NSTA summer journals for K-12 teachers

Add these journals to your summer reading!

The Science Teacher: Big Data

As the editor says this month, “Scientific progress doesn’t result from simply accumulating data.” And data is definitely accumulating rapidly! Analyzing and interpreting data is one of the NGSS science and engineering practices, and how to organize, analyze, and interpret data (from students’ own investigations or from the work of others) and how to recognize valid conclusions from data are important if our students are to be informed citizens and potential scientists. (Career of the Month: Data Analyst).

It’s easy to find articles or news sites that summarize data and present an interpretation, but the editor continues: “…students can engage in the higher-order thinking involved in analyzing and interpreting large science datasets (big data) and designing their own inquiries to discover patterns and meaning in mountains of accessible data.” These data are collected by probes and investigators and are often streamed in real time. The featured articles in this edition focus on classroom strategies for investigations using secondary data. 

  • Thinking Big: Most students have had experience in data in their own investigations. But students and teachers also have access to large data sets via the Internet, from research projects and citizen science databases. The authors discuss the differences between local and large-scale data sets and how to transition to using “big” data in the classroom. The article has examples of strategies (provided in the Connections), a list of K-12 projects that provide big data, and suggestions for classroom projects.

One of the suggested projects that I am familiar with is NOAA’s Data in the Classroom. Each module has five levels of lessons ranging from teacher-presented ones to letting students explore the data to full-blown problem solving and invention. Each module shows the associated data in a variety of formats and guides the users through how to interpret it. There are “checkup” questions throughout, and teachers can download the materials.

  •  A Day in the Field introduces the term “secondary data”–data collected by others. Students studied a local estuarine system and shared their data with those collecting similar data at other locations. It was an authentic experience in using analysis tools such as mapping and spreadsheets. As the authors noted “Data analysis is about pattern recognition.”
  • Harvesting a Sea of Data describes how students can study migration patterns using data from the Ocean Tracks research program. The project provides opportunities for students to study phenomena in faraway locations. (see also the Oceans of Data website)

[For more on the content that provides a context for these projects and strategies see the SciLinks websites for  Birds, Telesccopes, Watersheds, EstuariesMigration]

 Continue for Science Scope and Science and Children.

Continue reading …

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7 Science Facts #NSTA Learned on Twitter This Week

Twitter is a treasure trove for news. These tweets caught our eye at NSTA recently, and they could surely be useful conversation starters in the classroom. Read on, and share the stories that caught your eye this week!

1. Kids love chasing fireflies, and scientists have been chasing the secret to how they glow for 60 years.

2. Ice cream dates back to biblical times!

3. Returning humans to the moon could cost 90% less than expected, bringing estimated costs down to $10 billion.

4. CRISPR. All the cool kids are talking about it, and here’s why:

5. A major earthquake will cause plenty of destruction along the West Coast, but it won’t look like it does in the movies.

6. Restless, wandering minds are capable of enormous creativity.

7. Astronaut Scott Kelly is craving a Philly cheese steak. (Isn’t everyone?)

 The mission of NSTA is to promote excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all. Follow @NSTA on Twitter to see more stories like these and get the science education resources you need.

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What are science teachers reading this summer?

Browse this month’s most popular books, e-books, children’s trade books, and journal articles on NSTA’s website. Between now and August 14, 2015, save 10% on NSTA Press and NSTA Kids books or e-books by entering promo code SUMMER at checkout from the online Science Store.

Most Popular NSTA Press Books

Argument-Driven Inquiry in Life Science: Lab Investigations for Grades 6–8Book cover of "Argument-Driven Inquiry in Life Science" from NSTA Press

Picture-Perfect Science Lessons, Expanded 2nd Edition: Using Children’s Books to Guide Inquiry, 3–6

Translating the NGSS for Classroom Instruction

Uncovering Student Ideas in Life Science, Volume 1: 25 New Formative Assessment Probes

The Power of Questioning: Guiding Student Investigations

Most Popular NSTA Press e-Books

Solar System (enhanced e-book)Cover image of NSTA enhanced e-book "Solar System"

Uncovering Student Ideas in Science, Volume 2: 25 More Formative Assessment Probes (e-book)

Earth Science Success, 2nd Edition: 55 Tablet-Ready, Notebook-Based Lessons (e-book)

 Argument-Driven Inquiry in Biology: Lab Investigations for Grades 9–12 (e-book)

The BSCS 5E Instructional Model: Creating Teachable Moments (e-book)

Most Popular NSTA Kids Books

Next Time You See a FireflyBook cover of "Next Time You See a Firefly" from NSTA Press

How Does the Wind Blow? I Wonder Why

Next Time You See a Sunset

How Tall Was Milton? I Wonder Why

Up, Up in a Balloon: I Wonder Why

Most Popular Journal Articles

Dig Into Fossils! (elementary)Cover of NSTA journal "Science and Children" Summer 2015 issue

