7 Sessions for Connecting Elementary Science + Literacy

7 Sessions for Connecting Elementary Science + Literacy

The upcoming NSTA Minneapolis conference, taking place October 27-29, will have a number of sessions dedicated to celebrating elementary science and literacy connections. Children are born investigators. Science is an engaging way to develop students’ skills in thinking creatively, expressing themselves, and investigating their world. Reading, writing, and speaking are inspired through science experiences. Educators attending these sessions will gain confidence in teaching science, learn strategies for literacy and science integration, and celebrate elementary science. The 7 sessions are just a sample of what #NSTA16 attendees can expect. 

Native Plants and Seeds, Oh My! (Thursday, October 27 8:00 AM – 9:00 AM)

  • Cultivate new learning with a unit developed for upper elementary students that embeds reading and writing with a study of botany featuring native seeds and plants.

Developing and Implementing NGSS-Focused Curriculum in Gillette, WY: Strategies and Tools for Elementary Science and Literacy Integration (Thursday, October 27 3:30 PM – 4:30 PM)

  • Explore newly developed NGSS-focused units in grades 3, 4, and 5 with an emphasis on strategies embedded within the lessons and activities that explicitly link ELA with science.

Whoosh, Crack, Slide, and Crash Your Way into a Grade 5 Earth Science Unit (Thursday, October 27 5:00 PM – 6:00 PM)

  • Explore tsunamis, hurricanes, earthquakes, landslides, and floods through hands-on investigations and connections to literacy.

Connecting the Skills of Literacy and Science Through Children’s Literature and STEM Topics (Friday, October 28 9:30 AM – 10:30 AM)

  • We will investigate a series of activities that help to integrate science and literacy skills with a STEM focus through the use of children’s literature.

Science Notebooks—From Preservice to the Classroom (Friday, October 28 12:30 PM – 1:30 PM)

  • Science notebooks provide powerful tools to engage NGSS practices. Discover how Hamline University’s teacher education program prepares preservice teachers to successfully implement notebooks in their classroom.

Disciplinary Literacy and Reading in the Content Area of Science: Yes! You Can Do Both as an Elementary Teacher! (Friday, October 28 3:30 PM – 4:30 PM)

  • This session will provide elementary teachers with an understanding of what we mean by both reading in a content area like science and disciplinary literacy in science.

Teach Students to Read Like Scientists! (Saturday, October 29 11:00 AM – 12:00 PM)

  • Explore strategies through interactive online simulations and activities that support success in reading science texts and, most importantly, scientific inquiry.

Register to attend here—and don’t forget, NSTA members get a substantial discount!

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Explore the ways you can incorporate STEM into your classroom with these 8 #NSTA16 Minneapolis sessions

Explore the ways you can incorporate STEM into your classroom with these 8 #NSTA16 Minneapolis sessions

The upcoming NSTA Minneapolis conference, taking place October 27-29, is the place to be for teachers looking for ways to incorporate STEM in their classroom. STEM can be a powerful unifying theme across the curriculum and in many settings. STEM provides an opportunity for collaboration among teachers, disciplines, and schools, as well as postsecondary, informal education, and community partners. Educators attending sessions in this strand will explore models of integrated STEM education programs, learn strategies to productively STEMify lessons, and investigate how to effectively engage students. Check out the 8 sessions below to see what #NSTA16 has for your STEM implementation needs. 

Building Bridges: Engineering in the Elementary Classroom (Thursday, October 27 12:30 PM – 1:30 PM)

  • Learn about a unique collaboration that engaged students in STEM, literacy, and the arts.  Participate in a portion of our lessons and experience firsthand the power of collaboration and building bridges together.

If They Make It, They Will Learn: The Maker Movement and K–12 STEM (Thursday, October 27 3:30 PM – 4:30 PM)

  • “Making” is more than tinkering, and the Maker Movement offers powerful, project-based lessons for learning STEM in K–12 classrooms.

