Survey Reveals Challenges with Teaching Climate Change

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This week, researchers at The Pennsylvania State University released the results of a nationwide survey of middle and high school science teachers on the teaching of climate change that tells us two things: first, we need to reach more teachers with quality resources about climate change and second, schools of education need to do a better job to prepare our future teachers in this area.

The survey results, published in Science Magazine on Feb 11 (Climate confusion among U.S. teachers), highlight challenges that surround the teaching of this important science subject. The survey was conducted among 5,000 middle and high school science teachers from 1,500 public schools across the country in the 2014-15 school year. 

The survey found that 3 of 4 science teachers, (70% of middle-school science teachers and 87% of high school biology teachers) allocate at least an hour to discussing global warming in their formal lesson plans. By itself this is an interesting finding; why would biology class be the place teach climate science and what other important topic would be considered as being taught with only one hour of instruction per year?

When asked to select a statement the closest one to own their views on global warming:

  • 68% of teachers selected “global warming is caused mostly by human activities”
  • 16% of teachers selected “global warming is caused mostly by natural changes in the environment”
  • 11% selected “both”
  • 3% of teachers selected “I don’t know”
  • 2% of teachers selected “global warming is not happening”

But, the survey also found that

  • 30% of teachers emphasize that recent global warming “is likely due to natural causes.”
  • 31% said they “send explicitly contradictory messages, emphasizing both the scientific consensus that recent global warming is due to human activity and that many scientists believe recent increases in temperature are due to natural causes.”
  • Only 30% of middle school and 45% of high school science teachers knew that the vast majority of scientists ( 81-100 percent)think global warming is caused primarily by humans.

I am encouraged that the majority of teachers (68%) identified with the statement “global warming is caused mostly by human activities.” The fact that more teachers know the correct science than know the percent of scientists holding that view is good news. Teachers are going top the literature to learn for themselves rather than depending on the views of “experts,” regardless of how numerous they might be. Less surprising, however, is that  there is some confusion about the scientific research supporting climate change. The presence of climate change in science education, specifically on human involvement, is relatively new. It is only three years since the publication of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and implementation is just beginning. NGSS is the first set of standards to articulate the human causes of climate change. As the Penn State study notes, “advances in climate science and consolidation of scientific consensus have outpaced textbooks and teachers’ training.” The average science teacher has been out of school for about twenty years. It goes on to say that fewer than half of the teachers report receiving formal instruction in climate science in college, and two-third of teachers said they would be interested in continuing education “entirely focused on climate change.”

Our job as teachers is to prepare students to be educated consumers of science and make informed decisions about the world around us. This report makes it clear that science teachers need more and better professional development to build stronger content knowledge and confidence so they are better prepared to teach students this important science with its with its profound social implications. We know that teachers want to learn more about climate science– at our professional learning conferences last year, the sessions with climate scientists sharing their research with teachers was standing room only. NSTA also has multiple online resources, mostly free, that teachers can use to learn about climate change.

The 2012 National Research Council published A Framework for K-12 Science Education outlines a broad set of expectations for all K-12 students in science and engineering. The Framework, written by scientists and educators, provides a sound, evidence-based foundation for the NGSS that is grounded in both scientific and education research. The NGSS include the study of climate change supporting Earth and Space Science Performance Expectations in both middle school and high school. One of the relevant disciplinary core ideas is stated as:

            ESS3.D: Global Climate Change

Human activities, such as the release of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels, are major factors in the current rise in Earth’s mean surface temperature (global warming). 

Adopting and implementing the NGSS is very much a work in progress. States are engaged in deliberative processes to revise their science standards and once they do, teachers need professional development to adjust their practices. The fact that many teachers themselves are not clear on climate science should not be a surprise; what is encouraging is the number of teachers who are learning the science and are trying to present it to their students, beyond the older standards.

