Wendy Saul at #NSTA15 Kansas City: Curiosity Takes Center Stage

Kansas City skyline panorama.

Dr. Wendy Saul has been a vital part of the science literacy community since 1985 when she co-authored Vital Connections: Children, Science and Book. Since then Saul has focused her attention on the relationship between science and language and how it can be better integrated in schools and libraries.

NSTA members know her from the book Front-Page Science: Engaging Teens in Science Literacy (read a sample chapter), which offers science journalism techniques that help students become better consumers of, and contributors to, a scientifically literate community.

Fostering an Insatiable Curiosity

This December 3–5, fans of Saul can meet her in person, at the 2015 Area Conference on Science Education in Kansas City, Missouri, where she will share her thoughts on sparking curiosity and active learning in students. Don’t miss “Fostering an Insatiable Curiosity: Planning for the Future,” on Friday, December 3 9:30-10:30 AM, in the Kansas City Convention Center, room 2105.

Curious about what else will be happening during the conference? Here is a sample list of other sessions:

  • STEMming The Zombie Tide
  • AMSE Session: The Overlap between Culturally Responsive Teaching and the NGSS
  • Hovercrafts and Newton’s Laws
  • CPO’s Link™ Chemistry Models: Fun with Atom Building and the Periodic Table
  • Earth Science for Our Next Generation of Very Young Scientists
  • Archaea and the Three Domains: Classification of Life for Middle School
  • Teach Engineering Principles on the Cheap with Concrete

Kansas City Area Conference PicWant more? Check out more sessions and other events with the Kansas City Session Browser/Personal Scheduler. Follow all our conference tweets using #NSTA15, and if you tweet, please feel free to tag us @NSTA so we see it!

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

2015 Area Conferences

2016 National Conference

2016 STEM Forum & Expo

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Encourage a Sense of Wonder in Your Students

NSTAKidsLogoNew books in the NSTA Kids I Wonder Why series are available just in time for the new school year! Focused on the biological sciences, these five books introduce readers to basic science content pertaining to plants and animals. Author Lawrence F. Lowery ignites the curiosity of children in grades K–3 while encouraging them to become avid readers. Included in each volume is a Parent/Teacher Handbook with coordinating activities.


AnimalsTwoByTwoAnimals Two by Two

To give kids practice identifying similarities and differences, the book starts by pairing easy-to-distinguish animals, such as zebras and horses. Then it moves on to duos that are more difficult to tell apart, such as turtles and tortoises and seals and sea lions. Reading Animals Two by Two is like taking a walk through the zoo with an eagle-eyed friend—one who wants to know if you can spot the differences between a frog and a toad or a mole and a vole!

LookingforAnimalsLooking for Animals

Now you see them, now you don’t! By showing the same creatures in two different settings, this book brings out the detective in young readers. They can investigate the role of protective coloration— nature’s own camouflage—for katydids, crickets, bumblebees, beavers, spiders, and spotted green frogs. The vivid examples encourage children to closely examine the characteristics of hidden creatures.

tommysturtleTommy’s Turtle

 Tommy’s Turtle offers subtle lessons in both pet care and the importance of close observation. Tommy learns what his turtle needs to thrive, including a safe habitat and tiny bites of healthy food. As he watches his turtle swim, crawl, and go into its armorlike shell, Tommy learns about the characteristics of living organisms. Budding herpetologists and pet-loving kids alike will enjoy this gentle tale of finding and caring for an animal friend.

OurVeryOwnTreeOur Very Own Tree

What happens when two friends take an interest in an oak tree? They begin to notice more about the world around them, such as the seasons changing and squirrels making homes. They are inspired to do independent research, from studying acorns to looking up scientific terms, and to be creative by composing pictures and poems. And they discover new things—all because they stopped to look around them.

TreeatDianesHouseThe Tree by Diane’s House

Written in the rhythm of “The House That Jack Built,” The Tree by Diane’s House tells the story of a budding tree and a growing girl. As the tree grows from seed to sycamore, its leaves become meals for caterpillars, which become food for birds. Diane witnesses what happens when living things depend on one another—until they can’t do so anymore. This tale teaches young readers about the circle of life in the natural world.

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

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What’s popular on NSTA’s website at the start of the school year

Browse the most popular books, e-books, and children’s trade books on NSTA’s website this month. Best wishes for the start of your school year!

