Ed News: Idaho Releases Revamped Science Standards Proposal

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This week in education news, Idaho releases revamped science standards proposal; two University of Florida professors explain how the taunting of minority students in a robotics competition are part of a cultural idea that minority students don’t belong in STEM classes; new 3-minute videos highlight new research in STEM education; next-generation science tests slowly take shape; and according to the Center on Education Policy, students spend an average of 10 days out of the school year taking district-mandated tests and nine days taking state-required tests.

Idaho Releases Revamped Science Standards Proposal

A state committee has made another attempt to break a deadlock over addressing climate change in Idaho classrooms. But the last word in this controversy belongs to Idaho lawmakers — who removed references to climate change from state science standards earlier this year. The State Department of Education unveiled five new climate change standards with wording designed to address lawmakers’ concerns. Click here to read the article featured in Idaho Ed News.

Keeping Up With STEM In The Classroom

Job readiness and transferable skills are things you don’t typically associate with elementary students. Yet to pursue careers as mechanical engineers or computer scientists as adults, children need to develop their interests in and aptitudes for such fields at an early age. The pressure that schools and teachers face to increase STEM education is real. Starting in 2019, elementary and secondary teachers in Washington state will have to document professional development in STEM in order to renew their teaching certificates. Click here to read the article featured in The Seattle Times.

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Using the Crosscutting Concepts to Scaffold Student Thinking

At the recent NSTA National Conference in Los Angeles, three-dimensional learning was, of course, a major topic of discussion. When those discussions focus on classroom instruction, though, the crosscutting concepts are often the forgotten dimension. Some educators argue that the crosscutting concepts should develop in students’ minds organically, and that it’s enough for a teacher to simply guide students to reflect on a learning experience to find connections to those concepts. Other educators see the value in making the crosscutting concepts more explicit for students, but they find it difficult to do so. We fell into this second camp. 

We realized the crosscutting concepts are valuable tools for helping students develop, understand, and connect disciplinary core ideas and practices across learning experiences.  However, we wondered how we could help students make these connections in effective ways.  We started to see the answer to that question after reviewing the plant growth and gas exchange unit developed at Michigan State University (MSU). The matter and energy process tool used in that unit provides explicit scaffolding for students as they apply the Energy and Matter crosscutting concept to phenomena ranging from a drying sponge to a growing tree. This scaffold helps students see the structure of the crosscutting concept, and it forces them to connect general, abstract ideas about matter and energy with specific, concrete phenomena. Once we considered this tool, we envisioned ways to help students develop their ability to apply the crosscutting concepts when analyzing phenomena.

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Posted in Next Generation Science Standards | 4 Responses

Digging Deeper: Modeling

At the core of a Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) classroom is the sequence of exposing students to an interesting natural phenomenon, having students generate questions about the phenomenon, investigating student questions, then creating a scientific model to explain the phenomenon. Regardless of the practice defined in the performance expectation, this triad of phenomenon, questioning, and modeling should be incorporated into most NGSS lesson sequences.

One of the fifth-grade performance expectations (5-ESS1-1) is about supporting an argument concerning the apparent brightness of stars with respect to the stars’ distance from Earth. Before students can support an argument, they need to explore the nature of light and determine what happens to light as it travels through the universe. Students begin by viewing photographs of the night sky and generating questions. The following are examples of student-generated questions:

  • Why do some stars twinkle?
  • Why are some of the stars in groups and some spread out?
  • How far away are the stars? Are some nearer to Earth and some farther away?
  • Why do some stars appear bluish, some yellowish, and some reddish?
  • Why do some stars look big and other stars appear little?
  • When a star is really bright, is it closer to Earth?

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Introducing Crosscutting Concepts in the Elementary Grades

Four years ago, I moved from teaching middle school science to teaching grades 2–5 STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics) labs. One of the biggest challenges I faced was limited lab time in our elementary school. Because we shared instructional time with social studies, I was only able to meet with students for two 40-minute periods a week for half the year.