Studio portraits for David EvansScience teachers need our support as they continually improve their science content knowledge and their teacher skills. And science students and teachers need our support by adopting and implementing the best science standards – those that include the human causes of climate change. Even if that science always popular lawmakers and special interest groups.

Dr. David L. Evans is the Executive Director of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA). Reach him at or via Twitter @devans_NSTA.

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


What can you do now to learn more about Climate Science? Join NSTA, in collaboration with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), for the Climate Science in the Classroom virtual conference that will feature climate scientists and education specialists who will share both their knowledge about climate science as well as classroom-ready resources that educators can use with their students.


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President Obama Releases FY2017 Budget

LegislativeUpdateChangeTheTextEachTimeAndTheDateV3 Feb12_16(1)

President Obama released the Administration’s FY2017 budget request this week, including mandatory spending of $4 billion for the opportunity to “give every student from preschool to high school the opportunity to learn hands-on computer science (CS).”

The President’s budget provides $69.4 billion in discretionary funding for the Department of Education, a 2 percent increase over the 2016 appropriation. The budget also includes $139.7 billion in new mandatory funding over the next decade. (Mandatory funding—not a popular concept with CH Republicans who want to shrink the government – requires that additional funding for proposed programs would be offset through revenue enhancements such as taxes, fees, cost reductions, and other levies proposed elsewhere in the budget.)

In addition to the proposed $4 billion in mandatory funds, the new Computer Science for All program would support provide $100 million in discretionary grants for a competitive state initiative to fund innovative strategies to provide high-quality instruction and other learning opportunities in computer science.  

Funding Requests for Programs Authorized Under Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)

The request for Title I grants was $15.4 billion, an increase of $450 million above the enacted level. Many education advocates publicly worried that this amount would provide less funding for school improvement, however, since the new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires states to set aside a portion of Title I funding for school improvement.

The request for ESSA Title II (Preparing, Training, and Recruiting High Quality Teachers and Principals Grants) is $2.25 billion.  This major state formula grants program provides funds to each state to increase student achievement and close achievement gaps and to improve the effectiveness of teachers and school leaders. Funding for STEM education and educators is available under this grant.

The president requested $500 million for the new ESSA Title IV Part A block grant (Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants, which also provides funding for STEM activities), considerably less than the $1.6 billion authorized in the new federal education law. The president’s budget proposal would allocate these grants to states by formula and then districts would have the option of competing for the funds. ESSA requires that the money would be allocated states and districts by formula.

The Administration requested $10 million in new funding for the national STEM Master Teacher Corps, one of the specific “national activities” authorized under ESSA.

Funding for 2017 was $180 million (up from $60 million to FY2016) for the Education Innovation and Research program, the successor to the Investing in Innovation (i3) program.

21st Century Community Learning Centers funding request was $1.0 billion (a loss of $166.7 million from FY 2016), to support locally-based out-of-school learning and enrichment activities.

In addition to the Computer Science For All program, the President’s budget this year includes requested funding for a number of programs not authorized under the ESSA, including

  • A new RESPECT: Best Job in the World program that would make a $1 billion mandatory investment to support a nationwide effort to attract and retain effective teachers in high-need schools.
  • $125 million for the proposed Teacher and Principal Pathways program for grants to institutions of higher education and nonprofit organizations to create or expand high-quality pathways into the teaching profession, particularly into high-needs schools and high-need subjects such as science, technology, engineering and math (STEM)
  • $10 million for Teach to Lead grantsto build on the promising work at the Department’s “Teach to Lead” gatherings 
  • $120 million for new “Stronger Together” grants that would help districts implement voluntary, community-developed plans to promote integration.
  • $80 million to help launch Next Generation High Schools “that will be laboratories for cutting-edge STEM teaching and learning.” Next Generation High Schools was in the president’s budget proposal last year as well.

