This Earth Day, Engage Kids in Citizen Science!

Citizen Science book coverToday’s guest blogger is Jennifer Fee, Manager of K-12 Programs at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (email:  Visit for resources, information, and inspiration related to school-based citizen science!

From students, to families, to interested novices … citizen scientists are people from all walks of life who participate in projects that help document biological and environmental trends over regions and timelines far broader than anyone could tackle by themselves. For teachers, citizen science is a way to motivate and inspire students through participation in research that is relevant both locally and globally. Students connect to the natural world as they make observations, collect data, and view their findings within the broader scope of the project.

In the new Citizen Science: 15 Lessons that Bring Biology to Life 6-12 book, scenarios of middle school classes engaging in citizen science are coupled with lessons that help teachers build citizen science data collection and analysis into their classrooms. From butterflies to birds, plants to frogs, turtles to squirrels—your students can collect meaningful data! Your students will not only learn science, they will be scientists. What better way to fulfill the NGSS mandate to couple science practice with content and give students a real-world context in which to apply what they are learning?

Here are five tips to consider as you and your students become citizen scientists on Earth Day… and beyond.

1. Foster a detective attitude
: Set the scene. Tell kids that they are detectives on an important investigation; one where making observations and asking questions will be the ultimate keys to discovery.  With this setup, you will have your very own team of Sherlocks ready to start inspecting the project at hand.  As you collect citizen science data, invite your students to observe closely and record questions that will pique their curiosity about the world around them.

2. Share the learning process: For example, if you’re participating in a citizen science project on birds, don’t be afraid to tell your students that you are not an expert and that you will learn about birds together. You may find them feeling even more empowered to become bird experts themselves. There is a wide variety of projects available and most projects offer online support, so whether you know a little or a lot, your students can be citizen scientists!

3. Keep track of observations in a personal journal: Scientists keep journals or field notes of their observations. Budding citizen scientists can too!  Keeping a journal helps develop keen observational skills. Encourage students to write descriptive notes and draw what they see as you work on your citizen-science project.

4.  Let them know it matters: As one teacher who participates in the eBird citizen-science project shared, “Citizen science gives students the ability to genuinely participate in science. When students realize that their bird observations are important data that will be used to make connections that couldn’t otherwise be made, they realize, ‘I am helping.’ This really motivates the kids to get out there and do science!” Citizen-science data has been used to make conservation recommendations, to document the spread of disease in wild animals, and to understand impacts of climate change. Your data matters!

5. Share your observations: Don’t just keep your data in a notebook or on a datasheet. Be sure you submit your citizen-science data to the project you are participating in. That way, your data helps researchers put the Earth’s puzzle together.  You can also share your actions on BirdSleuth’s Action Map (and have a chance to win a schoolyard habitat improvement grant or other prizes).

Wherever you are, and whatever your interests, there is a citizen-science project to meet your needs.  Many projects require few (if any) supplies, are free to participate in, and offer online support. You can explore options and search for a project at Citizen Science Central and SciStarter. For Earth Day and beyond… consider citizen science as a real-world, engaging way to teach science!

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Science for all

TSTHow many of us have said that students don’t study enough? A more fundamental question: Do they know how to study? Teachers may assume so, especially for secondary students. Many of the featured articles in this issue focus on strategies that focus on students learning how to learn and making the language of science accessible to all.

Beyond “Hitting the Books”* has concrete suggestions for helping students develop strategies for independent study and learning, including student-created tools such as science vocabulary notecards and study decks. Reducing Stress by Improving Study Skills notes that students’ parents list homework as a major source of stress (for the students). At the secondary level, if students have 4-6 major subjects and each teacher requires at least an hour of homework, it’s no wonder that students feel stressed, at least in terms of time. The author suggests that helping students develop their study skills could relieve some stress.

Continue reading …

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Displaying Student Work

bulletin boardI inherited a classroom-lab from a retired teacher, and I want to replace some of the generic posters with displays of student work. One of my colleagues says this is not a good idea. She didn’t explain her reasons, but now I’m not sure what to do.
—Therese, Charlotte, North Carolina

I’ve worked on statewide projects in which I had the opportunity to visit K-12 classrooms. The classrooms were generally very colorful; the bulletin boards and walls included motivational posters, teacher-created displays related to seasons or holidays, or artifacts related to the teacher’s interests. But I was surprised by the lack of student contributions. In some places, the student work was limited to cookie-cutter artwork (e.g., snowflakes, hearts, pumpkins). In some classrooms, every available inch was covered with something, which I found very distracting. And there were a few with completely bare walls.

