Best STEM Books for K-12: List Coming Soon from NSTA

blog header reading "Best STEM Books for K-12, Coming November 2016"

Over the last few years, members of the teaching community have asked for a list of books containing the best STEM content for K–12. So we’re thrilled to be working on that now and to be able to invite readers to join us in late November, when we announce the list. Please bookmark this site (Best STEM Books for K–12), and follow NSTA on Twitter or Facebook to see if your favorite books make the list.


When an acronym becomes so common that users forget its origins, it can take on a life of its own. That’s what’s happened to STEM. The integration of mathematics, engineering, technology, and science began as a model (“METS”) in grant funding. From a basket category for college and career, STEM has now become a model for education from early childhood onward.

But the journey from a paradigm to implementation has proved challenging in school settings. In many schools “silos” still exist; Teachers of each discipline form a community of learning and cooperate in their ideas, but often the ways of knowing in each discipline remain.

STEM is more than a concept diagram with connections among four (or more) subject areas. It’s a unique way of knowing and exploring the world. The STEM approach involves the essence of the practices of science and engineering. Tools like mathematics, technology, and communication skills are interwoven in STEM explorations. That seamlessness is what challenges educators around the world.

Nowhere is that more obvious than when teachers look to find literature to integrate into a STEM curriculum. NSTA has worked with the Children’s Book Council for 45 years to identify Outstanding Science Trade Books. Often in their annotations the reviewers have indicated the winners were great for STEM curricula.

But are they really STEM? Experts, including the NSTA Board, were interested in the question. The first draft of a new set of criteria came from J. Carrie Launius at the University of Missouri.  In her research, Launius proposed that redefining the STEM literature genre would not only improve teachers’ understanding of the approach but would raise the level of understanding among students.

To represent the philosophy of STEM, NSTA invited a unique collaboration with three other groups, the American Association of Engineering Educators, the International Technology and Engineering Educators Association, and the mathematics reps from Society of Elementary Presidential Awardees. Through almost a year of study, the group came up with these criteria for the best STEM literature for young readers:

STEM Superlatives

The best books would invite STEM‐like thinking by

  • Modeling real‐world innovation
  • Embracing real‐world design, invention and innovation
  • Connecting with authentic experiences
  • Showing assimilation of new ideas
  • Illustrating teamwork, diverse skills, creativity, and cooperation
  • Inviting divergent thinking and doing
  • Integrating interdisciplinary and creative approaches
  • Exploring multiple solutions to problems
  • Addressing connections between STEM disciplines
  • Exploring Engineering Habits of Mind
    • Systems thinking
    • Creativity
    • Optimization
    • Collaboration

STEM in Practice

The best STEM books might represent the practices of science and engineering by:

  •  Asking questions, solving problems, designing and redesigning
  •  Integrating STEM disciplines
  •  Showing the progressive changes that characterize invention and/or engineering by
  •  Demonstrating designing or redesigning, improving, building, or repairing a product or idea
  • Showing the process of working through trial and error
  •  Progressively developing better engineering solutions
  •  Analyzing efforts and makes necessary modifications along the way
  •  Illustrates at points, failure might happen and that is acceptable providing reflection and learning occurs.
    •  Communication
    •  Ethical considerations

Challenging criteria, to be sure. What might be most startling is what they don’t include: specific requirements for extensive content in any of the individual subject areas. This was a subject of extensive discussion by the group. In the end, they decided that while a great integrated STEM book might have a lot of content, a book might represent the best STEM attitudes and practices an be just plain “inviting.”

Next, the Children’s Book Council took over, contacting dozens of publishers to let them know the effort was underway. And the results: Astounding! While in most years about 150 books are submitted for Outstanding Science Trade Books, the first solicitation for Best STEM Books drew more than double that many.

But of course, it was a new process and a new vision.  Among the entries were many really great books about science, some new approaches to mathematics and some fascinating engineering stories. But were they STEM? Did they tell? Or invite?

Months of reading and rich discussions ensued. Books were read, rated and re-examined. Judges struggled to separate the content of the books from the ways that creative STEM teachers could use them.

What Will Make the List?

But in the end, the process worked. The collaboration among teachers from different backgrounds proved that STEM works—in all sorts of problem-solving situations.