Thinking Big (high school)

The Next Generation Science Standards: Where Are We Now and What Have We Learned? (middle school)

Collaborative Concept Maps: A Voice for All Science Learners (middle school)

A Day in the Field (high school)

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

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Expanding understanding, resources for discussions about gender

Child wearing a firefighter's helmet and a doctor's lab coat.Young children’s imaginative play often includes creating family groups with toy animals or dolls, and role-playing with housekeeping and dress-up materials. They recreate the relationships they experience or know of from books and other media. As a “mother dog,” a child will tell the “puppies” to follow her. Children who behave out of character, such as sitting at a table instead of curling up on a blanket on the floor, get called out by other children–“Dogs don’t sit at tables!” Children who wear clothing not designed to go together may be told, “Doctors don’t wear hardhats!” Child paints at an easel while wearing a hard hat.Sometimes children’s lack of experience may be revealed in their play. I don’t hear “Girls can’t be doctors” these days but I have heard “Only boys can drive the truck,” in spite of the role models available today.

Just as we work to expand children’s understanding of when the Moon is visible (not only at night as portrayed in most media but in the daytime too), we can expand children’s understanding of gender roles in careers, friendships, and family. Just as we create a safe environment for children to voice their questions about science content, we maintain that safe environment for all questions.

Photo of the Moon in daylight by Phil Davis

Daymoon by Phil Davis on NASA site

Some resources for these discussions include:


  • Every Color on the Canvas: Using Art to Explore Preschoolers’ Understanding of Differences by Meagan K. Shedd and Rebecca L. Coyner. July 2015. Young Children. 70 (3): 84-87
  • U.S. Dept of Health and Human Services, Administration for Families and Children. Partnering with LGBT families in Early Head Start and Head Start by Angie Godfrey. June 18, 2013.


  • Welcoming Schools, a resource for educators for tools to address bias-based name-calling and bullying, and to meet the needs of students whose family structures are not well represented or included in school environments.


Any conversations that encourage critical thinking and using evidence from observations help children build their understanding of the world. Read about moon misconceptions in children’s literature in “The Moon in Children’s Literature: How to avoid the pitfalls of introducing misconceptions when reading about the Moon,” by Kathy Cabe Trundle and Thomas H. Troland in the October 2005 issue of Science and Children.

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A graphic organizer for writing

matrixWhen I ask students to write about a topic, most try to submit a collection of copy-and-paste paragraphs. I’m looking for strategies to help students create original writing.  —H., Georgia

Before the Internet, when students were assigned to write on a topic, they went to the library, found the topic in an encyclopedia, and copied enough words to meet the length criteria. Fast-forward to today’s world of online searching, Wikipedia, and electronic copy/paste and you have updated the situation.

In the old days, as students copied by hand, they at least had to look at the words. I recently watched a biology student completing a vocabulary activity on cells. With his laptop he copied and pasted a definition of nucleus—as the center of an atom composed of protons and neutrons!

Synthesizing information from several sources is a useful process. But it might not be an intuitive one for students. When I was teaching middle school, each student created a report on an endangered animal. Even though I told the students I wanted to see their own writing, I still had many copy-and-paste versions. It was clear that students needed some guidance and examples of how to gather and use information from several sources.

Although my colleagues at the high school level swore by index cards and outlines for preparing reports, I knew these would be hard for many seventh graders. My classes included special education students, so I asked the special education teacher if she had any suggestions for helping students organize information and use what they find. Continue reading …

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NSTA Legislative Update: Senate Passes Legislation to Overhaul No Child Left Behind

Fourteen years after it was first signed into law and seven years after it expired, the U.S. Senate passed legislation on Thursday, July 16 to overhaul the Elementary and Secondary Education Act–commonly known as No Child Left Behind–by a vote of 81 to 17.

The Every Child Achieves Act, the bipartisan agreement by Senate education committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA), contains a significant program for STEM education and retains the requirement that states continue testing in math and science. Overall the bill reduces the role of the federal government and gives states the flexibility not found under No Child Left Behind.

On July 8, the House of Representatives passed the largely partisan Student Success Act (H.R. 5)​ their bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Next up is work on the final House-Senate conference agreement, as education leaders work to find a compromise between many of the differing issues/ policies (greater accountability, students opting out of testing, Title I portability) in the two bills and produce a final bill acceptable to their respective caucuses and to the White House. Chairman Alexander is quoted as saying he would like to get a bill to the president this fall.

STEM advocates are gearing up now to ensure that the final bill will retain the Senate’s strong STEM focus. Watch for upcoming issues of NSTA Express and special NSTA Legislative Alerts to find out how you can help ensure STEM education remains a priority in the final federal education law.

