Ideas for must-have strategies

I’m mentoring two new science teachers this year, and I want to focus on must-have strategies and effective practices for science. I’m sure they will have their own needs, but, based on your experience, what would be important to include in a plan for them?
—Chris, Baltimore, Maryland

Your new teachers are fortunate to have a mentor in place. Few teacher prep programs and practicums can prepare one for every circumstance, and new teachers are often placed in less-than-ideal situations (floating, working with the most challenging students, or teaching several subjects or subject levels). What is a common event for an experienced teacher who already has a repertoire of strategies is a brand-new challenge for a newbie.

A list of “must-have strategies and effective practices” in science must start with safety, and NSTA has many resources on its safety portal. New teachers should understand that if an activity or demonstration cannot be done safely, it should not be done at all, no matter how interesting or engaging it might be or how mature the students are.

Here are four other must-haves that I learned over more than 25 years of teaching science (in no particular order):

Continue reading …

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Center Your Learning in the NSTA Learning Center


MMYM_45minAre you looking for a professional learning community specifically for K-16 science teachers? The NSTA Learning Center is stocked with resources, customized lesson plans, and community forums, and will change the ways you access and leverage professional learning. Research suggests that professional learning for science educators should be an ongoing, continuous endeavor taking anywhere from 50-80 hours per year. The NSTA Learning Center allows you to control the place, the pace, and the time as you work to transform instruction in your classroom.

Whenever you’ve got 45 minutes, consider choosing one of these six introductory steps to take advantage of what the NSTA Learning Center has to offer.

  1. Activate your account and personalize your profile.

All NSTA members already have a Learning Center account. To activate your account for the first time, use your last name and your NSTA Member Number. Once you’re logged in, make sure to upload a profile picture, school/work affiliation, your geographic location, and any professional social media channels like Twitter or Facebook. Updating your profile makes you more visible to more than 150,000 community members.

  1. Search for resources.

The Learning Center offers a robust search engine that can bring you peer-reviewed resources and new online learning opportunities. Even the most basic search can bring you results not only from the NSTA vaults, but also from other users’ collections. Once you’ve selected a resource, simply “Add to Library” and it’s yours to use and share. Although the NSTA Learning Center is an open resource to anyone, NSTA Members get an extra 20% discount on fee-based resources in the Learning Center.

  1. Get recognized through Activities Badges.

Earn badges as recognition for your efforts as you aggregate, review, and share your personal and NSTA e-PD resources. You also earn badges for making posts in the community forums, for diagnosing your needs in science content, and by attending web seminars, and successfully completing SciPacks.

  1. Create an e-PD portfolio.

Have you ever struggled to submit a professional development plan? Let NSTA help you with accountability by creating a personalized professional development portfolio online. The My Professional Development Plan and Portfolio Tool helps educators define goals, track successes, and write a report with specific content knowledge goals.

  1. Join a community forum.

Despite the nagging stigma of online chat rooms, the modern world connects online. The Learning Center was developed as a way to connect with like-minded colleagues at various levels of experience. Join a community forum to learn and to share. You can always ask questions from online advisors, but you might be the one person with the answer for someone else.

  1. Develop your library—and share it with others.

Your good ideas have probably already outgrown the folder on your desktop or even worse, the physical drawer in your classroom or office. By sharing a virtual library and cultivating collections of resources, you not only organize your digital shelf —you allow others to use what you’ve learned. Educators can benefit from your curated content, and you’ll make a greater impact than just filing that away as a resource for a rainy day.

Next time you need help with a lesson plan, developing assessments, or collecting resources, you have more than just Google as a tool. The NSTA Learning Center will help you focus on your grade level, your topics, and your interests while helping you connect with fellow educators around the world.

More Time?

We know our members are leaders in their schools, districts, and communities. As you explore the rich collection of resources available in the NSTA Learning Center, advance your leadership role by sharing resources with your colleagues. As more science teachers join the NSTA Learning Center community, the richer it becomes. When someone receives resources from you, whether they are an NSTA member or not, all they have to do is create a free account to access the materials.

Laura Berry of Cogberry Creative is our guest blogger for this series. Laura is a communications professional for the education community.

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Making connections

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

In the July K-12 journals, the overarching theme seems to be “connections.” The articles have ideas for helping students make connections between the current topic or skill they’re learning with others. The articles also show connections with the NGSS.

