Connecting with families

Establishing close communication with families is an objective for early childhood educators and the programs they work in (NAEYCECERS-RHead Start). You might be connecting with family members when greeting children at the door to the classroom in the morning or at pick-up time at the end of the day, sending email and paper newsletters, posting on school social media sites, and holding school open houses and parent-teacher conferences. A consistent connection at drop-off can ease the transition from home to school.

In the April/May 2016 issue of Science and Children I wrote about a practice at the Clarendon Child Care Center in Arlington, Virginia where teachers use a “Question of the Day” to connect with families in the morning drop-off time and stimulate children’s thinking about a topic. The questions are written on a large pad of paper where families can draw or write, if they choose, during morning arrival. The topics of the questions can refer to an on-going investigation or recent weather event, be a prompt for a new activity, or be a question asked by a child. Here are examples from the early childhood program. Click on a photo to see a larger version:

2016-04-25 11.17.50 [2]

I might ask, “What does foam look and feel like?” when we are exploring how bubbles form and sponges absorb water. Or “What change might happen next in the growth of the Paw paw tree?” 

What additional questions would you add to a list for your program?


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Are You and Your Students Ready for the Astronomical Event of the Decade?

On August 21, 2017, the United States will be treated to the first total eclipse of the Sun visible in the country in almost 40 years.

1999 Total Solar Eclipse as seen from France (image by Luc Viatour /

Because the 2017 total eclipse will be visible only in the United States, it is known as The All American Total Solar Eclipse.

Image by Tyler Nordgren ( spectacular total eclipse will only be visible in a narrow band about 60 miles across, stretching from a beach in Oregon to a beach in South Carolina.

Path of totality goes through center of US, but everyone will see a partial eclipse

However, everyone in North America will see a partial solar eclipse, where a “bite” will be taken out of the Sun.

2014 Partial Solar Eclipse as seen in California (Image from NASA)On August 21, 2017, some school districts will already have started the fall semester, while others will still be on summer break. If you are planning to travel to see the total eclipse, it may be too late, as many of the hotels and campgrounds in the eclipse path have already been reserved by astronomy enthusiasts.  However, now is the right time to start planning for how you can make the solar eclipse a centerpiece of your science teaching during the coming year.

First of all, you will want to download the free 8-page Eclipse Observing Guide published by the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA).

This will give you all the basic information you need: The cause of eclipses, where and when you can see the 2017 eclipse, what time it will happen in each part of the United States, and how to help students observe it safely (including how to get inexpensive, but safe glasses). Feel free to share copies of the booklet or its URL with colleagues, plus students and their families.  (When you look at the map of the total eclipse path, if you find you have relatives or friends in that zone, now may be the time to start being REALLY nice to them.)

Next, you can start deciding how to incorporate the Sun, Moon, and eclipses into your 2016-17 curriculum, so you can make the most of this wonderful teachable moment.  NSTA realized that this would be great timing to publish a book full of hands-on experiences and teaching resources for educators, Solar Science: Exploring Sunspots, Seasons, Eclipses, and More.

Solar Science | Details at Science provides detailed experiences and information that will not only prepare you and your students for the eclipse, but also give you the tools you need to convey key science concepts associated with the eclipse: the motions of the Moon and Sun in the sky, the causes of the Moon’s phases, how these relate to the causes of an eclipse, and the reason we had to wait 40 years to see another total solar eclipse in the United States.  All of experiences in the book are aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)  and use the 5E instructional model.

But we hope your eclipse teaching activities will not be limited to your students.  We know that people learn best what they teach others, so please consider having your students become eclipse experts to their families, to other classes, or to your whole school.  If you get ambitious, they (and you) could link up with your local library or community center to become a resource to the entire community.  You could:

  • Host an eclipse observing party at your school that includes information, demonstrations, and safe observing. For example:
    • Start the party before the eclipse begins and have eclipse glasses or materials available for everyone to make their own pinhole sun-projector.
    • Connect with your local amateur astronomy group to see if they will set up telescopes to observe the eclipse. Check out the Night Sky Network to find if there is an amateur astronomy group near you.
    • Follow the instructions in the NSTA Observing Guide to have binocular stations to project images of the Sun.
    • Sell eclipse viewing glasses as a school fundraiser (See web links for bulk purchase of glasses in the Eclipse Observing Guide).
  • During the weeks leading up to the eclipse, offer to do public sessions at the local library or community center, where you share ways to observe the eclipse safely or have them build pinhole sun projectors. This is another place to set up binoculars to show how to safely view the eclipse and/or to sell eclipse viewing glasses.

