Learning Early About STEM Careers Through CTE

Students at Camp Ernst Middle School in Burlington, Kentucky, participate in technology leadership camps. Next year, they can take a CTE course in Digital Literacy for high school credit. Photo credit: Kristen Franks

Students at Camp Ernst Middle School in Burlington, Kentucky, participate in technology leadership camps. Next year, they can take a CTE course in Digital Literacy for high school credit. Photo credit: Kristen Franks

Career and Technical Education (CTE), long the bastion of U.S. high schools, is becoming more common in middle schools and linked with science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM) courses. Virginia’s Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) is one supporter, offering middle level CTE courses in Technology and Engineering Education, Business and Information Technology, and Family and Consumer Sciences. “We’re getting [students] engaged at an early age,” says Scott Settar, program manager for Technology and Engineering Education and STEAM Integration. “We’re rewriting the middle school Business and Information Technology courses with more coding, programming, and networking opportunities,” he reports. The CTE courses “focus on the technical application of many career pathways, the design process, and 21st-century skills.

“National research has shown that by grades 5–7, students lose interest in individual [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] STEM content areas,” so students at all grade levels “need to understand why these disciplines are important and relevant” because “upcoming STEM jobs will be in this area,” he contends. “The general consensus across the nation is that Technology and Engineering Education and Business and Information Technology are moving toward a STEAM focus, STEAM integration.”

In FCPS, “Technology and Engineering Education– and Business and Information Technology–related areas—coding, technology, engineering—[ have] almost a K–12 implementation,” observes Rachael Domer, FCPS STEAM Resource Teacher and a former CTE middle school Technology and Engineering teacher. “There’s a new focus on STEAM at the elementary level, exposing students to coding, engineering, and general problem solving.”

She notes that in FCPS, the seventh- grade technology and engineering education course is now called Engineering, Design, and Modeling, and the eighth-grade course has become Engineering Stimulation and Fabrication. “The idea behind the name change is to have the courses speak for themselves. The previous names were too broad,” she observes, adding that these semester- long courses allow students to take two CTE courses each year.

Domer says she talks to teachers of grades 4–6 about CTE course offerings at the high school level so “teachers understand what the end product is” and how familiarity with the engineering design process “will help students in middle school and high school.”
“We talk about CTE in general and connected to STEM education and providing relevant experiences for students, engaging them and inspiring them in learning. With [standardized] testing, we’ve kind of lost this. CTE is moving [back] in that direction,” concludes Settar.

STEM Career Pathways

“Middle school—that’s where the disconnect happens,” says Sunni Stecher, Middle School CTE Consultant for the Sonoma County Office of Education (SCOE) in Santa Rosa, California. With SCOE funds, 13 county schools offer Middle School Career Exploration activities.

Through a partnership of the CTE Foundation and the John Jordan Foundation, SCOE’s CTE department offers free Step-Up Classes—“mini CTE classes”—to middle school students, says Stecher. Step-Up Classes are taught by CTE teachers in their regular high school classrooms. “[They] give students experience with fun classes to motivate them to go to high school and get familiar with career pathways,” she explains.

“We’re trying to focus on high-wage, high-need [subjects] for our area,” such as agriculture and manufacturing. Past topics have included Advanced Technology and Manufacturing, Sonoma Specialties (wine and food), Health and Wellness, Agriculture, Construction, and Green Services, which covers solar and geothermal energy, green technology, agriculture, and alternative fuels.
“The teachers love teaching those classes; they love the exuberance of middle school students. The students are very engaged,” Stecher reports. In course evaluations, 95% of students rate the classes highly, and “the teachers come back every year,” she relates.

SCOE also helps organize a Construction Expo, a free event for middle and high school students staged by the North Coast Builders Exchange, a not-for-profit association serving the construction industry in the California North Coast area. “The kids get to use equipment, do hands-on welding…We get a huge response,” she reports.

Programs like these can be key to attracting students to STEM careers. “Districts need to build career exploration activities into their infrastructure, devote time to it in school,” she contends.

Preparing for High School

“I teach technology courses for middle school and feel passionate about preparing students for CTE,” says Kristen Franks, technology teacher at Camp Ernst Middle School in Burlington, Kentucky. “I will be teaching a high school–credit class (Digital Literacy) next year to eighth graders. The course is a prerequisite for many career pathways that our sister high school offers. As a former high school teacher, I understand the importance of CTE classes and am driven to support our students at the middle school level. There are so many opportunities in high school, and it is crucial for students to get a head start.”