Most Popular NSTA Press BooksBook cover image for Inquiring Scientists-Inquiring Readers

Inquiring Scientists, Inquiring Readers: Using Nonfiction to Promote Science Literacy, Grades 3–5

A Head Start on Science: Encouraging a Sense of Wonder

Uncovering Student Ideas in Primary Science, Volume 1: 25 New Formative Assessment Probes for Grades K–2

Exemplary Science for Building Interest in STEM Careers

Using Physics Gadgets and Gizmos, Grades 9–12: Phenomenon-Based Learning

 

Most Popular NSTA Press e-Books

Book cover image for "Scientific Argumentation in Biology"Scientific Argumentation in Biology: 30 Classroom Activities (e-book)

Uncovering Student Ideas in Primary Science, Volume 1: 25 New Formative Assessment Probes for Grades K–2 (e-book)

Argument-Driven Inquiry in Life Science: Lab Investigations for Grades 6–8 (e-book)

Hard-to-Teach Biology Concepts, Revised 2nd Edition: Designing Instruction Aligned to the NGSS (e-book)

Uncovering Student Ideas in Life Science, Volume 1: 25 New Formative Assessment Probes (e-book)

Most Popular NSTA Kids Books

Book cover image of "The Tree by Diane's House"The Tree by Diane’s House: I Wonder Why

Animals Two by Two: I Wonder Why

My School Yard Garden

Next Time You See a Pill Bug

Rubber vs. Glass: I Wonder Why

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Earth-Like Planets in the STEM Classroom

Text-based image saying "Science and the STEM Classroom looks at the STEM lessons to be found in Earth-like planets"

On our vacation this year to Rockport, Massachusetts, we spent an hour one night watching the Perseid meteor shower. This is my favorite meteor shower because I can lay outside and not get cold too fast. The night sky is far darker on the end of Cape Ann than it is at home in Delaware, so it was a rewarding activity. There’s really nothing like staring at the stars and pondering the vastness of space to make you realize your puny human problems aren’t worth losing sleep over.

Ancient astronomers were the first to notice that most of the objects in the night sky moved in circular patterns. They also observed that a few did not move this way, and those they named wandering stars. The ancients’ wandering stars are what we today know as planets. Almost since humans recognized that Earth was also a planet, we have wondered whether there could be life in other parts of the universe. Recent technological advancements in astronomy have increased confidence in the probability that there are other forms of life in the universe.

Detection and Identification

The United States National Air and Space Administration (NASA) developed the ongoing Kepler mission to detect other planets in the universe and identify those that are similar to Earth in size, chemical composition, and orbit. Kepler is a spacecraft and photometer that continuously points at the same group of stars. The Kepler mission has identified a number of Earth-like planets in the habitable zones of stars. Since its launch on March 6, 2009, Kepler has identified 12 Earth-like planets in the habitable zones of stars. This is remarkable because the Kepler field of view is just a tiny portion of our galaxy, and the galaxy is a tiny portion of the universe.

Identifying a planet as potentially habitable isn’t enough to say if it is certainly so. The crucial element is water. The habitable zone for humans is identified as the orbital period around a star where liquid water might exist on the surface of the planets. The way that astrophysicists calculate a planet’s temperature is described here. The habitable zone for a star system can also be calculated.

A potentially habitable planet must also have an atmosphere. An atmosphere shields the planet’s surface from impacts and radiation, both of which can be hazardous to life. Some researchers have posited that some planets’ atmospheres could evolve over time. If a big planet forms in an outer orbit, with a rocky core and a thick gaseous atmosphere (similar to Neptune in our solar system), tidal forces in that star system could cause the planet to change and move over time. The star’s gravitational pull would stretch the planet into an ellipsoid and possible pull the planet closer to the star. The friction caused by these movements would cause heat, that could potentially drive surface volcanism or drive off lighter gasses in the atmosphere. If the planet has shifted into the star’s habitable zone, the leftover rocky core could be a habitable planet.

Are We Alone?

Although the existence of a number of planets in the habitable zone of other star systems has been proven, no one has yet seen these planets or captured images of them. There are a number of reasons why the search for other habitable planets matters to all of us. One is of course that the question of “Are we alone?” has fascinated humans since the recognition of Earth as a planet. Another is that the natural evolution of a star means that the Sun will eventually make life on Earth unsustainable, and we definitely don’t want to be in the neighborhood when that happens.

The recent discovery of Kepler 452b has been exciting for astrophysicists because its star is very similar to our Sun and the planet is of similar size, mass, and distance from its star as Earth. Its mass is likely about 5 times that of Earth because it is about 60% larger in diameter. The additional mass would provide many thousands of additional years of protection for the planet’s atmosphere from the increased energy of its star.