National Science Foundation programs

The President’s request for the National Science Foundation would increase NSF’s discretionary spending by about $100 million, to $7.6 billion. The NSF’s Education and Human Resources Directorate funding is proposed at $952.86 million, an increase of $72.86 million or 8.3% over FY 2016. $53.99 million of this proposed increase is in the form of mandatory spending. The request for Advancing Informal Science Learning was $62.5 million (same as FY 2016, $7.5 million of this total would be mandatory funding.); STEM+Computer Science Partnerships Program request was $51.88 million (same as FY 2016, $30.64 million of this amount would be mandatory spending) and the President requested $60.89 million (same as FY 2016) for the Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarships.

Read the WH STEM Fact Sheet.


Jodi Peterson is Assistant Executive Director of Legislative Affairs for the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and Chair of the STEM Education Coalition. e-mail Peterson at; follow her on Twitter at @stemedadvocate.

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

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Addressing misconceptions

My upper elementary students have had very little formal science instruction. I’m finding that they have a lot of “knowledge” that consists of misconceptions, half-truths, and opinions. I’m looking for suggestions on how to deal with these misconceptions.  –P., Minnesota

Along with their notebooks and pencils, students often bring misconceptions to science class. It’s hard to tell how students get these muddled ideas: from their friends, parents, cultural superstitions, television, movies, or other sources. Perhaps they hear only part of an explanation and invent the rest.

If learning involves building on our current understanding, then finding out what students know, don’t know, or think they know is important at the start of a unit. A written pretest might help, but students may have memorized some facts or definitions without really understanding a concept.

I recommend Page Keeley’s series of books Uncovering Student Ideas in Science. The “probes” in these books are brief activities that help identify students’ preconceptions or misconceptions about a topic. For each probe there is a summary of the topic, a detailed description of what can be learned from the students’ responses, teaching suggestions, and a list of resources on the topic. These probes are in the form of questions or activities that could also serve as engaging activities (or “hooks”) at the beginning of a unit. There are several volumes in the series, each with 25+ probes covering a wide variety of topics. (If you would like to preview what these probes look like, NSTA’s Science & Children publishes one in each issue.)

Simply asking students to discuss or write about what they know can be eye-opening, too. I would ask my seventh graders to make a quick list of 10 animals. Without looking at their lists, I predicted that most, if not all, of the animals would be vertebrates, and most of those would be mammals. (My students assumed I had ESP!) When we debriefed on why so many mammals, their immediate response was the misconception that mammals were the most common kind of animal. When we looked up that fact, they were shocked to see there are hundreds of thousands of species of invertebrates. We then had a lively discussion of why we overlook invertebrates in our culture, as an introduction to the unit.

Simply telling students their ideas are wrong won’t help them learn the correct ones.

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The Power of Developing Questioning Strategies in the Science Classroom

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As authors of the popular NSTA Press book The Power of Questioning: Guiding Student Investigations, we get a lot of questions from readers. One of the top questions we get is, “What types of questions do I need to ask and when should I ask them?” Not only is this a frequently asked question it’s also an important one to start with. Here’s what we tell science teachers: Questions serve many purposes. They help students connect concepts, think critically, and explore concepts at a deeper level. They can help teachers check for understanding and uncover student misconceptions. Questions can be used to clarify and to probe. Questions can extend students’ thinking by requiring the students to justify their answers. Most important, questions involve students in the learning and cause the students to continue thinking and making questions even after the initial discussion ends.

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Mastering Scientific Practices With Technology

In this video, columnist Ben Smith shares information from the Science 2.0 column, “Mastering Scientific Practices With Technology,” that appeared in a recent issue of The Science Teacher. Read the article here


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Adding More STEM to the School Day

Middle school students dissect a frog as part of a hands-on lesson from Science from Scientists, an in-school enrichment program in Massachusetts and California.

