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Protecting Students From Fires

In 2015, the National Fire Protection Association released a revised version of NFPA 45 that included a new chapter titled “Educational and Instructional Laboratory Operations,” which applies to K–12 school laboratories. The new chapter provides fire protection and safety requirements for new and existing educational laboratories doing experiments or demonstrations using hazardous materials.

Most state legislatures will eventually adopt the updated NFPA 45 standard, meaning it is or will become a legal safety standard that school administration and teachers must follow

The Specifics

The first section (12.2: “Instructor Responsibilities”) of the new chapter clearly states that in a demonstration or experiment using hazardous materials, the teacher is required to:

• perform a documented hazard risk assessment,

• provide a safety review to students,

• provide adequate personal protective equipment, and

• place a safety barrier between students and the demonstration or experiment to prevent personal injury.

Furthermore, this section states that laboratory teachers must be trained and knowledgeable in fire safety procedures, emergency plans, lab hazards, appropriate PPE, and conducting an appropriate hazard risk assessment.

The second section (12.3 “Chemical Storage and Handling”) directs teachers to store bulk quantities of chemicals in locked rooms outside the classroom or store portioned amounts for each class session in a locked cabinet inside the lab. The second section also includes the following guidelines:

• Quantities of chemicals should not exceed the pre-laboratory unit quantities specified in local fire or building codes.

• Bulk quantities of chemicals in a prep room should be dispensed outside of the classroom or lab.

• If the lab does not have a prep room, the quantities of chemicals must be kept in locked cabinets before students arrive in the classroom or lab.

• The minimum amount of chemicals needed must be transferred to a smaller, appropriately labeled bottle.

Section 12.3.2 (“Performance of Experiments or Demonstrations”) again requires specific actions on the part of the teacher. For instance:

• Experiments or demonstrations must be performed in a location with access to an exit.

• Experiments or demonstrations involving hazardous quantities of fumes, vapors, particulates, or gases must be operated within a chemical fume hood.

• If it’s not possible to perform the activity in a fume hood, it must be performed behind an impact-resistant plastic or tempered glass safety shield.

• If the activity is performed outside of a fume hood where a shield is not used, students must observe the activity from at least 3 m (10 ft.) away.

• Activities using flammable liquids and open flames must be performed by a knowledgeable instructor.

• Teachers must review the hazards with students, required PPE, and review of emergency procedures.

In the end

NFPA 45 (2015) provides clear direction for science teachers to conduct safer demonstrations or experiments with students. The standard does not, however, prohibit the use of flammable solvents in school laboratories.

Submit questions regarding safety in K–12 to Ken Roy at, or leave him a comment below. Follow Ken Roy on Twitter: @drroysafersci.

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Enhancing Google Sheets for the Classroom

Among the most commonly used tools in the science classroom are those that allow students to collect and manipulate data, including Microsoft Excel, Graphical Analysis, and Google Sheets. This month, we focus on one of the benefits of Google Sheets that sets it apart from similar tools: the add-ons.

If you’re new to add-ons, first look under the add-ons menu in Google Sheets and click “get add-ons.” Once there, you may search for add-ons by category (i.e., Business Tools, Education, Productivity, Social & Communication, and Utilities).

Finding data
Sometimes simply finding data related to a certain scientific content area can be challenging. With the Knoema Data Finder add-on, students can browse a large database of data sets that can be immediately imported into a brand-new Google sheet. This is a great way to get students started on manipulating data. Continue reading …

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The Pasco Wireless Light Sensor: See the Light. And Measure it too.

Pasco Wireless Light Sensor

Within an understated white plastic box is found a dynamic and versatile sensor that effectively measures many forms of light, and gives the science class a peek into how we learn about the universe we live in. Yes, the Pasco Wireless Light Sensor could easily go unnoticed in the science room’s box of technology. It would be understandable to think that this is just another sensor designed to fit into a lineup of other sensors. In fact there really isn’t much on the sensor to indicate just how powerful and versatile this particular sensor really is. There is only one button, the on/off switch. There is a tripod socket, a few words here and there printed on the case, and two apertures, a short black tube for spot measurements, and a flat white circle for ambient measuring. Like I said, uneventful.


