three years from Microsoft Philanthropies, the tech company announced Monday. Read the article featured in edScoop.

Continue reading …

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Legislative Update: FY2019 Appropriations, Janus, and $ for Your District Science and STEM

House Appropriations Committee Approves FY2019 Appropriations Bill

After several delays the full House Appropriations Committee approved their Labor, Health and Human Services, Education (LHHS) FY2019 Appropriations bill on Wednesday, July 11 and this year there is again good news for education funding advocates.

Overall the FY2019 bill would fund the Department of Education at nearly $71 billion, which is $43 million above the FY 2018 enacted level.

Continue reading …

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Good Times!

How can I teach science when my school only allots 15-20 minutes per day to teach it? This usually comes at the end of the day when students are worn out.
—N., Louisiana

It can be very frustrating to have only tiny chunks of time to teach. One thing you can try is to block science every 2-3 days. This also gives you extra time for math and English Language Arts (ELA) on most days!

If blocking time won’t work then you have to be very organized to minimize setup time and use demonstrations and lessons that are either quick or lend themselves to being broken into small, separate segments. For instance, you could divide up a hands-on activity involving plants into: filling pots with soil; planting seeds; recording daily observations; collating data; representing data; and creating reports or presenting.

The best solution, in my opinion, is to embed science into math, ELA, and social studies instruction. . All subjects benefit from being seen as useful and interconnected. Data manipulation and representations can be done in math while reading, writing, and presenting projects are all perfectly suited to ELA. . Social ramifications, geography, and history can all be incorporated.

The last period scenario is another concern that requires some extra effort. . If you can hype activities and keep them quick, engaging and hands-on, you may find that students may want to extend their days because we all know how cool science is!

Hope this helps!


Photo credit: Public domain via Wikimedia

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Ed News: Got STEM Funding? Here’s How To Use It

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This week in education news, Pennsylvania needs to get serious about STEM education; personalized learning has broad appeal, but may be more revolutionary than people think; and to properly integrate coding and computer science into the education system, it is critical to provide teachers with access to training programs that support their personal development.

Pa. Needs To Get Serious About STEM Education. Here’s How To Make That Happen

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 STEM and education. His recent PennLive Op-ed “Pa. can build on apprenticeships, skills training and STEM education progress” points out how far we have come in preparing our students for STEM and the workforce. But we have a long way still to go. Read the article featured on

‘I Still Think I Have A Lot To Offer:’ Three Decades Later, A Virginia Teacher’s Words Ring True

On the last day of the only job he’s known for three decades, Dean Howarth wore a kilt. It was the same kilt he’d worn for many first days of school, a purchase inspired by his travels to Scotland years ago, which included a visit to Duart Castle — the ancestral home of the Clan Maclean. A fitting homage, he thought, for his final hours as a physics teacher at McLean High School in Fairfax County. Read the article featured in The Washington Post.

Is The New Education Reform Hiding In Plain Sight?

In December 1997, a sixth-grader at Dan D. Rogers Elementary School here set a three-alarm fire in the library. Erin and Sean Jett, whose house is so nearby they hear the school bell ring, did not have school-aged children at the time. But it left an impression. “My child will not go there,” said Erin. When it comes to their children’s education, parents are like drug-sniffing dogs. Test scores matter. But so do other things. Which is why now, more than 10 years later, Emma Jett will be a fifth-grader at the Dallas school this fall. And her parents are happy about it. Their changed view — and that of others who shunned Rogers and now want in — is driven by what seems to be a magic educational elixir: personalized learning. Read the article featured in The Hechinger Report.

Got STEM Funding? Here’s How To Use It

Schools lack the resources they need to properly offer coding education to students. So it’s not surprising that U.S. employers have only been able to fill 10 percent of available computer science jobs with qualified applicants. Progress was made this year when the U.S. Department of Education (DoE) was tasked to devote at least $200 million of its grant funds annually to STEM education, and this initiative was followed by an additional $300 million from tech giants and the private sector for K-12 computer science programs. Read the article featured in eSchool News.

Workforce Report Highlights Gaps Between Early-Childhood, K-12 Educators

Over the past two years, median wages for educators working in the early-childhood field have increased by 7%, but those working in child-care and preschool programs still earn a fraction of what kindergarten and elementary teachers make, according to the Early Childhood Workforce Index 2018, released by the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment. Read the brief featured in Education DIVE.

Kindergarten Coders: When Is Too Early To Put Kids In Front Of Computer Screens? 

As some parents try to slow the tech tide for their children, has expanded its reach into schools. Twenty-five percent of all U.S. students now have accounts and 800,000 teachers use the site for class lessons, according to the nonprofit. has been pressing states to pass laws and adopt policies that support computer science, and, by extension, put technology in the hands of students at a younger age. Some parents worry not just about excessive screen time, internet addiction and data privacy, they worry that new courses are being taught too early in the name of workforce development.

Stay tuned for next week’s top education news stories.

The Communication, Legislative & Public Affairs (CLPA) team strives to keep NSTA members, teachers, science education leaders, and the general public informed about NSTA programs, products, and services and key science education issues and legislation. In the association’s role as the national voice for science education, its CLPA team actively promotes NSTA’s positions on science education issues and communicates key NSTA messages to essential audiences.

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

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Summertime, and the livin’ is…

I am looking for recommendations on how to spend my summer preparing to implement the science program our school district adopted.

—C., Illinois

Without knowing the specifics of your district’s program I can’t say precisely what to do, but I have some general advice.

First, this is your summer break—take some time to unwind and not think about this at all!

