7 NSTA Resources that Save Science Teachers Time and Money

Having worked at the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) for many years, I get to talk to a lot of science teachers. One of my favorite things about them is how much they share with each other. In fact, I joked at our recent national conference that all the selfies were really “groupies”! So, inspired by this sharing, I wanted to pass along some of NSTA’s best time- and money-saving resources, written by (you guessed it) science teachers. The books below all contain tried-and-true ideas, and in the spirit of sharing, I made sure to list a free chapter from each. You won’t have to pull out your wallet for this one—each freebie delivers actionable advice you can use in the classroom tomorrow.

Frugal Science teacher book coverThe Frugal Science Teacher, PreK–5: Strategies and Activities

This collection of essays, carefully selected by former NSTA President and current Science and Children editor Linda Froschauer, outlines creative and inexpensive ways for preK through fifth-grade science teachers to keep their expenses to a minimum in five categories:

  • Student-Created Constructions
  • Teacher-Created Constructions and Repurposed Materials
  • Teaching Strategies That Maximize the Budget
  • Instructional Lessons That Maximize the Budget
  • Funds and Materials

Chapters provide inexpensive alternatives to costly classroom projects, offer re-imagined uses for items teachers already have at home or school, and suggest new and untapped resources for materials. Even more important than offering ideas for frugality, the activities and strategies—such as “String Racers,” “Discovery Bottles,” “Ecosystem Jenga,” and “An Outdoor Learning Center”—enhance teachers’ abilities to develop their students’ conceptual understanding. (Read a sample chapter: Materials Repurposed: Find a Wealth of Free Resources at Your Local Recycling Center)

Even More Picture Perfect book coverEven More Picture-Perfect Science Lessons: Using Children’s Books to Guide Inquiry, K–5

Since the debut of the Picture-Perfect Science books and workshops more than 10 years ago, authors Emily Morgan and Karen Ansberry have learned one thing for certain: Elementary school teachers are constantly clamoring for even more ways to engage children in reading and science through picture books. To meet that demand, the 15 all-new lessons in Even More Picture-Perfect Science Lessons bring you:

  • Even more convenience: You can cover reading and science content simultaneously and save time with ready-to-use student pages and assessments.
  • Even more confidence in your own expertise: You get relevant science concepts and reading comprehension strategies to keep your teaching on track.
  • Even more ways to entice even reading-phobic children: Each lesson makes students yearn to learn science from such captivating fiction and nonfiction picture books as Houdini the Amazing Caterpillar; Captain Kidd’s Crew Experiments With Sinking and Floating; and The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind.

Plus: This latest volume even connects the lessons to A Framework for K–12 Science Education and the English Language Arts and Literacy Common Core State Standards.

Just as teachers like you have been hoping, Even More Picture-Perfect Science Lessons delivers the whole package: teacher-friendly lessons, strong standards-based science content, and a kid-magnet formula that will get your students engrossed in science while they improve their reading skills. (Read a sample chapter: The Wind Blew)

Everyday Science Sourcebook coverThe Everyday Science Sourcebook, Revised 2nd Edition: Ideas for Teaching in Elementary and Middle School

Think of this unique reference book as Inspiration Central for elementary and middle school science teachers. The Everyday Science Sourcebook is structured like an easy-to-use thesaurus. Just look up a topic in the Index, note the reference number, and then use that number to find a wealth of related activities in the Entry section. For example, looking up meteorology can lead you to notes on the Earth’s temperature. From there, you’ll see entries on how students can make a liquid thermometer, graph air temperatures, and measure the conversion of solar energy to heat energy. The Everyday Science Sourcebook deserves a prominent spot on your bookshelf. Refer to it daily as a springboard for ideas that make science memorable. (Read a sample chapter: Weather) Continue reading …

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“Time” on task

7080721_1412fe24df_qI’m a new high school teacher looking for suggestions on how to estimate the amount of time a lesson will take. My lessons look good when I plan them, but I find that often a lesson is either too short and we have extra time at the end of the class or I run out of time to complete the activity or get to everything I wanted to do. I’m a beginning high school teacher looking for suggestions on how to estimate the amount of time a lesson will take.

—H. from Minnesota

I wish I had an algorithm to share for estimating time for class activities, but there are many variables involved: the number of questions students have, the amount and depth of discussion, interruptions and distractions, equipment or technology issues, time spent on classroom management, and digressions for “teachable moments.”

For teaching several sections of the same class, I found it helpful to keep them near the same pace, within reason, for planning lab investigations or assignment due dates. It didn’t help that some of the class periods in my school were 40 minutes and others were 45! Due to school events, there were days when I did not meet with all of my classes. There also were days when activities were completed quickly in some classes and dragged on in others.

