#NSTA Social Scene: October 3, 2015


What are science teachers doing in social media this week? Here’s our top 10 favorites!


#2 Science Teachers Rock!

#3 Must Read

#4 Save The Date

#5 Astronaut Alert

#6 Rethink STEM Reform

#7 Mars Onscreen

#8 Candies Not Optional

#9 Eye in the Sky


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Meeting the Demand for Future STEM Teachers

Third graders in Hofstra University’s STEM Studio ponder how to display the data generated from their pre-exercise/post-exercise pulse rate experiment. PHOTO CREDIT: COURTESY OF HOFSTRA UNIVERSITY

Third graders in Hofstra University’s STEM Studio ponder how to display the data generated from their pre-exercise/post-exercise pulse rate experiment. Photo courtesy of HOFSTRA UNIVERSITY

The University of Virginia (U.Va.) made headlines in August when it announced its new five-year, undergraduate dual-degree program that will allow students to earn a bachelor’s degree in engineering and a master’s degree in teaching, along with a license and endorsement in chemistry, physics, or math. U.Va. joins other universities around the country in offering these programs to meet the demand for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) teachers.

“The impetus [for U.Va’s new program] is the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS),” says Jennifer Chiu, assistant professor in the university’s Curry School of Education. The new standards “place a lot of emphasis on engineering, but most science teachers have a background in science, not engineering. [The dual degree provides] an opportunity to encourage those with an engineering background to become science teachers and to incorporate engineering into science classrooms,” she explains.

The dual degree also was created “out of student interest,” says Chiu. Advisors have reported that engineering students have expressed interest in teaching, with many “suggesting a possible career pathway [of using] their engineering degree for the benefit of society,” she relates.

Students who complete the program “come out with an engineering bachelor’s degree and can work in industry, and are certified to teach in multiple content areas in Virginia.” They earn endorsements in physics, chemistry, and math because engineering degrees require a lot of basic foundation courses in those subjects; “biology and Earth science endorsements involve courses not as prevalent in the engineering major,” she explains.

U.Va. is offering scholarships to students who apply for the program. Ten $10,000 scholarships were awarded this semester, and “five or six” that will “fully fund the students for the master’s portion” are expected to be awarded next year, according to Chiu. “We’re trying hard to get people through [the program],” she adds.

The university also offers experiences to support students in becoming practicing teachers. “Field placements provide opportunities to teach peers science and engineering in methods courses, and weekly student teacher seminars present strategies and solutions to engage students in ways that reflect the practices of the NGSS,” she notes.

Recruiting Engineering Students

Last winter, Philadelphia’s Drexel University launched DragonsTeach, a new program that gives STEM majors the opportunity to minor in STEM education and obtain secondary teaching certification along with their STEM degree. DragonsTeach is a collaborative effort of the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Engineering, and the School of Education, and is supported by a $1.45 million grant from the National Math and Science Initiative. Eligible students include chemistry, biology, physics, mathematics, and engineering majors.

DragonsTeach arose, in part, from Drexel’s desire to improve the quality of STEM education in the Philadelphia region, as well as its commitment to become the most civicly engaged university in the country. “As a result of the university-wide emphasis on community and education,” says Jason Silverman, DragonsTeach co-director, “a lot of our STEM students are interested in K–12 work, and through DragonsTeach, these students are able to provide meaningful STEM lessons and experiences to Philadelphia students while learning about a career in education.”

DragonsTeach is a partner of the nationally acclaimed UTeach program established by the University of Texas at Austin. “DragonsTeach is unique because it offers an opportunity to recruit engineering students into teaching,” says Jessica Ward, DragonsTeach director of operations. “Historically, UTeach has had difficulty recruiting engineers,” she reports.

Additionally, because Drexel is a five-year, co-op institution, “[t]his means that while students are completing their undergraduate degrees, they can also complete up to 18 months of work experience,” she explains, “so we are recruiting students who are already career-oriented.”

