Solace in the Solstice? Shedding Light on the Nature of Science

Google Doodle: First Day of Autumn 2014The coming of autumn at 9:29 EDT last night (which I was pleased to see featured in today’s Google Doodle) serves as the perfect segue to a theme of mine as Executive Director of the National Science Teachers Association: We must teach students to understand that there are testable predictions about that physical world that together comprise a body of knowledge known as “science.” And we cannot debate those “facts.” But what we can do, and must do better, is teach our students how those facts can be used to make societal decisions, such as whether daylight savings time is a benefit or not to our society.

Autumn began last night at 9:29 PM EDT as the sun crossed the equator. For those of us living at mid latitudes, the hours of daylight will now be fewer than those dark. Indeed the rate at which the day disappears is at its quickest, slowing only as we approach the dark and cold days of December and January.  Our understanding of the tilt of the Earth’s axis and its motion around the Sun allows us forecast these changes with a high degree of confidence, a simple example of how science leads to testable predictions about the physical world.

Daylight Saving Time ends at 2:00 AM on Sunday November 2, at least here in most of the United States. But not everywhere, which leads to the debate over the use of daylight saving time–something that has been controversial since Benjamin Franklin proposed it. Arguments in favor point to better use of daylight and energy conservation. Opponents argue against the nuisance of changing clocks, disrupted sleep schedules, the risk to school children due to poor visibility in the early hours, the conflict with religious law and practice, and the fact that farm animals don’t use clocks at all.

Daylight saving time is based on the science mentioned above but in itself is not science. While we can debate the costs and benefits of changing our clocks twice a year, we can’t ignore or legislate against the seasonal change in the number of hours of daylight. We can debate how we will respond and we can use the science to inform that discussion, but we may decide that other factors are more important and accept the predictable consequences of our decision.

As the Sun continues its southward trip and the days shorten, we turn back the air conditioning and turn up the heat against winter’s chill. For over a hundred years science has told us that increased combustion of fossil fuels will lead to a change in the planet’s climate. In 1896 Svante Arrhenius calculated a value of the amount of that change that is quite close to modern estimates. And just as we measure the days shortening, so we have we measured the planet’s beginning to warm. We can and must debate what to do with that information but we cannot pretend that it does not exist any more than we can deny the solstice.

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NGSS and 21st century tools and skills

One of the perks of being an NSTA member is having access to all of the journals online. Regardless of the grade level you teach, the journals have ideas for authentic activities and investigations that can be used, adapted, or extended for different levels of student interest and experience.

In NSTA’s September K-12 journals, the overarching theme seems to be rethinking and expanding traditional learning experiences. The articles have ideas for helping students incorporate different ways of thinking and learning via activities incorporating the NGSS and 21st century technology applications.

Keep reading for more from Science & Children, Science Scope, and The Science Teacher.

Continue reading …

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Five Essential Topics in the Journal of College Science Teaching


MMYM_15minThousands of college freshmen have chosen their first-year science courses based on knowledge and experience from their K-12 years. College professors and instructors can use the award-winning Journal of College Science Teaching (JCST) to better ensure lectures, labs, and online instruction continue to inspire and promote science education.

JCST is a bimonthly peer-reviewed journal for instructors and professors at the university and two-year community college level as well as pre-service science educators. The journal offers the proven research, case studies, and perspectives for college-level science educators charged with bridging the gap and creating career-ready scientists and future science teachers.

Here are several different ways to spend 15 minutes with JCST (Note: Members need to log in to access the articles listed below; nonmembers can access them for a fee):

  1. STEM-Related Degrees

It’s never too early to encourage science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) interests in students, but studies show college students make career choices during the first two years of college. As institutions track the enrollment of STEM-related degrees, science professors and instructors must continue to cultivate successful retention of undergraduates in science majors.

Each issue of JCST serves up research and discussion on STEM education challenges and solutions at the college level, such as the following:

Learn about unique programs, innovative technology, reform updates, and case studies all focused on STEM education sustainability and growth.

  1. Focusing on research and case studies

Because professors and instructors may be teaching non-science majors, JCST publishes integrated, multidisciplinary approaches to research experiences. Here are a few sample articles:

Two columns each month focus on student outcomes:

Research and Teaching reports the results of exemplary systematic educational research in college science teaching. Articles published in this column typically report on student outcomes in multicenter or multicourse studies.