Students in the Digital Literacy course “can go into programming, computer science, digital design, or web development. It’s amazing what opportunities will be available to them,” Franks maintains.

Having CTE at the middle level is important because in high school, CTE courses often “conflict with student schedules, which can include dual enrollment, AP courses, internships, band, and choir. It’s a struggle to get [students] to complete a pathway,” Franks allows. “Hook them early…[so they can] take advanced CTE classes before they leave high school,” she advises.

“The disconnect between middle and high school can’t be like that anymore… We’re all on the same team,” she asserts. She advises middle school CTE teachers to tell high school CTE teachers, “you want to prepare kids for their schools…Having these relationships will change everything.”

Franks notes one obstacle for middle school teachers who want to teach high school CTE courses is that their certification “ends with eighth grade, so they’re not certified to teach a high school-level CTE course…It’s sad that a certification is holding them back. It’s holding the kids back,” she asserts. “Hopefully this will change as they see the successes in middle school.”

This article originally appeared in the May 2016 issue of NSTA Reports, the member newspaper of the National Science Teachers Association. Each month, NSTA members receive NSTA Reports, featuring news on science education, the association, and more. Not a member? Learn how NSTA can help you become the best science teacher you can be.

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

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Looking for free resources and finding many worthy webinars and articles

Joseph Robinson talking with conference attendees.It is always a thrill to meet the authors who have written the articles in Science and Children that I’ve found so helpful, and useful enough to share. At the Elementary Extravaganza event at the 2016 NSTA national conference in Nashville Cars and rampsI met Joseph Robinson, author of “How We Know What We Know: Cultivating scientific reasoning among preschool students with cars and ramps” (January 2016). Judith Lederman, author and co-author of several articles about the Nature of Science, was also in the house! They were just two of the many science educators who contribute to Science and Children and the other NSTA journals.

I share my copy of the journal with colleagues at the program where I teach and recommend specific articles to others. You can do the same! Have you been introduced to the NSTA Learning Center? It is an online center for finding all kinds of resources:

  • The Learning CenterAudio & Video
  • Books & Chapters
  • Events (In-Person)
  • Forums
  • Do-It-Yourself Learning
  • Journal Articles & Lesson Plans
  • Online Course Providers
  • Online Events & Courses
  • Web Seminars by Sponsor
  • Browse Articles by Journal

And you can search by keyword and author! Professors at over 90 colleges and universities across the United States and Canada are using NSTA resources and the NSTA Learning Center as their online textbook when teaching science pre-service teachers. You can learn how through the archived webinar, “The NSTA Learning Center: A Tool to Develop Science Pre-Service Teachers.”

Webinars are a good way to get an introduction to the more than 12,000 resources of the Learning Center. Webinars are archived after they happen live so you can access them at a later time or again. Here are two—one that is coming up and one that you can find in the archives. 

Web Seminar: The NSTA Learning Center: Personalized Professional Learning in Collaboration with Other Colleagues, May 12, 2016: Join us for this interactive web seminar to get a detailed look at the Learning Center and discover its resources and professional learning tools that you can begin using immediately. 
This program is designed for educators of grades K–12, especially those who are new to the Learning Center. All participants will receive a certificate of participation and 100 Learning Center activity points for attending and completing the end-of-program evaluation. An archive and related PowerPoint presentation will be available at the end of the program. 

Web Seminar: The NSTA Learning Center: A Tool to Develop Science Pre-Service Teachers, April 28, 2016: Professors at over 90 colleges and universities across the United States and Canada are using NSTA resources and the NSTA Learning Center as their online textbook when teaching science pre-service teachers. Join us on Thursday, April 28, to learn how you can create a blended learning experience for the teacher candidates you teach by leveraging NSTA resources with the Learning Center’s online community. This web seminar is designed for professors who teach science pre-service teachers at universities and colleges. All participants will receive a certificate of participation and 100 Learning Center activity points for attending and completing the post-seminar evaluation. An archive and presentation slides will be available at the end of the program.

When you search for resources, you can filter your search with choices in Grade Level, Price, Subject, Type or Format, and Collections and Conference Materials. You can save your finds in your “My Library” and make collections to share with others. Let us know when you have a collection to share!

