Get Involved in Your State’s ESSA Planning

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Many states are moving ahead rapidly in planning for implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ESSA requires that state and district stakeholders—including teachers—be given opportunities to shape how the new law will be implemented. This law will significantly affect science and STEM education for years. Do you know what your state is doing? If not you should.

State leaders want to hear from teachers, and this is a perfect chance for your voice to be heard.

To find out what your state is doing to get ready for ESSA (and how teachers can get involved) begin by searching your state’s department of education website for its ESSA resources and activities. Many states are now holding listening meetings, convening task forces, and reaching out to stakeholders for input. If you can’t find the information online then talk to district or state leaders to find out what opportunities are available and how you can get involved.

Here’s a list of what some states are doing. If you don’t see your state listed here please take a minute and visit your state’s department of education. Questions? Shoot me an email at  Good luck—let’s make sure that the unique voices of science and STEM teachers are heard loud and clear as this law becomes reality.

State Implementation, ESSA (June 23, 2016)

  • North Carolina has an ESSA timeline implementation guide and resources.
  • Wisconsin is hosting a series of listening tours this summer.
  • Florida is soliciting feedback on its state plan for ESSA through July 22.
  • Washington State and Nevada have formed ESSA teams and work groups that will be meeting with stakeholders throughout the state.
  • California is hosting a series of regional stakeholder meetings to provide an overview of the new law, provide an update on the development of the ESSA State Plan and to consult with stakeholders on what should be included in the State Plan.
  • Iowa has created ESSA webinars and FAQs.
  • Michigan is issuing ESSA e-mail updates.
  • Montana created an ESSA Workplan Group to guide the state’s ESSA implementation.
  • New Jersey is seeking input from state groups and teachers to develop their state plan.
  • Illinois held an listening tour during the spring of 2016 to give stakeholders from across the state an opportunity to provide feedback on ESSA implementation.
  • Pennsylvania has convened working groups and has a strategic plan to move forward in implementing ESSA.
  • Colorado’s  ESSA listening tour is over, but state officials are still accepting feedback.
  • Wisconsin has plans for five listening tours (two virtual) this summer.

Also, here are the links to what these states are doing with ESSA:

Finally, a new video interview series from the Education Commission of the States and the Building State Capacity and Productivity Center (BSCP) features interviews with the Chief State School Officer from Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Iowa about the opportunities and challenges that exist for states regarding the implementation of ESSA and about the potential for collaboration as states develop their individual plans.

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.

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Science Scope: Don’t Teach Tweens Science Without It!

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NSTA recognizes the key role that middle school science educators play through Science Scope, a peer-reviewed journal published nine times during the year. If you are like me, you eagerly anticipate the arrival of the latest Science Scope issue. Its presence in your mailbox is like a breath of fresh air, harkening you to try new activities and teaching strategies in your classroom. My personal relationship with Science Scope has changed over the years; I am a long-time reader and have also written several features. Today, I am embarking on a new journey with Science Scope—that of its field editor. Science Scope is OUR personal journal—a journal dedicated to those of us who understand the challenges of teaching the tweens. The strength of Science Scope lies in the quality and diversity of articles submitted by teachers like you—teachers who know how to employ thoughtful and purposeful methods for directing the effervescent energy of a middle school child into meaningful learning about the world around them.

Middle school educators are compassionate and caring people who never fail to volunteer their time or energy. As such, I encourage you to consider sharing a teaching or classroom management idea with other middle school science educators by writing an article for Science Scope. I know many of you are thinking “I could never write an article,” but I’m here to tell you that “Yes, you CAN!” It truly takes a team to produce the articles that you see in Science Scope; reviewers, editors, and NSTA’s amazing art department will help to take your raw idea and turn it into the polished product you see when you open the pages of Science Scope. You do not have to a gifted writer to be published in Science Scope, but you do have to be passionate about your craft and have a desire to share your ideas with others—characteristics that all middle school science teachers possess. If you are truly fearful of your ability to convey your ideas, try connecting with a language arts teacher in your building; a glance through Science Scope will reveal frequent co-authored articles.