At the end of each class, annotate your plans with what students were able to accomplish and any issues that arose. The next time you plan this lesson, you’ll be better able to determine how much time to allow. You’ll see that many lessons will take more than one class period.

You may find it necessary to spend time on extra discussion or to slow the pace if students are struggling or need assistance. But you can maximize productive class time by establishing and using routines. When students come into the classroom, they could follow a bell-ringer activity to get them ready and focused for class. With routines in place, students should know how to transition between activities, how and where to get materials, and what to do when disruptions happen.

Continue reading …

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The Vernier Motion Encoder System: Motion Encoding Made Personal

The Vernier Motion Encoder System marks a significant shift in the science teacher’s ability to transition between the conceptual, formula-based physics of motion to the “real world” application of those concepts and formulas—and here’s the big news—without the need for disclaimers explaining away anomalous data, inconsistent graphs, and the general background noise of low resolution measurements. While it is possible to argue that the essence of a motion activity transitions from concept to concrete without using meaningful data since the students at this level are able to imagine what was supposed to happen, by actually capturing accurate and precise motion data, the traditional conclusion of the motion lesson is actually just the beginning of what is now possible to experiment with and visualize.

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While it would be easy to dismiss all the good science taught with primitive methods, instead the simplicity, accuracy and operational speed of Vernier’s Motion Encoder System provides students not only a crystal clear insight into the nuts and bolts of motion, but also raises the bar on the subtitles and nuances of motion through actual hands-on experimentation and, if you will, science play.

Vernier describes their paradigm shift somewhat dryly as, “The encoder strip consists of alternating black and white bars with a 4 mm period, allowing the optical sensor to detect the passage of the bars as the cart moves. With two sensors appropriately placed, a change in position with 1 mm resolution can be determined, as well as the direction of travel. A narrow infrared beam transmits motion data to a receiver.”

This descriptive paragraph reminded me of a NASA STARDUST announcement where a sample return mission brought back some comet material that contained features known as CAIs or calcium aluminum inclusions. The excitement of CAIs is in their status as one of the first solids to condense out of the solar nebula after the birth of our solar system.  What NASA should have announced is that comets contain material older than the earth! And let the details shake out once the reader’s attention was secured. Check out this link to a NASA/JPL instructional product that adds more humor and exclamation points to comet science.

cart-n-sensorVernier, in their humble pursuit of elegant science teaching solutions, has produced a motion track the length of a tall student’s arm with carts the size of human hands and a motion resolution at the limit of our finger fine motor skill!

Well, OK, maybe it’s not quite as exciting as being truly older than dirt, but given the overwhelming quantity of our brain that is devoted to exploring the world with our hands, the Motion Encoder System has just brought the fundamental principles of motion into a bio-conceptual arena that we humans are uniquely prepared to explore.

Continue reading …

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Engaging in the Art of Teaching With the Next Generation Science Standards

NGSS coverFor the past 15 months, a four-letter acronym has been on the tip of science educators’ tongues: NGSS, the Next Generation Science Standards. Whether you personally are or your state board of education is “in favor of,” or “opposed to,” or you are simply “engaged with” the NGSS, there is no doubt that their release has been scrutinized in the media and intensively discussed within the science education community; it is an exciting time for science education.

Crosscutting concepts, disciplinary core ideas, science and engineering practices, performance expectations, and assessment boundaries are all important aspects of the curricular process that science educators should consider while planning curriculums, units, and daily lessons. Considering the information the document contains, it is fair to say that the NGSS covers the “what” of teaching—the content students should know and understand—and up to a point, the “why” has been incorporated into the architecture, which used the learning progressions from A Framework for K–12 Science Education to design the performance expectations.

NGSS does not mention the “how” or method by which these core ideas, crosscutting concepts, and practices should be taught. An online search of the NGSS for the keywords “teaching” and “pedagogy” returned no hits for either. However, if we review the Framework, it has some valuable points to remember and continue to practice in our classrooms every day to engage students in learning. The Framework states, “[I]nstruction refers to methods of teaching and the learning activities used to help students master the content and objectives specified by a curriculum. Instruction encompasses the activities of both teachers and students. It can be carried out by a variety of pedagogical techniques, sequences of activities, and ordering of topics” (NRC 2012, p. 250). The overarching point of this quote connects with the “how” or method a teacher selects to engage students and assist them in discovering the content, concepts, and practices outlined in the NGSS. These decisions are not as clearly spelled out and require experience, skill, and creativity in selection.