No matter what you decide to do, we wish you a cloudless, safe eclipse, and an educational event that will be remembered by your students for the rest of their lives.

Dennis SchatzDennis Schatz was for many years the Senior Vice President of the Pacific Science Center in Seattle, and is the author of 23 science books for children. He was program director for science education at the National Science Foundation from 2011 to 2015, before returning to Pacific Science Center as Senior Advisor.  (See for more information)


Andrew FraknoiAndrew Fraknoi is the Chair of the Astronomy Department at Foothill College in the San Francisco Bay Area and a former Executive Director of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific.  He is the lead author of a college astronomy textbook and appears frequently on local and national radio programs explaining astronomical developments.

Solar Science is published by NSTA Press and is available in the NSTA Science Store.

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

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Health Wise: Helping Students Cope With Dyslexia

blog head reading "Alexander Graham Bell, Pierre Curie, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, and Michael Faraday are often said to have had dyslexia, but they were not assessed with current diagnostic methods."

Parent groups have claimed that the specific needs of students with dyslexia—a learning disorder affecting the ability to read—are often unaddressed because educators don’t know enough about the condition. The parents also say schools can be reluctant to use the term in relation to learning disabilities addressed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Recently, parent groups have been using the Twitter hashtag #saydyslexia to draw attention to their claims (see “On the web”).

The grassroots effort elicited a response from the federal government, saying that states, school districts, and educators should not avoid describing a particular student’s learning needs as related to dyslexia (OSERS 2015).

A step in the right direction

“There is nothing in… IDEA that would prohibit the use of the [term] dyslexia… in IDEA evaluation, eligibility determinations, or IEP [individualized education program] documents,” according to OSERS’s “Dear Colleague” letter to educators (OSERS 2015).

A student’s IEP “must be accessible to the regular education teacher and any other school personnel responsible for its implementation, and these personnel must be informed of their specific responsibilities related to implementing the IEP and the specific accommodations, modifications, and supports that must be provided.”

Dr. Bill Cassidy, a U.S. Senator from Louisiana, says the OSERS response “is a step in the right direction, but there’s still more work to be done. Scientific data shows that we can help students with dyslexia reach their educational potential by providing them with an evidence-based curriculum” (Cassidy 2015).

A common misconception

A common misconception about dyslexia is that letters or words seem reversed, such as the letter b appearing as d, says Dr. Mary Lou Gavin, senior medical editor for “But the major problems with dyslexia are phonemic awareness, phonics, and rapid word recognition,” she says. “Dyslexia is not a visual problem. Dyslexia occurs because of subtle problems in information processing, especially in the language regions of the brain.”

To a person with dyslexia, Gavin says, words may seem like this:

Thew ord sare n otsp aced cor rect ly.
We spell wrds xatle az tha snd to us.

Up to 17% of U.S. school-age children have dyslexia (Shaywitz 1998). When a comprehensive evaluation indicates a diagnosis of dyslexia, Gavin says, teachers can take steps to help, including

  • offering reading assignments in audio formats;
  • offering extra time for tests and homework;
  • providing outlines, sharing notes, or recording lessons;
  • providing customized learning aids and computer software; and
  • connecting them with trained tutors.

“Students with dyslexia are often the target of bullies,” Gavin says. “Bullying and academic struggles could result in low self-esteem. It might be helpful to gently remind a student with dyslexia who’s struggling in class that the condition doesn’t mean he or she can’t achieve success in science.”