The result is a list of BEST STEM books that the associations hope will help influence not just publishing but education at all levels. The field is blooming!

So the Associations and their representatives invite you to enjoy the first list of the best STEM literature—coming in November. We can’t wait to share!

2016 Selection Committee

Juliana Texley, NSTA Past President; Carrie Launius, Retired K-12 Classroom Teacher, St. Louis, MO; Christine Royce, Professor, Department of Teacher Education, Shippensburg University; Pam Lottero-Purdue, Associate Professor and Director of Integrated STEM Instructional Leadership, Towson University, Towson, MD; Peggy Carlisle, Gifted Education Teacher, Pecan Park Elementary School, Jackson, MS; Sharon Brusic; Suzanne Flynn, Professor, Leslie University/Cambridge College, Carver, MA; Thomas Roberts; Kathy Renfrew, K-4 Math and Science Assessment Coordinator, Department of Education, Montpelier, VT

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

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Health Wise: If Students Injure Their Heads

Football battle

In a recent anonymous online survey, (KH 2015) asked parents and coaches what they should do if a child takes a hit to the head on a playing field. The correct answer—according to numerous health associations and laws in all 50 states and the District of Columbia—is that the child should immediately stop playing or practicing and then get checked out by a doctor before returning to the field.

About half of parents and almost as many coaches did not know that they should take those steps, according to the survey (KH 2015). Some parents told us that they would allow a child to get right back in the game or wait just 15 minutes before resuming the sport. Others said they would stop the child from playing but would not check in with a doctor.

Teachers need to know the correct steps to take, too, because “concussions can happen any time a student’s head comes into contact with a hard object, such as a floor, desk, or another student’s head or body,” according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) factsheet for teachers (CDC 2015).

“Teachers and school counselors may be the first to notice changes in their students,” the CDC says (CDC 2015). “The signs and symptoms can take time to appear and can become evident during concentration and learning activities in the classroom. Send a student to the school nurse or another professional designated to address health issues, if you notice or suspect that a student has: 1. Any kind of forceful blow to the head or to the body that results in rapid movement of the head and 2. Any change in the student’s behavior, thinking, or physical functioning.”

Even days after a student takes a hit to the head, the CDC says (CDC 2015), teachers should notify the school nurse if a student

  • appears dazed or stunned,
  • is confused about or can’t recall events,
  • repeats questions or answers questions slowly,
  • shows behavior or personality changes,
  • forgets class schedule or assignments, or
  • loses consciousness (even briefly).

In addition to limiting physical activity, a student healing from a concussion may need cognitive rest and special school accommodations, says Dr. Rupal Christine Gupta, a pediatrician and former medical editor. To recover, a student may

  • miss class time until cleared by a doctor;
  • need to avoid activities that require concentration, such as quizzes or tests;
  • need more time for instruction, homework, and tests;
  • need to wear sunglasses due to light sensitivity; and
  • benefit from having a 504 education plan (see “On the web”).

A student may also need speech-language therapy, environmental adaptations, and curriculum modifications, the CDC says (CDC 2015).

“Students may start to feel better before the concussion is fully healed,” Gupta says. “But all symptoms—including those affecting mood, thinking, and balance—must be back to normal, without the help of medicine, before students can return to normal activities. Getting another injury before the concussion fully heals could cause serious, long-term health problems. Some people have even died after getting a second concussion before the first one fully healed.”

Classroom activity
Students can conduct an anonymous survey of peers and faculty to assess awareness of proper concussion protocols, then create data-informed public service announcements to improve knowledge schoolwide. Students can adapt their survey questions from a quiz for teens (see “On the web”).

Michael E. Bratsis is senior editor for Kids Health in the Classroom ( Send comments, questions, or suggestions to

On the web
For educators
Lesson plan:
Physiological effects of a concussion:
Tips on 504 plans:

For students
Concussions mini-site in English and Spanish:
Concussions quiz:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 2015. A fact sheet for teachers, counselors, and school professionals. (KH). 2015. Concussions: What parents and coaches say.

Editor’s Note

This article was originally published in the October 2016 issue of The Science Teacher journal from the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA).

Get Involved With NSTA!

Join NSTA today and receive The Science Teacher, tst_oct16_covthe peer-reviewed journal just for high school teachers; to write for the journal, see our Author Guidelines and Call for Papers; connect on the high school level science teaching list (members can sign up on the list server); or consider joining your peers at future NSTA conferences.