As an incentive beyond additional career options, DragonsTeach provides a stipend to students who earn a B or better in the two introductory recruitment courses: Inquiry Approaches to Teaching and Inquiry-Based Lesson Design. In these courses, DragonsTeach students teach lessons in elementary and middle schools, and “the younger students’ energy and interest in the STEM activities ultimately excite our DragonsTeach students about teaching,” Ward says.

The first two courses help students “know sooner rather than later if teaching is right for [them],” she notes. And after taking them, “even if you don’t want to teach, a lot of the skills learned are applicable to any career,” she contends.

For example, if a student opts for graduate school, he or she will find “the 5E model is good for a teaching assistant job in any major,” she points out. DragonsTeach courses foster communication and leadership skills; co-teaching prepares students “to work in a team environment”; and designing lessons increases creativity and shows students “how to get someone interested in the material you’re trying to convey,” she asserts.

DragonsTeach students teach high school students in subsequent courses, such as Knowing and Learning in Science and Mathematics, in which “students begin to delve into the NGSS,” Ward relates.

Focusing on Engineering Design 

Twenty years ago, Dave Burghardt, engineering professor at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, co-created a STEM master’s degree program with “children’s engineering and engineering design at its heart,” he explains. Elementary teachers in the program develop the “knowledge, skills, and attitudes essential for using informed engineering design as a pedagogical strategy in K–12 STEM education,” according to the program’s description. The goal is “design-based activity,” says Burghardt.

With that degree program in mind, Burghardt decided to create “an accessible bachelor’s degree in STEM as a co-major for elementary education majors.” The degree would not require a lot of math courses; it just required “basic algebra, logic, and [an] understanding of math systems, along with introductory, non-major courses in chemistry, biology, and astronomy, and lots of hands-on learning,” he asserts, noting that most bachelor’s degree programs for elementary education majors only require one math and one science course. The degree would feature two STEM capstone courses to provide a broad understanding of the scientific and mathematical foundations of the natural and human-made worlds.

Best of all, every course except the two capstone courses already were being taught at Hofstra. “It was an effective way to use existing resources and can be replicated easily at other schools,” he maintains. “The capstone courses make it unique.”

Burghardt’s creation, the “BA in STEM, always has engineering design at heart because it enhances a lot of kids’ creativity,” he contends. The degree features “children’s engineering as a part of elementary educators’ portfolio to make science and math more interesting in the classroom. And it does—we have research supporting that,” he declares.

Students earning the degree “have a broad background in all subjects, but also a strong STEM background,” he explains. He tells students, “It’s very accessible, and you’ll be able to enjoy [teaching the material] and impart that to your students. Kids sense when their teacher likes the subject matter…Even [if] you haven’t been a science star in high school, you can be a good STEM teacher.”

The degree makes students more marketable because “superintendents are looking for people with this background,” he reports, noting that the degree “is totally consistent with the NGSS because of its focus on engineering design. It makes it easier to teach to the NGSS.”

This article originally appeared in the October 2015 issue of NSTA Reports, the member newspaper of the National Science Teachers Association. Each month, NSTA members receive NSTA Reports featuring news on science education, the association, and more. Not a member? Learn how NSTA can help you become the best science teacher you can be.

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

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Do You Know What You Do Not Know?

The recent report by the Pew Research Center was titled “A Look at What the Public Knows and Does Not Know About Science” and according to their website found “….. that most Americans can answer basic questions about several scientific terms and concepts, such as the layers of the Earth and the elements needed to make nuclear energy. But other science-related terms and applications, such as what property of a sound wave determines loudness and the effect of higher altitudes on cooking time, are not as well understood.

There is no doubt that American’s or at least American students have been compared to international counterparts on a variety of different assessments throughout the ages. However, this particular study is a bit different in that it takes twelve questions – one per science topic and utilizes it to measure the public’s knowledge about science in general.

As noted in this month’s edition of the Leaders Letter, popular news media outlets picked up this story as well and Live Science summarized the findings in a short and to the point story. A counter point to this study appeared in Science News where it states that the study was “heavy on trivia and light on concepts” and is worth reading for a balanced view on this now trending on social media report on American’s understanding of science.