Famous people with dyslexia include Nobel Prize–winning molecular biologist Carol Greider, paleontologist Jack Horner, and polar explorer Ann Bancroft (YCDC 2016). Alexander Graham Bell, Pierre Curie, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, and Michael Faraday are often said to have had dyslexia, but they were not assessed with current diagnostic methods.

Michael E. Bratsis is senior editor for Kids Health in the Classroom. E-mail him with comments, questions, or suggestions.

On the web

For educators:
Factsheets on dyslexia, dyscalculia (learning problems related to math), dysgraphia (learning problems related to writing), and 63 other conditions that can affect learning:
Neural mechanisms in dyslexia:
SayDyslexia (SD):
Study strategies for students with dyslexia:
Teacher with dyslexia offers insight to fellow educators:
TED-Ed lesson on dyslexia:
The Big Picture documentary film:

For students:
Learning disabilities:

Cassidy, B. 2015. Cassidy: OSERS guidelines on dyslexia is a step in the right direction, but more needs to be done.
Shaywitz, S.E. 1998. Dyslexia. The New England Journal of Medicine 338: 307–312.
U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services (OSERS). 2015. Dear colleague: Dyslexia guidance.
Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity (YCDC). 2016. An index of successful dyslexics.

Editor’s Note

This article was originally published in the April/May 2016 issue of The Science Teacher journal from the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA).

Get Involved With NSTA!

Cover of the April/May 2016 issue of The Science TeacherJoin NSTA today and receive The Science Teacher, the peer-reviewed journal just for high school teachers; to write for the journal, see our Author Guidelines and Call for Papers; connect on the high school level science teaching list (members can sign up on the list server); or consider joining your peers at future NSTA conferences.

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

Future NSTA Conferences

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2016 STEM Forum & Expo

2016 Area Conferences

2017 National Conference

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Sound inquiry–open exploration and direct teaching?

As early childhood educators, no matter what program we teach in or administer, we want to help children build knowledge of the world through experiences, teacher-supported investigations, and direct teaching. A conversation I had recently with a teacher made me think about how we balance direct teaching with open exploration:

Teacher: So, as I thought more about your question about what scares me about teaching this new science unit, I think I crystalized it more. I hate to be the one shoving information down to the children. I love it when they discover new things—learn something exciting. When I don’t know the information as well, I am not as comfortable with their discovery process. I’m sure that’s being an old dog learning new tricks, but I think that’s more what I’m feeling.

Peggy: One thing that comforts me when I am teaching children and I want them to get science content knowledge as well as experience, is remembering that this is just a beginning not high school graduation. They will have time to learn more facts and understand the concepts. I am not their only chance! Thank you for being brave and exploring new territory. The NSTA position statement on Early Childhood Science Education affirms that children are capable, often more capable than we teachers realize. When we check for understanding through conversations, reflecting on photographs, or having them draw and talk about their picture, we can find out if our teaching is effective.

I was reminded of how children will continue to build their understanding as they move through their school years when following a discussion on the NSTA physical science education listserv about teaching ninth graders about sound. I thought, “Children begin that work in infancy and I help them build on it in their preschool years!” The NSTA member listservs provide a wonderfully supportive community for growing as a teacher of science.

Given how much the two-to-three year olds that I work with love to use musical instruments, I thought exploring how metal objects sound in water would capture their interest and focus. This activity was inspired by the work of Alec Duncan, early childhood educator (and musician) in western Australia, who uses many instruments, makes instruments and explores sound in unique ways. Alec has a wealth of information and experience that he generously shares on his social media sites, including a blog post and video about making sound at the water table.

Children stirring the water and metal bowls in a sensory/water table.

Very interestingly, both the 2-3 year old and the 4-5 year old children did tap on the metal bowls but they were mostly interested in stirring and mixing and creating imaginative meals! While stirring and pouring, they observed the flow of the water and we briefly discussed volume–how much water could fit, interweaving science and math into the imaginative play about making meals. I wonder what the next step might be? Add measuring cups with numbers on them? Make the water deeper? Add real drumsticks instead of chopsticks to promote more tapping?