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Meaningful class discussions

I’m looking for suggestions on how to have class discussions that are meaningful and help students with our learning goals, especially discussing current events or the results of our investigations. Sometimes it goes off-topic or students don’t listen to one another. —C., Virginia

Being able to discuss issues and ideas in a productive manner is important to the future endeavors of your students. Discussions, whether in small or large groups, can be used to focus and share student thinking in terms of summarizing, questioning, comparing/contrasting, making claims and arguments, brainstorming, decision making, and problem solving.

We may think students should know how to do this. But students may come with misconceptions about discussions. They may be used to the idea that a “discussion” means that the teacher asks questions and they respond. This teacher-led interrogation does not include student-to-student questions or in-depth conversations. Or consider what passes for “discussions” on television, where people shout, interrupt, ridicule, and engage in name-calling and other disrespectful and unproductive behaviors (not behaviors we want to encourage or reinforce in our classrooms!).

You may have realized you have to teach students to work cooperatively, take notes in a style related to the task, write informatively, and read science text. So it follows that students may need to learn how to discuss issues and ideas among themselves. As students mature, their interactions should change and the teacher’s input or level of control should decrease.

Some students may be reluctant to participate because of language issues. Some may feel insecure around their louder or more knowledgeable peers. Some students may have ideas to contribute but need support, encouragement, and feedback to participate.

Does your classroom physically support large-group discussions?

Continue reading …

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The best education resources of 2016 just announced

This week, the Association of American Publishers PreK–12 Learning Group announced the year’s top REVERE_2016_finalistlearning resources, its 50th year of providing this service to the education community. The 2016 REVERE Awards Finalists include resources from PreK to 12, from print to electronic, and from classroom to “beyond.” Among the impressive and diverse list of Finalists in this year’s competition are eight publications by the National Science Teachers Association. Finalists received the highest ratings from a corps of judges composed of professional educators and publishing-industry experts.

Supplemental Resources

Cover image of Argument-Driven Inquiry in Life ScienceNSTA Press’s book Argument-Driven Inquiry in Life Science: Lab Investigations for Grades 6–8, by Patrick Enderle and colleagues, is a Finalist for Supplemental Resources in Science this year. The goals of science education today include helping students not only understand important concepts but also learn to do science. The Next Generation Science Standards emphasize that students need to understand disciplinary core ideas, be aware of seven crosscutting concepts that span the disciplines of science, and learn how to participate in eight key scientific practices to be proficient in science. One increasingly popular way to knit all these elements together is argument-driven inquiry, an innovative approach to lab instruction and the focus of this book of laboratory investigations in life science for middle school. The emphasis in these engaging labs is on argumentation—the process of proposing, supporting, evaluating, and refining claims in the science classroom. This book is part of the growing Argument-Driven Inquiry Series.

Professional ResourcesBook cover image for Teaching for Conceptual Understanding in Science

In the category of Instruction and Classroom Practice, AAP named Teaching for Conceptual Understanding in Science, by Richard Konicek-Moran and Page Keeley among the Finalists. The book is an engaging combination of deep thinking about teaching and learning for understanding; field-tested, classroom-ready strategies that support conceptual understanding in grades K–12; and personal vignettes with lessons for all educators. Konicek-Moran and Keeley guide teachers in how to really think about “the major goal of science education in the 21st century”: to help students understand science at the conceptual level so they can see its connections to other fields, other concepts, and their lives. Konicek-Moran is author of seven additional books with NSTA Press in the Everyday Science Mysteries Series. Keeley has authored 11 books with NSTA Press in the Uncovering Student Ideas in Science Series.

Book cover of NGSS for All StudentsHonored in the category of Specific Learning Populations this year is NGSS for All Students, edited by Okhee Lee, Emily Miller, and Rita Januszyk. Through rich case studies, Lee, Miller, and Januszyk vividly illustrate research- and standards-based classroom strategies to engage seven diverse demographic groups in science learning: economically disadvantaged students, students from major racial and ethnic groups, students with disabilities, English language learners, girls, students in alternative education, and gifted and talented students. The case studies span all grade levels and science disciplines.

Two more NSTA Press Finalists in the Subject Areas category are The Power of Questioning: Guiding Student Investigations, by Julie V. McGough and Lisa M. Nyberg, and Solar Science: Exploring Sunspots, Seasons, Eclipses, and More, by Dennis Schatz and Andrew Fraknoi.