Continue reading …

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Health Wise: Be Prepared for Opioid Overdoses

In light of the national opioid epidemic, schools need to be prepared in case a student overdoses. Consider:

  • In 2016, 4.8% of high school seniors reported using opioids for nonmedical reasons (NIDA 2017c).
  • From 2002 to 2015, annual opioid-related deaths grew 2.8-fold to 33,091, says the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA 2017a).
  • More than 90 Americans die every day from opioid overdoses (NIDA 2017b).

Opioids is a term that now refers to both synthetic chemicals such as oxycodone (OxyContin, Percodan, Percocet) and hydrocodone (Vicodin, Lortab, Lorcet) as well as drugs derived from opium poppies, such as codeine, morphine, and heroin. Opioids act on brain receptors that then produce dopamine, which causes feelings of euphoria.

The rise of prescription opioid abuse in the United States can be traced to the late 1990s, when pharmaceutical companies “reassured the medical community that patients would not become addicted to prescription opioid pain relievers,” NIDA says (2017b). “This led to widespread misuse of these medications.” Continue reading …

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Is Quality PD the Goal of STEM Certification? Here’s What the AACT Has to Say

For anyone who isn’t yet familiar with The American Association of Chemistry Teachers (AACT), here’s a bit about who we are. We’re 4,500 members strong, though we’ve only been around for three years. Most of us are teachers, and some are other chemistry professionals. We all care deeply about chemistry education and recognize that teachers of chemistry span all grade levels. We are the first national association by and for teachers of chemistry, and we’re proud to join the company of other science education organizations who share many of our goals.

We define our goals like this:

  • We provide the best resources we can to support teachers of chemistry: everything from lesson plans to background reading to student materials to labs and demonstrations. Being a teacher is incredibly demanding and we hope to help our members feel positively rich in resources.
  • We bring teachers of chemistry together in a functional network that enables both experienced and less experienced teachers to connect and learn from one another.
  • We offer and advocate for targeted, quality professional development for teachers of chemistry. Great professional development empowers teachers with specific skills and tools they need to teach and empower their students. 

The STEM Certification Conversation

When the conversation around STEM certification began, we saw that this effort would likely overlap with our interest in quality professional development, because, of course, the value of any certification is in the training, preparation, and experience that underlies it. As advocates for best-in-class professional development, we understand that seeking and renewing certifications are often the driving force behind time and funding being allotted for professional development.

There are certainly many teachers out there who could benefit from training and experience with STEM teaching methods and content. If a certification structure could bring those teachers the experiences and tools they need to better serve their students, then it’s a structure worth considering. Through AACT, we interact with many members who teach other sciences in addition to chemistry, and we appreciate initiatives that support practitioners of multiple disciplines. 

In my own teaching career, having taught math and physics along with chemistry, I have gained a real understanding of the relationships among the disciplines. This has benefited my students, as I have been able to reveal those relationships in their classroom experience. The webinars that we have offered that deal with incorporating engineering, solving mathematical problems with intuition in stoichiometry and working without a calculator have all been well received and reflect our members’ interest in multiple disciplines.

Often times, practical know-how and tips for effective teaching are passed on through informal networks and mentorships among teachers. While that is certainly valuable, there is also value in formalizing and clarifying paths for seeking and attaining that knowledge. A clear, formal path can be widely available to all who aim to improve their practice. And, ultimately, the more teachers who benefit from training, mentorships, and so on, the more students those highly-trained teachers will be able to reach.

And aren’t the students what we’re all about in the end? AACT is proud to join our sister associations in pursuing top-quality education for all of our students by advocating for highly supported, well trained, teachers.

Jenelle Ball is the AACT President and Governing Board Chair. She has teaching high school chemistry for over 30 years. She currently teaches chemistry at Chico High School in Chico, CA.