Like the teacher in the conversation quoted above, I feel I may be going too fast, trying to impart information before the children have had time to understand the properties of the objects and water through open exploration. I’m going to re-read the “Resources” section in Exploring Water with Young Children (Young Scientist series) by Ingrid Chalufour and Karen Worth to refresh my understanding of science inquiry in early childhood. “Inquiry is about questions, but it is hard for children to ask questions about something if they haven’t had a change to get to know the thing or the materials or the event, whether it is balls rolling, snails, or water flow. So the first stage in the framework is to engage, notice, wonder and question—it is a time for children to play, to see what they already know, to mess about in a rich environment with little direct guidance or structure.”

What next steps would you suggest?


Chalufour, Ingrid and Karen Worth. 2005. Exploring Water with Young Children (Young Scientist series) St Paul, MN: Redleaf Press.

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Calls for Papers for NSTA Journals

Write for NSTA blog header Do you have a great science teaching idea you want to share with peers? If so, consider writing for NSTA’s journals. Calls for papers for NSTA’s science education journals are online. The NSTA journals cover all grade levels, so no matter which grade level you teach or would like to write for, NSTA has you covered. Each journal does have its own set of guidelines, so please look them over in the author guidelines section before you submit your proposal. Getting your article published in a peer-reviewed NSTA journal looks great on your c.v. so don’t wait, enhance your career today. Below are calls with approaching deadlines, and more are available online.

cover of the NSTA journal Science and ChildrenCall for Papers: Science and Children

February 2017: Early Childhood: Earth Science (NGSS: ESS-1, ESS-2, ESS-3)
Deadline August 1, 2016

The NGSS provides specific standards for K–2 children. However, it does not indicate specific standards to be included in preK. Using the K–2, standards we are able to determine the types of experiences required in preK to provide the scaffolding necessary for building understanding. The topics identified in the NGSS connected to Earth Science for early learners include: weather and climate; how plants and animals change their environments; human impacts on Earth systems; natural resources; plant and animal habitats based on available resources; the history of Earth; Earth materials; the roles of water in Earth’s surface processes; and developing possible solutions to environmental problems. Within your explanation of classroom activities used to develop these concepts, you may want to include the following.

  • Describe posing a problem to early learners that surrounds the use of natural resources. Identify the prompt provided to children and how they are taught to create a solution.
  • Illustrate how students design and use a model to represent landforms, explain Earth processes, or solve a problem.
  • Explain how you use local resources to support student learning.
  • Sequence critical points in the learning progression necessary to build understanding concerning Earth Science core ideas.

Cover of the April/May 2016 issue of Science ScopeCall for Papers: Science Scope

January 2017: Systems Thinking
Deadline: August 1, 2016

Systems thinking—it is a relatively new term for many science teachers. Appendix G of the NGSS identifies systems and system models as crosscutting concepts through which students are expected to develop an understanding of disciplinary core ideas.  This is accomplished by specifying a system’s boundaries and by “making explicit a model of that system” (NGSS Lead States, 2013). Although there exists a natural connection to engineering through the testing that occurs when a model is used as a system, systems thinking is crucial to all the sciences by allowing students to see the interconnectedness of the various system components. Share your ideas concerning systems thinking by considering how you:

  • Develop student understanding of a habitat and how the physical, chemical, and biological components interact and impact each other
  • Explore how a change in a system impacts a system’s components
  • Use models to represent systems and their interactions—such as inputs, processes, and outputs—and energy and matter flows within systems (MS-PS1), (MS-PS2-4)
  • Construct explanations based on models of earth and space systems
  • Use modeling of Earth systems to predict weather
  • Explain the flow of the Sun’s energy through earth processes

Cover of the NSTA journal The Science TeacherCall for Papers: The Science Teacher

Deadline: Ongoing | Science for All

TST is seeking manuscripts for this annual issue devoted to the inclusion of all learners. The issue offers ideas and strategies to mitigate academic achievement gaps associated with ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender, physical disabilities, limited English-language proficiency, learning differences, and even gifted abilities.