So, a better question is, do you know what you do not know? Or better yet…. do you know what your students do not know or have misconceptions about?

There are a variety of resources that help teachers tackle common (or not so common) misconceptions in science and some of these include:

Some groups even help you develop your own assessment to test student’s misconceptions:

As an educator or those who work with professional development opportunities, it may be worthwhile to actually test your own conceptual knowledge or build that into an actual PD event utilizing the professional development indexer which is part of the NSTA Learning Center. The Professional Development Indexer helps you diagnose your needs in specific science content areas and provide suggestions of NSTA e-PD resources and opportunities you may want to consider as you plan your professional development (PD). The Indexer does not assign a grade or present a score to the questions you answer, but saves a list of recommended resources for later review.

So how do you address what you don’t know or work to address what student misconceptions are?




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Documenting weather changes

Children's feet with sneakers and rain bootsAs the wind stirs up and we get a full day of long-awaited rain, children arrive at school in rain boots and coats, and a few in soaking wet sandals. Hurricane Joaquin will bring more rain and wind this weekend as it moves north in the Atlantic, hopefully off the coast not inland.

Taking young children outside to observe the short-term conditions of the atmosphere—weather—is a foundation for later learning about the average daily weather for an extended period of time at that location—climate—as defined by the National Ocean Service of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Visit the National Weather Service’s JetStream: Online School for Weather page and scroll down to see the Köppen climates map. The continental USA has ranges in normal temperatures and amounts of precipitation, so no single lesson plan on weather observations Cover of the October 2015 Science and Childrenwill be a good fit for all. Teaching about your local weather will provide the most opportunities for direct observation that can deepen children’s understanding about weather.

In the October 2015 issue of Science and Children I wrote about children counting and graphing the number of short sleeve shirts, sweaters and jackets that classmates wore to school each day. The clothing is a symbol for the weather, and observing changing trends in outerwear is a focused way to track changes in the immense phenomena that is weather.


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NSTA’s K-12 October 2015 Science Education Journals Online

NSTA’s K-12 October 2015 Science Education Journals Online

Looking for ways to talk about climate change with your students? Are your students curious about the nature of science? Want to know how to create interdisciplinary lessons connected to real-world applications? The October K–12 journals from the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) have the answers you need. Written by science teachers for science teachers, these peer-reviewed journals are targeted to your teaching level and are packed with lesson plans, expert advice, and ideas for using whatever time/space you have available. Browse the October issues; they are online (see below), in members’ mailboxes, and ready to inspire teachers!

Science and Childrensc_oct15_cov

Our rapidly changing climate increases the need for even our youngest students to have a strong background in this area of science. This issue of S&C will help you teach your students about Earth’s systems, with a particular focus on climate.

Featured articles (please note, only those marked “free” are available to nonmembers without a fee):

Science Scopess_oct15_cov

Although middle level science classes often seem self-contained to students, scientific disciplines—and the scientific field at large—do not exist in isolation. The articles in this issue of Science Scope will show you how to collaborate with other science and content-area teachers to create interdisciplinary lessons connected to real-world applications.

The Science Teachertst_oct15_cov

Learning about the nature of science (NOS) is certainly as important as learning about scientific laws and theories. In this increasingly scientific and technological age, personal and societal decisions require a clear understanding of scientific knowledge and how it is generated. NOS tenets need to be intentionally targeted in classroom activities and laboratory investigations and incorporated into all our science teaching. Using case studies from the history of science can help develop students’ understanding of the nature of science and the diverse individuals practicing science and engineering today, as articles featured in this issue illustrate.

Featured articles (please note, only those marked “free” are available to nonmembers without a fee):

Get these journals in your mailbox as well as your inbox—become an NSTA member!

