Must read—take S&C home over winter break

Cover of December issue of Science and Children.The December issue of Science and Children will be an issue I refer to often. Consider making it the one resource you take home with you if you have a winter break from teaching so you can have time to read and reflect on how the authors’ experiences and lesson plans might work in your classroom.

Here are just some of the reasons why this issue is such a useful resource for early childhood educators:

Cover of "Building Structures with Young Children".Programs in cold weather areas may find themselves indoors more in the winter, with children spending a lot more time building with blocks. Learn about the resource book, Building Structures with Young Children, by Ingrid Chalufour and Karen Worth, in the Early Childhood Resources Review column, reviewed by Beth Van Meeteren.

A formative assessment probe.What are important reasons for doing sink and float activities with young children? Page Keeley’s formative assessment probe column, Watermelon and Grape: An Intuitive Rule of Quantity and Proportion, shows us how to help children move past the “More A-More B” intuitive rule, while having fun and exploring the properties of water. This column generously shares probes from Keeley’s books.

A dandelion plant and grass.Doing fieldwork in “your own backyard” with elementary students can bridge areas of knowledge, helping students see how core ideas extend beyond the boundaries of a single science discipline. The article, Observing Life in a Square, by Meredith Park Rogers and Melonie Steele, emphasizes how time—8 weeks, 3 days a week for 45 minutes—is an essential part of learning to work like scientists. Designed for grade 2, but the authors offer ways to use it in grades K, 3 and 5. 

Child listens as she plucks a stretched rubberband.Pre-service and in-service teachers will find “Shrieks and Shrills: Exploring sound with preschoolers” by Mandy McCormick Smith and Kathy Cabe Trundle a complete guide to implementing an exploration, or study, of sound. The authors note that after beginning with children’s interests, the “skill of asking children productive questions is an important next step in moving from incidental to intentional learning, with focused and planned exploration.” Later they encourage exploration of student-devised questions. The authors state that explorations that provide a well-rounded authentic learning experience do not happen in a once a week science time but are part of a lengthy unit, and they provide the information so we can explore with our students.

A bee on a purple cone flower.Will your class be investigating pollinators such as bees in the spring? Use “Bee-Wild About Pollinators!” by Bonnie Johnson, Jenny Kil, Elaine Evans and Michele Hollingsworth Koomen as a tool for designing a unit on bees. Start with outdoor observations of bees and add observations of actual honeycomb to connect the information with the natural surroundings of your school. If children are afraid of bees, the engaging activities in the unit may help them become open to observing rather than closing down. The authors describe how to help children become practiced at collecting data in natural settings by practicing counting by tallying using first paper models and then a video to count bees.

Poster documenting children's learning about bridges.Three big ideas that will help teachers get a grip on the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)—and help us understand what science is and how to teach it—are clearly presented in “What’s the Big Idea?,” a Methods and Strategies column by Ana K. Houseal and Peter C. Ellsworth. The authors identified these 3 ideas from research upon which the standards are based, beginning with “#1 There is more to science than I thought: A new, broader definition.” With discussion and recommendations that are like FAQs, this column will help us develop classrooms that are scientific communities where science is a social process establishing lines of evidence and using the evidence to develop and refine explanations using theories, models, hypotheses, measurements, and observations. See how teachers captured this process on the documentation board in the photo. I recommend this column as a great starting point for new teachers and those wanting to understand science more in depth, and it will be very useful in teaching preservice teachers.

Additional articles and columns that may not be focused on early childhood but make this a not-to-miss issue include, the editor’s note on Scale, Proportion and Quantity; Science 101: Why do we need standard units?; Engineering Encounters: Elephant trunks and dolphin tails; Teaching Through Tradebooks: Bigger than a breadbox; Cinderella Separates a Mixture; Gliding into Understanding; and my Early Years column, The Building Blocks of Measurement--free to all this month.

Your favorites may be different from mine—open the December issue of Science and Children as you ride the stationary bicycle, curl up next to a fireplace, or endure a long travel time over winter break and tag the pages you will come back to in January.

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NSTA’s K–12 Science Education Journals: December 2014 Issues Online

The titles of this month’s journal articles from the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) are so fun, you may just feel like you’re getting an early holiday present when you read them: “Elephant Trunks and Dolphin Tails,” “Cinderella Separates a Mixture,” “Not Too Hot, Not Too Cold,” and “An Engineer Does What Now?” But these lighthearted titles represent very serious teaching strategies and lesson plans. Browse through the thought-provoking selections below and learn more about community health and heredity, incorporating engineering design and technology into classrooms, biomedical engineering, the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), and other important topics in K–12 science education.