By having students create the displays or showcasing student work, you show that you value student work and that the classroom really belongs to the students. Students have a chance to learn from and celebrate each other’s work, as they demonstrate connections to the current content or the processes they are learning.

I would check with your principal or department chairperson to see if there are any guidelines about displaying student work. (There are some schools where this is not allowed.)

The purpose of student displays is to reinforce students’ efforts and creativity, not necessarily to reward perfection. I would not display answer sheets from tests or quizzes or assignments with teacher-awarded final grades on them. Likewise, papers or projects with a simple “good job” comment don’t provide enough feedback on why they are on display.

Here are some suggestions:

Continue reading …

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Next Generation Science Standards Turn 1!

It’s been one year since the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) were adopted (on April 9, 2013). Since then, the National Science Teachers Association has been incredibly busy, learning what science teachers need, creating resources that will help with implementation, and most importantly, creating a new hub where all our resources are collated and that facilitates user-friendly access to the standards. Eleven states plus Washington, D.C. have adopted the NGSS, and we’ve been there to support science teachers every step of the way. Whether you’re in a state that has adopted the NGSS or not, you’ll find that the practices they describe can be applied in any science classroom. They are based on new research on how students learn best, and they are worth a look!

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What Does the Lorax Say?

cover of the book Outdoor ScienceEarth Day 2014 is right around the corner (April 22), and I’ve noticed a huge number of NSTA members talking about Dr. Suess’s The Lorax on our members-only lists. Coincidence? I doubt it, because the book has a powerful message that appeals to both adults and children: We shouldn’t wait until it’s too late to think about becoming good stewards of the Earth. And that ‘s something that many of our NSTA authors focus on.

Steve Rich, author of Outdoor Science, urges us to get kids outside. Research shows that environment-centered education improves student achievement, and Rich shows teachers how to create outdoor learning spaces that can be used from year to year—with little extra effort or resources. These practical suggestions for creating, maintaining, and using outdoor classrooms work for both elementary and middle school students.

What’s your favorite book for getting students outside and into science?

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Language development in science

S&C for aprFor many students, science itself is a new language, with specialized vocabulary and an emphasis on observations and evidence, rather than feelings or opinions. Even the graphics in books and websites go beyond being decorative to include the language of tables, diagrams, graphs, captions, sidebars, and footnotes. The featured articles in this issue demonstrate classroom- and teacher-tested strategies for developing language skills in the school classroom.

“Poets and scientists both seek to observe, explain, and understand the world around them. Poetry’s brevity, conceptual focus, and rich vocabulary make it a natural teaching tool for connecting with science” is the big idea of Observe, Explain, Connect* The article describes how teachers can “take 5″ to introduce and share poems. The authors also include a sample lesson plan in which poetry is used to jump-start a science lesson (I wonder if this would be the “Engage” part of a 5E lesson?) [SciLinks: Reading and Writing in Science, Recycling]

Friction in Different Languages* describes a “sheltered instruction” approach to working with English Language Learners in a science lesson. Using a 5E format, the instructors designed a lesson in which students investigated friction. The lesson incorporated video, hands-on exploration, and experimenting with different surfaces—a good lesson that could be adapted for all students. See What Causes Friction (Science 101) if you need a refresher on the concept. [SciLinks: Friction, Force and Friction]

Continue reading …

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#NSTA14 Boston Stories

Group selfie from NSTA's 2014 Boston conference on science educationNSTA was in Boston last week, where more than 11.5K science teachers gathered for our national conference on science education. It was no surprise that all the selfies seemed to be group shots—because that’s what science teachers do, they share! So we can’t think of a better way to give you a taste of the rich, collaborative experience we had in Boston than to tell it through the voices of the attendees who shared their stories with us.

The conference kicked into high gear on day one with Mayim Bialik speaking on the power of one teacher. A “proud product of the public school system,” Bialik told us about the teacher who inspired her to become a scientist and then sat down with NSTA President Bill Badders to answer questions from the audience. One of our bloggers featured a great image of Bialik talking about “science, teaching, and the Big Bang Theory.”

blog picturesBut what about lesser-known presenters? Apparently the experience builds character. We already knew that science teachers were super heroes, and now we have the proof. The “Hashtag WORTH IT” blog post features one of our favorite stories of the week, and one we heard over and over in various iterations. One teacher, inspired… becomes presenter, sees herself in a new light, and becomes a next generation superhero!