Science & Children: Informal Education

Connecting students with the community. Most communities have people, places, or programs that can help students extend what they learn in the classroom or explore new topics. These articles help you make the most of these connections. Here are some SciLinks that are connected to the content topics in the articles:

Science Scope: Astronomy

Connecting the Earth with its place in the universe. Captialize on the popularity of the television program Cosmos with these articles and classroom ideas. (And I have to wonder why middle school is often the last chance in K-12 for students to study astronomy.) Here are some SciLinks that are connected to the content topics in the articles:

The Science Teacher – Math-Science Connections

Connecting science and mathematics. The articles in this issue of The Science Teacher provide useful ideas about including mathematics in your science teaching. Here are some SciLinks that are connected to the content topics in the articles:


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Breaking Down Walls at the 2014 National Congress on Science Education

Congress AttendeesIf you were with the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) in Washington, D.C. last week, you would have been part of the most exciting and productive Congress of the year! In Georgetown, about 145 representatives of chapters, state organizations, affiliates and NSTA governance met to spend “quality time” breaking down walls at the National Congress on Science Education (NCSE). What walls? Those that might exist among educators, those that define where and when we teach science, the ones that create barriers to a literate citizenry, and especially those mental barriers that might keep us from imagining great accomplishments in the near future.

Capitol OutingIn every hall, over endless great snack breaks, on the streets and in the parks the group smashed preconceptions. State to state sharing ruled! How do you create a new style of conference? How can social media support membership retention? What are the legal and ethical guidelines for association management? NCSE had sessions for every need. There were also updates on NSTA’s Strategic Planning process and building program, as well as updates on the state of publishing and STEM in the “age of NGSS.”

Robert E. Yager Award PresentationThis year was the first Congress at which the Robert E. Yager awards were presented. Five outstanding teachers gave short presentations on their educational philosophies, highlighting both creativity and diversity in STEM education. They were supported so that they could mingle with other attendees and contribute to the rich mix of ideas that would come out of the meetings. Continue reading …

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Science of Golf: course set up

I have a love-hate relationship with golf. Growing up on a midwestern farm, “green” was spring and summer. Today, “green” has very different meanings. Do I want to land my approach shot onto a perfect one? Sure I do (not that it happens all that often). But I think twice when I play on one of Florida’s winter courses (no afternoon downpours) or on a desert course any time (by definition, less than 10 inches of rainfall per year). I see fresh water as the sought-after commodity of the future.

One of the things about the USGA that I’m most enamored with is their commitment to environmental stewardship because slightly more than half of the world’s golf courses are in the United States. While Science of Golf: Course Setup focuses on the tee-to-green setup of Pinehurst No. 2 so that both the men and the women could play the U.S. Open there, the backstory was “what is the course going to look like” to both the player and the viewer AND what is its impact on the environment. Course architects Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw paid attention to all that when they returned Pinehurst No. 2 to Donald Ross’s original design. That backstory sparked the NSTA-developed lesson plan, which addresses just one aspect of the USGA’s Do’s and Don’ts of Affordable Golf.

The 20 videos in the Science of Golf series, developed by the partnership of NBC Learn, USGA, and Chevron, are available cost-free on The lesson plan linked below each of the videos provides an editable document, so you can make them your own to fit your ever-changing class list at the beginning of the year. Please leave comments below each posting about how well the information worked in your classrooms. And if you had to make significant changes to a lesson, we’d love to see what you did differently, as well as why you made the changes. Leave a comment, and we’ll get in touch with you with submission information.

SOG: Course Setup discusses how Pinehurst No. 2 will be set up “firm and fast” to make it a complete examination of both men and women golfers’ abilities.

STEM Lesson Plan—Adaptable for Grades 4–12
SOG: Course Setup describes how students might design a solution to a problem about how golf courses are set up. It also provides ideas for STEM exploration plus strategies to support students in their own quest for answers.

Image of Native grasses surround the 18th fairway at Pinehrst No. 2. courtesy of ncsuweb.

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What Resources Does the National Science Teachers Association Offer Around Elementary Education and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)?

NGSS@NSTA graphicThe National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) offers a growing collection of resources around the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). While many of our products and services to date more generically target the whole K–12 spectrum, we do have resources designed specifically for elementary school educators.

NSTA’s upcoming full-day virtual conference (August 6 from 10 am to 6 pm EDT) on literacy and NGSSConnecting Literacy and Science With NGSS and Common Core—will be particularly helpful to elementary teachers, who may be under the greatest stress to incorporate both the Common Core and NGSS in their classrooms, and includes an elementary-focused breakout session.