Middle school students dissect a frog as part of a hands-on lesson from Science from
Scientists, an in-school enrichment program in Massachusetts and California. (Photo by Arturo Martinez)

Schools seeking to enhance students’ learning of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) are adopting in-school STEM enrichment programs that reach student populations in need of additional learning opportunities, connect students with scientists, and/or provide more challenging curriculum. One such program, Science from Scientists (SfS), was established in 2002 “to help teachers with challenges in presenting science content,” says Erika Ebbel Angle, SfS founder and executive director. “Some teachers may have taken only one science course, or [find that] students need more science for test preparation,” she observes. “Teachers have told us that the only way to reach all of their students is through an in-school program.”

SfS offers an In-School Module-Based STEM enrichment program that brings two scientists to grades 4–8 classrooms every other week during the school year “to work with teachers and bring content [that supports] the NGSS [Next Generation Science Standards] and MCAS [Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System],” explains Angle. Teachers can choose from more than 85 hands-on STEM lessons, and the scientists “bring the necessary materials with them.”

The program aims “to inspire students and improve both attitudes and aptitudes,” she notes. The scientists conduct “pre- and post-assessments every other week” to chart students’ progress, she relates.

“The program succeeds because teachers see us as a great resource to bolster their curriculum and let students interact with scientists as role models,” Angle contends. While SfS “isn’t genderspecific,” it exposes boys and girls to female role models, she notes.

SfS has been adopted by 46 schools in Massachusetts and California, and “many districts seek us out,” she notes. Assessments have shown that “SfS raises standardized test scores by an average of 25% in our partner schools,” she reports.

SfS is provided free to public schools during the first two years. (Privateschools must pay for the entire program.) During year three, public schools start bearing the program’s costs. SfS “can help schools get grants and offers fundraising ideas,” says Angle. The goal for year four is “to have the program be self-funded in districts where we have relationships,” she explains, but SfS can help with funding if a district isn’t able to cover all the costs. “If we have classroom teachers who want us, we are committed,” she maintains.

An Import From Israel

“Twelve years ago, we were looking for out-of-the-box-type science improvement programs for Jewish day schools in the United States,” recalls Judy Lebovits, vice president and director of the Center for Initiatives in Jewish Education (CIJE). CIJE connected with the Israel Center for Excellence through Education to bring the Excellence 2000 (E2K) program to Jewish schools in the United States. Aimed at highly motivated math and science students, the program also has been adopted by several U.S. public schools and implemented in 77 schools nationwide, she reports.

E2K’s 24 modules involve “teaching totally hands-on, cultivating personal excellence, fostering creativity, and learning how to learn,” and appeal to “students who…like to tinker,” she contends. Each module starts with a story and a problem to solve, then students begin to experiment. “The kids come up with the formula on their own…They can take the answer and apply it to other situations,” she observes.

Carmel Academy in Greenwich, Connecticut, uses E2K with gifted sixth and seventh graders. Grades 6–8 science teacher and E2K coach Rhonda Ginsberg says the program “is a chance for students to do pure science” and design their own experiments. Last year, students designed and tested insulation for a polar bear’s cave, for example.

Often E2K students “bring back what they’ve learned to the regular science class,” and Ginsberg says she has “moved some of the E2K material into the regular science class.”

E2K students compete in national and international competitions and have won 10 awards, which “has created excitement around science,” she relates. They compete online with students from 25 other schools in a competition held in Israel. “The scientists in Israel were blown away at how fast my kids answered the questions,” she reports.

Not all gifted students are admitted to E2K. Ginsberg evaluates fifth-grade candidates, meeting with their science and math teachers to determine their “thinking ability,” she explains. Her biggest challenge is “how to say no to a kid who isn’t yet there analytically and to [his or her] parents. It’s tough.”

Kindergarten Enrichment

When the Batavia, Illinois, Public Schools downsized kindergarten classes from full-day to half-day, some parents complained. Seeking a solution, the district contacted the Batavia Park District, which supervises the area’s parks and recreation facilities and activities. The Batavia Park District designed an enrichment program, now in its fourth year, to extend the school day to six-and-a-half hours for kindergarteners whose parents were willing to pay for it. “About one-third of [area] kindergarteners are enrolled in our program,” says Sarah Schneider, kindergarten enrichment teacher for the Batavia Park District.