Case Studies column publishes original articles on innovations in case study teaching, assessment of the method, as well as case studies themselves along with teaching notes for classroom instruction.

Continue reading …

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Using STEM Clubs as a Catalyst for Change in K-12 Education: A Statewide Model

Graphic showing the elements of a good after school STEM clubThe growing abundance of research supporting the importance of incorporating increased Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) into schools, combined with the recently vocalized excitement in regard to STEM by high profile individuals appears to be having only minimal impact in our classrooms. This appears to be the case despite all of those who have rushed to create and market STEM resources for educators. Even the growing support from industry for an increase in the integration of STEM into schools, which they have graciously shown in the form of financial support and shared expertise, has not been enough to truly ignite successful large scale integration of STEM in schools (Ryan, 2012). STEM Club kidsUnfortunately this reality, however frustrating, is not new to educational reform efforts. History has shown that many well intended, research backed educational reform efforts have failed due to a lack of understanding and support for such change. Although this appears to be the path that many of the efforts in regard to STEM are on, there are signs of hope. In Arizona, over the past three years, we at Science Foundation Arizona have seen our efforts in regard to STEM clubs ignite a statewide movement which is beginning to serve as a catalyst for helping educators, students, parents, and the larger community to understand and support the need for increasing the integration of STEM into our schools. While we acknowledge that this may only be a first step in the process to fully integrate STEM into our schools, we see it as a vital one to move forward toward large-scale sustainable integration of STEM into our classrooms.

STEM Club activityThree years ago, defining STEM clubs as “any gathering of students that meets regularly in an informal environment to work on inquiry-based STEM related activities,” Science Foundation Arizona piloted STEM clubs in eleven schools. Each school received supplies, teacher stipends, and professional development. What we learned from these efforts was that there was an interest in STEM clubs across the state and that STEM clubs opened up possibilities that other types of specialized clubs, such as full robotics clubs, did not. Unlike these specialized clubs, STEM clubs appealed to all grade levels, especially K–8, and they allowed teachers and students to adjust the level and focus of the club in order to meet student needs and interests. With this knowledge in hand, we set out to develop a STEM club model that could be replicated on a large scale. At this time we were also working on developing a statewide network of Informal STEM Providers, which included representatives from education, business, government, and non-profit organizations with an interest in Informal STEM. Early in our second year of these efforts our work in these two areas came together when we realized that a number of our Informal partners had also been experimenting with STEM clubs. As a result, we began to coordinate our efforts and our lessons learned. Within six months we had developed an inexpensive STEM club model, and an online STEM Club Guide, which not only provides schools with guidance on how to setup and support a STEM club, but also has the ability to connect these clubs to one another, allowing them to share resources, collaborate on projects, and provide each other support regardless of geographic limitations. This free online resource can be found at Continue reading …

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Kindergarten teachers–webinar for you on Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Child pushes a ball on a track.

Investigating motion.

Just a quick post to alert you to the National Science Teachers Association webinar, Teaching NGSS in Elementary School—Kindergarten, for Kindergarten teachers, underwritten by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Increase your understanding of the Next Generation Science Standards with kindergartners in mind. Just 90 minutes–see additional information below. Click here to see the entire series for all grades.

Teaching NGSS in Elementary School—Kindergarten

 Review the general architecture of the Next Generation Science Standards and the specific expectations for kindergarten. Then learn how to use the standards to plan curriculum and instruction. During this 90-minute web seminar, you will also have an opportunity to

  • deepen their understanding of how the three dimensions of NGSS (practices, core ideas, and crosscutting concepts) are designed to blend together during classroom instruction;
  • dive in to one or two examples of what the teaching and learning to achieve NGSSlooks like in a Kindergarten classroom; and
  • discuss instructional practices with other Kindergarten teachers and begin the development of a grade-level community in the NSTA Learning Center to support students learning.

Register today!

Title: Teaching NGSS in Elementary School—Kindergarten

Target audience: Kindergarten teachers
Date: Wednesday, September 17, 2014
Time: 6:30 p.m. ET / 5:30 p.m. CT / 4:30 p.m. MT / 3:30 p.m. PT
Duration: 90 minutes Note: New users should log in 15 minutes prior to the scheduled start time for an introduction to NSTA web seminars.
Presenters: Carla Zembal-SaulMary Starr and Kathy Renfrew

Register today to participate in this web seminar. Upon registering you will receive an e-mail confirmation including information about the program and suggested links to visit in preparation of the event. Additional information about the web seminar will be e-mailed to you days before the program.