The relatively new field of astrobiology offers new opportunities for students interested in an interdisciplinary STEM career. Astrobiology degree programs are currently offered at a number of U.S. universities, including the University of Washington and the University of Hawaii. A comprehensive list of international educational resources can be found here.

Produced by the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), science writer Becky Stewart contributes monthly to the Science and STEM Classroom e-newsletter, a forum for ideas and resources that middle and high school teachers need to support science, technology, engineering, and math curricula. If you enjoy these blog posts, follow Becky Stewart on Twitter (@ramenbecky).

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Are Your Students Pretenders in a Digital World?

The Pretender was a television show many years ago just before the 21st century arrived where the main character Jarod took on new roles each and every week that required him to master any task required for that job. He was a pretender – stepping into a situation and having to learn how to problem solve on the spot, utilize information, and apply his learning in order to help out others.

Just after the turn of the century in 2001, Marc Prensky wrote an article titled Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants which coined the title terms of “digital native” and “digital immigrant.” Digital immigrants were those who were not born into technology and at some point needed to learn how to utilize technology in order to do exactly what Jarod had to do above – step into a situation, learn how to solve a problem on the spot, utilize information, and then apply it in order to help students learn in their own world.

By 2001, students who were in school from K- College had grown up with digital technology – okay not necessarily the digital technology we know today, but the leading edge digital technology that existed in 2001 and teachers were pretending to be digital in nature and learning on the spot. According to Beloit College’s Mindset List for 2005, which examines a series of statements around which a particular college graduation class grew up knowing, the college students who entered in the fall of 2001 – the so called digital natives, had the following attributes and characteristics (taken from the actual list) associated with their upbringing in general12 technology clip art. | Clipart Panda - Free Clipart Images

  • Hard copy has nothing to do with a TV show; a browser is not someone relaxing in a bookstore; a virus does not make humans sick; and a mouse is not a rodent (and there is no proper plural for it).
  • A hacker is not just a kid who won’t stop fooling around.
  • They were born the same year as the PC and the Mac.
  • They have always had access to email.
  • They have probably never used carbon paper and do not know what cc and bcc mean.

My first thought in looking at this list was wow – I’m not finding much about technology here – but then again that was nearly a decade and a half ago. I would think that given a vocabulary test today, almost all adults – whether digital natives or digital immigrants would have at least learned this particular vocabulary as it has seeped into our daily lives. Continue reading …

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Science vocabulary: See it, say it

416091822_75736e4575_mHow do you make vocabulary terms meaningful for students? I’m talking about really getting them to understand how the word or words are used in context. I feel students often just copy down a definition and never truly grasp how it relates to the topic at hand.   —S., Missouri

Science students at all grade levels struggle with the vocabulary. They are SLLs—Science Language Learners. Textbooks and websites are full of specialized words that challenge our students. Some are technical and relate specifically to science (e.g., photosynthesis, thermodynamics, plate tectonics) while others have meanings in science that differ from common usage (e.g., theory, hypothesis, matter). Even the graphics in books and websites go beyond being decorative to include the language of science in tables, diagrams, graphs, captions, sidebars, and footnotes.

Sometimes we assume students understand a word, only to find out on an assessment that they are confused. For example, my middle school students often interchanged the words medium and median, and they didn’t realize that media was the plural of medium. No wonder the room was sometimes full of puzzled looks.

There are many strategies to help students with vocabulary, most of which involve reading and writing and focus on definitions. Common strategies include graphic organizers (such as the Frayer Model), word walls, student-created flash cards with definitions and pictures, vocabulary games, and notebook exercises.*

As you mentioned, students need to go beyond writing definitions to recognizing and using the words in context. Before reading, students are often given a list of words to define. I wonder what would happen if students looked at the text first to see the context in which the words were used. Can they use any context cues to figure out a definition before resorting to the glossary? (They may need some guidance on using cues. This could be an interesting action research topic.)

I had success with showing students how knowing common affixes and root/base words can help in figuring out what a word means. For example, when my students first encountered the word “photosynthesis,” I pointed out that “photo-” means “light,” and we brainstormed other words that started with photo and had something to do with light (photograph, photocopies, photojournalism). They had a page in their notebooks for these “word parts.”

In my experience, for students to understand and use new words, they also need to hear and say them. Sometimes what students wrote had little in common spelling-wise with the actual word. They could recognize the word in written material and match it to a definition, but many had difficulty pronouncing the word, generating the word in oral conversations, or using it in their writing.