I had many other challenges as well. I had to adjust my planning for younger students, and learn to work effectively with co-teachers whose main focus was English language arts (ELA) and mathematics. Elementary science had been taught from dog-eared textbooks that were older than the students we were teaching, and teachers had relied heavily on worksheets and recall assessments. I knew three-dimensional instruction—as promoted in A Framework for K–12 Science Education (Framework) and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)—presented a daunting paradigm shift for teachers, but I was confident the new standards would yield significant benefits for student engagement and learning.

I think that using the three dimensions helps me maximize student learning. I plan lab investigations, problem-based learning projects, and engineering design challenges to help students apply and extend their classroom learning as they engage in science and engineering practices to solve problems. Crosscutting concepts, in particular, provide an essential, highly useful schema for intentional three-dimensional planning because they offer a big-picture perspective that helps me plan instruction with recurring themes as students’ progress through elementary science. According to the Framework, “Explicit reference to the concepts, as well as their emergence in multiple disciplinary contexts, can help students develop a cumulative, coherent, and usable understanding of science and engineering.”

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Effective meetings

Do you have any ideas for faculty meetings for a new science department chairperson? I’m sure I can handle most of the responsibilities, but I’m terrified of leading meetings. —S., Indiana

Facilitating a meeting is not unlike teaching a class, so apply your classroom management strategies to “meeting management.”

  • Send out an agenda prior to the meeting. Attach information items so the meeting time can be spent on more productive and interesting topics.
  • Be respectful of time. Give people a few minutes to tidy up their classrooms, but start and end the meeting at the designated times.
  • Stick to the agenda but be flexible enough to accommodate any great discussions.
  • Set aside a few minutes to recognize new issues or other concerns. Celebrate any teacher successes or accomplishments, too.
  • Snacks/treats might be appreciated at the end of a long day.
  • Send meeting minutes to all members of the department and keep the principal in the loop.

You could also use a “flipped classroom” strategy. For your meeting topic, send out readings or links to video segments to watch prior to the meeting. (The NSTA journals and web resources would be good sources.) Your meeting can focus on active discussion, decision-making, or teacher reflection related to these topics. Teachers can use the meeting time to work collaboratively on tasks that they would otherwise have to do on their own.

As a new chairperson, you may run into resistance from teachers who are used to the old ways. Participating in discussions or group activities may take some getting used to. If meetings previously were seen as a waste of time, you may have to be persistent to demonstrate that things are going to be better. And they will!


Photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/tomsaint/2987926396/

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Relating weather watching to periodic nature events

Children building in the snow.Two-years-olds may be too young to remember the seasonal changes that happened in the last year but they are not too young to understand and talk about the natural changes that happen on a shorter time scale—the cycle of day and night. Looking for the Moon can be a nighttime or daytime activity. Older children remember events that occur seasonally—leaves dropping from deciduous trees or the occasionally heavy snow that closed school and made new play opportunities in their familiar landscape. All ages are affected by regional changes such as annual flooding, summertime dry spells, and changes in animal behavior. Hunting seasons are tied to annual animal lifecycles. 

Migration of animals such as toads and bears are the focus of community efforts to make residents aware of the seasonal changes in animal activity. In some regions, all are fascinated and sometimes freaked out by the appearance of a large number of cicadas, an insect that has a life cycle that for some species takes more than a decade. Regional experts, such as naturalist Alonso Abugattas, can help us make sense of changes we don’t understand. 

Those occasional events are memorable. Observation and documentation are strategies that help children (and scientists) make sense of the everyday and occasional changes in their environment (NGSS practices). Children can make simple documentation of the daily weather and relate it to the seasonal cycles that affect living organisms. If your children are recording the daily temperature in relative or standard measurement, they can look back and see how many days with “hot” temperatures occurred before their pea seeds sprouted, cicadas emerged, or the swimming pools opened.