The program runs in each of the school district’s six elementary schools, with its own classroom and teacher. “In half-day kindergarten, the kids are only able to do core literacy and math; there’s not a lot of time for science and social studies,” Schneider observes. “We have a solid science program to get kids interested in science early on.

“We have a Delta Education [science] curriculum consisting of six different lessons: oceans, trees, insects and spiders, weather, body and senses, and health and nutrition…[S]ome of us also study the rainforest, arctic animals, space, pumpkins, and basic chemical mixtures,” she explains. “[We chose the curriculum] because we didn’t want to teach the same topics taught by the [school district’s teachers] in preschool,” she relates.

“Our kids are very well prepared for first grade because they’re in school for a full day and getting extra content,” she reports. “We don’t worry about [test] scores; we just make sure students are engaged, growing, and getting something positive out of it.” Without the testing, “we’re able to hold smaller classes with more creative projects.”

Schneider notes there is a trend in some districts to return to all-day kindergarten, which would mean the end of the enrichment program. She believes this could be a real loss for students because district teachers “won’t have the flexibility that we do.” 

This article originally appeared in the February 2016 issue of NSTA Reports, the member newspaper of the National Science Teachers Association. Each month, NSTA members receive NSTA Reports featuring news on science education, the association, and more. Not a member? Learn how NSTA can help you become the best science teacher you can be.

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

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Prepare your students for next year’s eclipse with Solar Science

Great extras accompany this book, including safety glasses for viewing the eclipse and an Observer’s Guide to the All-American Total Solar Eclipse.

solarscience“On Monday, August 21, 2017, a total eclipse of the Sun will be visible in the continental United States for the first time in almost 40 years. A total eclipse is when the Sun is completely hidden by the Moon, the sky becomes dark, and the Sun’s faint atmosphere (corona) becomes visible—looking like a beautiful halo. This total eclipse will only be visible on a narrow track stretching across the United States from Oregon to South Carolina. No other country will get to see the total eclipse this time.”

To help prepare middle schoolers for an optimum experience of this wondrous event, NSTA Press has published a great new resource: Solar Science: Exploring Sunspots, Seasons, Eclipses, and More. This curriculum resource is written specifically to align with the three-dimensional (3D) learning encouraged by the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Its learning experiences engage students in using real data to learn solar science and effectively integrate the Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCIs), Science Practices (SPs), and Crosscutting Concepts (CCC) associated with solar astronomy at the middle school level.

solarglassesAuthors Dennis Schatz and Andrew Fraknoi are award-winning experts in astronomy and science education. Schatz is the Senior Advisor at the Pacific Science Center, and Andrew Fraknoi is the Chair of the Astronomy Department at Foothill College. Both authors regularly lead local and national professional development sessions for teachers at many different levels.

They paired up to write this book because they know there will be tremendous interest in the eclipse and that teachers will want to prepare their students to understand relevant science topics the year before and the year after.

The 45 classroom-tested, hands-on, inquiry-based activities are organized into four sections

  1. Understanding and Tracking the Daily Motion of the Sun: What does the Sun do in the sky each day, and how does that relate to our notions of time and direction?
  2. Understanding and Tracking the Annual Motion of the Sun and the Seasons: How does the Sun’s motion and position in the sky vary throughout the year, and how does that relate to our ideas of a calendar and the seasons?
  3. Solar Activity and Space Weather: What phenomena do we observe on the surface and in the atmosphere of the Sun, and how do these influence what we observe and how we live our lives on Earth?
  4. The Sun, the Moon, and the Earth Together: Phases, Eclipses, and More: How do the relationships among the Earth, the Moon, and the Sun produce solar and lunar eclipses?