If you are still unsure about writing a full-fledged article, I encourage you to volunteer to review for Science Scope. In doing so, you will see a variety of submitted manuscripts and will quickly comprehend how the germ of a great idea can be fleshed out into a magnificent piece. This metamorphosis is impossible without the contributions of reviewers; people such as yourself who understand how classroom management, safety, instruction, and assessment interplay to optimize leaning for our students. The time commitment for reviewing is minimal; you can expect to review six or eight manuscripts over the course of the year. In doing so, you will be playing an instrumental role in shaping future issues of Science Scope as you assist writers by providing recommendations for improvement. The process itself is known as a double-blind peer review in which the reviewer does not know the name of the author and the author does not know the name of the reviewer. This allows you to provide open and honest feedback via a forum that ultimately increases the quality of the articles you read. In addition, I promise that reviewing for Science Scope will result in professional growth and that you will enjoy the heightened involvement with NSTA (if you are interested in perusing the Manuscript Review Form).

As the school year ends and you relax by the pool, do some gardening, or go camping, I encourage you to consider how you can increase your personal relationship with Science Scope. Jot down some ideas you have for sharing with others and check the Call for Papers to see if any of your ideas match one of the upcoming themes. Do not feel that you have to write for a theme, however. ALL articles related to the teaching of middle school science—no matter what the content—are welcome! Consider, too, the possibility of writing for an established column. The Tried and True column is a perfect fit if you have a unique or updated twist on an established idea, the Toolkit column addresses teaching, classroom management, and assessment strategies, and Science on a Shoestring allows you to provide tips on how to create equipment or models that all budgets can afford.

Patty McGinnisHopefully, I have piqued your interest about becoming a member of the Science Scope community. Please contact me if you would like to review for OUR journal or if you have questions about the manuscript submission process. I look forward to hearing from you soon!

Patty McGinnis teaches at Arcola Intermediate School in Eagleville, PA. She is the field editor for Science Scope. She can be reached at

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

Join NSTA 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

NGSS Workshops

2016 STEM Forum & Expo, hosted by NSTA

2016 Area Conferences

2017 National Conference

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DIY Your Science PD

ISTAs a K-12 science department chair, I’m looking for professional development (PD) opportunities for our teachers. It’s hard to find speakers and programs for a small group. We have a very small budget, so traveling for conferences is not an option, either. Are you familiar with other options? —K., Minnesota

Continuing education is an important part of any job or profession. It is impossible as undergraduates to learn everything we need to know as teachers, especially about content or strategies that didn’t exist at that time or technology that was yet to be invented.

All teachers, including science teachers, have two fields that require continuing education—teaching practices and subject-area content. In my school district, it was easy for us to plan PD in teaching practices. Topics such as cooperative learning, assessment, classroom management, technology applications, curriculum design, questioning strategies, and reading/writing applied to virtually all of the subject areas. Teachers from different subjects could be part of the same workshops. We often used our own staff as facilitators for these sessions to capitalize on their experience and expertise.

But content was another issue, especially for science teachers.

Continue reading …

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Attend a conference, virtually

I remember the first time I attended a professional association conference when I was a child care provider beginning my career and was thrilled to be among so many educators who were passionate about improving themselves professionally. If you can’t attend a conference in person, a virtual conference may meet some of your needs for professional development.

Logo for NSTA virtual conferenceJoin me next week on Wednesday, June 29, 2016 in my happy space–talking with other early childhood educators about science education at the virtual conference, “Engaging Students in Science: PreK-6.” I will be presenting one of two sessions, along with Christine Royce, Professor in and Department Chairperson for the Teacher Education Department and co-director for the MAT in STEM education program at Shippensburg University. She is the co-author of the NSTA Press Book, Teaching Science Through Trade Books, which is related to one of her more familiar roles as the co-author for the ”Teaching Through Trade Books Column” in Science and Children. This National Science Teachers Association virtual conference will be archived for registrants.

Box of uncrushed milk cartons.Tally chart of how many crushed vs uncrushed cartons will fit in the box.I have seen how engaging in science investigations motivates students to develop and use their early literacy and math skills as they learn about the nature of science and specific science content. In the first part of my session, we will take a quick look at the research that calls for teaching our youngest learners to explore scientific ideas and then examine how young children use science and engineering practices in common activities in early Children using droppers to put water drops on cloth and plastic.childhood PreK-2 programs. In the second part, we will use photos (and materials if we have them at hand) to engage in one activity that can be part of an on-going inquiry into properties of water. Discussion will support how to extend children’s thinking from a simple “sink or float” activity to an on-going investigation.


