The STEM in Food Science

text-based image

Food science has come a long way since the days of girls taking home economics and boys taking shop class. The classes in my sons’ middle and high schools are now called family and consumer science, or food technology (and both of the boys have taken at least one semester). For simplicity’s sake I will call all such classes food science, because the ultimate aim is to get your students into a career that will support them, and food science is one such. I have written before about food chemistry, big agriculture, and food biotechnology, all of which inform modern food science curricula.

STEM | Food | Economics

A good STEM unit on food science could be developed in conjunction with an economics teacher. A significant percentage of all food globally is imported. In developing countries, the percentage of imported food increases as the country’s income rises. In 2013, there were 13 countries that were 100% dependent on imports for their grain supplies. Importing food may seem like a good economic choice that frees up land for urbanization and population growth, but it leaves a country vulnerable to natural disasters and political changes outside its borders. Russia is one of the world’s largest grain exporters, and it has banned grain exports several times in the last 10 years. Even developed countries are not immune to external disruptions in food supply. In 2009 the United States imported around 16% of all food consumed by its people. In that same year, the United Kingdom imported 50.5% of all its food.

It is important for all students to have some background in food science, because the importance of safe and reliable food sources cannot be overstated. In the United States, the imported and domestic foods we consume sometimes bring food safety issues. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is nominally responsible for inspecting all food production facilities that supply food for its people. In 2011, there were approximately 130,000 facilities worldwide that the FDA was responsible for inspecting. Food contaminants include foreign materials, chemicals and pesticides, natural toxins, and metals (primarily arsenic, lead, or mercury).

The most common causes of food poisoning in the United States are four strains of bacteria: E. coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter, and Listeria. Campylobacter is most commonly found in poultry and dairy products. The risk of bacterial contamination is much reduced by pasteurization, which is the primary reason most dairy products are treated with this process. Another common method of reducing bacterial contamination in food is irradiation. Thorough cooking of poultry can reduce the risk of contamination from that source. E. coli is well-known for outbreaks associated with ground meat. Listeria has been the cause of outbreaks in consumers of bean sprouts, and peanut butter was the source of a recent outbreak of Salmonella.

Food scientists check the quality of imported food by random sampling at ports. A listing of some of the routine tests performed on imported food samples can be found here. Domestic food is also subject to random sampling. Some of the global standards for microbiological testing of food can be found here. Many food scientists have a background in microbiology or biochemistry, but there are a number of universities that offer undergraduate or graduate degrees in food safety and testing.

Rising costs of domestic meat and produce are another aspect to the climate change theme explored in last month’s post. The increasing frequency of extreme weather events has effects that are expected to continue to impact food costs in the United States. California’s Central Valley produces a third of all the produce consumed by Americans. Right now, the Central Valley is dealing with the prospect of another year of record drought. Farmers are expected to shift their production from animal feed crops to high-value crops like fruits and vegetables. Although this may forestall large increases in produce costs, it will increase the cost of meat. Add in the 2013 drought in the midwestern United States, and beef costs are now as much as 90% higher than they were in 2009.

Do the Math

The math in food choices is a useful topic to explore. An interesting breakdown of the cost of a fast-food burger versus a homemade burger can be found here. Because fast-food burgers benefit from economies of scale, the dollar cost of eating out versus making it at home may be almost the same. But there are intangible costs and benefits to consider, such as the time involved in cooking, which could be spent with your family if you have that time to spend. Eating a home-cooked meal can undoubtedly be less expensive than a fast-food meal, even if it’s not the same meal you would get at a restaurant. The unfortunate reality is that it is not by any means faster, nor in most cases is it better for you. This is why it is important to increase awareness about cooking healthy, fast meals at home. The outreach program called The Food Lab for Kids is a good model for how to do this.

There is increasing evidence for an inverse relationship between the number of meals cooked at home and the obesity rate. There is also a growing environmental movement toward knowing where your food comes from and eating as much locally produced food as possible. Some researchers are also studying how changes in diet affect the gut microbiome. This research has important implications, because evidence is emerging that the gut microbiome plays an important role in human health. In my own opinion, learning to prepare some simple, balanced meals for yourself, from fresh ingredients, should be a life skill everyone has.

If you’d like to incorporate some food science lessons in your classes, some good experiments for high school students can be found here, broken out by whether they have a chemistry or biology focus. A collection of food-themed science fair projects can be found here.