Science and Children

S&C cover for December 2014Young children work at macroscopic scales that are directly observable and move on to those that are too small, too large, too fast, or too slow to observe as they learn.

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

Science Scope

Science Scope cover for December 2014Ebola, vaccinations, and concussions are just some of the health issues making headlines recently. In this issue, we explore health-related topics that are sure to engage students and reinforce the notion that the body is a system of multiple interacting subsystems.

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

The Science Teacher

The Science Teacher cover for December 2014Engineering has a rich history that goes back at least as far as the ancient metallurgists who transported humanity out of the Stone Age. Twentieth-century engineers gave us everything from radar and television to lunar landings and the internet; the Human Genome Project that radically transformed the life sciences; and improvements in health, sanitation, and medicine that led to a 30-year increase in life expectancy, which surely ranks as one of society’s greatest achievements. By incorporating engineering design and technology into our classrooms, we allow students to apply their developing science understanding to solving problems that are practical, relevant, and important in their daily lives. All of the feature articles in this issue address this important effort.

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


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

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The way it’s supposed to be…

5229139935_f4b54c053c_mI have been trying to incorporate more inquiry-based investigations into my biology curriculum. But the students are upset. They want to stick with the cookbook labs where they follow the procedure and complete a data table that I give them.

—T., Colorado

It seems like you’ve noticed how high school students (and some of their parents) have definite ideas of how schools and classes should operate. If you deviate, you get pushback that can range from dirty looks to complaints to outright defiance. Even what may appear to be small changes such as an updated cafeteria menu, a different bell schedule, or a new classroom routine can set off this pushback.

If we try a new strategy once and it doesn’t fit the modus operandi, the students may assume that if they fuss or refuse, we’ll say “Well, that didn’t work” and classroom life will return to the-way-things-are-supposed-to-be. This certainly happened to me when I tried a different instructional strategy, an alternative form of assessment, or a new classroom management routine. Students would roll their eyes or complain before we even started.

We are such creatures of habit! By the time students are in the upper elementary grades, they have a definite idea of what school is “supposed to be.” Whenever teachers or administrators deviate from this comfort zone, the defenses go up.

This is true in other subject areas, too. I read an article about a French IV teacher who wanted to focus on conversations and authentic activities (all in French) instead of the traditional emphasis on grammar and vocabulary. Sounds good, right? But her students (mostly seniors) were outraged. She had changed the rules! These students were taking AP and other advanced level courses, and they saw the traditional French class as an easy A while they concentrated on their “real” courses. They knew they were good at memorizing and test-taking, but this conversation thing was a challenge that would require a different kind of effort.

Continue reading …

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STEM workers in the trades

Tradeswoman Tia Vonil is an electrician.On OPB radio’s Think Out Loud interview segment, “Examining The Shortage Of Craft Workers In Oregon,” Dave Miller interviews trade industry experts.

Listen to Connie Ashbrook, Executive Director of Oregon Tradeswomen, Inc., talk about construction and manufacturing apprenticeship programs, referencing a Brookings Institute report, “The Hidden STEM Economy,” about STEM careers that do not require a four-year college degree. Ashbrook says the lack of knowledge of blue collar professions, including the trades, is keeping young people from pursuing jobs such as Auto Techs and Mechanics, Carpenters, Plumbers, Registered Nurses and Welders, which are incredibly important to our economy.

Other guests are Steve Malany, President of the board of directors at the Associated General Contractors Oregon-Columbia Chapter, and Tia Vonil (pictured above), Graduate of the Oregon Tradeswomen’s Pathways To Success Program and a third-year union electrical apprentice in Portland.

In early childhood classrooms we often learn about “community helpers” such as firefighters and doctors. Let’s make sure we include workers such as plumbers too.

 Full disclosure: I am proud to be Connie’s sister!

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#NSTA14 Long Beach Stories

attendees looking at programsOur recent NSTA conference on science education in Long Beach, CA, was held in collaboration with the California Science Teachers Association (CSTA). How fitting that one of the largest area conferences we’ve ever had was the result of amazing collaboration, because it all really does comes down people—and last week we gathered with an incredibly enthusiastic, smart group. The ideas bubbled up, networks were forged or enforced, and teachers found themselves re-invigorated. For a visual snapshot of the conference, check out our Storify curation of #NSTA14 Long Beach.