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

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Build Your Professional Network

In this video, columnist Ben Smith shares information from the Science 2.0 column, “Build Your Professional Network,” that appeared in a recent issue of The Science Teacher. Read the article here: Build Your Professional Network

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Successful STEM Reform: Leadership Is Key

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A recent Education Week blog post entitled “STEM Reforms in Needy Schools Eroded Quickly” painted a disappointing picture of STEM education reform. In this post, part 1 of a 2-part series from the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), Dr. Cary Sneider (Associate Research Professor at Portland State University in Portland, Oregon) responds.

Schools have a great deal of momentum. They are very difficult to change—especially if just one part of the system is changed without taking into account interactions with other parts of the system. Approving systemic changes to accommodate STEM reform takes political will and therefore support from top educational leaders. Although I don’t know the details of these particular schools, support from top leaders may be a common thread for the problems identified in the report. For example:

Schedule conflicts: The report mentioned scheduling nightmares when guidance counselors tried to fit new STEM courses into existing core requirements. It seems obvious that it would not be possible to incorporate new STEM courses without appropriate modifications to core requirements. The root cause of such a conflict must lie with the people who make policy decisions. If they support STEM reform then they will change the rules to allow it; if they don’t they will block the necessary changes.

State accountability tests: We set an impossible goal when we ask teachers to implement new teaching methods with new goals, and hold them accountable for their students to perform at a high level on the old assessments. New performance-based assessments, consistent with new STEM standards have not yet been developed in any state, and until they are educational leaders should not use inappropriate measures to judge teachers and students.

Personnel changes: The report mentions that courses like physiology and robotics were advertised to students and never actually offered. There could be many reasons why such problems occur (or in this case didn’t occur,) but whatever the reason, teachers were not in a position to offer those courses. Since the deployment of staff to teach various courses is a function of administration, it is likely that these courses did not have sufficient support from the top.

Successful STEM reform addresses these issues from the start. Sneider will be discussing the systemic approach required for educational change on November 7 in the NSTA Virtual Conference Shifting to Integrated STEM: Experiences of Three School Districts. Sneider explains that changing educational systems requires a willingness to examine—and if necessary change—existing policies. He and his co-presenters will give several examples in which systemic changes have brought about significant improvements in STEM teaching and learning. They will also discuss what it takes to implement such changes, including the absolute requirement of support by top leaders. Learn more and register. Register early by Friday, October 9, and save $10 off your registration fee: Use promo code NOV_SAVE10.

Dr. Cary SneiderDr. Cary Sneider is Associate Research Professor at Portland State University in Portland, Oregon, where he teaches courses in research methodology in a Master of Science Teaching degree program.

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The PASCO Bluetooth Spectrometer: Even Isaac Newton would flip over the power of this digital prism!

Pasco Wireless Spectrometer

The PASCO Wireless Spectrometer

Simply put, constructivism is a theory of knowledge that argues that humans generate knowledge and meaning from an interaction between their experiences and their ideas. So it follows that nothing is can be more constructivist than exploring the theoretical with real-time tools that measure the invisible. And the PASCO Wireless Spectrometer is just such a tool.
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One of the most amazing things about the PASCO Wireless Spectrometer is that it does exactly what you would want it to do; show you the invisible with ease, simplicity, and leave behind a useful digital paper trail of graphs and charts. Although the main purpose of the PASCO Wireless Spectrometer was “specifically designed for introductory spectroscopy experiments” it actually goes farther than that. Much farther. Much much farther!
Chinese Teachers

This trio of teachers, two from China and one from Mongolia have limited English speaking skills, but instantly understood the iPad app and PASCO Wireless Spectrometer. Seems that light is also a universal language.

The physics and electronics behind the PASCO Wireless Spectrometer are straight forward. The output is clear and obvious. And the mobility aspect is unprecedented. In other words, it does what it should how it should. Amazing enough on its own, but in true paradigm shifting fashion the PASCO Wireless Spectrometer presents the invisible world of visible light in the magical cartoon chart we’ve seen only in static textbooks for most of our lives. It’s as if the dinosaur skeletons in dusty museums suddenly came alive and reacted to the world.
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Visible light, or the light our human eyes sense and convert to electrical impulses to our brains, only encompass a tiny fraction of the electromagnetic spectrum. Wavelengths between 390-700 nanometers, or from the short blue/violet waves to the longer orange/red ones with green and yellow in the middle. Infrared waves are just a little too long for us to see, and ultraviolet ones are a little too short. Even longer are radio waves, and even shorter are x-rays. The PASCO Wireless Spectrometer has a range of 380 to 950 nanometers meaning it can “see” a little into the ultraviolet and a lot into the infrared.