Hope to see you on Wednesday, June 29, 2016 at 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. ET
9 a.m. – 12 p.m. CT
8 a.m. – 11 a.m. MT
7 a.m. – 10 a.m. PT
Member price: (Includes 1 e-book) $63
Nonmember price: (Includes 1 e-book) $79
Attendance/Participation Certificate: $9.95

(NSTA Press e-books: Science Learning in the Early Years or Teaching Science Through Trade Books

Page view of the NSTA Learning Center Early Childhood ForumThe free and open to all NSTA Learning Center early childhood and elementary science forums are other virtual communities for finding resources and discussion to support your science teaching. Search for resources and discussions and voice your experience.

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“Science 101”

Each month in NSTA’s Science and Children journal, Bill Robertson* writes an informational article on a science concept. These “background boosters” present content information in an easy-to-read format with many illustrations and applications for the classroom. Science 101 articles have a conversational rather than a technical style.

Secondary teachers who want additional information can access and read these articles in S&C as NSTA members. These articles could also be shared with secondary students as a supplement to other readings and as an example of how to communicate science concepts in terms that everyone can understand.

Here are the Science 101 articles that appeared this year:

Each Science 101 article also includes Science 102—a brief “poser” that challenges your thinking (the explanation is printed the following month). These could be used as quick fillers or sponge activities for students, too.

*Bill also writes the popular Stop Faking It series of books for NSTA.

For more on the content and related activities, see these topics in Scilinks: Acoustics, Amusement Park Physics, Carbon Cycle, Carbon Cycle/Global Warming, Carbon Dating,  Color, Comparing Frames of Reference, Electromagnetic Spectrum, Electromagnetic Waves, Force of Gravity, Fossils, Greenhouse Effect, Greenhouse Gases, Light and Color, Mirrors, Properties of Sound, Roller Coaster PhysicsStatic Electricity, Strong Nuclear Force, Visible Spectrum.

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NSTA Legislative Update: Senate Passes Bill to Fund FY2017 ED Programs

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Senate Passes Bill to Fund FY2017 ED Programs

Its once again appropriations time in the nation’s capital, and this year federal lawmakers are working hard to pass the 12 FY2017 appropriations bills via regular order, instead of resorting to a series of continuing resolutions or relying on one big omnibus bill to fund the government. However, politics may sink this ship once again this year.  

Funding for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education– including the programs under the new federal education law the Every Student Succeeds Act–or ESSA–was finalized last week by the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday, June 9. While the bill did provide a substantial boost to the NIH for combating opiate abuse and Alzheimer’s research, funding for K-12 programs under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was dismal.

The Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants (Title IVA) block grant in the FY 2017 Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Senate Subcommittee, authorized in ESSA to receive $1.65 billion dollars, was funded at only $300 million. This action stunned many in the education community, including NSTA and other STEM supporters. NSTA and the STEM Education Coalition both issued statements prior to the final vote asking lawmakers to raise the level of funding for the Title IV program. Several other groups, including  school counselors,  music educators, school technology leaders and physical educators, were equally disappointed with the funding level and also sent similar missives.  (Read Education Week reporter Alyson Klein’s article on the Senate’s action and a separate article on the reaction by education advocates.)

As reported in earlier issues of the NSTA Legislative Update, the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Math and Science Partnerships were consolidated into Title IV in the ESSA Every Student Succeeds Act (known as the Student Success and Academic Enrichment Grant). Every district would get funding from this grant to use in a variety of ways to provide students with a well-rounded education, support student health and wellness, and expand educational technologies.

Under Title IV districts can elect to use funds to provide students with a well rounded education by improving instruction and student engagement in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) by expanding high-quality STEM courses; supporting the participation of students in STEM nonprofit competitions; providing hands-on learning opportunities in STEM; integrating other academic subjects, including the arts, into STEM subject programs; creating or enhancing STEM specialty schools; integrating classroom-based and afterschool and informal STEM instruction; and expanding environmental education.

The Senate appropriators also cut Title II A state grants for teacher quality by about $200 million from the current levels of $2.3 billion.

The bill marked the first time in seven years that the committee avoided controversial amendments and voted in bipartisan way for this spending bill.

Focus now turns to the House education appropriators, who are expected to take up their funding bill for the Department of Education in a few weeks.