In The Power of Questioning, McGough and Nyberg invite grades K–6 teachers to nurture the potential Cover image of The Power of Questioningfor learning that grows out of children’s irrepressible urge to ask questions. The book’s foundation is a three-part instructional model grounded in questioning, investigation, and assessment. To bring the strategies to life, the authors provide vivid pictures as well as links to special videos and audio recordings direct from an elementary classroom in all its questioning and tumultuous glory.

Book cover image of Solar ScienceIn Solar Science, Schatz and Fraknoi provide grades 5–8 teachers with 45 lessons related to the Sun, including such topics as the Sun’s motions, the measurement of time and seasons in our daily lives, and the causes of both solar and lunar eclipses. The classroom-tested activities support the three-dimensional learning encouraged by the Next Generation Science Standards and connect to the Common Core State Standards. The book comes packaged with an observer’s guide to viewing the upcoming 2017 total solar eclipse as well as eclipse-viewing glasses that can help teachers model safe Sun-observation practices.

MagazinesJournal cover image of Science and Children Oct2015

In the REVERE Awards Magazine Finalists, NSTA Journals are honored for three publications this year. In the category of Professional Magazines, Science and Children’s “Engineering Encounters” is named a Finalist among Departments and Columns. “Engineering Encounters” seeks to both celebrate creative ways to incorporate engineering design into the elementary curriculum and familiarize teachers with ways that engineering and science overlap.

Journal cover image of The Science Teacher October 2015 issueThe Science Teacher’s “Teaching the Manhattan Project,” by Elizabeth Schibuk, is named a Finalist in Feature Articles for presenting a nuclear chemistry unit on the research effort that led to the development of the world’s first nuclear weapons. The article, marking the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Japan, offers teachers a way to teach the science and history of the world’s first use of a nuclear weapon in war, while acknowledging the emotional and moral impact of the discussion.

Journal cover image of Science and Children September 2015In the category of Single Issue Editorial awards, Science and Children’s September 2015 issue titled “Engineering and Design” is honored as a Finalist. The Next Generation Science Standards is leading the call for more emphasis on engineering in our schools. This issue of Science and Children includes strategies, ideas, and techniques to help elementary teachers bring engineering and the design process into their classrooms.

Each year the REVERE Awards honor the best in education resources and draws attention to the rich array of high-quality teaching materials developed across the educational publishing community. Congratulations to the authors and to the NSTA Press Books and NSTA Journals editorial, design, and production teams for receiving these eight Finalist honors in the 2016 REVERE Awards. For the full list of this year’s Finalists, visit the REVERE Awards pages and stay tuned for AAP’s announcement in June 2016 of the Winners in each of these categories.

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NSTA Legislative Update: Teacher Appreciation Week, ESSA, and More

LegislativeUpdateChangeTheTextEachTimeAndTheDateV3 Apr29

There has been a good deal of activity at the Department of Education with the ESSA and on Capitol Hill recently.

But first, a shameless plug—mark your calendars now to join NSELA (National Science Education Leadership Association) and NSTA for a joint webinar on the new federal education law–The Every Student Succeeds Act– on Wednesday, May 18, 2016. This webinar, geared for science teachers, science district leaders and administrators, will examine the new law with a focus on science/STEM education and teaching and learning.  Learn about the key changes from No Child Left Behind and NCLB, where (and how) you can find and access federal dollars for science and STEM programs, and bring your questions (cause if we can’t answer them, we will find someone who will.)  The webinar begins at 6:30 p.m. ET (5:30 p.m. CT / 4:30 p.m. MT / 3:30 p.m. PT. Learn more and register here.

Continue reading …

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Ideas and information from NSTA’s April/May K-12 journals

This month, all three K-12 journals include the article Addressing Student Diversity and Equity. Another must-read article for all science teachers!

Science and Children- Methods and Strategies

Think about how the “methods and strategies” described the featured articles can be applied to other lessons and other grade levels. Most of the articles include examples of student work and a detailed chart connecting the lesson to the NGSS.