  • Read the Education Week blog on passage of Every Child Achieves Act.
  • Read the Senate press release on passage of the bill.
  • Read the AP article on the bill.

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 jpeterson@nsta.org; follow her on Twitter at @stemedadvocate.

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

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Engineering Next Generation Science Leaders in Omaha, Nebraska

“Here we go” was a tweet from a delegate attending the 2015 National Congress on Science Education (NCSE), held last week in Omaha, Nebraska, by the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA); excitement was evident from start to finish! Congress was the venue for delegates to tweet “NCSE gave me tools to conquer challenges facing science education in my state.” If you haven’t already figured it out, NCSE became the highlight of social media.

Congress started with a special celebration of the 2015 Robert Yager Excellence in Science Education Award recipients. Several tweets appeared while the six recipients made their presentations…“Inspiring to hear examples of truly engaging students as best practice from the Yager Award Winners!” and “Joe Ruhl (Yager Award recipient) sharing with #NSTAcongress about teaching techniques.” His strategies focused on the five “Cs” – Choice, Collaboration, Communication, Critical Thinking, and Creativity. Beverly Kutsunaj, the Robert Yager scholar, shared her success in her first grade class. She “stops talking and brings out a camera.” Creativity was apparent not just in teaching styles but also in how students were encouraged to be “creative in their thinking” as they learn science as a process.

Day two of Congress began with two energizing speakers yielding tweets such as:

  • “NSTA membership voice heard – organized advocacy gets STEM into ESEA bill”
  • “It’s time to get our teeth”
  • “Your teacher voice matters here!”
  • “Teacher advocacy is so vital for us to be heard.”

Jodi Peterson from NSTA and Stephen Pruitt from Achieve provided excitement as Jodi shared the work on the ESEA bill and Stephen inspired Congress attendees to be “leaders.” His talk had people saying: “Teachers have been saying for too long I am just a teacher – play an active role.” And he defined a LEADER with works: learn, endurance, aspiration, determination, excellence, and respect. The morning session carried over into the issue forums: Leadership and Advocacy, Elementary Education, and Professional Learning. The issue forums yielded six resolutions. Two resolutions focusing on the NSTA Elementary School position paper and collaboration with CAGs were presented to the NSTA leadership and were passed. Three other resolutions were directed to the NCSE focusing on collaboration and pre-service teacher programs.

Continue reading …

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Bundling the NGSS and CCSS: Featured Strand at NSTA’s 2015 Area Conference on Science Education in Reno, Nevada, October 22-24

Header for Reno conference

This October, the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) will feature a special strand “Bundling the NGSS and CCSS” at our 2015 Area Conference on Science Education, in Reno, October 22-24. Teachers ask frequently how to connect the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), and Reno will be the place to get answers! Science learning includes the content areas of mathematics, English language arts, and English language development. Bundling instruction allows teachers to incorporate multiple standards at the same time for purposeful learning and real-world applications. This strand increases participants’ understanding and ability to simultaneously teach science, the CCSS, and beyond.

Ohkee LeeThe featured presentation for this strand will be “Connections of NGSS to CCSS for All Students, Including English Language Learners,” on Friday, October 23 12:30 PM – 1:30 PM, in the Reno-Sparks Convention Center, C1. Presenter Okhee Lee (New York University: New York, NY) will address connections of the NGSS to the Common Core State Standards, in English language arts and mathematics for all students…and English language learners in particular. Okhee Lee will highlight relationships and convergences between the NGSS and CCSS from both a content perspective and a language perfective. In addition, the presentation will engage participants to explore how teachers can promote disciplinary practices in the NGSS and CCSS while promoting language development.

Below is a small sampling of other sessions on this topic:

  • Keep Calm and Teach Science…and Math…and ELA: An Integrated Approach
  • Science Has Many Stories to Tell: NASA Literacy Resources for Your Students
  • Inquiring Minds Want to Know…How to Create a PBL Unit
  • Identifying the Hidden Opportunities: Embedding CCSS ELA in Your Current Science Lessons
  • Talking Points: The Role of Talk in the Science Classroom

Want more? Check out more sessions and other events with the Reno Session Browser/Personal Scheduler. Follow all our conference tweets using #NSTA15, and if you tweet, please feel free to tag us @NSTA so we see it!

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

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Differences between “Inquiry” and “Practices”

Nature Journaling“Inquiry” and “practices” are recognized actions in science teaching that are used in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).  “Inquiry” was a term which was central to many science education reform efforts–certainly those indicated in the “old” 1996 National Science Education Standards (NSES).  In 1991 the NSTA President asked the National Research Council (NRC) to form a committee to do a background analysis concerning the word “inquiry” for use in identifying how science should be taught in schools.  This resulted in little controversy!  A definition of “Inquiry” has been described as simply asking questions, proposing possible answers, and establishing the validity of proposed answers.  This sequence constitutes the “doing” of science. 