Inventing Is Just Plain Fun (for All)! (Thursday, October 27 5:00 PM – 6:00 PM)

  • Gain experience leading a design challenge and incorporating invention to provide engaging cross-curricular opportunities using a variety of community resources.

Laser Cutters + 3D Printers + Vinyl Cutters = Bolstered K–3 Math Curriculum (Friday, October 28 11:00 AM – 11:30 AM)

  • The Maker Movement is spreading across the country. Laser cutters, 3D printers, vinyl cutters, and more are starting to show up in elementary schools. Connecting students with experiential learning not only bolsters student engagement, but also solidifies learning through making. Join in for simple ways to connect the Maker Movement, 3D printers, laser cutters, and vinyl cutters to K–3 math standards.

Incorporating STEM Across the Curriculum Through Inquiry (Friday, October 28 3:30 PM – 4:30 PM)

  • Come learn how to incorporate STEM across the curriculum by taking part in a few traditional lessons, then shifting them to inquiry-based lessons.

The Transition—From STEM Student to STEM Teacher (Friday, October 28 5:00 PM – 5:30 PM)

  • First year teachers who went through a STEM teacher preparation program will share their experiences transitioning from being a STEM student to a STEM teacher.

Quake-Proof: Applying Newton’s Laws of Motion to Building Design (Saturday, October 29 9:30 AM – 10:30 AM)

  • Through scientific inquiry, engineering practices, and mathematical calculations, students apply laws of motion to designing and testing earthquake-proof structures on simply made shake tables.

Engineering from Every Angle: Engineers as Proficient in Emotional Intelligence as Well as Analytical Skills (Saturday, October 29 11:00 AM – 12:00 PM)

  • Successful engineers are proficient in engineering and human relationship skills. Join us for creative ways to include emotional intelligence in engineering that enhances student learning.

Register to attend here—and don’t forget, NSTA members get a substantial discount!

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8 sessions during #NSTA16 for Teaching in this Technology Driven World

8 sessions during #NSTA16 for Teaching in this Technology Driven World

The upcoming NSTA Minneapolis conference, taking place October 27-29, is the place to be for teachers looking for new ways to teach in this technology driven world. Students and teachers have access to many forms of technology and these technologies can be effective tools to access information, deliver instruction, communicate ideas, connect with people from around the world, and build professional learning networks. Educators attending these sessions will explore instructional materials, technologies and strategies for effective learning for students and adults, and responsible use of digital resources and processes. Below are 8 sessions that every science educator attending the area conference should go to.

Searching for Spielberg (Thursday, October 27 8:00 AM – 9:00 AM)

  • Providing examples from physical and life science, as well as using multiple types of devices and apps, we will share how student-created videos can improve peer review and scientific communication, encourage critical thinking, and enhance data collection.

NASA’s Eyes on the Solar System: Bringing the Planets to Your Classroom’s Computers (Thursday, October 27 5:00 PM – 6:00 PM)

  • Bring the solar system to your classroom using this free online tool from NASA. Explore planets, spacecraft, and more!.

Citizen Science: Projects and Activities to Engage Students in Authentic Science Research (Friday, October 28 9:30 AM – 10:30 AM)

  • Explore citizen science projects that can engage your students in authentic science data collection and investigation as they contribute to big datasets.

Engaging Students in Science through Virtual Field Trips (Friday, October 28 12:30 PM – 1:30 PM)

  • Tap into how to use social media and internet resources to design a “virtual field trip” for your students through the integration of science, ELA, and social studies

Evolution for Educators (Friday, October 28 3:30 PM – 4:30 PM)

  • Explore how the Teacher Institute for Evolutionary Science strives to meet the needs of middle school science teachers as they cover the NGSS disciplinary core idea: Biological Evolution: Unity and Diversity.