Editor’s Note

This is the second post in a series from expert voices in STEM education who together are pondering questions about STEM certification. The first post in the series can be found here. Consider adding your thoughts about STEM certification in the comments below. As we tackle this issue and others like it, the steering committee for the STEM Forum & Expo will be building the program for the 7th Annual STEM Forum & Expo, hosted by NSTA, to be held July 11–13, 2018, in Philadelphia, PA. Please subscribe to the conferences category at to get updates as these blogs are posted.

Future NSTA Conferences

2017 Area Conferences

2017 Discover the NGSS “Train the Trainer” Workshops

2017 NGSS Administrator Institute

2018 National Conference

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The TI-Innovator Rover: A Vehicle for Coding a Vehicle

With all the connectivity possible built into the TI-Innovator Hub, it was inevitable that programable motorized peripherals would become available for I-Hub. And that day has arrived. Texas Instruments, the maker of the ubiquitous graphing calculators like the TI-84, has announced the TI-Innovator Rover, a two-wheeled programmable robotic vehicle designed to work directly (hardwired) with the TI-Innovator Hub.

A 360 degree tour of the TI-Innovator Rover is available here, but below are a few more screenshots of the Rover. 


The TI-Innovator Hub was detailed on this NSTA Blog back in December. We were impressed with the Hub’s ability to provide feedback and control options in as little as 10 minutes. The coding process of the Hub required an appropriate TI graphing calculator so the coding experience involved a command-line interface rather than the drag-and-drop “language” of many more toy-like coding devices. The current list of comparable calculators includes one model of the 84 (Plus CE), and seven TI-Nspire hardware/software combinations.


According to Peter Balyta, the president of TI Education Technology, “We created Rover to demystify robotics and give students who might be intimidated by programming an easy on-ramp to learn to code. Given the sheer joy we have seen on students’ faces as they learned to code during our testing phase, we are excited to see how Rover will inspire more young minds through an introduction to robotics.”

The TI-Innovator Rover leverages the ubiquitous TI family of graphing calculators and requires a command-line understanding of the coding process. While the learning curve might be steeper for command-line coding, the capabilities are not limited by an available set of drag-and-drop code icons.

The aluminum TI-Innovator Rover with rechargeable battery has two independent drive wheels, a motor shaft encoder, a gyroscope, color sensor, LED lights, and a marker holder that will lay a path for science, art or both at the same time.

TI-Innovator Rover puts STEM into motion. I’m excited to take it for a drive when available.


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Ed News: Nebraska’s New Education Standards To Include Climate Change

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This week in education news, Louisiana to start push to boost student interest in STEM, especially among women; Nebraska approves new science education standards that include climate change; Gallup 2017 Survey of K-12 superintendents highlights challenges facing districts; Next Generation Learning Standards to replace Common Core in New York; coding and the rise of STEAM learning are the trends to watch in K-12 educational technology this year; and California gets waiver from administering old science tests.

State Starting Push For More Science, Math And Engineering Students, Especially Among Women

Louisiana is about to launch a new bid to elevate one of the hottest fields in education, and improve on the dismal number of women in science, technology, engineering and math. The targeted careers will be the topic of an influential panel authorized by the Legislature earlier this year. The goal is to boost student interest in science, technology, engineering and math; align those skills with fast-growing workforce needs and increase the number of women with STEM degrees. Read the article featured in The Advocate.

Nebraska’s New Education Standards To Include Climate Change

The Nebraska State Board of Education has approved new science standards that will see the state’s public schools teaching climate change for the first time. The board voted 6-1 to approve the standards. Read the article by the Associated Press.

Gallup 2017 Survey Of K-12 Superintendents Highlights Challenges Facing Districts

According to the Gallup 2017 Survey of K-12 School District Superintendents, a majority of district leaders report that the greatest challenges facing their schools are budget shortfalls and assisting students whose achievement is impacted by socioeconomic conditions. Additionally, the data finds superintendents in urban or suburban districts are more likely to be engaged than those in their town or rural counterparts, and 66% across all types of districts are seeing fewer new teacher candidates. Read the brief featured in Education DIVE.