Each web seminar is a unique, stand-alone, program. Archives of the web seminars and the presenters’ PowerPoint presentations will be available through the links on this web page. Learn more about the features of the web seminar and read answers to frequently asked questions from participants.


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Setting the Stage for Science

Now that we are back in school somewhere between a week and a month depending on where you live and what schedule your district adheres to, I thought it might be a great opportunity for all of us to step back and consider how we set the stage for science learning in our classrooms this year. The Leaders Letter that came out right as the Labor Day holiday hit and school started may still be sitting in your in-boxes and had as its theme Science Engagement on All Levels.  Resources included information on the current Ebola outbreak, resources for parents related to the Next Generation Science Standards, a report titled The Progress of Education Reform: Science in the Early Years, which examines the benefits associated with science education in early learning and includes recommendations for state policymakers. It also provided safety resources and a variety of announcements. Hopefully something was interesting to and engaged the readership of the eNewsletter. So engagement was the topic of the newsletter and of this blog post that will hopefully generate conversation and a sharing of ideas.

How we engage people – whether it be students, peers, or parents requires strategy and thought. A popular commercial for a credit card has various character’s asking “What’s in Your Pocket?” in a whimsical way connects (at least in my mind) to the idea of engagement and ultimately “setting the stage for science.” Considering how we set the stage for science is a way of encouraging educators to consider how we engage students in science or how do we make science engaging.

Within the newsletter, the section of resource for professional development providers offers several websites related to the strategies to engage learners and create an atmosphere for your classroom. It is understandable that a classroom environment to include décor, structure, and management policies is sometimes controlled or limited by administrative policies.  It is also understandable that approaches are often influenced by what a teacher feels comfortable doing.  For example, I am NOT a person who can pull off the criss, cross applesauce and other clapping strategies with any sincerity at all – even when attempting to model them for my pre-service teachers. Continue reading …

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Where Can I Find Inspiration for New Lesson Plans?


NSTA member Todd Hoover, who now teaches preservice science teachers, began his career as an elementary and middle-level science teacher. When starting out, he didn’t know about NSTA. “One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t become a member sooner,” he says. “I wish that I had joined NSTA when I was teaching K–12 because I missed out on a world of good ideas that I could have used in the classroom.” Hoover says that for busy teachers, NSTA provides a wealth of ideas that educators “can take and almost immediately use in the classroom with students.”

Hoover: I find it extremely important that I share information about NSTA with every one of my preservice teachers because I don’t want them to start their careers and not know about the association. When teachers have a resource that is readily available to them, particularly at their fingertips like the NSTA Learning Center, they save a lot of valuable time in planning and preparation.

NSTA provides a number of resources that range from how to write a grant to content knowledge support. There’s an endless amount of topics to choose from when you go to an NSTA Conference or when you’re using the Learning Center. I find that for me, personally, the part that is most beneficial are the lesson ideas that I can take and use right away.

Every NSTA Conference I attend, both regional and national, is filled with practical, real-world, hands-on, and effective ideas. I use those ideas in my college classrooms, and I teach my preservice students those same ideas so they can implement them in the K–12 system.

During one of the most recent conferences I attended, for example, I went to a session where the presenter showed educational science games that can be used in the classroom. He must have presented 30 or more games in just that one-hour time. I found practically every one of the games to be useful and have shared the games with my preservice teachers so that they can use them in their classrooms.

When I go to the NSTA Conferences, I also find that I leave there with ideas that are able to be implemented in the classroom at little or no cost. All teachers are trying to find ways to do good teaching without breaking the bank.

How else has your NSTA membership helped you in your career?

Hoover: I have served on committees such as the Science and Children Advisory Board and the planning committee for the 2015 NSTA area conference in Philadelphia. The networking opportunities have been huge. I have also gotten involved with NSTA’s state chapter here in Pennsylvania and in two years I’ll be serving as the chapter’s president. Through all of these different connections, I’ve been able to improve my own professional development. I get to network with some of the best science educators in the nation now. There are good ideas that come from that.