The mission of NSTA is to promote excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all. Learn more about the Next Generation Science Standards at the NGSS@NSTA Hub.

Future NSTA Conferences

2016 Area Conferences

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Computer Science Should Supplement, not Supplant Science Education

Text-based header reading "No one argues that American students need more computational skills.  Yet computer science should not be used to take the place of science graduation requirements that, in many states, now only require 2 to 3 science related classes across an entire four year high school program."

Computer science (CS) aficionados have a lot to celebrate recently.

Just today, new Frameworks for Computer Science were released. A few weeks ago, a new law (AB2329) signed by California Governor Jerry Brown will bring computer science to every grade in the state’s public schools. Federal legislation introduced in September– the Computer Science for All Act–would authorize $250 million for competitive grants to states and local education agencies solely for computer science education.

These efforts are largely due to the CS for All initiative, a national campaign fueled by the White House and lead by the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the National Science Foundation, and the U.S. Department of Education to expand federal investments in CS education and support teacher professional development.  On Sept. 16 NSF Science Foundation awarded more than $25 million in grants to support of CS for All.

Earlier this fall the Education Commission on the States issued a report that says 20 states are allowing high school students to count a computer science course as a math or science credit toward graduation. This is up from 14 states when the same report first was issued last year.  While the requirements vary from state to state, the report also notes that has identified eight states that have authorized computer science to fulfill a math or science credit through “non-policy means,” such as board resolutions or public announcements.  Change the Equation called the state policies to make computer science count towards graduation “a decisive step in the right direction.”  

We disagree.

No one argues that American students need more computational skills.  Yet computer science should not be used to take the place of science graduation requirements that, in many states, now only require 2 to 3 science related classes across an entire four year high school program.

There is a lot of conversation about STEM and what it means to offer a world class STEM education. Computer science is part of STEM but we need to better understand the differences and distinctions between content areas as they relate to STEM and computer science in our schools. What is not being discussed by many of these decision makers in this rush to embrace computer science is how CS fits within the context of a quality STEM education.

Right now many states are working toward the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) vision of STEM teaching and learning (and many more embracing the NGSS foundational practices outlined in the Framework for K-12 Science Education).  Computer Science principles can be found in the NGSS. Science and Engineering Practices include developing and using models, and using mathematics and computational thinking.  In the integrated STEM classroom, using the principles of NGSS, educators are working to seek out real-world, relevant, authentic problems that would be of interest to students and ask them to apply computational thinking to solve the problem using data analysis, visualization, seeking patterns, and computation.

And as everyone knows, time in the school schedule is VERY limited and providing computer science as on a separate track cuts the instructional time pie even more, and sets up another silo in high schools.  Instead of competing with the limited time now dedicated across the K12 curriculum for teaching science, we need to work together toward a solution that incorporates all the STEM disciplines.

One solution? Schools and educators should be encouraged to teach the basics of CS through regular K-8 math and science classes (perhaps using Project GUTS and Bootstrap as models of how to do so), then promote the Exploring Computer Science course for all kids (but calling it ‘Problem Solving and Computational Thinking’) so math and science (and CTE) teachers can teach it.  AP and programming should be offered as electives in high school for those kids who want to study more.

US students are doing so poorly in science (and math) on international tests such as PISA and TIMMS, it is hard to believe that anyone would advocate for reducing the amount of class time spent on teaching and learning these subjects. We suppose that permitting students to take another science course in place of a math course for graduation credit might help those scores, but even the strongest science advocates would not make that proposal. Replacing science with computer science is just as shortsighted.

NSTA supports computer science instruction and believes that educators should integrate computer science across the existing standards and disciplines. This visible and growing national priority solely devoted to computer science and the rush to replace graduation credits at the expense of the science education is problematic.  We need all students to develop skills and competencies in problem-solving, critical thinking, creativity and collaboration, and this can be done in STEM classrooms nationwide that embrace and integrate computer science.  State policy makers should look for ways to supplement, not supplant, computer science credits in high school graduation requirements so that science education credits are not compromised.

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.

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folder icon  Safety

An Acknowledgment Form Is Safer Than a Contract

The school year is well under way. But before students enter science labs, they must turn in a safety acknowledgment form.