  • Many of us use “thumbs-up” for students to indicate their understanding of a concept. Meta-Sticks takes this further with suggestions for students to share their beliefs and describe the source of their understanding.
  • We read a lot about integrating science and language arts, which can be easier said than done. Science in Sync offers concrete suggestions for connecting reading with NGSS scientific practices, including a lesson template and a chart with corresponding scientific practices, reading skills, science activities, and examples of related texts. How About Teaching Literacy With Science? answer its own question with suggestions and a sample lesson for using student whiteboards to generate, share, synthesize, and build on ideas.
  • Promote scientific language and communications with the routines described in Explicitly Speaking: awareness, modeling, supported practice, and integration.
  • Making and Recording Observations is the backbone of science investigations. Here are strategies and rubrics for helping students to make and record observations that are complete, accurate, clear, objective, and labeled.
  • If To Kit or Not to Kit? is the question, the article has suggestions for assessing the extent to which kits are (or are not) aligned with NGSS.
  • The two investigations in Teaching Through Trade Books: Roly-Poly Pill Bugs capitalize on children’s fascination with these arthropods.
  • The Early Years: Encouraging Curiosity has suggestions for encourage young children to ask questions and how to involve families through a “Question of the Day.”
  • Formative Assessment Probes: Talk Moves show how to turn a probe into rich, student-focused classroom discussions.

For more on the content that provides a context for these projects and strategies see the SciLinks topics Animal Adaptations, Arthropods, Buoyancy, Ecosystems, Fossils, Weathering.

Continue for Science Scope and The Science Teacher.

Continue reading …

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Attending a conference?

talkingWe are excited about attending an NSTA conference next year (it would be our first conference). The school has professional development funds to cover some of the expenses, but we have to write a proposal describing what we hope to learn from it. Any suggestions on what to include? We’ve never been to an event like this, and we want to get the most out of it. Do you have any suggestions for a conference first-timer? —E. and M., Virginia

Attending professional events such as the NSTA national conference in the spring and the area ones in the fall is a wonderful professional development activity. Many of the sessions are hands-on, demonstrating strategies and procedures you can use in your classroom. The opportunity to hear scientists describe their research in person is extraordinary. In the exhibit hall, you can visit major textbook publishers along with vendors of lab equipment, supplies, professional development programs, and other teaching materials. Agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NASA, and U.S. Geological Survey have excellent (and free) materials to bring back. There are numerous sessions related to the Next Generation Science Standards, and events geared specifically toward elementary and middle school teachers, as well as other specialties. You can meet NSTA officers, staff, and book authors. Making connections with teachers from around the world is a priceless experience.

See the related blog for 2016 conference first-timers with many suggestions on what to expect at an NSTA conference.

Check with your district to see if there is a format for your proposal. In my district, like yours, teachers who wanted to attend conferences had to submit a mini-proposal that included

  • our professional goals for attending the conference
  • what topics we were interested in learning more about
  • a strategy for sharing information with the rest of the teachers when we returned

Continue reading …

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Reflecting on the NSTA National Conference Middle School Share-a-thon

MMITM Share-a-thon 10 sm

OK, I admit it. I’m crazy. Standing in the registration area at 6:45 IN THE MORNING (!) at the NSTA National Conference on Science Education in Nashville, I was handing out postcards (OK, it was more like hawking at a sporting event) advertising the National Middle Level Science Teachers Association’s “Meet Me in The Middle Day” on Saturday. I’m calling out, “Middle school science teachers? Anyone a middle school science teacher?” Some pretended they didn’t hear me (I’m used to that teaching middle schoolers.) and some gave me “that look.” You know it. The “Do I LOOK crazy?” look. Some came right out and said, “I’m not that crazy.” or “Thank goodness I got out of there last year.” The greatest, however, were the people that raised their hands (Yes, actually raised their hand!) and said, “Me! I am!” with a huge smile on their face. My people. The special, caught in the middle people. Middle level—the place that I love with people I enjoy being with (at least most of the time). I feel like a kid in a candy store when it comes to “Meet Me in the Middle” day. I mean, A WHOLE DAY JUST FOR US! Where else can you talk to people that understand your job, meet folks from around the country, compare notes, get some already tested ideas to use on Monday when you’re back at school, and maybe even win a door prize?!?! (I’m not that lucky.)

Probably my absolute favorite part of the day is the Share-a-thon that happens in the afternoon. I love walking up and down the aisles (more than once, I admit) full of lessons, ideas, and freebies (I love freebies!). Everywhere I looked people were smiling and having a good time. Hands and bags were carrying ‘treasures’ they had found. People were doing labs, playing games, learning about a different way to present a concept. (Did you know you can make a cloud in a 2-litre bottle using a bicycle pump, a stopper and some rubbing alcohol? Or how about putting UV sensitive beads bags, rubbing different brands of sunscreen on the bags, exposing the bags to light and then relating it to wearing sunscreen and skin cancer? Or learning about contests that can be part of I/E time, Genius Hour or differentiation in the classroom? Or the authentic ways to combine ELA and science? How about a classroom you can collaborate with?) You get the idea. I could go on and on but I know you have assignments to check.