Produced by the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), science writer Becky Stewart contributes monthly to the Science and STEM Classroom e-newsletter, a forum for ideas and resources that middle and high school teachers need to support science, technology, engineering, and math curricula. If you enjoy these blog posts, follow Becky Stewart on Twitter (@ramenbecky). Fans of the old version of The STEM Classroom e-newsletter can find the archives here.

Follow NSTA

Facebook icon Twitter icon LinkedIn icon Pinterest icon G+ icon YouTube icon Instagram icon


Posted in The STEM Classroom | Leave a comment

Help Your Students Achieve Earth Science Success

Earth Science SuccessNSTA Press authors Catherine Oates-Bockenstedt and Michael Oates, a daughter-father team, have collaborated on a second edition of Earth Science Success: 55 Tablet-Ready, Notebook-Based Lessons. The book provides a one-year curriculum with 55 classroom-proven lessons designed to follow the disciplinary core ideas for middle school Earth and space science from the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Intended for teachers of grades 5-9, Earth Science Success emphasizes hands-on, sequential experiences through which students discover important science concepts lab by lab and develop critical-thinking skills. The first edition of the book focused more on the rationale for implementing the curriculum and the wisdom of using composition notebooks, this second edition focuses a special lens on the lessons themselves. The 55 lesson plans enable teachers to use electronic tablets, such as iPads, with best practice, field-tested methods.

Each of the labs is organized to follow a pattern of active involvement by students. Students are continually asked to search for evidence using a three-step discovery approach. The three steps are: anticipation, evidence collection, and analysis. Anticipation involves reflection on observations and a problem statement, recall of previous knowledge about the topic, discussion of misconceptions, and definition of concepts. Evidence collection includes hands-on laboratory investigation techniques. Analysis requires confirmation or rejection of results, reporting the findings, and drawing conclusions about the observations.

The book is organized into seven sections:

  • Process of Science and Engineering Design
  • Earth’s Place in the Solar System and the Universe
  • Earth’s Surface Processes
  • History of Planet Earth
  • Earth’s Interior Systems
  • Earth’s Weather
  • Human Impacts on Earth Systems

The hope is that students will form good habits about testing and controlling all possible variables in their experiments whenever they are collecting evidence. They should be able to identify the manipulated, measured, and controlled variables in each experiment. Results should be reliable and valid. And students should set up controls, as a basis of comparison, so they can determine the actual charges in their data. This pattern of active involvement by students is followed throughout Earth Science Success.

The authors understand how busy a classroom science teacher is, and they know that successful strategies include those that save you time and promote skillful organization. Both composition notebooks and electronic tablets offer tremendous opportunities in this regard.

Why are notebooks, both electronic and nonelectronic, so valuable? One of the most important reasons is that students are able to organize, reflect upon, and achieve at higher levels. Students tend to have fewer missing assignments, and “no name” papers are a thing of the past. Tablets enable connections to internet research, word-processing capabilities, real-time data, and access to rich video vignettes to expand learning. The tablets and compositions notebooks are also great resources to use at parent/teacher conferences.

This book is also available as an e-book.

 Special Spring Savings on NSTA Press Books and e-Books

We’re celebrating spring by offering savings on all NSTA Press publications. Between now and April 30, 2015, save $15 off your order of $75 or more of NSTA Press books or NSTA Press e-books by entering promo code SPR15 at checkout in the online Science Store.


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

Follow NSTA

Facebook icon Twitter icon LinkedIn icon Pinterest icon G+ icon YouTube icon Instagram icon
Posted in NSTA Press Books | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Providing Real-World Science Through CTE


As the need for skilled science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) workers grows, schools and districts nationwide are revamping or expanding their Career and Technical Education (CTE) STEM courses and curricula. “A lot of schools have been doing CTE for years, [but now] there’s a push for everyone to do it,” says Stephanie Haas, CTE teacher at CORE Butte Charter School in Chico, California. “In California, there’s a push for students to be both career-ready and college-ready…It’s more about the skills [employers need],” she contends.

While CORE Butte already offers CTE courses in STEM-related subjects like information technology and agriculture, “we are currently setting up a medical CTE pathway that will start next year…[W]e will be offering medical biology, medical anatomy [and] physiology, global health, special health projects (vaccinations), and health care career explorations. We plan on using HASPI (San Diego’s Health and Science Pipeline Initiative; medical science lab curriculum to help focus the application of our science courses on the medical/health field,” she relates.