Flat Funding for FY2017 National Science Foundation Education programs

Overall funding for education in the NSF Education and Human Resources in both the Senate and House committee bills is flat this year. Below is a chart (credit: American Institute of Physics) for the major NSF directorates. Read more here.

FY 2017 NSF Appropriations Summary Table


Department of Education Releases Proposed Regulations for ESSA

Earlier this month ED released for public comment a set of proposed regulations that will provide states with more understanding of the law in three key areas: accountability, data reporting, and consolidated state plans.

The proposed regulations clarify several provisions in ESSA, including how to calculate and assign an overall rating to measure the quality of learning in schools; how to report on and hold schools accountable for the academic performance of students; and when states must intervene and provide support to low-performing schools.

ED will be accepting comments on the draft regulations until August 1, 2016. Draft regulations for assessments and supplement, not supplant are expected to be released in July 2016.

View the proposed regulations, a fact sheet, a chart comparing these proposed regulations to No Child Left Behind (NCLB), and the Department’s press release on the ESSA resources web page. Or read Ed Week’s Cheat Sheet for ESSA Accountability Plans.

What is Your State Doing to Implement ESSA?

And speaking of ESSA, here are examples of how Hawaii, Washington state, Michigan,  Alaska,  Nevada , Louisiana and Oregon are working to develop state plans to implement the new federal education law. Check out your state’s department of education website to find out what your state is doing to get ready for ESSA and how teachers can get involved.  If you’d like to learn more about the law and how teachers can be a part of this effort (and ensure the science education community and classroom teachers are represented), or if you have questions, email me at

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.

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folder icon  Safety

Welcome to the NSTA Safety Blog

As NSTA’s chief science safety compliance adviser, I look forward to sharing the latest safety compliance information, while helping teachers solve safety-related problems and issues in the classroom, lab, and maker space. I’m also looking forward to interacting with colleagues to help improve science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education in the trenches.

Specifically, NSTA has initiated this new safety blog to:

  • share up-to-date information on legal safety standards and better professional practices for a safer working and learning environment and a safer STEM instructional experience;
  • disseminate current information on safety incidents occurring in K–12 classrooms, labs, and maker spaces; and
  • provide support and initiate dialogue in efforts to answer safety-related questions from bloggers, either teaching or supervising in K–12 classrooms, labs, and maker spaces.

Students learn STEM best by doing, not just reading.  Make it a memorable hands-on experience by incorporating safety!  Encourage your friends and colleagues to subscribe to the NSTA Blog and share their experiences and knowledge about safer science education experiences.   

Have a safer day!

Dr. Ken Roy

Submit questions regarding safety in K–12 to Ken Roy at Follow him on Twitter: @drroysafersci.

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

NSTA resources and safety issue papers

Safety in the Science Classroom



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The Feedback Loop

The Feedback LoopThere’s a lot of talk about using data to drive teaching and learning, but what data and how should these numbers be used?

Are you confused? So were the authors of NSTA Press’ new book, The Feedback Loop: Using Formative Assessment Data for Science Teaching and Learning.  Erin Marie Furtak, Howard Glasser, and Zora Wolfe, explain how the onslaught of data drove them to develop the book.

“We had difficulty figuring out how to select and use the information available to investigate our practice. We wanted to become better teachers but were overwhelmed with other tasks and uncertain of how to begin examining these areas,” the authors state in the book’s introduction.

The Feedback Loop offers practical advice from people who get it. The authors break down how to set learning goals, analyze data, and make inferences about student learning to understand better what students know and where they need help. By creating a loop, teachers can see where students have problems and respond accordingly.

“The Feedback Loop is intended to go beyond thinking about pieces of data in isolation to reorienting them as a part of a larger system that you, the teacher, can design and act on,” the authors say.

Designed for middle and high school science teachers, the book provides step-by-step guidance for designing your own formative assessments. You will also practice unpacking the Next Generation Science Standards to make sure that your students are achieving them. The best part of The Feedback Loop is the anecdotes from teachers who share their own assessments and results. You can learn from educators who use these tools every day.

Read the sample chapter on Collecting Data.

Check out The Feedback Loop. This book is also available as an e-book.

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Student reflections

I recently read an article about having students “reflect” on their work. I’m not sure what the value would be. What would this look like in a science class? –G., Ohio

At a professional development workshop several years ago, I heard a teacher say “I do lots of activities. My students are so busy, they don’t have time to think!” This statement haunts me to this day. I wondered what students learned by following someone else’s busy, fast-paced agenda of activities. It sounded exhausting, for both the teacher and the students.