Long Beach Keynote Speaker Julie ScardinaThe conference kicked off with featured speaker Julie Scardina (of SeaWorld and Busch Gardens: San Diego, CA), who used animal ambassadors to demonstrate that it takes a more sophisticated understanding of ecology, biology, and environmental science to save our planet’s biodiversity. NSTA President Juliana Texley echoed the conference theme (“catch the wave”) as she introduced Scardini, telling the crowd that “A tsunami begins with hidden energy. As it travels across the ocean, it is barely noticeable (only a centimeter or two of wave). But when it hits the shore, it explodes with energy. CSTA President Laura Henriques meets Piper the tarantulaAn analogy for the wave of science education reform that is rumbling through our profession and will create explosive change in student achievement and empowerment.” CSTA President Laura Henriques set the tone for the conference as she met Piper the tarantula—although the penguins ended up being the crowd’s favorite animals, Henriques embraced the idea of fearlessly learning and facing the future!

tweetSTEM classrooms, Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) implementation, and science as the gateway to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) were the focus of the conference strands, but sessions focused on everything from forensic science to analyzing live ocean data to reading strategies. We loved hearing from attendees about how much they learned and what they’ll take back to the classroom! We’re not the only ones who were feeling the science teacher love…  and we’re going to hold Ariel Zych to her promise to bring a cardboard Ira next time.

photo booth imageIf you were there and have more to tell us, we encourage you to evaluate your sessions and track your professional development certification (based on clock hours). To evaluate a session, attendees should follow these steps:

  • Visit the conference session browser and search for part of the session title or presenter’s name using the Find Keyword search option.
  • Once you find the session you wish to evaluate, simply click the Evaluation Session button.
  • Enter badge number (if you don’t remember your badge number, click “help me find my badge number”).
  • When finished evaluating the session, click the “Submit Evaluation” button.
  • Repeat this process for each session attended.

But it was not all work and no play. One of the funner aspects of the conference was the photo booth in the NSTA membership area in the exhibit hall. Browse the images here. Throughout the entire conference, NSTA fans (NSTA Groupies) shared their photos with us as well, and you can check them out at the #NSTAGroupie Storify.

encore imageThe conference was so packed that many attendees told us they couldn’t get to all sessions they wanted to, so we closed out the week with a special round of encore sessions on Saturday. Many thanks to the gracious presenters who stayed to make those happen.

Chicago imageAnd now we can’t wait to do it again in Chicago in March! Strands at the 2015 NSTA National Conference on Science Education will focus on Natural Resources, Natural Partnerships;Teaching Every Child by Embracing Diversity;The Science of Design: Structure and Function; and Student Learning—How Do We Know What They Know? Please join us in Chicago, March 12–15, 2015!


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

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Elementary science connections

Help! At my school, science is a special that my first graders go to once a week. I’m looking for integrated and engaging ideas for science that I could use during regular instruction. As most teachers know, time is precious, but I think it’s vital to pique students’ interests now while they are still curious and excited about science.   

—A., Texas

As I observe elementary classes and read the Science & Children journal, I’m excited to see how enthusiastic and energetic the students are when provided with challenging investigations with guidance and support from the teacher.

Actually, you and your students are fortunate that they have a dedicated science class each week. In many elementary schools, science (and social studies) in the lower grades is put on a back burner while instructional time is spent on math and reading (the tested subjects). And in some schools, science and social studies never even make it to the back burner until the spring testing season is over.

It’s easy to suggest that elementary teachers design interdisciplinary lessons that incorporate math, reading, and science. The fact is that in some schools, math and reading curricula are prescribed and teachers are expected to follow a script. So there’s not much wiggle room to bring in science and social studies concepts. Designing meaningful interdisciplinary lessons that go beyond superficial connections can be a daunting task. Collaborating with your peers on such lessons can be a powerful form of professional development. Could your school provide any time or resources for these collaborations?

Informally, you could consider these for your classroom:

Continue reading …

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What will happen if I…. Preparing an effective learning environment with help from Peep

Child testing what will happen when he puts an object into water.I see it all the time, children wondering what will happen if I….push on this ball, let go of this ball, put this ball in water, or throw this ball? What will happen if I…touch the paper gently with the paintbrush, shake the paint brush, put the brush all the way into the paint or put the brush into a different color? And what will happen if I blow into my straw, if I crush a strawberry in my hand or if I mix my food together?