Learn more about NSTA journals.

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

Future NSTA Conferences

5th Annual STEM Forum & Expo, hosted by NSTA

  • Denver, Colorado: July 27–29

2017 Area Conferences

  • Baltimore, Maryland: October 5–7
  • Milwaukee, Wisconsin: November 9–11
  • New Orleans, Louisiana: November 30–December 2

National Conferences

  • Los Angeles, California: March 30–April 2, 2017
  • Atlanta, Georgia: March 15–18, 2018
  • St. Louis, Missouri: April 11–14, 2019
  • Boston, Massachusetts: March 26–29, 2020
  • Chicago, Illinois: April 8–11, 2021

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Should I present at a conference?

DSC02156My colleagues and I recently attended an NSTA conference. On the way home as we discussed what we learned, they suggested I share some of the successful activities I do in the classroom, but I’m not sure that others would be interested. Plus, I’d be really nervous doing a presentation, and I’m not sure how to go about submitting a proposal. Can you talk me into this? —J., California

 I think your colleagues have done a good job to get you to consider presenting, since you’re asking me about it! So I’ll add to the pep talk based on my experience.

Even though teachers spend all day every day in front of students, we get nervous in front of other adults. This is normal. But I’ve found most conference participants are attentive and courteous to the presenters.

Teachers like to hear about practical, classroom-tested activities and strategies. They like to see examples of student projects and ideas they can use without special funding or complicated materials. And they really like hearing from colleagues who “walk the walk.” It sounds like you have ideas that would be worth sharing.

If the topic you choose is specific to your school, try to show how it could be adapted to other schools, grade levels, or geographic regions. Think about what format would work best for you: lecture, discussion, hands-on activities, demonstrations, or a combination of these.

Interacting with others is an important part of conferences, so I often include activities that foster discussion among participants, such as a bell-ringer question, a think-pair-share, or a gallery walk following a small group discussion. Doing an activity and then debriefing on the science or pedagogy behind it can help people develop the confidence to implement it themselves. Allow enough time for questions or comments during the presentation or at the end.

Conference proposals are typically due well before the conference to provide the organizers with time to select and schedule the sessions. See the guidelines and deadlines at Presenting at NSTA Conferences. Conferences usually receive more proposals than there are time slots, so follow the guidelines to improve your chances of being selected. Choose a topic that relates to the conference theme and the Next Generation Science Standards, if applicable.

Continue reading …

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NSTA President Carolyn Hayes Says Thank You to Our Volunteers

On behalf of the staff of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and our leadership team, I would like to thank the following members of our Board, Council, Standing Committees, Advisory Boards, and Panels whose terms of appointment end on May 31, 2016. NSTA has been busy this year promoting the implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards,  working on the NSTA Strategic Goals, and helping me to promote my theme: Developing Creative Attitudes in Science.  NSTA is very fortunate to have dedicated members who volunteer their time to promote NSTA and its mission.  I am honored to have worked with all mentioned below as we advocate for science educators and build new leaders.  So to all of you on the list below, I say “Thank You” and I look forward to working with you in new capacities in the years to come.

Retiring Committee, Advisory Board, and Review Panel Members

College: Sally Harms, Sarah Haines, Christie Orlosky, Cindi Smith-Walters

Coordination: Kelly Price, Christopher Duvall, David Miller, Matthew Stolz

High School: Beverly DeVore-Wedding, Sharla Dowding, Karen Higuera, Brian Olsen

Informal: Stacy Glatz, Miriam Musco, Kelly Riedinger

Middle Level: Fran Hess, John Milam, Kitchka Petrova

Multicultural: Margaret Helen Carter, S. Maxwell Hines, Sami Kahn

Preschool-Elementary: Conni Crittenden, Jessica Fries-Gaiter, Jessie Kelly

Preservice: David Crowther, Cynthia Gardner, Kira Heeschen, Chris Ohana, Michael Troop