Another time, I visited a classroom in a school that had 90-minute class periods. The teacher presented a series of activities, changing topics about every 15 minutes—lecture, worksheet, small group discussion, writing, hands-on activities, pop quizzes—but there was no common theme or unifying concept. These students were also “busy,” but I wondered what they were actually learning from this series of disconnected events.

From a Twitter recommendation, I recently read the article “You Really Can ‘Work Smarter, Not Harder’” describing a study on the value of reflection.  (Note: the working paper Learning by Thinking: How Reflection Aids Performance from the Harvard Business School is downloadable here.

The study shows that learning is more effective if a lesson or experience is deliberately coupled with time spent thinking about what was just presented.

For teachers who already use reflective processes, it’s nice to have validation from more formal studies. Although, as with any study, there are problems generalizing to other populations, subject areas, and learning tasks, it seems that doing hands-on activities or investigations is only part of the learning process. Giving students time to process and think about what they are learning pays off.

Reflection doesn’t necessarily mean students staring into space (although that’s what I do when I’m thinking). Reflection is a process that involves articulating or summarizing what was learned, making personal connections to what was already learned, and formulating questions for future learning. Science teachers often use notebooking, exit activities, KWL organizers, creating graphics, or talking into a smartphone or app for these reflections.

I suspect most of our students need some examples of reflective thinking, along with a rationale as to why it is important to learning. Your modeling and guidance is important. Show students how you would reflect on your own learning:

Continue reading …

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Beginning-of-the-year explorations: get them ready for fall

Children holding an isopod.If you have not yet packed up for the summer break, consider picking out two or three lessons to begin the next school year. Choose the resources that will guide you, scan or read them, and pack them up along with the materials students will need so the school year can begin with a developmentally appropriate and seasonally appropriate inquiry. Choose a scientific concept that will fully engage children, thus helping them adjust to the expectations and culture of their new class. Choose activities that can be child directed so you can have individual conversations with children while the class explores the materials. And choose materials that are easy to clean up because the beginning of the year has many additional tasks requiring your time throughout the day.

Here are just two suggestions of activities to begin the year, that can be extended over months or revisited later.

Isopod, also called pill bug, or Roly poly, on pavement.Observing one of the small species of local wildlife, such as isopods (roly-polies, pill bugs) or crickets, is relatively simple because there are usually a few children who are comfortable with, and competent at, handling small “critters” to help put them in multiple containers so all children have an animal to observe. Watching these small animals introduces children to observation, a practice of science that is the basis for understanding the needs of living organisms. Children will have a reason to learn to use magnifiers and to collect data–their drawings of, and writing about, the animals. The excitement of sharing observations encourages children’s use of oral language as they seek to describe the body parts and actions of the isopods. In observing and recording their observations and questions using technology such as drawing, writing (or dictation), photography, and audio recording, children form beginning understandings about the way the structure of the animal’s body determines its functions (NGSS LS1.A) and that animals obtain food they need from plants or other animals (NGSS LS1.C).

Resources from NSTA for this kind of lesson includes:

Children using droppers to put water drops on cloth and plastic.Another activity for beginning the year is exploring small amounts of water using droppers (pipettes) to move water from small cups and dropping it on surfaces. Close observation of the shape of water drops on various surfaces, such as wax paper, tree leaves and bark, cloth, paper, or aluminum foil, will reveal differences. Children’s use of magnifiers improves with practice. They can observe the way water “sticks” to other materials (adheres), “beads up” on some surfaces, and flows. This introduces the idea that the properties of materials effect how other materials interact with their surfaces. They may notice that some materials absorb water as the drop penetrates the tiny holes in cloth or wood. The first time I introduced this activity to preschoolers I was amazed at how long they were engaged. They made drops, pushed them around on some surfaces, soaked a piece of cloth and wrung it out to start again. Through this work they are building a foundation for later understanding of the concepts in the Next Generation Science Standards PS1.A Structure of matter: “Matter exists as different substances that have observable different properties. Different properties are suited to different purposes. Objects can be built up from smaller parts.”

Resources to use include:

Any investigation may extend over a month or two, or you may find that your new class is not interested in settling into your chosen topic. Your observations of them will help you choose a topic to match their interests.

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