“With the [nation’s] constantly growing and aging population, medical [staffing] needs are huge,” Haas asserts. “A lot of kids think the only medical careers are [as a] doctor or nurse, but there are other career paths they don’t know about, [such as] pharmacy technician or phlebotomist,” she points out. “We’ll [also] cover mental health, surgeries, [and other medical topics]…[Vaccination] is a hot topic now.

“Students will research the topics, then be exposed to the argumentation process,” she explains. “[Students will be asked] what discourse [they will] have. What will they say based on their research and the evidence? We’re already doing a lot of this in our classes; we’re just adding the career aspect in the pathway.”

At CORE Butte, “some CTE classes are like college classes…Some students are doing independent study,” Haas reports. “Students want to learn [the material] because it means something to them [career-wise]…It gives kids that buy-in.”

One challenge with CTE is that “career pathways don’t always fall in with No Child Left Behind and testing,” she observes. Fortunately, the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and Common Core State Standards (CCSS) “offer more justification for career pathways,” she maintains. “CTE is a way to get to the NGSS.”

John Vreyens, science and CTE teacher at Chino Valley High School in Chino Valley, Arizona, agrees. “Our CTE standards are more like the NGSS standards than our state science standards. It’s more about performing a task than knowing a litany of facts. My CTE course (biotechnology) informs me on the way I really should be teaching my biology course.”

Giving Students More Choices

At Bremerton High School in Bremerton, Washington, “our ninth-grade science course is called STEM 9. We have it identified through our state as a CTE course, but our kids get science credit for it, rather than CTE credit. It meets all of the CTE requirements for leadership [and] employability, and [supports] NGSS and CCSS for [English language arts] and math,” says Emily Wise, one of Bremerton’s STEM 9 teachers. Continue reading …

Posted in NSTA Reports | Tagged , , , | 1 Response

Senate Education Committee Passes ESEA Reauthorization Bill

text-based graphicOn Thursday April 16, 2015, on a unanimous vote of 22-0, the Senate HELP Committee approved a bipartisan bill that rewrites the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (No Child Left Behind). This means the bill will go to the Senate floor for final consideration, although floor time has not yet been scheduled.

During Senate markup of the bill, known as the Every Child Achieves Act, 60 amendments were debated, 21 amendments offered and withdrawn, 29 amendments were passed, and 8 amendments failed. See the list of amendments here. Most of the amendments were adopted via voice vote with little controversy or withdrawn out of respect for maintaining the bipartisan nature of the legislation.

I’m pleased to note that the Franken-Kirk-Murray STEM amendment, which restores STEM programs to the federal education bill, was adopted by a vote of 12-10 during consideration of the bill. The amendment language stipulates that each state receive formula-based funding to support partnerships between local schools, businesses, universities, and non-profit organizations to improve student learning in the critical STEM subjects. Each state would choose how to spend and prioritize these funds, which can support a wide range of STEM activities from in-depth teacher training, to engineering design competitions, to improving the diversity of the STEM workforce. This is a huge win for the STEM education community. See More Details on Franken-Kirk-Murray STEM Funding Amendment.

NSTA was very active in advocating for this amendment. We also spearheaded a letter with the STEM Coalition to Senate HELP Committee leaders urging support for STEM education as an ESEA priority. The letter was signed by a diverse array of more than 90 local, state, and national organizations that includes teacher and education groups, and professional and civic societies, and major corporations. Read the letter here.

Three amendments also to note, now part of the bill: An amendment from Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C. would alter the Title II funding formula so that it’s based 80 percent on poverty and 20 percent on population.

An amendment by Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., would allow states to use federal funds to audit the number and quality of tests and eliminate any they deem ineffective or of low-quality. The same provision was adopted in the House ESEA bill.

There were also a number of amendments relating to Title I portability introduced then withdrawn, that would allow funding for low-income students to follow those students to the public or private school of their choice. It is expected that these amendments, and amendments to strengthen the accountability system, will be offered during floor debate in the Senate.

My April 10 blog post outlines most of what is in the Every Child Achieves Act and you can read more about the mark up in this Education Week blog. Hill staffers are now incorporating amendment language into the bill, and we will bring you the final product when it is released and news on when/if this bill will reach the Senate floor.