After completing introductory safety training, as noted in NSTA’s Duty of Care (NSTA 2014), review and have students and their parent or guardian sign a safety acknowledgement form (see Resource), stating safety practices and protocols. In addition, test students on the safety training before they begin any lab work.

It’s important to know the difference between a safety acknowledgement form and a safety contract. Generally, a teenager can enter into a legal contract at age 18, so younger students should only be asked to sign a safety acknowledgment form. By signing a safety acknowledgment form, students confirm that they have been informed that the lab can be an unsafe place, and that they have agreed to follow safety procedures and protocols.

The science teacher needs to keep the original copy of the forms on file for the duration of the class. The statute of limitations for negligence in most states is three years from the date of harm. If there is an accident in the classroom or lab, the teacher should compile safety information records, including the acknowledgement form and accident report, and provide copies of the records to his or her school district. In the event of an accident, these documents should be kept until the statute of limitations run out. In some rare cases, when parents refuse to sign the safety acknowledgment form, teachers need to date, sign, and note the fact that the parent refused to sign the form.

Once the lab investigations are under way, science teachers also have the responsibility to:

1. Inspect for safety before, during, and at the close of activities, and monitor student behavior and equipment to help foster a safer learning environment.

2. Enforce appropriate safety behavior and apply a well-defined progressive disciplinary policy, which involves a progression of steps, starting with a verbal warning and escalating to removal from class.

3. Follow-up on maintenance to ensure engineering controls and personal protective equipment are operational and meet the manufacturers’ standards. If the ventilation cap on a chemical splash goggle has been removed, for instance, take the goggle out of operation.

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


National Science Teachers Association (NSTA). 2014. NSTA—Duty or Standard of Care.


Safety acknowledgment form—

NSTA resources and safety issue papers


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Focus on Physics: Skateboard Physics

spotAs with all sports, skateboarding involves a lot of intriguing physics. I’ve marveled at the maneuvers of skilled skateboarder Alex Hewitt (my grandson). When traveling along a horizontal surface, Alex crouches and then springs upward with his skateboard to continue horizontal motion along a nearly half-meter-high elevated surface (above).

He could easily do the same while wearing roller skates, which would be no big deal because the roller skates would be attached to his feet. But in no way is his skateboard so attached. So how does the skateboard manage to follow him along his upward trajectory? Furthermore, by what means does the board gain gravitational potential energy with no applied upward force and no apparent loss in kinetic energy?

This amazing feat bothered me because it seemed to contradict the laws of physics. I then watched a slow-motion video of Alex to learn how he does it.


Figure 1. The downward force on the tail of the board rotates the board upward.

Exerting a torque about the axis of the rear wheels
The leap that Alex executes is called an ollie, a blend of the physics of linear and rotational motion. While heading for the elevated surface, he crouches and springs directly upward while exerting a downward force on the tail of the board that produces a torque about the rear wheels. (Torque = force × distance about a rotational axis.) This quick downward snap of the tail, with or without its making contact with the ground, causes the board to rotate upward into the air (Figure 1).

The same thing happens when you give a sharp tap to the rounded end of a spoon lying on a table. The spoon flips up into the air, just as Alex’s skateboard does. The center of masses of both the spoon and board are raised by this snap-and-flip action.


Figure 2. The downward force by the front foot on the nose of the board counters the first rotation produced by the back foot.

Exerting a second torque about the board’s center of mass
Controlling lift goes further. While the airborne board rotates upward, Alex slides his forward foot toward the nose of the board and produces a second torque, in the opposite direction (Figure 2).

This second torque raises the tail, puts the board in contact with the back foot, and levels the board before it meets the elevated surface (Figure 3, below). So we see the results of two torques, one that flips the board upward and one that levels it off. Skillfully executed, this sequence enables Alex and his skateboard to meet the elevated surface.

Energy conservation
The kinetic energy of Alex and his skateboard before and after the ollie is practically the same. Yet he and the board have gained substantial gravitational potential energy as the board rides atop the elevated surface. Does the ollie maneuver violate the conservation of energy? No, it does not. Here’s why: First, the energy that propels Alex himself is straightforward. By crouching and leaping, he converts bodily chemical energy into mechanical energy just as if he had jumped up from rest.