In recent years, there has been discussion, discourse, and debate about direct instruction versus inquiry, which are on opposite ends of the spectrum. This debate has produced research results on both sides of the topic (some of which are published by the National Academy of Sciences, the publisher of the Framework and the NGSS). Furthermore, current generalized approaches in the educational arena too often bleed into the science area and focus on remediation, intervention, and test preparation skills, with little or no direct relationship to how students learn science.

In developing the Framework, the Committee on a Conceptual Framework for New K12 Science Education Standards was not charged with addressing instruction, but rather content. However, they still felt the need to incorporate the chapter titled “implementation,” which discusses instruction. They quickly pointed out that they were not making formal recommendations, but understood the “[s]tandards provide a vision for teaching and learning, but the vision cannot be realized unless the standards permeate the education system and guide curriculum, instruction, teacher preparation and professional development, and student assessment” (NRC 2012, p. 241). So the area of instruction becomes the question of “how” and thus becomes personal to each teacher in each classroom each day. Decisions of “how” or what teaching methods to select are at the intersection of general educational understanding, content knowledge, and knowledge of how the students in an individual class will best learn. Some call the intersection of these three aspects pedagogical content knowledge (PCK). Applied PCK is at the heart of decision-making in the moment; it is “the art of teaching.” Teachers need to take the individual components within PCK, combine them with their own passion and energy for learning and teaching, and encourage students to engage in the learning process. No two classes will be the same, no two lessons will follow the exact path, and no two students will arrive at the same outcome at the same moment. Each of these experiences for the students, class, and teacher will be an individual discovery. As the American poet and teacher Mark Van Doren stated, “The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery”—and I contend the ultimate answer to the question of “how.”

My certificate from the state of Pennsylvania certifies me “to practice the art of teaching and render services” in my certificated areas. I support and believe in the efficacy and importance of the NGSS, the focus they bring to what students should know and understand, as well as the explicit need to integrate the three dimensions within the classroom lessons. However, like each of you, I am a teacher who knows my students and needs to make informed decisions about how to best engage them in the instruction of the content presented in the standards. In the end, it is important to remember that we need to know about the content and resources available, as well as make decisions that will best bring that content alive for our students. This intersection among content, an understanding of education, and knowledge of our students is where we must all practice the art of teaching and help our students engage in discovery.

Author Christine RoyceToday’s Blogger

Christine Anne Royce, a professor of education at Shippensburg University, where she also serves as department chair. For the past two years, she also has codirected the Master of Arts in Teaching in Science Education program and focuses on the integration of science and literacy for her research area. Royce earned an EdD in science education from Temple University and has taught science at all levels. She has served on the NSTA Board and Council. Email her at caroyce@aol.com or follow her on twitter @caroyce.

Editor’s Note

This article was originally published in the September issue of NSTA Reports, the member newspaper of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA). Visit the NGSS@NSTA Hub at http://www.nsta.org/ngss to access NSTA’s growing collection of NGSS resources.

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Solace in the Solstice? Shedding Light on the Nature of Science

Google Doodle: First Day of Autumn 2014The coming of autumn at 9:29 EDT last night (which I was pleased to see featured in today’s Google Doodle) serves as the perfect segue to a theme of mine as Executive Director of the National Science Teachers Association: We must teach students to understand that there are testable predictions about that physical world that together comprise a body of knowledge known as “science.” And we cannot debate those “facts.” But what we can do, and must do better, is teach our students how those facts can be used to make societal decisions, such as whether daylight savings time is a benefit or not to our society.

Autumn began last night at 9:29 PM EDT as the sun crossed the equator. For those of us living at mid latitudes, the hours of daylight will now be fewer than those dark. Indeed the rate at which the day disappears is at its quickest, slowing only as we approach the dark and cold days of December and January.  Our understanding of the tilt of the Earth’s axis and its motion around the Sun allows us forecast these changes with a high degree of confidence, a simple example of how science leads to testable predictions about the physical world.

Daylight Saving Time ends at 2:00 AM on Sunday November 2, at least here in most of the United States. But not everywhere, which leads to the debate over the use of daylight saving time–something that has been controversial since Benjamin Franklin proposed it. Arguments in favor point to better use of daylight and energy conservation. Opponents argue against the nuisance of changing clocks, disrupted sleep schedules, the risk to school children due to poor visibility in the early hours, the conflict with religious law and practice, and the fact that farm animals don’t use clocks at all.