Causing something to happen is a goal of many early childhood investigations. An interesting environment provides many opportunities for children to wonder and act. As children investigate, we can support them. Follow along with blogger Denita Dinger on Play Counts! as she prepares the environment to invite exploration.

Following up on these open-ended investigations with conversations, discussions and revisiting the action can help children think more about what they did, what they thought would happen, what did happen and about any relationships involved.

Cover of November issue of Science and Children.The Thinking BIG Learning BIG Facebook page by the author of Thinking Big Learning Big, Marie Faust Evitt, is a great source of inspiration for activities where children explore “what if’s.” In the November 2014 issue of Science and Children I wrote about Cause and Effect, one of the Crosscutting Concepts that support the Next Generation Science Standards (K-12) (NGSS) and an activity involving slightly inclined tabletops and balls. Setting up a table (without the children seeing me) so one end is lower gave children a puzzling situation to discuss and look for answers—the balls that were simply placed on the table began to move “all by themselves,” without being pushed! The children proposed relationships between the event (ball rolling “by itself”) and its cause. As they wondered about the cause, they thought of trying the balls on different tables to see if the same relationship exists.

Screen shot of Peep and the Big Wide World websiteOn the Peep and the Big Wide World website, a video clip taken in a family child care shows children investigating how different inclined plane (ramp) surfaces affect the movement of objects. Peep and the Big Wide World is an animated television series and a website with really good professional development resources for early childhood educators, guided by the Science Adviser, Karen Worth. The video clips on the topics of Science Talk, Learning Environments, Individualized Instruction, and Documentation and Reflection are my favorite part of the extensive library that includes curriculum on the topics of color, plants, ramps, shadows, sound, and water. A Self-Guided training handout and Facilitator’s Guide and PowerPoint slides generously show how to deepen one’s own and other’s understanding of the strategies in the curriculum units.

Using these kinds of resources helps me create effective learning environments that encourage science exploration.

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I Have Little Access to Professional Learning Programs Where I Live. Where Can I Turn to for Help?


Sandy Gady has been an NSTA member for over 22 years. Her first teaching jobs were in small towns with no colleges or universities nearby. Therefore, Gady says that access to quality professional learning was limited, which is why her NSTA membership really came in handy. “When I was in a small town with no access to professional learning, the NSTA journals saved me,” she says. Gady credits her NSTA membership with helping her achieve National Board Certification. “Being a part of NSTA helped me figure out what is a big idea, how you break it down, and how you teach science in a meaningful way,” she says.

And, even though Gady now lives and works in an area with greater professional learning opportunities, she says she uses her NSTA membership just as much, especially in her role as an NSTA online advisor.

Gady: So many teachers here in Washington State live in rural communities and there is no other way to get better professional learning. I find that the NSTA web seminars are better than almost any class offered at a college or university. For instance, the American Chemical Society (ACS) and NSTA hosted a web seminar on candy and chemistry in September. I couldn’t pull away from it, it was so engaging. And the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) seminars have been terrific. I would say having access to the web seminars and the journals has allowed me to understand the science behind what I teach.

NSTA is kind of my backbone. When you take part in the NSTA Community Forums, you have access to the most fantastic people in the world when you’re trying to figure out what you want to do next with your teaching to take it to another level. When you say, ‘I need help and I have this idea, does anybody know of anything else I can do?’ you get valuable feedback from fellow teachers within 24 hours.

I’ve had student teachers in the last three years who haven’t heard about NSTA. I’ve told them about the association and all of the resources available to them. NSTA offers Student, Preservice, and New Teacher memberships, and does everything it can to make learning accessible to teachers. Now, many of my student teachers are using the NSTA Learning Center as part of the classes they’re teaching.

How else does your NSTA membership help you?

Gady: The NSTA Conferences are amazing. When you are from a small town and you walk into a regional conference, you are just blown away with the wide variety of resources that you didn’t even know existed. Having the vendors all in one place and being able to see what’s possible is a terrific opportunity that without NSTA wouldn’t exist.

In addition, any book that is published by NSTA Press is a quality book. For me, it really all goes back to professional learning. When I first stepped into a science classroom, I had a half-credit of science in my K–8 endorsement. Science education wasn’t deemed important in our state at that time. Therefore, I relied heavily on NSTA books for support. I still live by Bill Robertson’s The Stop Faking It series and Page Keeley’s Uncovering Student Ideas in Science. I have three sets of both series. One set I keep at school, one I keep at home, and one I loan to the National Board candidates I facilitate.