About three weeks from the beginning of term, start reading the introductory material —you might even consider arranging a relaxed planning party with colleagues to go through the material together. Have a calendar handy and take notes.

  • While you read, keep these questions in mind:
  • What is the program’s basic approach to science education?
  • How is it structured? Is it flexible?
  • How does it match with what you are doing in your classroom already?
  • Does it differentiate for the different learners in your classroom?
  • How are assessments structured?
  • Compare it line by line to your state’s curriculum. Note any differences. Can you insert local content?

Many programs use simulations, videos, and class management software. Try to get access to these now. Will there be technical issues using these in your class? Are they good quality and can you substitute media that you already use?

Inspect manipulatives or kits. Are they durable? Will you need to purchase consumable supplies? Start planning when to reorder materials.

What supports are available? Contact them now to establish lines of communication. If there are training sessions start signing up. Coordinate this with your colleagues.

Hope this helps!


Photo credit: H. Zell  via Wikimedia

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Go Direct® Respiration Belt


The Go Direct Respiration Belt measures human respiration rate. While using the Go Direct Respiration Belt, you can measure human breathing patterns with a wireless Bluetooth connection or by plugging-in the device with a USB cord. It works with a sensor and an adjustable nylon strap that goes around the chest to measure respiration effort and respiration rate. So that belt tension can be optimized, an LED indicator provides feedback.

First, if using the Bluetooth, the device will need to be charged, which takes approximately two hours. Respiration rate and exerted force are reported with a free “Graphical Analysis™ 4 app,” which simplifies comparisons between subjects during experiments. The “app” can be downloaded onto a computer or a smart phone.

What’s included:
• Go Direct Respiration Belt
• Micro USB cable

While using the device, the user can observe how respiration rate changes. For example, a student can examine the effect of a particular exercise on respiration effort, which is the force exerted by the chest during respiration changes after exercise or breath holding. Another nice feature is the built-in pedometer, which measure steps and step-rate during experimentation. Continue reading …

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Supplementing STEM’s Palette

Incorporating art into science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) has been a natural consequence for many teachers; for others, a more deliberate process. Art has been intrinsic to the STEAM Lab in the Millstone Township (New Jersey) School District since its inception.

“From very start of our program, it’s been called STEAM. Good design incorporates art. Every good design has to be aesthetically appealing,” asserts STEAM Lab teacher Beth Topinka. “It makes the lab happier having the A in STEAM.”

At The Learning Community in Black Mountain, North Carolina, students collected, sorted, and measured leaves as they learned about patterns, graphing, proportions, and analyzing and interpreting data. Photo courtesy of Melissa Wilson.

For instance, one STEAM Lab project challenges Topinka’s fourth-grade students to design “mountainside mouse motels” after studying erosion and natural hazards. “Students did real angle measurements of the hillside, then designed a motel for a mouse,” she explains. After making risk assessment maps, students received differing material budgets based on their locations’ erosion risks. The assignment also called for students to come up with ways to promote their motels. Topinka monitored the weather forecast, and when rain was expected, had students install their motels, with a container inside to catch and measure water, on the hillside.

Topinka also has coordinated with colleagues to apply what students learn in her lab to other classes. After noting that “these little motels take a pounding,” the language arts teacher created a natural disaster reporting assignment. Topinka also works with the art teacher to make sure students develop the sketching skills they need. Continue reading …

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Science centers—effective and engaging

Child holding up a flowering maple tree twig to view with a hand lens.While handling and examining objects from nature, such as sea shells, pinecones, rocks, and plant leaves, children may encounter patterns and experience properties of different materials. Without additional experiences with these objects children may not learn that structures grow in nature or develop an understanding of the complex relationships in nature—how a leaf grows from a stem or the relationship between plants and the earth they grow in.  A “science center,” where these kinds of objects are made available for children, may be a table, shelf, or just a basket. There may be a fish tank or worm box. These objects and living organisms are gateways to extended science explorations that can happen anywhere in an early childhood program—in the classroom, during “science time” or center time in any center, on the playground, or on a field trip. When children are no longer interested in the objects as science center objects, move them to other locations. Shells can become scoops for water in a tub and pine cones can make interesting impressions in play dough.

If you have a specific location for natural materials sure to leave room for any “finds” that children want to share.  A few days after new objects related to an exploration of a larger topic are placed on the science center, add tools for looking closely and for drawing to renew children’s interest in the objects and open opportunities for talking with children about what they see and think. Magnifiers, paper and crayons, a digital camera, and most importantly, people to talk with as they share their ideas, will extend initial observations into science explorations. Think about how the ideas they share can be explored more fully in additional situations, such as, in a sandbox or on a woodland trail, in the block center or in a book, or using paints or wire to make their ideas visible.

The July 2018 issue of Science and Children is focused on the topic of science centers. Read it now so the ideas related by authors can simmer this month and bring clarity to designing an effective and engaging science center that will support young children’s learning about scientific concepts.

Take a look at this science center and think about how young children might use it. Would you make any changes to the organization of materials? What support, that is not shown, would be helpful to make it possible for children to use and learn about the objects on the table? Do your children need a science center, and if so, what do they need in it?

A child height table crowded with plants, microscope, hand lenses, calculator, scale, worm bin, books, fish tank, magnets, pretend bird nest, and sound shakers.

PS–while you are reading the July 2018 issue of Science and Children, notice that journal Editor Linda Froschauer is saying good-bye: “My heart will be with Science and Children always. That’s what happens when you become involved in an initiative that impacts the lives of so many people.” Thank you, Linda, for making my work as The Early Years columnist more effective and more engaging.

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