Stay tuned and look for upcoming issues of NSTA Express for the latest information on developments in Washington, DC.

Jodi Peterson is Assistant Executive Director of Legislative Affairs for the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and Chair of the STEM Education Coalition. e-mail Jodi at; follow her on Twitter at @stemedadvocate.

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

Follow NSTA

Facebook icon Twitter icon LinkedIn icon Pinterest icon G+ icon YouTube icon Instagram icon


Posted in NSTA Reports | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Science and the Media

text-based graphic

Scientists Christian Tomasetti and Bert Vogelstein published an article in the journal Science, “Variation in cancer risk among tissues can be explained by the number of stem cell divisions” (Science, January 2, 2015, p 78). The discussion this article engendered provides an excellent teaching tool for teachers to showcase how scientific debate takes place among members of the scientific community with the goal to elevate the quality of a body of knowledge and how it is different from the way the popular press reports on and communicates this work.

The amount and range of news coverage this research article received was remarkable. Most of the popular press, unfortunately, reported a simplified version of the story citing the statement that two-thirds of cancers are caused by chance and not by genetic or environmental factors without noting that that the authors explicitly stated that a number of the most commonly occurring cancers were not included in their study. Few of the news accounts reported that the original article addressed variation in cancer risk but not absolute cancer risk, therefore misleading readers that most cancers are due to ‘bad luck.’ The Guardian ran a story, “Bad luck, bad journalism and cancer rates,” that tried to clarify the science for the popular media and provided a simple account of the actual work while chastising colleagues in the news business.

In contrast to often poorly reasoned discussion in the popular press, members of the science community weighed in with criticism as well. Authors of six letters in the journal Science raised a number of mathematical and procedural questions about the work. Many of them were also as concerned with how people would interpret the results as they were with identifying errors. For example, the letter by Ashford, et al., begins “The report […] is dangerously misleading….” And in a subsequent blog post, one of the authors writes, “Our letter to the editor of Science not only challenges the misstatements of the reports that most cancers are due to ‘bad luck’, but points out that such misstatements dangerously undermine successful efforts to prevent cancers.”

In their response to the letters, Tomasetti and Vogelstein address each of the technical points either directly or by referring to the Supplementary Materials published online by Science. They also offer their views on the non-scientific aspects of the criticism. I encourage you to read the letters as well as the response.

The communications surrounding this very interesting and possibly important scientific paper can make for a very rich discussion about the differences between rhetorical argument that can be found in the mainstream press and blogosphere and the evidence-based argument included in the letters and response. It’s vital that we help our students understand the difference between the two.

NSTA Executive Director, David EvansDr. David L. Evans is the Executive Director of the National Science Teachers Association. Reach him at or via Twitter @devans_NSTA.

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

Follow NSTA

Facebook icon Twitter icon LinkedIn icon Pinterest icon G+ icon YouTube icon Instagram icon
Posted in NSTA Reports | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Learn How to Reimagine Your Science Department

reimaginingIn NSTA Press’ new book, Reimagining the Science Department, authors Wayne Melville, Doug Jones, and Todd Campbell pose some atypical questions:

“Departments are a ubiquitous feature of secondary schools; but where did they come from, what purposes do they serve, and what is the traditional role of the chair?”

The authors explain that it is necessary to ask these questions if you want to understand the importance of both the department and the chair in the teaching and learning of science. By knowing how the features in contemporary departments have evolved, you can begin to appreciate the power of departments in perpetuating a particular view of science education. If you understand this history, then as a chair (or aspiring chair), you will have a knowledge base from which to work in reforming science instruction in your department.

Departments are not just convenient administrative structures within secondary schools, although that is often how they appear. Contemporary science departments are simultaneously learning communities, which powerfully influence what and how teachers teach and administrative organizations within secondary schools. A chair that sees the department as both organization and community is in the best position to judge the most appropriate approach to the issues being faced.

Implementing and supporting the teaching and learning rooted in engaging students in science and engineering practices to use disciplinary core ideas and crosscutting concepts to explain phenomena or solve problems outlined in the NGSS will require changes in teachers’ professional learning—changes that are intimately linked to the roles and responsibilities of the department chair.

To encourage teachers to take greater ownership of the reforms will, to a large extent, depend on your leadership capabilities. These capabilities, and increasingly those of individual teachers, will impact and ultimately shape what the department looks like in the future.