 (Note from NSTA: How has NSTA helped you save time on lesson planning? We’d love to hear from you in the comments section below. Not a member of NSTA? Learn more about how to join.)

Jennifer Henderson is our guest blogger for this series. Before launching her freelance career as a writer/editor, Jennifer was Managing Editor of The Science Teacher, NSTA’s peer-reviewed journal for high school science teachers.

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Middle school to high school

I’ve heard that there will be a vacancy in the high school science department next year. The position is for three sections of general biology and two sections of environmental science (not AP). I currently teach middle school general science but I’m credentialed in biology and tempted to make a change after 10 years. What culture shock would I experience in high school? How can I handle two different preparations?
—M. fromTexas

I had a similar situation, switching to a high school position after many years at a middle school. I think my middle school experience gave me an off-beat sense of humor and helped me to deal with the high schoolers who needed different instructional approaches. Engaging high school students in spirited discussions and in high-level investigations and projects was intellectually exhilarating, although I must admit I still have a soft spot for middle schoolers. But I don’t regret taking on a rewarding challenge that enabled me to grow professionally and expand my circle of colleagues.

In terms of “culture shock,” you’ll find the students are physically bigger and they have a lot on their plates in addition to their academic classes: extracurriculars, social issues, interactions with their peers, after-school jobs, and concerns about college and post-high school employment. In many places, the high school starts earlier than the other schools. Access to social media can be a distraction during the day. You might not have a high percentage of parents at back-to-school night.

Continue reading …

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Uncovering Student Ideas in Science Workshops at NSTA’s Area Conferences This Fall

Uncovering vol 4 coverUncovering Student Ideas is highly recommended for teachers at every level; it contains a set of essential tools that cross discipline, grade, and ability levels. There’s no better way to guide your planning and decision-making process.”
—from Juliana Texley’s review of Uncovering Student Ideas in Science, Vol. 4

Research has shown that the effective use of formative assessment can significantly improve learning for all students. Learn how to use formative assessment to transform instruction while simultaneously supporting learning. During these daylong workshops with NSTA Press authors Page Keeley and Joyce Tugel, participants will be introduced to the use of formative assessment in science, learn about the nature of students’ misconceptions, experience a framework used to address students’ ideas within a cycle of instruction, and experience interactive formative classroom techniques (FACTs) that support language literacy capacities and the scientific practices of constructing explanations and argument from evidence. Applications to both K–12 teaching and teacher professional or preservice development will be addressed. All participants will receive a copy of Uncovering Student Ideas in Science, Vol . 4, a $31.95 value.

Continental breakfast is included in the ticket price. These workshops take place in conjunction with the NSTA Area Conferences in Orlando, FL (Weds., Nov. 5) and Long Beach, CA (Weds., Dec. 3).

More information and registration details can be found here:

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Picture-Perfect Science Workshops at NSTA’s Area Conferences This Fall

PB186X3“Emily Morgan and Karen Ansberry have done it again! Their newest volume, Even More Picture-Perfect Science Lessons, K–5: Using Children’s Books to Guide Inquiry, is as excellent as their previous books.” –from a review in Science Books & Film/AAAS

STEM education begins in elementary school, but it can be difficult for elementary teachers to fit science into the school day. Picture-Perfect Science integrates science and reading in a meaningful way, so you can teach both subjects at once. In these full-day workshops with NSTA Press authors Emily Morgan and Karen Ansberry, you will participate in model lessons that integrate science and reading, learn the benefits and cautions of using children’s picture books in science, become familiar with the BSCS 5E model, and receive a bibliography of recommended science-related picture books. All attendees will also receive a copy of Even More Picture-Perfect Science Lessons, winner of a 2014 Gold EXCEL Award from Association Media & Publishing. This bestselling book contains 15 classroom-ready lessons for grades K–5—a $39.95 value. Continental breakfast is included in the ticket price.

Come to these Picture-Perfect Science Workshops and rejuvenate elementary science instruction in your school! The workshops take place in conjunction with the NSTA Area Conferences in Richmond, VA (Weds., Oct. 15); Orlando, FL (Weds., Nov. 5); and Long Beach, CA (Weds., Dec. 3). More information and registration details can be found here:

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