Daylight saving time is based on the science mentioned above but in itself is not science. While we can debate the costs and benefits of changing our clocks twice a year, we can’t ignore or legislate against the seasonal change in the number of hours of daylight. We can debate how we will respond and we can use the science to inform that discussion, but we may decide that other factors are more important and accept the predictable consequences of our decision.

As the Sun continues its southward trip and the days shorten, we turn back the air conditioning and turn up the heat against winter’s chill. For over a hundred years science has told us that increased combustion of fossil fuels will lead to a change in the planet’s climate. In 1896 Svante Arrhenius calculated a value of the amount of that change that is quite close to modern estimates. And just as we measure the days shortening, so we have we measured the planet’s beginning to warm. We can and must debate what to do with that information but we cannot pretend that it does not exist any more than we can deny the solstice.

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NGSS and 21st century tools and skills

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 for authentic activities and investigations that can be used, adapted, or extended for different levels of student interest and experience.

In NSTA’s September K-12 journals, the overarching theme seems to be rethinking and expanding traditional learning experiences. The articles have ideas for helping students incorporate different ways of thinking and learning via activities incorporating the NGSS and 21st century technology applications.

Keep reading for more from Science & Children, Science Scope, and The Science Teacher.

Continue reading …

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Five Essential Topics in the Journal of College Science Teaching


MMYM_15minThousands of college freshmen have chosen their first-year science courses based on knowledge and experience from their K-12 years. College professors and instructors can use the award-winning Journal of College Science Teaching (JCST) to better ensure lectures, labs, and online instruction continue to inspire and promote science education.

JCST is a bimonthly peer-reviewed journal for instructors and professors at the university and two-year community college level as well as pre-service science educators. The journal offers the proven research, case studies, and perspectives for college-level science educators charged with bridging the gap and creating career-ready scientists and future science teachers.

Here are several different ways to spend 15 minutes with JCST (Note: Members need to log in to access the articles listed below; nonmembers can access them for a fee):

  1. STEM-Related Degrees

It’s never too early to encourage science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) interests in students, but studies show college students make career choices during the first two years of college. As institutions track the enrollment of STEM-related degrees, science professors and instructors must continue to cultivate successful retention of undergraduates in science majors.

Each issue of JCST serves up research and discussion on STEM education challenges and solutions at the college level, such as the following:

Learn about unique programs, innovative technology, reform updates, and case studies all focused on STEM education sustainability and growth.

  1. Focusing on research and case studies

Because professors and instructors may be teaching non-science majors, JCST publishes integrated, multidisciplinary approaches to research experiences. Here are a few sample articles:

Two columns each month focus on student outcomes:

Research and Teaching reports the results of exemplary systematic educational research in college science teaching. Articles published in this column typically report on student outcomes in multicenter or multicourse studies.

Case Studies column publishes original articles on innovations in case study teaching, assessment of the method, as well as case studies themselves along with teaching notes for classroom instruction.

Continue reading …

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Using STEM Clubs as a Catalyst for Change in K-12 Education: A Statewide Model

Graphic showing the elements of a good after school STEM clubThe growing abundance of research supporting the importance of incorporating increased Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) into schools, combined with the recently vocalized excitement in regard to STEM by high profile individuals appears to be having only minimal impact in our classrooms. This appears to be the case despite all of those who have rushed to create and market STEM resources for educators. Even the growing support from industry for an increase in the integration of STEM into schools, which they have graciously shown in the form of financial support and shared expertise, has not been enough to truly ignite successful large scale integration of STEM in schools (Ryan, 2012). STEM Club kidsUnfortunately this reality, however frustrating, is not new to educational reform efforts. History has shown that many well intended, research backed educational reform efforts have failed due to a lack of understanding and support for such change. Although this appears to be the path that many of the efforts in regard to STEM are on, there are signs of hope. In Arizona, over the past three years, we at Science Foundation Arizona have seen our efforts in regard to STEM clubs ignite a statewide movement which is beginning to serve as a catalyst for helping educators, students, parents, and the larger community to understand and support the need for increasing the integration of STEM into our schools. While we acknowledge that this may only be a first step in the process to fully integrate STEM into our schools, we see it as a vital one to move forward toward large-scale sustainable integration of STEM into our classrooms.