NSTA Teacher Accreditation: Cathy Gardner

Prof Development: Julie Luft, Christopher Soldat, Eric Walters

Research: Pamela Auburn, Anne Farley Schoeffler, Lise Whitfield

Audit: Paul Keidel

Awards: Linda Kennedy, Karen Nesbit, Jennifer Pritchard, James Puckett, Pat Shane

Budget: Susan Koba

Nominations: Bonnie Brunkhorst, Sharla Dowding, Herbert Dyasi, Barbara Pietrucha, Julie Thomas

Advisory Boards

Aerospace: David Black, Caroline d’Otreppe, Pamela Evans

Conference: Monica Ellis

Development: Barbara Pietrucha

International: Kathleen Horstmeyer, Teresa Kennedy, Edarlin Pagarigan, Kathryn Elkins

Investment: Jean May-Brett, Joseph Holm

JCST: Megan Litster, Barry Thompson

NSTA Reports: Mike Szydlowski, Barbara Thorp, Susan Locke

Retired: Susan Clay, Joyce Gleason, Deb Wickerham

Science and Children: Neporcha Cone, Wendy Frazier, Terri Hebert

Science Matters: Stephen Bartlett, Michelle Brand-Buchanan, Jean May-Brett

Science Safety: Theresa Curry, James Kaufman

Science Scope: Ekka Bowling, Kelly Chaney, Karen Jo Matsler

Special Needs: Jennifer Purcell-Coleman, Melissa Sleeper, Cheryl White

Technology: Gregory Benedis-Grab, Stephen Bock, Ben Smith

TST: Michael Brinkman, Carrie Jones

Urban Science: Selina Bartekls, Trudy C. Giasi, Michael Matthews

CBC: Conni Crittenden, Delene Hoffner, Linda Schoen Giddings

New Science Teachers: John Clark, Sumi Hagiwara, Michael Lowry

Shell: J. Carrie Launius, Ruth Ruud, Tamica A. Stubbs

NSTA members who are interested in volunteering for a position on one our committees, advisory boards, or review panels can find more information on our Committees page online.CHayes

Dr. Carolyn Hayes is the president of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA). She began serving her one-year term on June 1, 2015. Dr. Hayes is a retired high school biology teacher from Greenwood, Indiana. Hayes earned a B.S. degree in biology from Indiana University in 1973, a M.S. degree in secondary education from Indiana University in 1976, and an Ed.D. in secondary education and biology from Indiana University in 2005. 

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

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The Maker Movement for All Learners

Maker Blog Image

All students can benefit from the Maker Mindset, which encourages students to believe they can learn to do anything. The Maker Movement is a resurgence of creating and making things by people of all ages and backgrounds. Learning through “making” can happen across a range of contexts and curricular areas and can be leveraged for inspiration and powerful student engagement.

Making can happen in a variety of places that might be labeled “maker spaces,” such as libraries, classrooms, museums, homes, or garages. But they don’t have to be labeled spaces—innovation and creating can happen on a table in a classroom. Some maker spaces may have the newest technological toys such as a 3D printer or laser cutter, but this is also not necessary; the focus in this design learning is not on the tools but on the process and product. 

This approach is close in heart to the constructivist- and constructionist-based design work that focuses on engaging participants in learning content and process. This work provides students the opportunity to experience the hands-on intersection of critical thinking, engineering, computer science, circuitry, art, math, technology, and innovation.

Building Up to the Maker Movement

I have been a special services teacher and a regular classroom teacher for total of 31 years. I worked as an Einstein Fellow in DC at the National Science Foundation in 2012–2013 and became very involved with the Maker Movement in that year. I now work as a Science Technology Engineering and Math Outreach Coordinator and work with students and teachers doing STEM activities with a Maker emphasis, sharing all I learned in my fellowship as well as in my classroom practice. I have been extremely impressed with the enthusiastic participation of the students and teachers that I have worked with in the past two years in this role.