But what about the board? From where does it get the energy to move upward and follow Alex? The answer involves the work-energy


Figure 3. The counter rotation levels the board for a horizontal landing.

principle of mechanics (work done = change in energy). For straight-line motion, work = force × distance moved. For rotational motion, work = torque × angle moved.

Alex does work on the board when he produces a torque that flips it into projectile motion. As with all projectiles, acquired kinetic energy converts to gravitational potential energy.

Another explanation, the simplest, bypasses rotational mechanics and energy conservation. The force that Alex exerts on the tail of the board as he jams downward on it is significantly greater than both his weight and that of the board. In action-reaction fashion, this downward push produces an upward normal force (the perpendicular support force) that is also greater than the combined weights of


Figure 4. The normal force N propels Alex and the board into projectile motion.

Alex and the board (Figure 4). This increased normal force launches both Alex and the board into projectile motion.

One of the beauties of physics is that puzzles often have more than one explanation.

Hooray for the conservation of energy and for skateboarding in general. ■

Paul G. Hewitt ( is the author of the popular textbook Conceptual Physics, 12th edition, and coauthor with his daughter Leslie and nephew John Suchocki of Conceptual Physical Science, 6th edition.

On the web
See complementary tutorial screencasts on physics by the author at Watch Alex execute the ollie in slow motion in screencast 42 at

Editor’s Note

This article was originally published in the October 2016 issue of The Science Teacher journal from the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA).

Get Involved With NSTA!

Join NSTA today and receive The Science Teacher, tst_oct16_covthe peer-reviewed journal just for high school teachers; to write for the journal, see our Author Guidelines and Call for Papers; connect on the high school level science teaching list (members can sign up on the list server); or consider joining your peers at future NSTA conferences.

The mission of NSTA is to promote excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all. Learn more about the Next Generation Science Standards at the NGSS@NSTA Hub.

Future NSTA Conferences

2016 Area Conferences

Posted in The Science Teacher | 1 Response

Investigating water with Early Childhood educators

“At what age can a child begin science learning?” asked one participant at an early childhood education workshop on investigating the properties of water in a fun, scientific way using observation, documentation and reflecting on that work. The group answered the question, “As infants,” “My babies do,” and “At any age,” just as I put this photograph on the screen:

Baby splashing water in a bowl.

The educators work in diverse programs, from Head Start to Montessori to their own child care programs in their own homes. About half of the Early Childhood Care Education workforce cares for and teaches children outside of formal child care centers and preschools (NAS 2012 pg 114). I began my career in early childhood education as one of the educators who care for children in our homes, a family child care provider. At this workshop most of the educators were immigrants and their education was a varied as the countries of their birth, and we came together in our shared passion for understanding how young children learn. Everyone participated, making and playing with small drops of water (thank you Young Scientist series!); pouring, scooping and splashing water; using tubes, funnels and frames to create systems to move water; and discovering how cups with holes in various positions can also create systems (thank you UNI’s CEESTEM!). We talked about safety first, liquid/solid, noticed the “stickiness” of water, explored displacement and the force of moving water. It was fun! I’d like to claim that it was my skill as a presenter that kept the group engaged but it was their curiosity and desire to continually improve so they can be even better teachers for the children in their care.

As we worked, the group discussed their ideas about science concepts and shared how to help the parents of the children they care for understand how children learn through experiences. As always, I appreciate the generosity of this education community—they listen to each other, ask questions to get the most out of the session, share materials and their expertise, and help clean up at the end.

Exploring how water drops form or absorb on various surfaces.




National Academy of Sciences (NAS). 2012. The Early Childhood Care and Education Workforce: Challenges and opportunities. Appendix B Summary of Background Data on the ECCE Workforce. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press.

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Science 2.0: Students as Empowered Learners

In the September issue of The Science Teacher, we wrote about the new standards for digital skills established by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). Now, let’s look at how the standards can be applied to science content.

This month, we discuss the Empowered Learner standard, which requires that “students leverage technology to take an active role in choosing, achieving, and demonstrating competency in their learning goals, informed by the learning sciences.” To accomplish this standard, students should meet these four performance indicators:

  • Engage in personal goal setting that includes reflection,
  • Develop the ability to build a network to support their learning,
  • Use technology to receive feedback in different forms, and
  • Understand and troubleshoot technology.