I shared my dilemma with an elementary level colleague. He suggested that for more complex or unfamiliar words, have the students repeat the words several times out loud, emphasizing the syllables by clapping out each syllable: met-a-mor-pho-sis. I tried this with my middle and high school classes, and it did help them with pronunciation and spelling. (Be prepared for some eye-rolling at first with secondary students, so explain why you are asking them to do this.)

An article from the July/August 2013 issue of the Journal of College Science Teaching (JCST), “On the Road to Science Literacy: Building Confidence and Competency in Technical Language Through Choral Repetition,” shared an intriguing study on the effects of choral repetition on science learning in college science classes. They went further than my action research and did a more formal study of the strategy.*

In addition to the quantitative findings, the authors include perceptual feedback from the students. Among other findings, students reported that the strategy helped them remember the terms, it was a cue that the term was important, and it was something that would apply to other courses. “You are not as afraid to use the big words when you understand them better” and “the words or phrases that we repeated in class pop out more when you read it than if you never heard the word before…you would probably just gloss over it.” This is a simple strategy that requires no professional development or materials.

I’d be interested in hearing from you on any strategies you find useful!

* I’ve created a Learning Resource Collection–—Vocabulary: The Language of Science—with articles from NSTA publications and other websites on the topic, as well as the JCST article mentioned above.

Related NSTA blogs:

 

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An intersection of physical science and art

I love it when a book of art activities recommends finding materials in thrift stores or using recyclables or common classroom materials to create art. It’s even better when the activities can be part of a science exploration or investigation into science concepts such as the properties of matter, or the motion of objects. Action Art: Hands-on active art adventures Cover of book: Action Artby MaryAnn F. Kohl and Barbara Zaborowski is such a book and I look forward to school opening so I can involve the children in painting on fabric, tearing the fabric when dry, and weaving pieces into a new object—the process is described in the activity “Runaway Sheets.”

What science concepts can be explored in this activity, or more importantly, what science investigation or engineering design work will be extended by including this activity as another way for children to engage with a science concept or an engineering design process? Here are a few ideas:

Science

Properties of liquids (paints): Consistency, flow, shape of drops

Absorption—of liquids by fabric

Force—strength and direction of a pull to tear the fabric

 

Engineering

Systems—for painting, for effective tearing the cloth into strips

How to combine pieces to create a whole new object

Constraints—limited amount of material, and the properties of the material

Child pouring paint onto a pumpkin and watching it drip.I like how children and their adults can return to a piece of artwork and continue developing it with additional materials as they reflect on the action and materials that created it. I’ll be thinking about how the Practices of Science and Engineering are involved in these activities: 

1. Asking questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering) 2. Developing and using models 3. Planning and carrying out investigations 4. Analyzing and interpreting data 5. Using mathematics and computational thinking 6. Constructing explanations (for science) and designing solutions (for engineering) 7. Engaging in argument from evidence 8. Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information

My students have been actively involved in art experiences before but with this resource we will be even more engaged!

 

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Setting up the learning space—where should the magnifiers go?

Do you have a “Science” area in your classroom or other space? Which, if any objects should be permanent residents of a science area? I usually keep a few tools there so children can find them when needed—magnifiers, trays, pipettes/droppers, a small holding box for small live animals, such as crickets, and paper towels. This is not the only place children use these tools so I put additional magnifiers near the bookshelf, in my pocket, and in a lidded box in the outdoor shed.

Child using a magnifier to look at rocks.Magnifiers are wonderful tools for children to begin using at two years of age (if the magnifiers are large enough not to be a choking hazard). Children marvel at the details that are revealed. It reminds me of when I got my first pair of eye glasses in fourth grade—the greenery of trees was made of individual leaves, and hairdos resolved into strands of hair—amazing!

How do you teach children how to use magnifiers? Initially I like to allow them to explore their use without much direction from me, except, “Magnifiers are looking tools, not for hammering (poking, licking…).” When a child is trying to look through it but is not holding it still, this usually indicates they are not able to get a good view. Then it’s time to teach how to position the tool to enhance the sense of sight. Sometimes children hold the magnifier too far from an object and sometimes they lean so close that their hair obscures the light, making it hard to see anything!

Here are two resources that may help you teach children how to use a magnifier:

How to Use a Hand Lens Magnifier from The Compleat Naturalist

How to Use a Hand Lens from the Roger Tory Peterson Institute

When viewing a large object such as a log, teach children to move the magnifier close enough to the object to view it in focus. Because children often lay the tool directly on their eye, I suggest you sanitize and dry magnifiers between uses.