In these experiences, I have seen that students who have learning challenges are as engaged and as successful as any other learner, and often have unique and innovative perspectives and solutions to the design task at hand.  Classroom teachers are excited to see their students’ involvement and investment in this learning as well. I work with the teachers and students for one to three sessions and provide the materials for the times I am there.  I offer ideas and resource lists for teachers to follow up with and also give students (at the students’ request) sources where they can get materials for continued making. It is amazing how contagious learning through making can be for everyone!

There are many ways to do this in a low–tech, low budget, with an easy-access on ramp to making. Two books I highly recommend to get you started are:

  • Invent to Learn, Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom by Sylvia Libow Martinez and Gary Stager, Ph.D. (Chapter 14, Resources to Explore, gives you sources by topics and is worth the price of the book alone!)
  • The Art of Tinkering, by Karen Wilkinson and Mike Petrich.  (This is put out by the Exploratorium in San Francisco, and they have a great website: )

I wish you a happy final stretch of the school year and an exciting launch into or continued endeavors with Maker education. It is a fantastic way to ignite learning in our classrooms and beyond. The intellectual development that happens through direct, hands-on experience with creating and tinkering is empowering and something we can offer all students!

Author Sheryl Sotelo is a STEM outreach coordinator and educator in Alaska; contact Sotelo at This blog is part of a series being published by NSTA’s Special Needs Advisory board, the charge of which is to “Advise NSTA standing committees and NSTA headquarters regarding support for members with special needs and for teachers of students with special needs; make recommendations to the Executive Director and the Board of Directors regarding issues and projects related to special education.” Teresa M. Fulk is the board chair and can be contacted at with questions about the work NSTA does with this community.

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

Future NSTA Conferences

5th Annual STEM Forum & Expo, hosted by NSTA

  • Denver, Colorado: July 27–29

2017 Area Conferences

  • Baltimore, Maryland: October 5–7
  • Milwaukee, Wisconsin: November 9–11
  • New Orleans, Louisiana: November 30–December 2

National Conferences

  • Los Angeles, California: March 30–April 2, 2017
  • Atlanta, Georgia: March 15–18, 2018
  • St. Louis, Missouri: April 11–14, 2019
  • Boston, Massachusetts: March 26–29, 2020
  • Chicago, Illinois: April 8–11, 2021

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NSTA Legislative Update: ESSA Webinar and Rally on Capitol Hill

LegislativeUpdateChangeTheTextEachTimeAndTheDateV3 May20

Update on Every Student Succeeds Act

Almost 200 teachers and science leaders tuned into the NSTA Learning Center webinar last week on the new federal education law (ESSA), co-hosted by NSTA and the National Science Education Leadership Association (NSELA). You can find the powerpoint from the webinar here and learn more about the new federal education law here.

As states gear up for implementation of ESSA, more heated debate around the regulatory language for ESSA’s supplement-not-supplant provision, which says that federal Title I funds for low income students must be in addition to, and not take the place of, state and local spending on K-12. (Drafts of the regulations are in circulation, however the Department of Education (ED) is expected to officially release regulations for comment on accountability, state plans, supplement-not-supplant and assessments this summer.) Education Week reports that a recent Congressional Research Service report on ED’s proposed regulations are outside of the statutory language that ESSA allows.

Republicans (and unions) are concerned that ED officials would violate the new law by requiring districts to use a school-level test of expenditures to show compliance with supplement-not-supplant, which could ultimately mean monitoring teacher salaries when calculating how much schools receive.    Many Democrats believe this provision will provide an important tool to ensure the new federal law provides equity. Senator Lamar Alexander, a chief architect of the new federal education law, recently said that the Education Department has been “deceitful” in trying to force equity through implementation of the new education law.

Ed Groups Rally for ESSA Title IV Block Grants

NSTA joined over 75 organizations last week for a press conference and rally on Capitol Hill urging Congressional appropriators to fully fund Title IV, Part A of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). 