This fall, NSTA will continue the NGSS web seminar series with sessions dedicated to the new standards by grade level. The first, on September 17, will discuss kindergarten standards. Succeeding web seminars will tackle 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades. Additional details will soon be available on our website.

Science for the Next Generation book coverIn addition, NSTA Press has produced a number of books on the NGSS. The most elementary-specific of the collection is Science for the Next Generation: Preparing for the New Standards. Other key resources are Introducing Teachers and Administrators to the NGSS: A Professional Development Facilitator’s Guide, Translating the NGSS for Classroom Instruction, The NSTA Reader’s Guide to the Next Generation Science Standards, and The NSTA Reader’s Guide to A Framework for K–12 Science Education.

The NSTA Learning Center, which offers just-in-time, just-for-me professional learning models, also includes materials that support the NGSS. These can be by grade band and include e-chapters, e-articles, archived NGSS web seminars, and more. Plus, NLC-moderated community forums include both elementary science and Next Generation Science Standards, as well as STEM, general science and teaching, and more.

Finally, the Mickelson ExxonMobil Teachers Academy is a unique learning experience designed for elementary teachers in grades 3–5 that focuses heavily on the NGSS scientific and engineering practices. The Academy helps teachers improve student learning experiences by enhancing grade appropriate mathematics and science content knowledge; demonstrating the interrelationships between scientific inquiry and mathematical problem solving; using the math tools to build understanding and connections to science concepts; and modeling “best practices” in teaching and learning. Registration is now open for the 2015 Academy.

A comprehensive list of NSTA resources on the Next Generation Science Standards—which include videos from our National Conference in Boston, a full archive of our NGSS web seminars, books, journal articles, handouts, and more—is most easily accessed via the NGSS@NSTA Hub.

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Professional Development Options

ist-300x224I was recently appointed K-12 science department chairperson. Our professional development budget is slim, but I’d like to do something other than the generic “sit-and-git” presentations we’ve had in the past. I’ve heard about using social media and other online resources for professional development. I’m open to any other ideas, too. Where should we start?
—Lauren, Lowell, Massachusetts

This is a chance to tailor professional development (PD) to the needs of your science teachers, rather than trying to fit your colleagues into one-size-fits-all events (especially since elementary and secondary science teachers may have different needs). First, ask your administrator for state or local PD requirements and the district views on independent study and teacher-directed activities. Find out what types of pre-approval and documentation might be required for nontraditional or off-site activities.

Then ask the science teachers to examine the curriculum to identify science topics in which they need background knowledge or cutting-edge topics and instructional strategies for which they would like more information. Examine areas in which your students are struggling. You have a chance to identify specific areas of need, such as inquiry, lesson design, notebooks, formative assessments, laboratory procedures, safety, reading/writing in science, inclusion, technology integration, or classroom management. The Next Generation Science Standards could certainly be a focus area. NSTA has a variety of resources to help teachers learn about and use them. (See the NGSS@NSTA hub.)

The result of your survey should be individual or group goals reflecting your teachers’ needs. You and the teachers can then find or develop PD activities to meet those goals and describe how you will chart the progress toward meeting them, including teacher logs of their learning. Giving teachers ownership of the content and structure of their PD will improve their buy-in to the process, although those who have had negative experiences in the past may still be skeptical.

This kind of personalized PD will require as much (if not more) work than traditional workshops and presentations. Rather than putting together an extensive list of unrelated events, be sure your activities are connected to your identified needs and goals:

Continue reading …

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Where Can I Find Quality Materials for Preservice Science Teachers?


Kenneth King has been an NSTA member for 20 years. King started his career as a high school science teacher and used his NSTA membership for science lesson plans and activities in his classroom. When he became an education professor, however, he found that he relied on his NSTA membership even more for “good, contemporary ideas for activities and lab experiences.” King says that the NSTA journals help prepare his preservice students to teach science. He respects the role of the journals so much that he writes and reviews articles for them and recently served as chair of Science Scope’s Advisory Board.

King: I teach science methods courses, so I cover a lot of content, and I cover a lot of different grade levels. The NSTA journals are really valuable to me, because it helps to have somebody do the heavy lifting of finding materials that are aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). In addition, the articles connect with what my students will need to know and what they will be required to do as science teachers, so I find the journals to be a great resource to prepare teachers.

As an example, I once did a project with my preservice students where they supported science fairs in local elementary schools. There isn’t much in a science methods textbook on science fairs. Those textbooks tend to be more theoretical, focusing on topics such as inquiry skills. I turned to the NSTA journals and found quality practitioner articles on how to manage science fairs and how to elevate fairs from just show-board experiences. The journals fill a niche that really isn’t filled by any other set of resources. They are grounded in effective pedagogy and research, but provide practitioner-oriented activities and ideas that have been vetted through a review process.