Departments do not, however, work in isolation from the rest of the school. To reimagine the department is to also be active in developing strong political and practical relationships with school administrators. Without their support, change is difficult to initiate and even more difficult to sustain. The aim of reimagining the department is to develop a long-term culture that is simultaneously owned by the teachers and supported by school administrators.

Building trust within the department is paramount. Faith in your colleagues and the assumptions that reimagining the department are based on emanates from trust. Leading a paradigm shift in thinking and practice of any magnitude is a challenge that requires leadership based on hope, trust, faith, and civility from both the chair and the department, supported by school administrators.

Reimagining the Science Department will help you understand the importance of the position and develop your ability to lead. School administrators or school board members will find it deepens the commitment to developing a department in which the practices of science are taught for the benefit of all students. The authors divide the book into five key sections:

  • A History of the Science Department
  • Changing Scripts
  • Roles and Responsibilities
  • Getting Started
  • Building for the Long Term

This book is also available as an e-book.

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

Follow NSTA

Facebook icon Twitter icon LinkedIn icon Pinterest icon G+ icon YouTube icon Instagram icon
Posted in NSTA Press Books | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Response

Fun and Science with the Weatherhawk myMET digital Windmeter

Checking the windspeed on the Slickrock trail in Moab, Utah. The air was moving at a steady 18 miles per hour. Just enough to make you a little nervous when bicycling along cliff edges.

Checking the windspeed on the Slickrock trail in Moab, Utah. The air was moving at a steady 18 miles per hour. Just enough to make you a little nervous when bicycling along cliff edges. As you can see in the picture the neck lanyard is being pushed away by the wind. Until another indicator was added, the lanyard was used to position the meter correctly for accurate readings.

The Weatherhawk myMET Windmeter

 Measuring wind speed is just one of the many facets of exploring climate science. Wind, or the natural noticeable movement of air is created and changed by many well-known factors including temperature, barometric pressure, landscape, and time of day among others.


The use of a digital anemometer allows students to put a quantity on wind speed and a compass will provide direction. Add temperature and you can calculate wind chill. Note the time of day and you can create a detailed date picture of local air movement.

Popular anemometers are often cups or propellers. The myMET uses an eight-blade propeller about an inch (2.54cm) in diameter. The meter and electronics reside an retractable plastic housing that uses a thumb-slider on the right side. A tripod mount is on the base. The meter runs on two CR2032 button batteries contained in a reverse-threaded (turn right to loosen) O-ring sealed comparment.

 The Weatherhawk myMET is a powerful solution to measuring windspeed and temperature as both a standalone device, and in tandem with a tablet such as the iPad. Alone the myMET wind meter provides wind speed, air temperature, and wind chill. But paired via Bluetooth to a comparable iOS or Android device, the meter’s measurements are recorded on one of three screens as well as a data overlay on a photograph taken by the tablet’s camera. myMET outputs the wind speed in miles per hour or meters per second, and temperature in Fahrenheit or Celsius. Here are some examples:

Temperature and windchill

Temperature and windchill


Average and Maximum wind speed along with a compass using the onboard tablet sensor so there must be alignment between the myMET meter and the tablet.

Continue reading …

Posted in NSTA Recommends: Technology, Science 2.0 | Leave a comment

STEM Today for a Better Tomorrow: Coming to You, Virtually, April 25


The next NSTA virtual conference (STEM Today For a Better Tomorrow) is happening Saturday, April 25, 2015, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. ET. Participants will follow one of three strands (Elementary, Secondary, or Administrator)—or mix and match sessions if they prefer—and do the following:

  • Learn from STEM educators who are implementing STEM programs and activities
  • Meet and network with other teachers and administrators interested in STEM
  • Learn about post-conference, STEM-related opportunities available via NSTA

Leaders to Learn From

What’s the best thing about this virtual STEM conference? The people, of course! Meet a few of the presenters, and get a sense of why this unique online learning environment is the perfect way to understand the role that STEM education plays for students interested in pursuing STEM careers. 

Barrington IrvingBarrington Irving became the youngest person to fly solo around the globe. On his 97-day journey, he flew 30,000 miles in a single-engine plane called Inspiration. Irving’s educational initiative, the Flying Classroom (launched in 2014 from Washington, D.C.), will embark on two more rounds of Flying Classroom expeditions in the U.S. and abroad in September 2015 and 2016.  