You can be a part of this. It’s happening in Los Angeles at the NSTA conference next year. You have an idea to share (Really, you do!) and you will walk away with new friends and new ideas to use in your classroom. And you’ll know that middle school teacher crazy is the best kind of crazy there is to be.

Author Peggy Perdue is on the board of directors of the National Middle Level Science Teachers Association


Cover of the April/May 2016 issue of Science ScopeGet more involved with NSTA!

Join today and receive Science Scope, the peer-reviewed journal just for middle school teachers; connect on the middle level science teaching list (members can sign up on the list server); or consider joining your peers for Meet Me in the Middle Day (MMITM) at the National Conference on Science Education in Los Angeles in the spring of 2017.


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

2016 and 2017 NGSS Workshops

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Career of the Month: Medical Scientist

Blog Header Reading: Career of the Month: Medical Scientist

Based on Interviews With Professionals Using Science in the Workplace

National Eye Institute/NIH

National Eye Institute/NIH

Medical scientists conduct laboratory experiments to try to find answers to difficult medical problems while also applying their knowledge to treat patients in a clinical setting. Brian Brooks is an ophthalmologist who specializes in vision problems associated with coloboma and albinism. He is chief of the Unit of Genetic and Developmental Eye Disease at the National Eye Institute, which is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland.

Work Overview

I do lab work to understand how children and adults go blind and determine how to treat their eye diseases. Coloboma is a rare disorder that can cause children to have keyhole-shaped pupils and that can block signals from the retina and optic nerve to the brain and cause blindness. We don’t know why it occurs or if it can be prevented. To look for underlying genetic causes for the disease, we examine patients and their first-degree relatives and sequence their genes. Everyone has mutations, or “misspellings” in their genetic code. We try to separate the disease-causing misspellings from the benign ones that we all carry.

It’s difficult to figure out cause and effect. If our research team can locate a genetic misspelling, we can try to predict whether it is harmful to that gene. We know we’re on the right track if we start to see the same pattern in more than one unrelated family. We also look at the effects of changing the genetics of mice and zebrafish. Mice are mammals like us, and their genetics are particularly well understood, whereas zebrafish develop very fast, and their eyes are transparent when they are young. So we use the fish to test our hypotheses, to see which ones are worth further testing in mice or in a cell culture. The work involves a lot of data crunching.

Dr. Brooks examines an eye patient at the National Institutes of Health.

Dr. Brooks examines an eye patient at the National Institutes of Health.

I’m also researching potential treatments for albinism, a condition that leads to abnormalities in vision development due to reduced melanin. If the condition can be identified at birth and treated, it might improve the person’s vision. We first looked at drugs used to treat other conditions. We then tested a drug called NTBC that might interact with the body’s melanin-production pathway in mice with albinism and also in cell cultures. It corrected some features of albinism in the mice. Now, we have permission to conduct a pilot study in five adults with this particular type of albinism to see whether it affects their melanin levels.

Career Highlights

I went to the White House to receive a Presidential Early Career Award in Science and Engineering a few years ago. Another highlight was receiving tenure at the National Eye Institute.

Career Path

I started in electrical engineering at the University of Maryland, but I also took several biology and chemistry courses. I soon realized that I was more interested in using engineering as a tool in biology and switched my major to biochemistry.

What I found most appealing was the intersection of science and medicine, so I went on to get a combined MD and PhD degree. I decided to specialize in ophthalmology, a field with many unanswered questions. Blindness exists in many forms, and for many of them there are no good treatments.

I did my residency in ophthalmology with a subspecialty in pediatric ophthalmology at the University of Michigan. Then I got a fellowship to work on medical genetics at the NIH. When the fellowship ended, I stayed on as a staff member at the NIH.

Knowledge, Skills, and Training Needed

You should be inquisitive, because you have to combine elements from different areas of science and engineering to accomplish goals. Be patient, because not all hypotheses lead to results. Also, become good at writing and public speaking, because if you can’t communicate your findings effectively, your work will be hard to understand.