Exploring the Trade-Offs and Payoffs of Sustainable Bioenergy Through Simulations and Field Data (Saturday, October 29 8:00 AM – 9:00 AM)

  • Students play an online game and analyze current data from university research to construct arguments about the most sustainable methods for growing bioenergy crops.

Dissecting Animals? Frog-get About It! (Saturday, October 29 9:30 AM – 10:30 AM)

  • Get hands-on experience with dissection software programs, covering educational efficacy, economic benefits, and current laws/policies regarding the use of animals in science.

Using News Media to Learn About Science in the Connected Science Classroom (Saturday, October 29 11:00 AM – 12:00 PM)

  • The new science framework calls for increased use of news media, including online news. We will examine issues with this and provide some solutions.

Register to attend here—and don’t forget, NSTA members get a substantial discount!

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Vernier Go! Link: Hand Dynamometer



Vernier’s Go! Link is a single-channel USB interface used to connect many Vernier sensors directly to a Windows or Macintosh computer. This device can be connected into a USB port and can be used to connect of a variety of sensors. For this review, we used a Hand Dynamometer, which is designed to measure grip strength.

To begin using Vernier’s Go! Link, the first step is to load a software package known as Logger Lite. Logger Lite is Vernier’s free data-collection software system and includes graphics (see Figure 1).  To load Logger Lite onto your device (e.g., laptop, microcomputer, etc.) go to [http://www.vernier.com/products/software/logger-lite/] for an upload. Another option worth consideration is the possibility of using Logger Pro, which although it is more versatile, it comes at a cost of $249.00. The Logger Pro software can be found at:

Logger Pro: http://www.vernier.com/products/software/lp/


Figure 1. Sample Logger Lite Display



Vernier Go! Link

The Go!Link USB sensor interface is a quick and affordable way to get started with data-collection technology. It’s a single-channel interface that connects most Vernier sensors to your computer or Chromebook USB port.


Setting up data-collection experiments is as simple as 1-2-3:

  1. Plug the Go!Link to a USB port and a sensor into the Go!Link.
  2. Start the data-logging software.
  3. Click on the “Collect” button to see a real-time graph!


Image 1. Vernier’s Hand Dynamometer



Using the Hand Dynamometer

To use the Vernier’s Hand Dynamometer, first zero it (which is an option found at the top of the menu) to define the base setting. Next, while holding the Hand Dynamometer upright, squeeze with as much force as possible and begin data collection. The force is measured in Newton units, which provides a great opportunity for students to discuss metric conversions. Once the data is collected, you will be able to examine the data in a number of ways to have students engage in research goals. For example, Logger Lite has built-in statistics applications.

Calculate Statistics and Speculate

     One of the great features of Logger Lite is that it has a built-in statistics calculator. Under Analyze, if you select Statistics, students will be able to find the mean and median grip force, as well as the minimum and maximum grip force (See Figure 2). Therefore, students can compare the range of grip strength over time. Some questions for students to consider are:

  • At what point does grip strength begin to decrease?
  • Is the grip strength in your right hand higher than your left hand? 
  • If the test is repeated, can grip strength be increased by doing certain exercises?

Figure 2. Grip Strength and Muscle Fatigue




Having students collect data with Vernier’s Go! Link and Hand Dynamometer is an excellent technology-based inquiry device that results in meaningful scientific engagement and is commensurate with tenets of the Internation Society for Technology Education Standards for Students(ISTE, 2016).

Once again, Vernier has developed a device that can be used to is integrate the NRC Standards (i.e., Standards A & E) and shows students how using the proper scientific tools to gather data can be both relevant and exciting. Undoubtedly, when coupled with the Hand Dynamometer, the Vernier Go! Link is a durable and an easy to use device that makes learning interesting for students.

Moreover, by using current technologies, students can take accurate measurements and engage in technology-based inquiry. For example, the interactive graphs that can be generated by Logger Lite software can help students to interpret the results of their experiments and can be used to create professional laboratory reports. Based on our experience, the Vernier Go! Link with the Hand Dynamometer gives teachers an excellent tool to use in their science classroom.