Ideally suited for teachers, informal science educators, youth group leaders, curriculum specialists, and teacher trainers, these versatile activities can be used one at a time, as the basis of a stand-alone unit on the Sun, or as a comprehensive curriculum.

Whether or not you buy a copy of Solar Science, you can download a free observing guide for the upcoming solar eclipse to share with students and their families as well as community partners. This eight-page guide includes everything you need to know regarding where and when to see the eclipse, how to observe the eclipse safely, and how to understand and explain what causes it.

NSTA Press has developed many online extras, including downloadable worksheets and charts to accompany lessons. This book is also available as an e-book.

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NSTA’s K-12 February 2016 Science Education Journals Online

NSTA’s K-12 February 2016 Science Education Journals Onlinev2

Looking to take advantage of the creative approaches that STEAM offers students? Want to explain to your students how traits are passed down from one generation to another? Are your students fascinated with nanoscience? The February K–12 journals from the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) have the answers you need. Written by science teachers for science teachers, these peer-reviewed journals are targeted to your teaching level and are packed with lesson plans, expert advice, and ideas for using whatever time/space you have available. Browse the February issues; they are online (see below), in members’ mailboxes, and ready to inspire teachers!

Science and Children sc_feb16_cov

The addition of the arts to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) adds a new dimension to lessons. As you’ll find in this issue of S&C, STEAM brings forth creative approaches to STEM that will enhance student learning, from brainstorming to communication skills.

Featured articles (please note, only those marked “free” are available to nonmembers without a fee):

Science Scopess_feb16_cov

When looking for information on genetics and heredity, X or Y can mark the spot to start your search. Dig into the activities in this issue to learn more about how traits are passed from one generation to the next. We are sure you will uncover a valuable lesson or two among the trees, peas, and telephone chatter.

Featured articles (please note, only those marked “free” are available to nonmembers without a fee):

The Science Teachertst_feb16_cov

Nanoscience development affects almost every discipline of science, engineering, and technology. Not surprisingly, “the science of small” is also finding its way into science classrooms. In general, nano refers to a billionth of a meter—about 1/50,000 the width of a hair follicle. The term nanoparticle usually refers to small materials with a size of between 1 and 100 nanometers (nm). Because nanoparticles are so small, they have a greater surface-area-to-volume ratio, causing them to be more reactive than larger particles and useful for various applications. Nanoscience is just one of many activities and investigations covered in this issue, which also looks at wildlife cover boards, using socio-scientific issues to teach argumentation, and finding patterns in chemical compounds.

Featured articles (please note, only those marked “free” are available to nonmembers without a fee):

Get these journals in your mailbox as well as your inbox—become an NSTA member!

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

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ECE galore in January 2016 Science and Children!

Writing about my science teaching for early childhood educators means thinking about a potential community that spans geographic distance and different biomes, seasons, cultures, educational backgrounds, ethnicities, and teaching careers, among other differences. How we are the same is in our desire to be a teacher of science who helps all children build their understandings of the natural and human-made world in a developmentally appropriate way.

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“Flipped” meetings

As the science chairperson, I’d like to change the format of our monthly afterschool meetings. Do you have any ideas what we can do in terms of professional development or other projects? It seems like we don’t get much accomplished with our current format. —C., Virginia

Let’s face it—at the end of the day most teachers are tired and concerned with evaluating student work, getting home to their families, heading off to another job or a graduate class, and/or preparing for the next lesson. The after-school time is precious and not something to spend on mundane informational issues or idle chatter.

My experience also included meetings in which we read over information items (deadlines, changes in policy, upcoming events). We complained about situations without coming to any decisions. Some colleagues graded papers or watched the clock. We often left these hour-long contractual meetings with a list of tasks to accomplish individually on our own time (e.g., strategic planning, supply orders, professional development plans). So I’m glad to hear that you want to facilitate something more productive.

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