Continue reading …

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Focus on learning activities

My fourth-grade students like doing hands-on science activities. How can I get them to focus on the activity rather than socializing? —C., West Virginia

You want students to enjoy the activity and talk with each other, but students need to understand the activity is purposeful and not “free” time. Your preparation and routines will make the difference.

Teachers often assume students know how to work cooperatively. Model and practice the routines for each role and appropriate conversations.

To save time accessing materials, I used numbered trays for each group with necessary materials and a list of the items to help students inventory and return them.

Introduce the activity’s purpose and describe the expected result (e.g., report, table or graph, drawing, model, list of questions, summary, or new ideas to share). Remind students of safety issues and their roles in cooperative learning (e.g., data recorder, equipment manager, clean-up, question-asker).

As you monitor the activity, ask students about what they’re doing and reinforce appropriate behaviors. This is also a time for formative assessments of students’ skills in lab and safety procedures, measurement, and data recording. Deal immediately with individuals or groups who are off-task or engaging in unsafe or distracting behaviors. If things get out of hand, stop the activity and refocus the students back on the activity.

Allow time to summarize the activity and clean up before the end of the class. This gives students time to settle down, focus on what they did, and transition to the next subject or class.

It’s important that students understand a science activity is as much of a learning event as a worksheet or teacher-led discussion—and probably more so.



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Off the Deep End: Reflections on my time as a NOAA Teacher at Sea


Sunset/Sunrise over a fjord in Kodiak, Alaska

The Bering Sea is cold, even in June. The water temperature is just above freezing in summer and the spray across the deck of our ship in rough weather can feel so cold it’s startling.  Of course, the weather in the Bering can get rough. It’s been 10 years, and I remember it so well.  I can still hear the calm sound of the crew’s voices as I looked at ocean swells as tall as buildings towering over us. I thought we would never get through those waves; but for the crew, this was just another work day. Our ship kept plowing on through those storms without complaint; so much steadier than I was. I think of the smell of salt, fish, and diesel fumes from the engine greeting me as I came on deck at 4 A.M. to start my long shift. I remember the rough feel of the harness around my waist which I used to tie myself to the ship while I helped deploy equipment. I recall how grateful I was for that harness as we leaned off the deck and the waves tried in vain to ease me over the side into the waiting water below. These are powerful memories, for me and for my students, because science is not always done in a lab. To understand the world, you must go out into it … not to where it is comfortable or easy, but to where you can find data you need. Sometimes that means going to places like the Bering Sea. That simple truth is something which eludes too many students. They walk away from classrooms and labs thinking that science is an indoor pursuit; the domain of geeks and nerds who forgo a life of adventure, choosing instead to bury themselves in a sunless world of test tubes, lab coats and computers.

We can offer students a more realistic, better-informed perspective. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) Teacher At Sea Program helps teachers and students understand and participate in the real adventure which science offers. Teachers become part of the science crew on a research ship. I’ve been out with them on the Bering Sea, the Gulf of Alaska and along the northeastern United States. Teachers work alongside the scientists, gathering data, which for me meant processing different species of fish that were brought up in our various nets (you use different kinds of nets depending on what you are trying to catch, and where in the water column you are trying to catch it). We counted, weighed and measured fish.  Sometimes we took samples and packed them to go back to the lab.  I handled rays, crabs, lobsters, and sea stars of more types than I can describe. These were some of the most beautiful wildlife I have ever seen.  I sorted through the strange creatures our nets dragged up from the deep. There was one kind–Monkfish from the northeastern US–which seemed to have two full sets of remarkably sharp teeth, an outer and a set further inside its wide, gaping mouth. I haven’t eaten any Monkfish since. I saw a whale leap with its whole body out of the water and come crashing down three times in a row, and then disappear again into the depths in less time than it took for me to pick up my camera. I saw a long slow sunset in a quiet fjord in Alaska that somehow, unexpectedly, at least for me, gave way to a sunrise and then to a full day. That midsummer night in Alaska was one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. I spent several glorious nights working alone on the back deck of a ship in the Gulf of Maine, surrounded by a pod of dolphins that swam circles around our ship all night long.  No matter how fast our ship tried to go, those dolphins never seemed to get tired. At least they never complained to me.