Continue reading …

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The “E” in STEM

S.T.E.M.Teaching a “STEM” class or curriculum means addressing each letter in the acronym. In a rigorous STEM curriculum, those four areas of teaching and student learning—Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics—will be observable every day.


The technology piece may be the easiest to incorporate because the technologies for writing and drawing have been staples in teaching young children for a long time. Children document their observations and thinking with their drawings and writing. Some programs fully integrate newer technologies such as cameras, computers, and easily portable devices for recording and documenting. “Technology and Interactive Media as Tools in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8,” is a joint position statement issued by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media at Saint Vincent College.


Early Childhood Mathematics: Promoting Good Beginnings, the 2010 joint position statement of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), describes high quality mathematics education.


The National Science Teachers Association’s (NSTA) position statement on Early Childhood Science Education was endorsed by NAEYC in 2014. The principals and declarations clarify how to teach science concepts and topics.


Early childhood teachers need professional development to prepare to teach engineering concepts. The American Society for Engineering Education describes professional development that addresses the fundamental nature, content and practices of engineering.

Guides such as STEM Sprouts Teaching Guide by the Boston Children’s Museum and the MA Board of Education’s Guidelines for Preschool Learning Experiences provide direction for intentionally including engineering teaching.

Cover of the September 2015 Science and Children journalLearn how preschool teachers in Hartford, Connecticut implemented a unit on the topic of Building Structures (Chalufour and Worth 2004) in mixed-age classrooms of three-, four-, and five-year-old students, in “Gimme an E! Seven strategies for supporting the “E” in young children’s STEM learning” by Cynthia Hoisington and Jeff Winokur. This article in the September 2015 Science and Children describes how instructors and coaches in the professional development program Cultivating Young Scientists facilitated teachers’ preparation of the environment by planning space, materials, and time for building explorations. Hoisington and Winokur emphasize that preschool teachers need opportunities to participate in and reflect on their own collaborative building explorations. So grab a set of blocks, try building a tower and then reflect on how to build a better tower. Write some productive prompts to use when children build structures, to invite them to raise questions, and identify, address, and solve building challenges.

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Mentoring a colleague

My principal asked me as the science department chair if I could help one of our new teachers. From the beginning, she’s having issues with classroom management and organization. I’m willing to do what I can to help her, and she is open to this help. Do you have any suggestions on what I can do? —L., Rhode Island

If your school does not have a formal mentoring program, it seems like you can create your own plan. As a mentor you can be a role model, a good listener, a provider of feedback, a source of suggestions and resources, a shoulder to lean on, and someone with whom to bounce around ideas. As a colleague, you’ll want to be helpful but not judgmental or evaluative.

Even successful student teachers can get a rude awakening in their first year on their own, when they are responsible for their classes from the beginning. They don’t have the advantage of stepping into an established situation, in terms of setting up a classroom, lab equipment inventories, safety procedures, and routines. She may be trying to learn new content, and if she has more than one subject to prepare for, it can be overwhelming.

You could start with an informal conversation. “I understand that you have some challenges with classroom management. This happens to everyone. I had some real difficulties, too.” She may not realize that even experienced teachers face new situations every year, so it may help to share some of your own current challenges and how you’re working on them.

If possible, it would be good if you could observe this teacher—informally, of course. In addition to watching the teacher, consider what the students are (or are not) doing and how the classroom is set up. You could ask questions as discussion starters: What worked well for you when you were student teaching? What are your greatest challenges? What do you think about…? Did you notice today when…? Have you ever considered…? Her responses and your observations could be the start of an action plan.

In addition to your suggestions, social media would also be a good way for her to get new ideas.

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