Relevant ISTE Standards

Standard 3: Research and Information Fluency

      Students apply digital tools to gather, evaluate, and use information.

  1. Plan strategies to guide inquiry.
  2. Locate, organize, analyze, evaluate, synthesize, and ethically use information from a variety of sources and media.
  3. Evaluate and select information sources and digital tools based on the appropriateness to specific tasks.
  4. Process data and report results.  

 Standard 4: Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, and Decision making

Students use critical thinking skills to plan and conduct research, manage projects, solve problems, and make informed decisions using appropriate digital tools and resources.

  1. Identify and define authentic problems and significant questions for investigation.
  2. Plan and manage activities to develop a solution or complete a project.
  3. Collect and analyze data to identify solutions and/or make informed decisions.
  4. Use multiple processes and diverse perspectives to explore alternative solutions.


Hand Dynamometer: $99

Go!Link: $61

User Manual:


Video Link showing Basic Capabilities in a test of grip strength comparison:




ISTE 2016. ISTE Standards for Students

Edwin P. Christmann is a professor and chairman of the secondary education department and graduate coordinator of the mathematics and science teaching program at Slippery Rock University in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania. Anthony Balos is a graduate student and a research assistant in the secondary education program at Slippery Rock University in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania.





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Surveying student perceptions

11093465225_95df3e80fa_mI want to study my middle school students’ perceptions of what and how they are learning in science. Do you have any suggestions other than a traditional survey? —R., Ohio

I found some research on the topic at Drawn to Science: Studying Science Teaching and Learning Through Drawings.  The authors examined “how the science teaching identity of the teacher interns/teachers changed over time” based on their experiences. Rather than a traditional questionnaire, this study used drawings as evidence. Periodically, the teacher-participants responded to two prompts:

  • Draw yourself teaching science
  • Draw your students learning science

The methodology and the scoring rubric are on the website. It’s interesting to examine how drawings represent a teacher’s self-image of the teaching and learning processes and the perceived roles of teachers and students in these processes.

Another part of the website targets educators, offering:

  • Lesson plans with suggestions for asking students to draw their interpretations of science learning. Follow-up discussion questions are included.
  • A description of the action research process and how drawings can be a data tool.

These lessons could be used several times throughout the year, perhaps with student notebooks, to monitor how students’ perceptions change over time and reflect on how student perceptions align with yours. It might be interesting to draw something yourself to compare to the students’ work.

But I wouldn’t discount traditional surveys. Although paper-and-pencil surveys are time-consuming to analyze, online tools (such as Google Docs) can efficiently survey students and aggregate the results into a spreadsheet document. The same survey can be used for different classes and at multiple times during the year to track student responses for your analysis and reflection.

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The TOMODACHI Academy: Friendship Beyond Borders

How can two countries with vast cultural differences maintain a relationship in which they can share ideas on how to improve their educational system and focus on STEM literacy? That is the goal of a partnership between the United States and Japan—two superpowers willing to borrow each nation’s system and experience to improve one’s own.

In August 2016, U.S. and Japanese teachers and students witnessed the sharing of ideas between the two countries through the TOMODACHI Toshiba Science & Technology Leadership Academy (TTA). The TTA is a one-week, cross-cultural science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) exchange and leadership program for 16 high school students and eight teachers from Japan and the United States. High school students and teachers who promote strong achievements in science and mathematics education and international student exchanges were selected as the Japanese counterparts. The program was held from July 31 to August 7, 2016, at Yoyogi National Olympic Center.

Two Teams, Two Challenges

This year’s program presented two challenges to student teams. One was to propose solutions for developing a disaster-resilient, smart community of the future using learning experiences that are central to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and the engineering design process. The second was to build a tower with miniature elevators that show the student’s engineering and creative skills. Both challenges were presented to an audience wherein the latter was critiqued by a panel of judges.