“Can’t wait to share my story of how STEM changed my life when I thought football was everything. From the football field, I now explore the world as a record-setting pilot and continually discover amazing careers within STEM.”


Laura MackayLaura Mackay is a science coach and magnet liaison at an elementary STEM magnet program at Ed White Elementary in El Lago, Texas.

“Creating a new STEM program at a school is a difficult process; there is so much information, it’s hard to know where to start! I know I was overwhelmed trying to figure out how to build capacity in teachers to create a new STEM program. Even though I had helped design a gifted magnet school and a two-way immersion magnet program, STEM seemed very different. But I learned that the process of building capacity in teachers to change a school is basically the same. So, now I look forward to sharing an easy way for administrators to structure a process that allows teachers to build a program that best suits their students’ needs. The goal is to get others involved in learning and creating so that the workload is shared. This process works with building any type of new initiative in a school, not just a STEM program.”


Brenda WojnowskiBrenda Wojnowski is CEO and president of WAI Education Solutions, an education-focused consulting firm geared toward non-profit, school system and university clients.

“The webinar Celeste Pea and I are presenting highlights professional development models and approaches used by several states and districts to significantly improve teaching and learning in one or more areas of STEM education. The goal for each model or approach is to develop teachers’ and students’ knowledge and skills, and, ultimately, to improve student achievement in STEM education.We are excited to share this information and hope many educators will find it useful.”


Eric BrunsellEric Brunsell is an assistant professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction and the Excel Center at the University of Wisconsin – Oshkosh.

“I am excited for the STEM Virtual Conference for many reasons. Interest in STEM education is high, but often these discussions are isolated or result in new programs or courses. If we really want to have a positive impact on students’ understanding of STEM disciplines and careers, the efforts need to be made in our core academic areas. So, what does STEM mean in a traditional middle or high school science classroom? I will share some structures and examples during my session. I also hope that there is a rich and active discussion.”

Jim O'LearyJim O’Leary is the Maryland Science Center’s lead space science and astronomy specialist and has hosted a radio program for 12 years on the local NPR affiliate, examining the latest developments in space science and astronomy.

“I’m really looking forward to sharing the great images of the Hubble Space Telescope and the science behind them. Hubble is coming up on 25 years in space and has taken thousands of spectacular images and taught us new things about the universe. I know these images can inspire students to wonder about the cosmos and even pursue STEM careers. And being in Baltimore, we’re thrilled to be the home of the Space Telescope Science Institute, where all of Hubble’s science takes place.”

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

Future NSTA Conferences

2015 STEM Forum & Expo

2015 Area Conferences

One Last Look at #NSTA15 Chicago

To see more from the 2015 National Conference on Science Education in Chicago, March 12-15, please view the #NSTA15 Facebook Album—and if you see yourself, please tag yourself!

Follow NSTA

Facebook icon Twitter icon LinkedIn icon Pinterest icon G+ icon YouTube icon Instagram icon



Posted in Conferences, The Learning Center | Tagged , , | 1 Response

Science and Literacy: Reflections on Time

age of literacy blog post graphic

Science and literacy are inherently linked in so many ways. Just as a matter of practice, scientists must possess great proficiency in reading dense, data-filled texts. They must be expert technical writers who can describe their proposed studies for funding considerations, detail their experimental protocols for their peers to replicate, and summarize their work for general audiences. More crucial to furthering the study of science, they must be confident in their abilities to argue from evidence, both orally and on paper, or, in the parlance of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), they must be able to “obtain, evaluate, and communicate information” and “engage in argument from evidence.”

For some time the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) has recognized similarities in the ways in which both reading and science are taught and has advocated the powerful reciprocal value of linking science and literacy in the classroom. As reported in Science for English Language Learners, “science and language become interdependent, in part because each is based on processes and skills that are mirrored in the other. These reciprocal skills give teachers and students a unique leverage: by merging science and language in the classroom, teachers can help students learn both more effectively.” This conclusion was drawn while studying the integration of learning English as a second language and the learning of science (see also Teaching Science to English Language Learners). However, the mutually beneficial outcomes have held true with native speakers as well. Using literacy teaching strategies during science instruction “not only provided teachers with tools for guiding students’ interactions with texts and with physical inquiry, but also motivated students to engage with the texts and provided a window into student thinking” (Linking Science and Literacy).