Cloud chart from NASA/NOAAChildren who are not yet reading numerals or able to count the small marks on a thermometer can read the colors on a thermometer with color-coded groups of 10-20 degrees of temperature. They can hold a cloud chart against the sky to match cloud types or collect and measure precipitation. A class’ daily “weather report” of sunny/cloudy/rainy/windy/snowy becomes much more meaningful when their sky cover and temperature data from the year is displayed so children can see patterns and relate changes in weather to changes in the life cycles of the plants and animals in their neighborhood. Early childhood educators are discussing weather education in the NSTA Learning Center Early Childhood Forum, one place to learn how to extend children’s understanding of the relationship between daily weather and seasons, and how those changes affect living organisms.

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Ed News: Teacher Speak – What PD Actually Works?

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This week in education news, 12 Texas students injured in outdoor science experiment involving fire; student misconceptions about the teaching profession, as well as a lack of discussion on the part of professors, contribute to the current shortage of STEM teachers; President Trump’s new budget proposal would boost school choice; and according to NCTQ’s new report only 16 teacher prep programs ranked as top tier.

12 Texas Preschoolers Hurt In Blast From Color-Changing Fire Experiment Gone Wrong

An outdoor science experiment involving fire at a Texas Presbyterian preschool went terribly wrong Tuesday, injuring 12 students — six of whom were transported to a hospital with burns. A group of preschoolers were gathered outside to watch a teacher change the color of fire using different chemicals. The teacher mixed boric acid with methanol and tried to light it on fire. Nothing happened, so the teacher added more alcohol and lit the mixture again. Then there was an explosion. Click here to read the article featured in the Washington Post.

Teachers Speak: What PD Actually Works?

Even with the best technology in the world, there is one key element that determines student success: a high-quality, highly-effective teacher. In fact, some research estimates that teachers can impact students’ lifetime earnings by 10 to 20 percent, which can increase the U.S. gross domestic product by tens of trillions of dollars. And professional development (PD) is critical in helping teachers as they continue to hone their skills and evolve as educators. But what kind of PD is most effective, and does the kind of PD that helps teachers best change as teachers become more experienced? Click here to read the article featured in eSchool News.

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Legislative Update: Trump Budget Proposes Cuts in Education

President Trump’s budget is not expected out until Tuesday, May 23, but the Washington Post is reporting that the Administration is planning massive cuts to the U.S. Department of Education, and is proposing  that another $1 billion be provided for school choice programs. (In related news, Secretary DeVos is expected to unveil the Administration’s school choice plan during a speech on Monday, May 22.)

As expected, the budget would also eliminate funding for Title IV-A, the ESSA block grant that would target funds to every state and district. The Washington Post states, “The Trump administration would dedicate no money to a fund for student support and academic enrichment that is meant to help schools pay for, among other things, mental-health services, anti-bullying initiatives, physical education, Advanced Placement courses and science and engineering instruction. Congress created the fund, which totals $400 million this fiscal year, by rolling together several smaller programs. Lawmakers authorized as much as $1.65 billion, but the administration’s budget for it in the next fiscal year is zero.”

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Build Your Middle Level STEM Repertoire This Summer at the 6th Annual STEM Forum & Expo

I want to personally invite as many middle level educators as possible to attend the 6th Annual STEM Forum & Expo, hosted by NSTA. This year’s roster of middle level sessions explores a wide array of STEM education professional development. NSTA is partnering with other top STEM organizations to bring you the best content: 

These groups will lead hands-on workshops geared toward teachers establishing STEM programs in their schools, STEM leaders in rural districts, and teachers who are new to computer science and engineering.

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How to Safeguard Your Lab

Many of the chemicals on the Department of Homeland Security’s Anti-Terrorism Standards Chemicals of Interest List can be found in high school storerooms. These chemicals may be prone to theft and unauthorized lab experiments. Some terrorist websites have even suggested that their operatives pose as students to acquire hazardous chemical, biological, or radiological agents (NAP 2011).

To meet this challenge, science teachers, their supervisors, and administrators need to provide a secure working environment by making their labs more secure.

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