Meeting the performance indicators

Goal-setting is a critical part of the learning process. SMART Goal templates, often used in business, can ensure that students are developing personal goals. Students can use blogs (e.g., WordPress), journaling tools (e.g., Evernote), or even “media diaries” (e.g., Fotobabble and Photo 365) to share their thoughts or reflect on their goal achievement and learning. Changes to thoughts or understanding can also be seen through the evolution of student writing via track changes in Microsoft Word or revision history in Google Docs.

To become an empowered learner, students must build a network to enhance their learning. Twitter can be a powerful tool to build and grow learning spheres. Point your students in the right direction by creating a class account used to follow science-related people and groups. When starting your Twitter network, consider following NASA (@nasa), Earth Science Week (@earthsciweek), NSF Earth Science
(@NSF_EAR), and Neil DeGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson). After establishing the classroom’s virtual networks, allow students to customize their learning environment with flexible and moveable classroom arrangements, such as furniture, which foster a collaborative and “networked” classroom.

Empowered learners should be familiar with the feedback many technology tools inherently provide. It is important that students recognize the value of “adaptive learning tools,” such as Knewton, as a means to grow and develop in any content area. It is equally important that students draw upon technology tools’ interaction and peer feedback capabilities found in resources such as Google Docs, VoiceThread, or Padlet. With those commenting tools, students can share thoughts about the instruction, conclusions drawn from a lab investigation, or predictions about a future event, while quickly receiving comments from other students, teachers, or experts in the field. No matter the tool, however, gathering peer feedback develops the communication skills necessary for the requirements of this standard.

None of the performance indicators are possible without a basic understanding of how technology tools work, so that technology never serves as a barrier or distraction to learning. To illustrate the supportive nature of technology and understanding how the tools fundamentally work, use Chrome Extensions with students. Students must understand that the Chrome browser is a power productivity tool that can be enhanced by Extensions and Apps to improve learning, perform tasks, and enhance their work. As an example, head over to the Chrome Web Store and search for the “periodic table.” You will quickly find both apps and extensions that can be valuable for students.

The Empowered Learner standard allows students to develop an independence and responsibility for their learning. As students mature and advance their skills in this area, they will be ready to tackle the rest of the standards. In the next issue, we will examine the role that digital citizenship plays and the responsibility that all educators have to foster it in their classrooms.

Ben Smith ( is an educational technology program specialist, and Jared Mader ( is the director of technology, for the Lincoln Intermediate Unit in New Oxford, Pennsylvania. They conduct teacher workshops on technology in the classroom nationwide.

Editor’s Note

This article was originally published in the October 2016 issue of The Science Teacher journal from the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA).

Get Involved With NSTA!

Join NSTA today and receive The Science Teacher, tst_oct16_covthe peer-reviewed journal just for high school teachers; to write for the journal, see our Author Guidelines and Call for Papers; connect on the high school level science teaching list (members can sign up on the list server); or consider joining your peers at future NSTA conferences.

The mission of NSTA is to promote excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all. Learn more about the Next Generation Science Standards at the NGSS@NSTA Hub.

Future NSTA Conferences

2016 Area Conferences


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NSTA Conference First Timers’ Twitter Chat


So you’re coming to Minneapolis and it’s your first NSTA conference!  Where do you start?  Can you do anything prior to the conference to get ready and hit the road running?  I have the answers to these questions, and I invite you to ask me anything else you want to know about the conference.  On Tuesday, October 18, from 8:30 to 9:00 pm ET, I’ll be hosting a special Twitter Chat (#NSTAchat) to talk about the what, why, and how of attending an NSTA conference. This is your chance to chat with NSTA leadership, veteran NSTA conference attendees, to find out what works and what’s most likely to make your participation a success.

In case you miss this Twitter chat, you can always attend the First Timers’ session on October 27, from 8:00 am – 9:00 am, in the Hilton Minneapolis, Minneapolis B/C.  I will be leading the session with tips, shortcuts, and suggestions to make your conference experience one you will not forget.

So join us to learn tips and strategies to make your conference experience positive on October 18 at 8:30 pm ET. Learn more about the Minneapolis conference here.