 

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Connecting students and scientists

As the new school year is getting underway, are you looking for some experiences to get students focused on scientific thinking and research skills? How can we show students what scientists actually “do” and how they communicate? Many teachers share science articles on current research with students  or assign students to find them on the Internet. To interact with the information, students are often asked to complete a teacher-created reading guide, answer questions, or write a summary.

In one of the NSTA’s listserves, the Natural Inquirer was mentioned and recommended as a way to connect current science with the scientists who do the research. The publication is described as a “middle school science education journal” for students and teachers and is published by the USDA Forest Service. The articles are written by scientists who conduct various types of research. These aren’t just summaries or digests–the articles describe the methodology and discuss the results, just like an article in a professional science journal. The difference is that these are written in student-friendly language and include resources for the classroom.

Scientific Modeling CoverIn each issue, the articles can be downloaded as PDF files, and some are also available in Spanish. Each article introduces the scientists and has a glossary, graphs, diagrams, charts, and photographs in a visually appealing format. What I really like, though, are the reflection questions throughout the article to get students to stop and think as they read. Many articles also have a “factivity” that extends the concept to the classroom as a hands-on investigation or a vocabulary review.

Some of the issues have several articles relating to a theme; others are monographs with one article. You can browse the contents of each issue, but I found the search feature helpful. The “Education Resources” link has ideas for lesson plans, downloadable podcasts, and slide shows. And, best of all, the PDF articles, downloads, and other resources are FREE.

The articles are multidisciplinary, focusing not just on biology and ecology, but also on related topics in the physical and earth sciences. These articles are robust enough to be used in activities that reflect science practices, and lesson ideas are included. To see what this would look like, check out Engaging Students in the Analysis and Interpretation of Real-World Data in the November 2013 issue of NSTA’s Science Scope.

If you’re an elementary or high school teacher, take a look at this site, too. Even though the journal is designed for the middle school level, the articles and activities could be useful at other grade levels: for upper elementary students who are interested in science and who could handle the reading level or for high school students with little experience in science thinking and hands-on science or those who struggle with the advanced reading level in traditional textbooks. Or for teachers who want to learn more for themselves! For example, living in coastal Delaware and participating in horseshoe crab counts every spring, I was interested in the article How Do Horseshoe Crab and Red Knot Populations Affect Each Other?

The site also describes two other publications with “readers” for K-2 students that describe the work of scientists, and the Investi-gator for upper elementary.

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Misconceptions about the “doing” of science

Many teachers feel they are “doing” science when they teach what is in textbooks, laboratory manuals, and their lectures.  Such a focus on science teaching has existed for decades.  Teachers, school administrators, students, as well as parents, have generally accepted it as “doing” science.  But, expecting students to remember and recite what they have read or been told is not “doing” science.

There are specific examples commonly used to indicate such “doing” of science.  Strangely, however, they all have NOTHING to do with science itself.   Examples used to indicate this teaching include: 

  • Treating all students alike and not as individuals.
  • Focusing only on information included in textbooks, laboratory manuals, teacher lectures, or other assigned reading materials.
  • Using chalkboards to indicate what students need to remember.
  • Asking students to repeat what they have been assigned to study.
  • Focusing too much on “grading” and “testing” regarding concepts.
  • Strictly maintaining teacher authority in the classroom.
  • Encouraging competition among students to indicate their level of learning.
  • Closely following lesson plans with little or no input from students.
  • Repeating information included in books called “science.”
  • Rarely helping students to identify and use science regarding their own educational interests.
  • Equating science to concepts from the various science disciplines.
  • No encouragement with preparation for future science careers.
  • Ignoring problems that are local, current, and/or personal.

Science teaching needs to change if we want students to experience the real “doing” of science.  Students need to be involved in solving personal, current, and societal problems by asking questions that can substantiate possible answers.  These actions are examples of “doing” science!

It should be remembered that science is “the human exploration of the natural world, seeking explanations of objects and events encountered, and providing evidence to support the explanations proposed.” 

How can we get the old traditional ways of science teaching to change?  Is STEM the answer?  Will it take 70+ years for real changes to occur generally?

Or will it mean playing The Game of Science Education, as edited by Jeffrey Weld, executive director of the governor’s STEM council in Iowa, which uses the game metaphor to educate teachers about science teaching.

Robert E. Yager
Professor of Science Education
University of Iowa

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