STEM Club activityThree years ago, defining STEM clubs as “any gathering of students that meets regularly in an informal environment to work on inquiry-based STEM related activities,” Science Foundation Arizona piloted STEM clubs in eleven schools. Each school received supplies, teacher stipends, and professional development. What we learned from these efforts was that there was an interest in STEM clubs across the state and that STEM clubs opened up possibilities that other types of specialized clubs, such as full robotics clubs, did not. Unlike these specialized clubs, STEM clubs appealed to all grade levels, especially K–8, and they allowed teachers and students to adjust the level and focus of the club in order to meet student needs and interests. With this knowledge in hand, we set out to develop a STEM club model that could be replicated on a large scale. At this time we were also working on developing a statewide network of Informal STEM Providers, which included representatives from education, business, government, and non-profit organizations with an interest in Informal STEM. Early in our second year of these efforts our work in these two areas came together when we realized that a number of our Informal partners had also been experimenting with STEM clubs. As a result, we began to coordinate our efforts and our lessons learned. Within six months we had developed an inexpensive STEM club model, and an online STEM Club Guide, which not only provides schools with guidance on how to setup and support a STEM club, but also has the ability to connect these clubs to one another, allowing them to share resources, collaborate on projects, and provide each other support regardless of geographic limitations. This free online resource can be found at stemclubguide.sfaz.org. Continue reading …

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Kindergarten teachers–webinar for you on Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Child pushes a ball on a track.

Investigating motion.

Just a quick post to alert you to the National Science Teachers Association webinar, Teaching NGSS in Elementary School—Kindergarten, for Kindergarten teachers, underwritten by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Increase your understanding of the Next Generation Science Standards with kindergartners in mind. Just 90 minutes–see additional information below. Click here to see the entire series for all grades.

Teaching NGSS in Elementary School—Kindergarten

 Review the general architecture of the Next Generation Science Standards and the specific expectations for kindergarten. Then learn how to use the standards to plan curriculum and instruction. During this 90-minute web seminar, you will also have an opportunity to

  • deepen their understanding of how the three dimensions of NGSS (practices, core ideas, and crosscutting concepts) are designed to blend together during classroom instruction;
  • dive in to one or two examples of what the teaching and learning to achieve NGSSlooks like in a Kindergarten classroom; and
  • discuss instructional practices with other Kindergarten teachers and begin the development of a grade-level community in the NSTA Learning Center to support students learning.

Register today!

Title: Teaching NGSS in Elementary School—Kindergarten

Target audience: Kindergarten teachers
Date: Wednesday, September 17, 2014
Time: 6:30 p.m. ET / 5:30 p.m. CT / 4:30 p.m. MT / 3:30 p.m. PT
Duration: 90 minutes Note: New users should log in 15 minutes prior to the scheduled start time for an introduction to NSTA web seminars.
Presenters: Carla Zembal-SaulMary Starr and Kathy Renfrew

Register today to participate in this web seminar. Upon registering you will receive an e-mail confirmation including information about the program and suggested links to visit in preparation of the event. Additional information about the web seminar will be e-mailed to you days before the program.

Each web seminar is a unique, stand-alone, program. Archives of the web seminars and the presenters’ PowerPoint presentations will be available through the links on this web page. Learn more about the features of the web seminar and read answers to frequently asked questions from participants.


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Setting the Stage for Science

Now that we are back in school somewhere between a week and a month depending on where you live and what schedule your district adheres to, I thought it might be a great opportunity for all of us to step back and consider how we set the stage for science learning in our classrooms this year. The Leaders Letter that came out right as the Labor Day holiday hit and school started may still be sitting in your in-boxes and had as its theme Science Engagement on All Levels.  Resources included information on the current Ebola outbreak, resources for parents related to the Next Generation Science Standards, a report titled The Progress of Education Reform: Science in the Early Years, which examines the benefits associated with science education in early learning and includes recommendations for state policymakers. It also provided safety resources and a variety of announcements. Hopefully something was interesting to and engaged the readership of the eNewsletter. So engagement was the topic of the newsletter and of this blog post that will hopefully generate conversation and a sharing of ideas.

How we engage people – whether it be students, peers, or parents requires strategy and thought. A popular commercial for a credit card has various character’s asking “What’s in Your Pocket?” in a whimsical way connects (at least in my mind) to the idea of engagement and ultimately “setting the stage for science.” Considering how we set the stage for science is a way of encouraging educators to consider how we engage students in science or how do we make science engaging.

Within the newsletter, the section of resource for professional development providers offers several websites related to the strategies to engage learners and create an atmosphere for your classroom. It is understandable that a classroom environment to include décor, structure, and management policies is sometimes controlled or limited by administrative policies.  It is also understandable that approaches are often influenced by what a teacher feels comfortable doing.  For example, I am NOT a person who can pull off the criss, cross applesauce and other clapping strategies with any sincerity at all – even when attempting to model them for my pre-service teachers. Continue reading …

Posted in The Leading Edge | 3 Responses