(Tower building)

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The Vernier LabQuest Stream: The Absolute Hub of Discovery


Nouns are useful, but verbs are educational. So when Vernier released their LabQuest Stream sensor interface into the wild, the familiar grey box quickly proved to be much more than just a powerful and innovative radio station that broadcasts up to five data channels via Bluetooth to any device that can listen, but truly a hub of discovery. 


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The Power of Children’s Ideas: Thoughts about Science Learning and Teaching in the Early Years

Guest post by Cindy Hoisington, with thanks to Karen Worth and other dear colleagues for their inspiration

CindyWelcome guest blogger Cindy Hoisington, an early childhood science educator at Education Development Center Inc. (EDC) in Waltham, Massachusetts. A preschool teacher for many years, Cindy now works with early childhood teachers, coaches, and administrators in various settings to support young children’s STEM learning. Cindy loves to share stories about aha! teaching moments with other educators and believes that a story can be a valuable teaching and learning tool, especially when it captures a shared experience and stimulates reflection and discussion. In this post Cindy shares a story from her preschool teaching days about how she came to appreciate the power of children’s science ideas during a sinking and floating unit.

As an early childhood teacher I loved doing science with preschoolers but sometimes their crazy ideas seemed to get in the way of all the interesting science concepts I wanted to teach them such as: shadows are made when an object blocks the light; animals are adapted to habitats that meet their needs; and the properties of building materials influence how they can be used in structures. I thought that children’s ideas, such as shadows are living things because they run and jump like I do; birds are not animals because they don’t have fur; and only tall blocks can make tall buildings, were adorable and funny but I didn’t have a clue what to do with them. I didn’t want to inhibit children’s explorations with constant corrections and I worried that providing overly simplistic explanations would further confuse them. Lucky for me, several years into my teaching, I had the opportunity to work with an early childhood science mentor who suggested that I rethink my role in supporting children’s science learning and focus on three primary and mutually reinforcing science-teaching strategies: Get ALL of the children’s science ideas out on the table, Provide opportunities for children to investigate their ideas, Facilitate children’s reflection on the evidence.

Sinking and Floating Explorations

I had always begun a sinking and floating unit by holding up some familiar objects like a marble, a rock, a crayon, and a block and asking children to predict whether the objects would sink or float in water. I would chart children’s predictions, and we would test the objects and record the results in small groups. Later we would compare our predictions to what actually happened.  This time I was determined to dig more deeply into children’s science ideas and to extend their explorations over several weeks rather than several days.

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Recess: Outdoors and sometimes indoors

IMG_9697When the children and I leave the school building for playground time or recess, I feel a sense of relaxation and heightened awareness. We can see farther and the input from the surrounding environment to our senses changes every minute as the wind blows, the sun moves across the sky, and we cross paths with animals such as a tiny ant or flying bird. We all look forward to the change of scene.

The length of outdoor learning time varies between early childhood educational settings. In “forest” early childhood programs children spend the entire school day outdoors. In some states, public schools mandate a minimum of 20 minutes a day for recess. This wide range of time spent outdoor raises the question, How much time outdoor is optimum for children’s learning in general, and for learning what skills, concepts and information?

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Preventing Overcrowding in K–12 Science Labs

Of all the safety concerns expressed by science teachers, class size is high on the list. Thus, occupancy loads in science laboratories should be restricted to create and maintain a safer learning environment.

Ever since the 1996 National Science Education Standards were put in place, science teachers have been encouraged or required to do more laboratory activities with their students. If such hazards as gas, electricity, and hazardous chemicals are present in K–12 science instructional spaces, they are classified as laboratories. The class size refers to the number of students in the lab, whereas occupancy load is the total number of individuals occupying the lab, including the teacher, students, and paraprofessionals.

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