NOAA Ship Miller Freeman arrives in Dutch Harbor, Alaska

Back home, my students got to see all of that, too. They read my blog posts and saw my photos while I was away. In real time, they sent questions to me and the scientists. Whenever my students stumped me (which happened so many times), I had an entire staff of scientists to call on. The interactions where I mediated between the scientists and the students are some of my favorite moments in my nearly three decades as a teacher. One fifth-grade class designed an experiment to test how lobster shells reacted to vinegar – a weak acid –  and sent their results to a scientist on our ship. He was studying how lobster shells react to the changes in ocean chemistry (called ocean acidification) which happens when the carbon dioxide we add to our air gets absorbed into sea water.

Jacob Tanenbaum helping deploy nets in the Gulf of Alaska

When you work with one superb program in a government agency, and see the extraordinary benefits to the local community of that participation, it can lead to participation in other programs which they offer. I’ve been a Peer Leader in NOAA’s excellent Climate Stewards Education Program for the last several years. That program offers teachers advanced training and certification on climate science directly from scientists working in the field, and has been an invaluable resource in my work. I also had the opportunity to work with NOAA’s Teacher on the Estuary training program. I began attending NSTA’s national conference as part of my participation with NOAA. I then presented as part of NOAA’s NSTA workshops and later wrote my own proposals for presentations and began presenting those materials at NSTA. For me, participating in NOAA’s programs has been transformative. You should do it, too.

Jacob Tanenbaum and friend on the Bering Sea

Jacob Tanenbaum teaches third fourth and fifth grade science and technology in Cottage Lane Elementary School in Blauvelt, New York, just north of New York City.  His writing has appeared in Scientific American, Education Week, the New York Times Dot Earth Blog and others. 



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Commentary: Reasoning Versus Post-truth

Nicolaus Copernicus’s heliocentric model of the universe was reasoned from evidence but conflicted with popular beliefs of the day.

The Oxford Dictionaries word of the year for 2016 was post-truth, defined as “denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” Science is not immune to appeals to emotion and belief rather than fact.

To help us challenge the drift toward post-truth, the history of science reminds us of the qualities that support all the practices of science, including evidence-based reasoning.

The evolution of evidence-based reasoning
Empirical evidence and reasoning have not always been at the heart of the scientific enterprise. Evidence-based reasoning evolved in response to beliefs that were increasingly untenable to early natural philosophers. In the early 1600s, the first scientific academies were established in part to uphold the primacy of experiment in questions about the natural world. Such a stance was counter to scholasticism, the dominant medieval method of learning “rooted in Aristotle and endorsed by the Church, [which] involved certain beliefs about the celestial realm … as well as the terrestrial realm of Earth” (Carlin 2009, p. 5).

Synthesizing Christianity and Aristotelian thought, scholasticism viewed the universe as simultaneously religious and physical. The scholastic reaction to the heliocentrism put forth in the 1543 publication of De revolutionibus orbium coelestium is entirely understandable: Copernicus challenged not just a “scientific” model of the universe but also a view of man’s place in creation.

The difficulty that philosopher and scientist Francis Bacon had with deductive scholasticism was that it was static, not permitting new knowledge to develop. By introducing and promoting induction as a method for studying nature, Bacon profoundly influenced the course of scientific inquiry: “Under the leadership of Francis Bacon, most of the empiricists would come to believe that a natural philosophy rooted in experimentation, as opposed to the purely theoretical … method employed by scholastics, was crucial to understanding nature’s ways” (Carlin 2009, p. 11, emphasis in original). Continue reading …

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