Blogger Nicole Fuhrman shared some really fun stories with us that show the lighter side of the conference–especially focusing on the super networking–and talks about how important building relationships is in effective classroom management. And that’s what everyone was doing in Boston last week, learning and building their professional learning communities.

One of the most important professional collaborations we strengthened last week is focused around the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). A day-long NGSS forum facilitated a deep dive into the Next Generation Science Standards with writers, state science supervisors, assessment experts, and  was the highlight of the week for many, especially the NGSS curators who gathered to learn to use the newly launched NGSS Hub, with user-friendly access to the standards.

Other conference highlights included Bill Nye speaking about Dancing with Mars, Meet Me in the Middle Day, the Elementary Extravaganza, the 2014 Teacher Awards gala (where NSTA’s own former Executive Director, Gerry Wheeler, received the NSTA Presidential Citation), a tropical flamingo roaming the Exhibit Hall, and these top 10 from Ms. Goldstein.

We heard over and over how energized teachers felt by the experience–and our staff felt the same. And it’s not over! NSTA will be heading to New Orleans next month for the 2014 STEM Forum and Expo. Ainissa Ramirez will be the keynote speaker, and strands will focus on Primary, Upper Elementary, Middle Level, High School, Partnerships, and Administrators.

See more of the story:

GroupShotBonus Feature: Who was the most photographed personality at the conference? An extremely nonscientific survey of Twitter pics reveals a tie between YouTube guru Paul Andersen and the Flamingo, with the Geico Gecko and Schmitty the Weather Dog coming in a distant second…


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Top 10 reasons for visting the conference exhibit hall

With a nod to David Letterman, here are my top 10 reasons for spending time in the exhibit hall:


10.  Interacting with people. You get a chance to meet and talk with other members and vendors.


9.  Planning ideas for your summer “vacation.” Lots of information about summer programs, travel opportunities, and graduate study.


8.  Playing with cool science-related toys (I mean teaching materials), such as robots or models.

7. Getting ideas to share with colleagues and students. For example, organizations such as USGS, NOAA, NASA, and publishers have a wealth to share.


6. Learning new strategies at vendor mini-classes. And there’s usually a drawing at the end to win some of the tools.


5. Being introduced to new species, such as a big brown bat.

4. Picking up freebies to take home. How many birdfeeders will be put  up on Monday?



3. Seeing new technologies. This is the first time I saw a 3-D printer up close and personal.

2.  Gathering information on science equipment.


Number 1 best reason to visit the exhibit hall!

And… 1. Meeting a terrific group of students who are designing prosthetics and building biodiesel processors.




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Elementary Extravaganza, Ramps and pathways

The Elementary Extravaganza was pulsing with energy as educators from many settings rushed in at 8am to get personal attention from the hundreds of presenters who were ready to share their work. Thanks to the sponsors–, Delta Education, School Speciality, ScienceCompanion, and Carolina, as well as NSTA.
The setting with presentations at round conference tables made it possible for everyone to do the hands-on activities, share their experiences, and ask their questions.
To find the handouts for the many presenters, go to the NSTA Boston conference sessions schedule, search for “Elementary Extravaganza” and click on the links to the handouts.

Which Elementary Extravaganza or conference session did you find useful? Share your resource links in a comment below.

The Ramps and Pathways table I was staffing featured physical science and engineering design materials–see how they engaged the educators! (Handouts ran out but will be uploaded onto the NSTA session schedule.)image




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Great ideas from Boston

skylineOn the train to Boston on Wednesday, the view for most of the ride was gray and dreary. But coming out of the station–blue sky and sun! After what seemed to be an endless winter, I hope that was a sign to indicate the bright ideas we’ll learn from our colleagues here at the conference.

In addition to the general sessions and a stroll through the Exhibit Hall, I went to a session hosted by Gary Nakagiri, an educator from California on “Developing a Toolkit for the Next Generation of Science Leaders.” He demonstrated with us the use of case studies to examine beliefs and facilitate the change process. I’m wondering if a collection of case studies around the implementation of NGSS would be a helpful resource?

drexelWe’ve all heard of amusement park physics and seen projects that related physics and music. Using the nearby Philadelphia Museum of Art (yes, the one whose steps Rocky ran up in the film), a team from Drexel University has developed an app for “Physics in the Art Museum.” The app can be accessed for free through the App Store. Search for “Drexel” (right now, the app is best used on a iPad). You can use it without going to the museum, because photos of the art work are included in the app. I visted the Boston Museum of Fine Arts this evening after the conference (it has later hours on Thursdays), and I found myself looking at art from a new perspective!

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