Advice for Students

The only thing that will keep you going is a love for science and medicine. It’s very helpful to take basic science, computer science, and some engineering courses. Also try to get some lab experience. Every step of the way, work on your ability to communicate your understanding of science to others, either by taking writing classes or by taking science classes that require writing or giving presentations.

Bonus Points

Brooks’s education:
BS in biochemistry from the University of Maryland; MD and PhD in biochemistry from the University of Pennsylvania.

On the web:
http://irp.nih.gov/pi/brian-brooks

Related occupations:
Optometrist, orthoptist, nurse, genetic counselor, biologist, and lab technician.

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

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

Follow NSTA

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Meeting with others about early childhood STEM education–at a conference, at the White House

The powerful learning that comes of getting together with others who are interested in the same topic can lead to action that increases opportunities for all children to engage in science and engineering explorations. Let’s not leave out using technology and mathematics since these areas of learning are so intertwined with the S and E that they are often referred to as “STEM” learning. Hearing about the work of others also lifts my spirits when I’m feeling that early childhood science education could be so much more effective and widespread than it is.

I had the opportunity to attend two such gatherings with education professionals who have been in the classroom and field much longer than I have: the National Science Teachers Association’s 2016 national conference March 31-April 3, and the White House Early Learning STEM Symposium, held on April 21 in partnership with the U. S. Department of Education, U. S. Department of Health and Human Services and Invest In US.

White House logo

Invest in US logoLogo of the National Association for the Education of Young Children

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The White House Early Learning STEM Symposium partners include Invest in US (organized by the First Five Years fund), the Heising-Simons Foundation and the National Association for the Education of Young Children. The National Science Teachers Association was represented by President Dr. Carolyn Hayes. As Roberto Rodriquez Deputy Assistant to the President for Education said, the administration’s challenge to the country is a “collective call to action to strengthen and support STEM early learning.”

Secretary of Education, John B. King, noted that spending on early childhood education has an 8:1 return on the investment in terms of better long term academic, health, and success in the workforce outcomes. He charged the participants to begin in early childhood to close achievement gaps in education that will help close the diversity gaps the STEM fields by being laser focused on our highest need students and what’s happening in their early learning classrooms.King also spoke about talking with children, noting that they remembered early learning STEM experiences as learning opportunities and joyful experiences: “This work on early learning STEM experiences is not just about ensuring a strong academic foundation; it’s about the joy that comes in learning about, and coming to understand, how the world worked.”

Watch his full speech and the panel discussion on “What Does the Research Say About Early STEM?” in the video of the White House Early Learning STEM Symposium.

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The national NSTA conference in Nashville had so many sessions that I wanted to attend that I could not get to them all. So I turned to the session schedule to see if any of those I could not attend had posted handouts to give me a bit of information about what I missed. 

(Note: if you attended sessions, please help presenters by giving feedback through evaluating the sessions. Go to the conference schedule, search for the sessions you attended and click on the evaluation button at the bottom of each session description.)

I searched for keyword “preschool” because that is the younger end of early childhood education. Then I scrolled through the list to look for any attached handouts. Some of the sessions that come up in that search are listed as for a “General” audience, not always appropriate for preK-grade 2, but still have interesting handouts. I also searched for Kindergarten, because those sessions are less likely to be listed as “General.” Here are two examples of the materials I found:

  • Curriculum Examples jpg from Katie Morrison and Deb Chickadel’s Thursday session, Creating a Sticky Curriculum: Integrating Science with Core Academic Subjects in the Preschool and Elementary Classroom.
  • Mia Dubosarsky of The STEM Education Center at WPI in Worcester, MA, generously shared materials for her short course, SC-4: Engineering a Story: Integrating Engineering Practices with Literacy. . “Engineering a Story: The integration of engineering practices with literacy” is adapted with permission from Engineering Lens, developed by Bill Wolfson, a wonderful example of how engineers and educators collaborate.  The handouts have many examples of engineering design processes, which will help early childhood teachers understand that there is no single process and that engineering design rarely moves in a linear way.

small meeting of early childhood science educatorsAt the conference I attended an informal meeting of early childhood science educators, including several other members of the NAEYC’s Early Childhood Science Interest Forum. We talked about our individual work and about how to move our communities forward in supporting science education in early childhood settings.

Meeting with other early childhood educators from the classroom next door, the child care provider down the street, or a colleague from another program–I am grateful for all the individual and group meetings that enrich my own practice.

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