Science is not something we “practice” to achieve known results as in engineering.  Scientists do things differently, and we should specify these differences when referring to science in the NGSS!  The word “practices” should not be used to identify the meaning of “inquiry” when defining science.  Science is not something that is done over and over until the desired outcome has been accomplished as it is with engineering.  Science focuses on identifying the unknown!  It seeks explanations of objects and events encountered by humans and includes evidence to support the explanations proposed.   

The term inquiry” is often associated with actions by police, lawyers, FBI and CIA, political leaders, business executives, and others who formulate questions and try to find answers to them.  “Inquiry” provides a focus for student actions as well as actions of teachers.  All variations of the word “inquiry” used by teachers suggest ways teachers can achieve and encourage “inquiry” for students.   “Inquiry” is not accomplished by teachers setting parameters to determine what and how something is taught.  Teachers often provide guidance (while not being too directive).    

The word “practices” is also associated with numerous professions, for example, medical doctors who “practice” medicine, lawyers who “practice law, actors “practicing” words for a play, dancers “practicing” routine dance steps, artists who “practice” to perfect their painting/drawing skills, as well as engineers working to provide designs for stronger bridges, safer building structures, and even designs of major highways.  “Inquiry” is not a primary focus for engineering. Engineers start with an idea that indicates what they are trying to achieve; they know in advance what they want.  Conversely, scientists are always searching for the unknown as they explore the world around them. 

Robert E. Yager
Professor of science Education
University of Iowa

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Finding out what students know and can do

I teach sixth grade science, and my students come from five district elementary schools and several private schools. Some schools emphasize science more than others, so it’s hard to know what knowledge and experience each student has. My principal suggested giving a pretest at the beginning of the year or for each unit, but that sounds time consuming, and I question how effective it would be. Do you have any suggestions to help me figure out what students know? —A., California

I worked on a project that required students to complete a multiple-choice pre– and posttest to assess the effectiveness of an instructional program. The students were upset during the pretest because they didn’t know many of the answers. Even though we explained that they weren’t expected to know everything and the pretest wouldn’t count as a grade, it was still a frustrating experience.

A pretest in your case at the beginning of the year would attempt to assess what students already know. Students would be asked to recall what they learned a year or more ago without a context or prompt or time to think. This isolated, once-and-done assessment could be stressful for students as well as time-consuming for you.

On the other hand, what students already know about a topic is just as important as the activities you plan or the materials you use. You could look at your school district’s curriculum guide for the elementary grades, but as you noted, some topics may have been emphasized more than others depending on the teacher and available resources.

Preliminary activities can help you and the students determine the knowledge, skills, and experiences they bring to the learning unit. I’d suggest using activities that stimulate student thinking about the concepts, provide a context for their thinking, and relate to the learning goals. For example,

  • KWL charts are three-column graphic organizers on which students note what they already (K)now about a topic, what they (W)ant to know, and finally what they (L)earn about a topic. The K and W columns can provide information prior to instruction on students’ knowledge and interests. The L column is a self-assessment during and at the end of the unit. This strategy has been around for a while and there are many variations. (see “KLEWS to Explanation Building” in the February 2015 Science and Children ). ).
  • Using a visual as a prompt, ask students to list in their notebooks what they know about a topic or to generate a list of related words. As with a KWL chart, students can include what they’ve learned about a topic from a variety of sources, including what they may have learned outside of school.
  • On a list of key vocabulary or concepts ask students to put a plus sign next to those they’re comfortable with, a check mark next to those they’ve heard of but are not sure about, and a question mark next to those with which they are completely unfamiliar. At the end of the unit, students can revisit the list.
  • Using letters in a term from the unit, ask students to think of a related word or idea that starts with each letter. Students enjoy working together or sharing their lists. It’s interesting to do this again at the end of the unit to see if students respond differently or in greater detail.

Assessing students’ prior knowledge can also identify misconceptions or incomplete understandings. Page Keeley has written a series of books on Uncovering Student Ideas in Science.  The “probes” in these books are brief activities that help teachers of all grade levels identify students’ preconceptions or misconceptions about a topic. If you would like to preview what these probes look like, NSTA’s Science & Children publishes one in each issue.

To assess more than content knowledge, at the beginning of the year have students complete an activity or investigation with minimal directions from you. As you observe them, you’ll have a chance to note their thinking and problem-solving skills, as well as their measuring, data-organizing, graphing, and writing abilities. In terms of interpersonal skills, you also can start to identify who are the leaders, bosses, followers, thinkers, creative minds, disrupters, class clowns, and bystanders.

Students may claim to be unfamiliar with a topic until they think about it. I found that some students had had teachers who used different terminology, which often confused those students. And I also learned that students knew more than they (and I) thought.

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