New to Twitter? Here’s a quick overview on how to participate in a Twitter Chat.

5-10 minutes before the tweetchat begins:

  • Log-in to Twitter at If you do not have an account, click the “Sign-Up” button in the top, right corner and create a profile.
  • Once logged in, open a new window in your browser and visit Tweetdeck. (We recommend you use the TweetDeck application to actually view and participate in the chat.
  • Once logged in to TweetDeck, enter #NSTAchat in the search field at the top-left (click on the little magnifying glass).
  • Tweets using the hashtag will appear in reverse order in the next window.
  • To enter a tweet, enter your comment in the “Message to #nstachat” field and click Update
  • Click to retweet a poster’s tweet or  reply to a tweet.

Pro tips:

  • Introduce yourself, and say hello to your fellow chatters.
  • Try to restrict your tweets to well under the number of characters you are allotted on Twitter (this will make it easier for others to retweet your message).
  • Most importantly, please share any insight you have!  This is an interactive experience!

NSTA Retiring President, Carolyn HayesDr. Carolyn Hayes is the retiring president of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA). She began serving her one-year term on June 1, 2016. Dr. Hayes is a retired high school biology teacher from Greenwood, Indiana. Hayes earned a B.S. degree in biology from Indiana University in 1973, a M.S. degree in secondary education from Indiana University in 1976, and an Ed.D. in secondary education and biology from Indiana University in 2005. 

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

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Feds Issue New Rules to Improve Teacher Preparation Programs



On Oct. 12 the U.S Department of Education released final rules that will require states to establish an accountability system for their teacher preparation programs that includes how graduates perform as teachers based on their students’ academic success. Low performing programs that don’t measure up will risk the loss of federal TEACH grants.

The final regulations are designed “to provide transparency around the effectiveness of all preparation programs” (traditional, alternative routes, and distance) and will require states to report annually – at the program level – on the following measures:

    • Placement and retention rates of graduates in their first three years of teaching, including placement and retention in high-need schools;
    • Feedback from graduates and their employers on the effectiveness of program preparation;
    • Student learning outcomes measured by novice teachers’ student growth, teacher evaluation results, and/or another state-determined measure that is relevant to students’ outcomes, including academic performance, and meaningfully differentiates amongst teachers; and
    • Other program characteristics, including assurances that the program has specialized accreditation or graduates candidates with content and pedagogical knowledge, and quality clinical preparation, who have met rigorous exit requirements.

States have the flexibility to report on additional measures, and how to weigh all outcome measures, but must use at least three levels of performance indicators (effective, at-risk, and low-performing).

States (and stakeholders) must design their reporting system in 2016-17 academic year. They may choose to use 2017-18 as a pilot year and the system must be fully implemented in 2018-19. The first year for which any program might lose TEACH grant eligibility will be 2021-2022.

They must engage with stakeholders to develop and/or improve their teacher preparation systems to identify effective and low-performing programs and provide technical assistance to any program rated as low-performing.

The new regulations—which took about five years start to finish –largely reflect the administration’s original proposal from 2014. These regulations, especially language that ties preparation programs to student learning outcomes, faced (and continues to face) huge opposition from many groups.  (In their press release, the Department flagged a “notable” change in the final rule was providing states with “increased flexibility in how they measure student learning outcomes and weigh various components of their systems, specifically by allowing states to determine their own student learning outcome measures that are relevant, but not necessarily directly tied, to student achievement or educator evaluation results.”)

In a statement American Association for Colleges of Teacher Education President Sharon Robinson says “ At first glance, it appears that the voices of the profession may have been heard, as the new rule includes some adjustments that reflect concerns raised during the public comment periods. While the main oversight structure remains in place as described in the initial notice of proposed rulemaking, the final rule gives states more leeway in determining some aspects of the accountability system. Therefore, as it is with the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, the advocacy of AACTE members at the state level remains critical.”

The American Association of State Colleges and Universities statement notes “AASCU has long opposed a federally mandated state-rating structure for programmatic offerings of colleges and universities.  It sets a dangerous precedent for political intervention in academic policy. We are disappointed that the Department did not delay the regulations that address teacher education. We urged them to wait until after Congress, state colleges and universities, and other key stakeholders could work together, through the reauthorization process of the Higher Education Act (HEA), to address the underlying policies and practices around preparing America’s teachers.  Additionally we disagree with the department’s view that the regulation will have only a minimal affect on costs for our institutions.”