I still make use of a Science Scope article from a number of years ago called “Popcorn Possibilities.” I’ve been able to make use of that in my methods classes as a model of how to do performance-based assessment. I don’t copy the journal articles for my students, but I adapt them into lesson plans. I always share with my students that I got the resource from NSTA. I want to pique their interest and leave them hungry for more so that they’re more likely to become professionally involved with NSTA once they graduate. Students in my classes have to construct a unit of study. I encourage them to access the NSTA resources, which they can get through our university. Students learn that NSTA is a good resource for carrying out their activities and finding excellent teaching materials.

I look at NSTA materials differently than when I was a classroom teacher. As a classroom teacher, I would read the journals and say, “This is something I could do in the classroom or this is something that would help me.” Now, when I read the journals, I’m constantly finding ways to connect my preservice students to those materials. I want to stress to my students that even though they’ll be done with my class at the end of the semester, if they have a good resource like NSTA, then they will always have a friend to help them teach science.

Note from NSTA: What NSTA resources do you find helpful for preparing preservice science teachers? We’d love to hear from you in the comments section below. Not a member of NSTA? Learn more about how to join.

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

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Science of Golf: pace of play

This golfer is waiting for the green to clear.

What does a traffic jam on an urban freeway or the queue for a popular amusement park ride have to do with golf? Wait time! It’s a problem that the United States Golf Association (USGA) and others associated with the sport see as a huge issue in getting people out to play (or to watch). Use Science of Golf: Pace of Play and its accompanying lesson plan to explore movement of materials through a circuit, whether those “materials” are people or molecules in a fluid.

This video joins 19 others in the Science of Golf series developed by the partnership of NBC Learn, USGA, and Chevron. Each has a related NSTA-developed lesson plan to enhance your STEM efforts and foster the development of science and engineering practices. The Pace of Play lesson plan focuses on developing and using models, but not the kind science teachers usually think of. Here, students are encouraged to devise a simulation, which in reality is a game. Thinking of a game as an analogy for how a situation might play out gives modeling a whole new spin.

The series is available cost-free on, or jump to the video and lesson plans at the links below. From these blog entries you can download the lesson plans in an editable format to add your personal touch.

And if you’re of the age to have seen Caddyshack in the theater (or drive-in), you’ll love the USGA’s PSA campaign to raise awareness about pace of play. Find direct links in the “writing prompt” section and connect to Common Core ELA at the same time!

SOG: Pace of Play examines how flow rate and cycle times are used to determine why bottlenecks occur on the golf course and what can be done about them.

STEM Lesson Plan—Adaptable for Grades 4–12
SOG: Pace of Play guides students in designing and a game model for fluid motion according to criteria and constraints established by the class. It also provides ideas for STEM exploration plus strategies to support students in their own quest for answers.

Image of boy waiting for the green to clear courtesy of Andy Simonds.

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Are Your Lab Investigations Argument Driven?

ADIThe 27 lab investigations in the new NSTA Press book Argument-Driven Inquiry in Biology: Lab Investigations for Grades 9-12 follow the argument-driven inquiry (ADI) instruction model, which consists of eight stages. These stages are designed to ensure that students have an opportunity to engage in the practices of science during a laboratory investigation and receive the feedback and explicit guidance that they need to improve on each aspect of science proficiency over the course of a school year.

Authors Victor Sampson, Patrick Enderle, Leeanne Gleim, Jonathon Grooms, Melanie Hester, Sherry Southerland, and Kristin Wilson outline the eight ADI stages as follows:

Stage 1: Identification of the Task and the Guiding Question; “Tool Talk”

The goal of the teacher at this stage of the model is to capture the students’ interest and provide them with a reason to design and carry out an investigation.

Stage 2: Designing a Method and Collecting Data

The overall intent of this stage is to provide students with an opportunity to interact directly with the natural world using appropriate tools and data collection techniques and to learn how to deal with the ambiguities of empirical work.

Stage 3: Data Analysis and Development of a Tentative Argument

This stage calls for students to develop a tentative argument in response to the guiding question. Each group needs to be encouraged to first “makes sense” of the measurements they collected and the observations they made during stage 2.

Stage 4: Argumentation Session

Each group is given an opportunity to share, evaluate, and revise their tentative arguments with the other groups; scientific argumentation is an important practice in science and critique leads to better outcomes. Continue reading …

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