Equally compelling is the research supporting the use of science to pique the interests of reluctant readers, particularly with regard to nonfiction texts. As the authors of Inquiring Scientists, Inquiring Readers assert, “Scientific inquiry provides an authentic context for reading, writing, and dialogue. Having a compelling reason to read a book, record observations, and communicate with others increases students’ motivation to engage in nonfiction reading.”

Perhaps most noteworthy for time-strapped teachers, science is the perfect vehicle for imparting not just science knowledge but also reading and even math. The tremendous popularity of our Picture-Perfect Science program, “Teaching Through Trade Books” column, and annual list of Outstanding Science Trade Books are testament to that!

As educators, we are cognizant of the deep connections between science and literacy. However, we need to draw those connections for our students. We need to help them appreciate the ways in which language and scientific literacy open up the world to them. Literature and science—and for that matter, philosophy and the arts—offer different vantage points from which to tackle some of the same phenomena.

Take, for example, an enduring challenge for physicists, a problem known as “times’ arrow,” the fact that “all the equations that best describe our universe work perfectly if time flows forward or backward.”(Alan Alda launched a competition that encouraged middle school students to explore this very question and required them to communicate their scientific ideas in a clear and engaging manner.) A contemporary summary is in a recent Scientific American article. As I read the essay, I recalled the opening lines from T.S. Eliot’s “Burnt Norton”:

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past.

Eliot wrestles with time as an abstract concept, exploring our perceptions and their implications with subtlety and nuanced diction instead of as equations. Still, he uses literature as a mechanism for approaching an everyday phenomenon, time, in much the same way a scientist uses an equation or model to describe the world. Neither the poet nor the physicist can offer a definitive answer, but their perspectives are equally valuable as catalysts for deeper thought.

In other words, the connection between science and literacy can be simple, elegant, two different approaches to marveling over the same phenomenon. Reading, writing, and science (not to mention math, social studies, music, and art) play equally important roles in preparing our students to be thoughtful and responsible world citizens. Our parsing of knowledge into subjects typically demands that we teach these subjects as disparate lessons, but provides even more reason to help students make those important connections, such as that between literacy and science. After all, what is science but a tantalizing story of discovery and prediction that unfolds as generations of thinkers encounter phenomenon, seek explanations, and communicate their findings?

NSTA Executive Director, David EvansDavid Evans is Executive Director of the National Science Teachers Association

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

Follow NSTA

Facebook icon Twitter icon LinkedIn icon Pinterest icon G+ icon YouTube icon Instagram icon


Posted in NSTA Reports | Tagged , , | 2 Responses

Webinar Wednesday for the Week of the Young Child, April 12-18

NAEYC Week of the Young Child logo.Are you celebrating the Week of the Young Child (WOYC)? Music Monday, Tasty Tuesday, Work Together Wednesday, Artsy Thursday and Family Friday are the daily themes set by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) to inspire us to “focus public attention on the needs of young children and their families and to recognize the early childhood programs and services that meet those needs.” NAEYC offers resources for meeting the needs of the children in our care.  

On Wednesday I will be “working together” with you and others by attending a web seminar to build my understanding of the Early Childhood Science Education position statement, written and adopted by the National Science Teachers Association and endorsed by NAEYC. 

websmeminarLogo“STEM Starts Early: Guidance and support from the NSTA Early Childhood Science Education Position Statement,” will take us through the position statement, and its key research-based principles that inform and guide science teaching and learning in the early years. I’m looking forward to hearing the stories from real classrooms and viewing short classroom videos for analysis and discussion. We will have the opportunity to consider the position statement’s recommendations for:

  • Teaching—creating an environment and facilitating explorations that support children’s collaborative inquiry in physical, life, and earth science
  • Professional development—providing experiences for teachers and education providers that really build their capacity to promote young children’s science learning and inquiry
  • Policy—committing resources to support early childhood science education

NSTA Learning Center logo


Register on the NSTA Learning Center site:

Teacher participating in a web seminar.Thank you to the GE Foundation for underwriting this resource!

See you online on Wednesday, April 15, 2015 at 6:30 p.m. ET / 5:30 p.m. CT / 4:30 p.m. MT / 3:30 p.m. PT

Posted in Early Years | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment