Thoughts of Gardens Can Warm Cold Winter Days

As the temperature dips low and snow piles up across large areas of the country, I find myself thinking about the spring weather to come and working in my garden. So I was delighted to have the chance to read author Steve Rich’s latest NSTA Kids books, My School Yard Garden and Mrs. Carter’s Butterfly Garden.

The exquisite photography and clearly told stories in both books made me feel as if I were actually in a garden, a particularly terrific activity when the weather outside is frightful.

schoolyardgardenIn My School Yard Garden, Rich tells of the many ways that a school yard garden can help the students, the animals who live nearby, and the people living in the community. By planting herbs and vegetables that people can eat, students learn how human activity can affect the food chain. The glossary provided in the book gives an idea of the important concepts covered in this simple story for early elementary students. Reading this story with your students can familiarize them with terms such as compost bin, food web, habitat, nature journal, pollinator, predator, and water cycle.

In Mrs. Carter’s Butterfly Garden, Rich tells the story of how former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, a lifelong lover of gardens, wanted to be involved in what type of garden would be planted at the home they granted to the National Park Service.

Mrs. Carter did her research and learned about a special kind of garden that has everything a butterfly needs. She learned that human activity has destroyed many habitats for butterflies, so she wanted to plant a garden to attract pollinators to the area. Reading this book with your students will impart useful information and may inspire young naturalists to learn what they can do to help attract beautiful butterflies.

Both books are available as e-books: My School Yard Garden and Mrs. Carter’s Butterfly Garden

NSTA Kids book are trade books dedicated to nurturing the wonder and curiosity inherent in young minds. Learn more.

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I’m an Administrator. How Can I Stay Connected to Science Instruction?


Dr. Sharon Bennett Delesbore is a campus administrator at an alternative school for at-risk students. Dr. Delesbore, who joined NSTA almost 20 years ago when she was a middle school science teacher, credits the organization with helping her become a leader in science education and a minority role model for administrators, teachers, and students.

Delesbore: As an administrator, I’ve never wanted to lose the teacher in me. How can you be an administrator and lead if you don’t stay abreast of what’s taking place instructionally? I’m a campus administrator for a small community of at-risk students. Our science program is one of the main ways we engage our students. That’s why it’s important that I stay connected to science education, and NSTA helps me with that. I always share NSTA Reports, the journals, blog posts, and information I gain at NSTA conferences with my teachers and district administrators.

In addition, my affiliation with NSTA connected me with the Association for Multicultural Science Education (AMSE). When I first became a member of NSTA, I attended the Alice J. Moses Breakfast sponsored by Pearson Education and organized by AMSE annually at the NSTA national conference. Dr. Alice Moses was the first African-American NSTA president. AMSE is an affiliate of NSTA and is a community of educators that are either minority educators or educators who work with minority or at-risk students. I am grateful to NSTA for introducing me to this group that nurtures science education for minority and diverse students. I am now president-elect of AMSE.

How else has your NSTA membership helped you in your position?

Delesbore: NSTA has been valuable in helping us look at NGSS, for example. Our state, Texas, didn’t adopt NGSS. But even though Texas hasn’t adopted NGSS, our school is still incorporating what’s taking place nationally, because that’s important. NGSS finally provides a definition of what science looks like. So, for me, as an administrator, that gives me a valuable tool as I’m helping teachers revise their science curriculum to engage students.

The NSTA resources on NGSS have helped us work through paradigm shifts and learn more about what NGSS is all about. We want to make sure that what we’re practicing goes above and beyond state expectations. That way, our students are still going to meet state expectations, but will also be able to compete globally.

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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Teacher reflections

82648702_800bccf11e_mWhen I was student teaching, we had to do a “reflection journal.” Now that I have my own teaching assignment, I’m wondering if teachers keep such a document. If so, what do they put in it? What format do they use and how do they find the time for journaling?   —L., Vermont

Teachers are constantly thinking about their lessons: What went well? What should I do differently next time? How did students react? Unless a teacher is given a tightly scripted lesson with no variations allowed, there is always room for improvement or extension.

Reflection goes beyond edits to a lesson, however. It is a more intense and purposeful professional activity, a form of self-evaluation during which teachers analyze their practices and the effects on student learning or classroom behaviors. If you ask teachers if they reflect on their teaching, you’ll get a general consensus that they do, but the timeframe, format, and content of this reflection varies.

Teachers find time for this in different ways. Some set aside quiet time every day to think about what happened. For others, their thoughts may happen more informally or spontaneously. (I did a lot of thinking on the commute home.) If you teach the same lesson several times a day, you have a chance for some immediate fine-tuning before the next class appears. As teachers prepare lessons, they consider how the previous lessons relate to the new one. Even grading tests, projects, or lab reports provides time to think about what students did (or did not) learn.

Some teachers try to rely on mental reflections, but in the course of the day, our memories can get overloaded. Putting thoughts in writing is good, even if it’s just a few words. Some of our colleagues may keep a written diary or journal with their thoughts and reflections. Others use sticky notes on a printed lesson plan, sidebars or edits in electronic documents, blogs, or notes in a calendar app to record their thoughts and insights.

The process of reflecting is more important than the format of the document or the time of day in which it is done. I’ve found it helpful to think of reflection as being formative or summative.

Continue reading …

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Creating Children’s Science Books: A Lesson in Teamwork

photographer Ellen Harasimowicz (l) and author Loree Griffin Burns (r); photo by Lea Morgan
When the National Science Teacher’s Association (NSTA) and the Children’s Book Council began spreading the word about their annual Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K–12 list last November, I was thrilled to hear that my two 2014 titles with photographer Ellen Harasimowicz had made the cut. But when I clicked over to the OSTB website to view the list online, I was a little shocked. Handle with Care and Beetle Busters were both on the list, all right. My name was right beside them. But Ellen’s name was nowhere to be seen. As I scrolled through the other titles, it became clear this was not a simple clerical error; illustrator names were not included for any of the forty-four titles listed.

Beetle Busters CoverTo NSTA’s great credit, when I suggested (kindly, I hope) that they consider acknowledging the hard work and creativity of the artists and photographers who’d helped bring the books on their list to children, they didn’t hesitate. The list was updated within the week. (You can see it in all its author-illustrator-book title glory here.) And then they asked me to write this blog post to talk a little about how authors and illustrators collaborate to create great science books for kids.

As with any question that asks for a description of creative processes, my answer to the question “How do you two work together?” is not simple. The truth is that Ellen and I have worked quite differently on each of the four books we’ve made together. Every project comes with unique demands, and we’re constantly trying to adapt. At the same time, our working relationship is evolving from project to project and year to year. The one constant, however, is this: the final product is a team effort. Our books are filled with my words and her photographs, but these contributions are uniquely co-dependent. Alone, my words would be harder to understand and, probably more boring. Alone, Ellen’s photos would tell a story without context and, perhaps, less meaning than the one in the final merger. I think this is true for most of the forty-four books on the OSTB list.

Handle With Care coverFor the picture book Handle with Care: An Unusual Butterfly Journey, Ellen and I traveled to Costa Rica and lived on a remote farm where we watched farmers raise not carrots or potatoes, but butterfly pupae. It was an incredible place, unlike any working farm we, or our readers, had ever seen. As best we could, we recorded its essence in words (for me, reams of notes and lots of recorded interviews) and in pictures (for Ellen, thousands of images and hours of video). We knew what our story was—the butterfly life cycle as told through an unusual journey from a Central American farm to a North American museum exhibit—but not how it would be told, in what format or even, believe it or not, with what publisher. As a result, we totally over-collected in terms of photos, ideas, and information. That was our main creative approach to this book, actually: collect images, collect information, and keep our eyes peeled for the structural element that would pull the whole thing together.

On our last day at the farm, as Ellen and I watched workers package the latest crop of pupae—wrapping them in cotton, packing them into cardboard boxes, and shipping them off to the airport—this loosey-goosey creative approach finally paid off. Ellen photographed a pupa we’d named Twiggy, a pupa she’d also photographed as a caterpillar during our week at the farm.

“Do you think we can photograph this one at home, too, as a butterfly?” I asked.

Ellen, who is game for pretty much anything, didn’t hesitate. “Of course,” she said.

And as we followed Twiggy back to Boston on a plane, we began to flesh out the possibilities of following a single butterfly’s life in the pages of a picture book. When the silver package containing Twiggy arrived at the Butterfly Garden at the Museum of Science, Ellen was there to meet it. Two weeks later, when Twiggy-the-pupa began to change color in a way that made it clear it would soon become Twiggy-the-butterfly, Ellen went back to the Museum, set up her equipment, and waited. For six hours.

Despite the wait, Ellen remembers the day fondly. “I shot over a thousand frames that day—before Twiggy emerged, as it emerged, as it was clinging to the shell of the chrysalis and pumping fluid through its wings, and finally as it was released into the butterfly exhibit.”

Where was I during all this? In my office, trying to fit Twiggy’s life story into one thousand words and thirty-two pages. But I got an email from Ellen around dinnertime; the subject line said “It’s a boy!”

If you’ve read Handle with Care, then you know that our last-minute whim of an idea—follow a single butterfly—became a big part of the book we eventually made. The idea and its execution was a team effort, which is why it’s important that both our names are on the cover, and that both our names are used whenever the book is recognized.

Of course, that was just one collaborative approach to one book. I’ve spent the past couple weeks searching for information about how other writer/illustrator teams work, and while the process of individual teams varies, it always involves a back-and-forth between the creators. Watch this space for a second installment on the creation of children’s science books, in which I’ll share interviews with other author/illustrator teams, and an in depth look at the collaboration of author Kate Messner and illustrator Christopher Silas Neal, the team behind the OSTB picture book Over and Under the Snow. Many thanks to NSTA for collaborating with me on this blog series, and for shining their spotlight on excellent science books, their authors AND their illustrators.

Loree Griffin BurnsLoree Griffin Burns is an award-winning writer whose books for young people have won many accolades, including the NSTA/CBC Outstanding Trade Book Award for Students K–12, ALA Notable designations, a Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Book Award, an IRA Children’s Book Award, a Green Earth Book Award and two Science Books & Films (SB&F) Prizes. She holds a Ph.D. in biochemistry and her books draw heavily on both her passion for science and nature and her experiences as a working scientist. Browse Loree’s website and follow her on Twitter.

Editor’s Note: This is part one of a series.

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College Students: Volunteer with eCYBERMISSION and See the Big Picture

graphic saying "support contribute discover"Ever considered the opportunity to offer your help or engage with someone you might learn something from? Volunteering with the eCYBERMISSION STEM competition provides an awesome platform for college students to do so.

In 2013, an estimated 62.6 million American citizens volunteered, with 26% of those volunteers devoting their time to educational opportunities. This paints a great picture of the multiple educational opportunities available at your fingertips nationally—mentoring, coaching, teaching, fundraising, and so forth. With STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) being a hot topic in education and a major focus of President Barack Obama’s administration, it is important in the volunteering space to help involve more and more youth in STEM initiatives.

Many STEM-related educational programs, like eCYBERMISSION, provide opportunities for college students to get involved with the community. eCYBERMISSION, a free web-based STEM competition offered by the Army Educational Outreach Program, challenges students in grades six through nine to team up and identify a problem in their community by using scientific practices or engineering design processes to propose a solution and compete for awards up to $9,000 in savings bonds.

Last year, the eCYBERMISSION Volunteer Program created a unique opportunity for colleges and universities across the United States to participate in the STEM competition as Student Virtual Judges. As the role suggests, Student Virtual Judges help score a minimum of five team projects online, known as Mission Folders. This is an excellent opportunity for college students to connect the engineering and scientific principles in a critical-thinking application.

This volunteer opportunity allows college students to not only boost their resumes and build on existing skill sets but also to grow as individuals. No matter how students give their time to volunteer, the end goal is to accomplish good work. The work done with eCYBERMISSION is rewarding, and volunteers have the opportunity to make a real difference.

Since the creation of the Student Virtual Judge program, eCYBERMISSION has seen several colleges and universities adopt the volunteer program as part of their STEM curricula. Some colleges and universities actually require a human relations or community service project for graduation, so volunteering as a judge could definitely meet that requirement. Because this is a STEM competition, students in any of the four disciplines (science, technology, engineering, or mathematics) would benefit from this opportunity. Education major will get a chance to see what sixth through ninth grade students are capable of doing.

eCYBERMISSION is a great opportunity for college students to engage with others and volunteer. Connect with us on Facebook and Twitter @ecybermission to see how others are taking action!

To register as a Student Virtual Judge, visit Learn more at Questions? e-mail us at or call 1-866-GO-CYBER (462-9237).

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#14Books: NSTA Press Honored to Be on Science Books & Films Best Books List

graphic showing 14 books on the AAAS books of the yearField-tested science fair ideas that make students responsible for their own learning… middle school experiments using Rocket Launchers, Sound Pipes, Drinking Birds, and Dropper Poppers… a kid-magnet formula that will get your students engrossed in science while they improve their reading skills… 12 steps that help new teachers hone their classroom skills… expert guidance on using the NGSS to plan instructional units… these are just a few of the winning ideas that earned 14 NSTA Press titles a place on AAAS’s Science Books & Films Best Books of 2014 list.

Read more about these teaching resources, written by educators for educators; each selection links to more info and a free sample chapter of each. See something you really like? Use promo code 14Books at the NSTA Science Store to purchase these selections now and we’ll take 14% off through February 2, 2015. When NSTA Press wins, you win!

Elementary-level books included on the list are:

Middle and high school books honored include:

K–12 titles on the Best of 2014 list are:

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Science lessons for the new year from NSTA Press

Elementary NSTA Press Book Sampler120

NSTA Press sampler of science lessons for elementary grades

The start of the new year is a great time for science teachers to explore fresh lesson ideas for the classroom. NSTA Press’s top-selling books and new publications offer numerous lessons and activities, from learning about amazing caterpillars to exploring air pressure, and from understanding solutions to investigating energy. We’ve collected chapters from popular NSTA Press books tailored to elementary, middle, and high school into convenient NSTA Press Book Samplers. Each sampler includes lessons and activities from four books designed to engage students and nurture their curiosity about science and the world around them.

Click to download our NSTA Press Elementary School Sampler, which includes lessons and chapters from Even More Picture-Perfect Science Lessons: Using Children’s Books to Guide Inquiry, K–5; Using Physical Science Gadgets and Gizmos, Grades 3–5: Phenomenon-Based Learning; Uncovering Student Ideas in Primary Science, Volume 1: 25 New Formative Assessment Probes for Grades K–2; and Next Time You See a Maple Seed. Click to download our NSTA Press Middle School Sampler, which includes

NSTA Press sampler of science lessons for middle school

NSTA Press sampler of science lessons for middle school

lessons and chapters from Doing Good Science in Middle School, Expanded 2nd Edition: A Practical STEM Guide; Predict, Observe, Explain: Activities Enhancing Scientific Understanding; Everyday Earth and Space Science Mysteries: Stories for Inquiry-Based Science Teaching; and Using Physical Science Gadgets and Gizmos, Grades 6–8: Phenomenon-Based Learning.

NSTA Press sampler of science lessons for high school

NSTA Press sampler of science lessons for high school

Or click to download our NSTA Press High School Sampler, which includes lessons and chapters from Hard-to-Teach Biology Concepts, Revised 2nd Edition: Designing Instruction Aligned to the NGSS; Argument-Driven Inquiry in Biology: Lab Investigations for Grades 9–12; It’s Debatable! Using Socioscientific Issues to Develop Scientific Literacy, K–12; and Using Physics Gadgets and Gizmos, Grades 9–12: Phenomenon-Based Learning. All the best for the new year from NSTA Press!

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NSTA Press author Victor Sampson presents a webinar on scientific argumentation

Join NSTA Press author Victor Sampson for his webinar “Scientific Argumentation: Helping Students Identify, Evaluate, and Support Claims” (a 2-part course).

Use Smithsonian and other published resources to help students judge the quality or reliability of evidence, evaluate scientific claims, and construct scientific arguments. In a live, interactive format, try out an instructional strategy and an online annotation tool. This webinar will address inquiry skills and CCSS ELA standards for informational texts in scientific and technical subject areas. Provided materials focus on real-world, curriculum-relevant topics such as fracking and the Asian carp invasion.

Free registration required:

Target Audience: 9th and 10th grade science teachers
When: Part 1: Tuesday, February 17, 2015; Part 2: Monday, February 23, 2015

(Note: The course takes place over two sessions and attendance at both, along with completion of the evaluation, is required to receive a certificate)
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET/6:00 p.m. CT/5:00 p.m. MT/4:00 p.m. PT
Duration: 60 minutes each session
Where: The event will take place online via the Google+ platform. Registrants will receive links to the two sessions prior to the event.
The webinar is archived and available for viewing after the live event has occurred.

Michelle K. Smith is Associate Director for Digital Media in the Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access. She oversees content development for instructional materials and web-based programs based on the Smithsonian’s collections and expertise.

Dr. Victor Sampson is an Associate Professor of STEM Education in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at The University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of a growing series of books about engaging students in scientific argumentation, a key practice of science that helps students master content while they write about and discuss claims and evidence.

Certificate of Participation: Webinar participants earn a certificate of participation for attending both sessions and completing the evaluation form at the end of the program.
For more information: Contact

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New year, new format for The STEM Classroom

graphic with the words "The STEM Classroom"Welcome to my new blog! The old STEM Classroom e-newsletter has gotten a makeover and become part of the new monthly Science and the STEM Classroom. As part of the redesign, I’m getting a chance to hone my skill at blogging in WordPress. A blog offers some different functionality and increased opportunities for sharing and connecting. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to learn more about formatting and how to embed images in WordPress.

I am, of course, a bit late to the party. Blogging as an educational tool has been a thing for a good 10 years now. Many of today’s classroom courses have a blog component, thanks to the ubiquity of Blackboard in higher education and other learning management systems like the open-source option, Moodle, and Edmodo, which is aimed at primary and secondary school audiences. The best part about this blogging opportunity, though, is that I’ll learn to do more advanced coding in HTML. This month, I’ll give you some ideas for incorporating coding or its fruits in your classroom.

Science Connection: Effective Science Communication

I’ve written before about the importance of communicating science for lay audiences. One of the challenges in attracting new students to scientific fields is that so much of what is written about new and exciting science is obscured by jargon. This is beginning to change, and a number of science communicators have dedicated themselves to ensuring that news about good science gets the wider attention it deserves. Some of those communicators, like Joe Hanson, are using the Internet to host several different channels of communication. Hanson has a Facebook page, Twitter feed, YouTube channel, and a blog. If you don’t already keep a list of science communication resources in your classroom, you can start with these.


Any of the blogs from Discover magazine or the blogs at SciLogs (and there are lots of them). Continue reading …

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Senate releases draft of No Child Left Behind legislation

graphic saying "work between the Republican and Democratic education leaders in the Senate has led many in Washington, DC to believe this is a strong and viable attempt to come to consensus and rewrite the federal education law."Last week Sen. Lamar Alexander, chairman of the Senate Health Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee released a 400-page discussion draft proposal which would rewrite the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or No Child Left Behind.

The draft language would provide states with flexibility to decide accountability (testing) issues, and it consolidates most of the Department of Education’s K–12 programs for Teacher Quality, including the Math and Science Partnership, into a single formula grant program.

Earlier this month Senator Alexander said he wanted to get a bill to mark up by the end of February. The ensuring work between the Republican and Democratic education leaders in the Senate has led many in Washington, DC to believe this is a strong and viable attempt to come to consensus and rewrite the federal education law.

But many differences still remain. Senator Patti Murray, ranking Democrat on the HELP Committee, has signaled her priorities for the bill are to reduce testing and expand preschool. In a speech last week on ESEA education, Secretary Arne Duncan said he also wants increased funding for preschool, continued teacher evaluations, and targeted resources to the lowest-performing schools.

The STEM Education Coalition (which NSTA chairs) is calling on Congress to include a requirement that states continue to assess student performance in mathematics and science and that STEM education–related activities be given high priority in major education programs at the U.S. Department of Education (DoEd), especially those focused on teacher quality and professional development.

Stay tuned, much more ahead in coming weeks.

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 Jodi at; follower 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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