The rules were roundly condemned by union leaders:  American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said it was “ludicrous to propose evaluating teacher preparation programs based on the performance of the students taught by a program’s graduates . . . Instead of designing a system to support and improve teacher prep programs, the regulations build on the now-rejected high-stakes testing system established under NCLB and greatly expanded under this administration’s Race to the Top and waiver programs. It’s stunning that the department would evaluate teaching colleges based on the academic performance of the students of their graduates when ESSA—enacted by large bipartisan majorities in both the House and Senate last December—prohibited the department from requiring school districts to do that kind of teacher evaluation.” 

National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García says the regulations “takes us back to the failed No Child Left Behind days . . . Using P-12 student test data to measure the quality of teacher preparation ignores whether new teachers are more likely to work in schools with limited resources for textbooks, technology, engaging learning experiences such as connections to community projects. It ignores potentially crucial differences between the quality of mentoring available in one school but not in another, class sizes and class loads beginning teachers may encounter, and the availability of supplemental services to ensure that each student can come to class ready to learn.”

Congressional leaders were equally displeased with the final rules. House Education and Workforce Chairman John Kline said in a statement “While more needs to be done to ensure teachers are prepared for the classroom, the department is taking a one-size-fits-all approach that will lead to unintended consequences. It will be impossible to effectively implement this vast regulatory scheme, and it may lead to fewer teachers serving some our nation’s most vulnerable children. And to add insult to injury, this new rule does not reflect the bipartisan consensus that was reached in our recent efforts to improve K-12 education. This is an issue policymakers should discuss and resolve through broader reforms of the Higher Education Act, not through the unilateral actions of the Department of Education.

Senate education committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) noted “Today’s regulation appears to violate the Higher Education Act, which specifically says that states—not bureaucrats at a distant department in Washington—are responsible for evaluating whether a college’s program gives teachers the skills they need for the classroom. The regulation also effectively mandates teacher evaluations and forces states to focus on students’ test scores in a way that Congress explicitly rejected just months ago when we fixed No Child Left Behind and its unworkable National School Board approach.” 

Several education reform groups, including Education Reform Now, Chiefs for Change, National Center for Teacher Quality support and praised the Department of Education for the new rules.

The regs can be found here.

The press release from the Department of Education can be found here

Read the letter from the Association for Science Teacher Education on the proposed regulations

Check out this article from Ed Week:  Final U.S. Teacher-Prep Regs Allow Flexibility on Student-Outcome Measures and Inside Higher Ed:  New Accountability for Teacher Prep

 Having a Seat at the Table with ESSA Implementation

ASCD and the National Education Association are jointly hosting a webinar on how educators and key stakeholder groups can get involved in the ESSA implementation process. Hear state and local education leaders talk about their experiences and lessons learned so that you can advocate effectively for the best ESSA-related policies to support schools and students. The webinar will be held 7:30 pm eastern time, Monday, October 17, 2016. Learn more and register to attend here.

New STEM Playbook for State Policymakers

The Education Commission of the States Promising Practices: A State Policymaker’s STEM Playbook, highlights the Utah STEM Action Center, the road to the successful legislation tthat created the center, and the three essential elements to the STEM practices in Utah–coordination, resources, and the evaluation of funded programs. Read more.

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.

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Ideas and inspiration from NSTA’s October K-12 journals

The Four Strands of Science Learning and the Next Generation Science Standards from Science Scope is an informative article for teachers of any grade level.

Science Scope – Earth Science Activities

According to the editor, “Today’s students will become adults tasked with making decisions about environmental issues that will require a solid understanding of the Earth sciences.” And the Earth sciences are so interesting, too! If I were designing curriculum, Earth science would be the capstone course, integrating concepts from physics, chemistry, and the life sciences.

Articles that describe lessons include a helpful sidebar documenting the big idea, essential pre-knowledge, time, and cost.

For more on the content that provides a context for these projects and strategies see the SciLinks topics Clouds, Earthquakes, Eclipses, Layers of the Earth, Minerals and Rocks, Moon Phases, Natural Hazards and Disasters, Stratigraphy, Water Cycle.

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