I am also really impressed with NSTA’s virtual conferences. NSTA doesn’t get old; it never ages. NSTA has always had a vision ahead of where everyone else is. There is no price you can put on that.

(Note from NSTA: Not a member of NSTA? Learn more about how to join.)

Jennifer Henderson is our guest blogger for this series. Before launching her freelance career as a writer/editor, Jennifer was Managing Editor of The Science Teacher, NSTA’s peer-reviewed journal for high school science teachers.

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Recommend a resource for early childhood science and engineering education

Cover of journal, Science and Children, shows child using science tools--goggles and a homemade musical instrument.Guidance for effective science and engineering teaching can be found in the NSTA position statement on Early Childhood Science Education. Materials for science and engineering science explorations, such as teacher resource books, can support teachers and administrators in implementing the principles and declarations of the position statement. Many books claim to be that inquiry-based, well-researched, aligned with standards and developmentally appropriate content that you are looking for—but what is the evidence? 

Child sorts blocks as she puts them on shelves.The NSTA journal, Science and Children, publishes an occasional column called “Early Childhood Resource Review.” Column editor Ingrid Chalufour selects resources for review from those suggested by readers. The primary criteria for books is how well the author poses practical ways of addressing the NSTA position statement on early childhood science. The reviewers help us understand the value of the resource and how to get the most from it. Two columns recommending tools of inquiry for the classroom will be in the February 2015 and 2016 journals. 

Do you have a favorite book or other resource to suggest for consideration? Authors, don’t be shy. See the Science and Children Call for Papers page and scroll down to learn how to submit. Let other early childhood educators benefit from the resources you find most helpful.

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#NSTA14 Long Beach: Highlights from the Hall

Cover image of the Long Beach Program PreviewThe Long Beach NSTA 2014 Area Conference on Science Education starts this week! We’ll be making ourselves at home at the Long Beach Convention Center in sunny California, December 4-6, 2014. In collaboration with the California Science Teachers Association (CSTA), we invite you to join us. Our conference theme is SCIENCE—Catch the Wave! Conference strands will focus on NGSS Implementation, Science: The Gateway to Common Core State Standards, and STEM Classrooms: Anytime/Anyplace/Anywhere.

Long Beach Keynote Speaker Julie ScardinaWe’ll kick things off on Thursday morning (December 4) with our keynote presentation (The Balancing Act of Environmental Education: Removing the Fear But Keeping Reality) by Julie Scardina at 9:15 am. Using a variety of animal ambassadors, Scardina will demonstrate that it takes a more sophisticated understanding of ecology, biology, and environmental science to save our planet’s biodiversity.

Programming-wise, we’ve hand-selected and vetted more than 500 unique sessions, workshops, and presentations resulting in a diverse range of programming with something for everyone—from classroom teachers to administrators and informal educators at all age levels and interests.  You can check out all the sessions online via the Session Browser or view the program (pdf).

Long Beach conference logoWe would also like to recognize and thank our outstanding Exhibitors who have lots of exciting hands-on activities in store for you.  We have more than 150 unique exhibits to visit and have put together nine pages of highlighted activities taking place in the Exhibit Hall over the course of the conference. You can also review all of the Exhibitors by taking a spin around the online floor plan, which includes a roster of exhibitors, a description of what they’ll be featuring, and where they’re located in the Exhibit Hall.

CAST logoCalifornia teachers, be sure to drop by the CSTA booth, located in the Exhibit Hall B of the Convention Center (Booth 326). As the advocate for quality science education in California for more than 50 years, the California Science Teachers Association offers networking, professional development, and representation to assure state policies and legislation support you in inspiring your students. Stop by to meet them, get resources for implementing NGSS, and to join CSTA. They will have tickets available for purchase for the CSTA Night at the Aquarium of the Pacific, Thursday, 7:00–10:00 PM.

Image of the Long Beach conference APPFor the latest conference information, download the Long Beach Conference App. If you’re not already registered, there is still time to join us and you can register online 24/7.  We’re excited to see you this week!

For questions about the Long Beach exhibits, please contact Jason Sheldrake, Assistant Executive Director, National Science Teachers Association at; or contact Jeffrey LeGrand, NSTA Exhibits and Advertising Associate, at

2015 National Conference on Science Education

Chicago, IL – March 12-15

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

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