Congress authorized this flexible ESSA block grant, known as Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grant, at $1.65 billion for FY 2017.  Congressional appropriators are now working to provide funding amounts for this and other FY2017 federal education programs.  The Title IV grants will provide funding to districts for activities in three broad areas:

1) Providing students with a well-rounded education (e.g. college and career counseling, STEM, arts, civics, IB/AP)

2) Supporting safe and healthy students (e.g. comprehensive school mental health, drug and violence prevention, training on trauma-informed practices, health and physical education) and

3) Supporting the effective use of technology (professional development, blended learning, and devices).

Specifically, in regards to the use of Title IV A funds for STEM, districts and states can use grant monies to expand high-quality STEM courses; increase access to STEM for underserved and at risk student populations; support the participation of students in STEM nonprofit competitions (such as robotics, science research, invention, mathematics, computer science, and technology competitions); provide hands-on learning opportunities in STEM; integrate other academic subjects, including the arts, into STEM subject programs; create or enhance STEM specialty schools; integrate classroom based and afterschool and informal STEM instruction;  and expand environmental education.  

Myra Thayer, Prek-12 Science Coordinator, Fairfax County Public Schools, was NSTA’s guest speaker at the press event. She told participants that “Providing students with hands-on learning opportunities in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), increasing access for underserved students, and integrating afterschool STEM experiences with classroom-based learning will improve instruction and student engagement in these fields. It’s critical that Congress fully fund the ESSA Title IV-A, Student Support and Academic Enrichments Grants, so that all students have access to quality STEM programs, and to a variety of health and safety programs, diverse academic courses, and modern technology.”

At the press event/rally the group also released individual letters from state and local groups in Minnesota, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Washington, seeking full funding for this grant.

In addition to seeking funding for Title IVA at $1.65 billion NSTA, the STEM Education Coalition and 85 other organizations, is asking Congress to

  • Provide $2.250 billion for the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Title II Supporting Effective Instruction State grants. This program provides support for teacher quality improvement initiatives, including professional development and teacher leadership.
  • Support the proposal of $100 million for the new Computer Science for All Development Grants.
  • Provide $10 million for a STEM Master Teacher Corps which was authorized through Section 2245 of ESSA. This program would help cultivate teacher leaders in STEM subjects and promote the sharing of best practices across the teaching professions.

These programs will be part of the FY2017 Labor, HHS, and Education appropriations bill.  Advocates expect to see some Congressional action on this bill in mid-June. Stay tuned.

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 Peterson at; follow her on Twitter at @stemedadvocate.

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

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Creative Writing in Science

creativewritingWould you like to inspire students to be better writers while you incorporate new strategies into your teaching to assess their scientific understanding? Katie Coppens’ new NSTA Press book, Creative Writing in Science, provides engaging literary exercises that use the world around us to inspire. Designed for grades 3–12, the book offers fiction, poetry, and playwriting prompts that help students increase both their writing skills and their science knowledge.

Each writing lesson outlines foundational science knowledge and vocabulary and connects to the Next Generation Science Standards. The lessons also introduce language arts skills such as developing characters; writing conflict; and using personification, narrative voice, and other literary devices.

In the lesson “Travel Blog About the Digestive System,” students must apply their knowledge and vocabulary related to the human digestive system to compose a blog post from the perspective of a bit of food on a journey through the human body. Students will capture all of the twists and turns and use personification to convey this trip of a lifetime.

In another unique lesson, students are asked to imagine what life would be like if the KT asteroid had never hit. How would our landscape look and what organisms would be thriving today? Students must consider what role evolution would have played, and what animals might have become extinct. Would dinosaurs be here? Would humans still be roaming Earth?

Additional ideas to get students thinking creatively include writing comics, diary entries, songs, and letters from the point of view of the Moon, rocks, atoms, and more! The 15 lessons cover life science, physical science, Earth, space, and engineering. 

This book is humorous and engaging, and your students will love approaching science from a new direction.

Want to get your creative juices flowing? Try the free chapter “Group Poem: Earth’s History.”

Check out Creative Writing in Science in the NSTA Press Store

Spring Savings

Between now and May 31, 2016, save $15 off your order of $75 or more of NSTA Press books or e-books by entering promo code SPR16 at checkout in the online Science Store.

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