Bring More Everyday Engineering into your classroom

A new book by NSTA Press helps middle school teachers incorporate engineering into their science classrooms.               

More Everyday EngineeringMore Everyday Engineering: Putting the E in STEM Teaching and Learning is a follow-up volume to 2012’s Everyday Engineering. The book is based on the “Everyday Engineering” column in NSTA’s middle school journal Science Scope and captures how engineering is required to make items from ice cubes to bandages. Authors Richard H. Moyer and Susan A. Everett do an excellent job at providing lessons that illustrate how “engineering is the process we use to develop solutions to the problems humans face.”

The activities are designed to give students an in-depth understanding of three different aspects of engineering—designing and building; reverse engineering to learn how something works; and constructing and testing models. Moyer and Everett use the 5E learning-cycle format in each activity and focus on items that students are familiar with such as sunglasses and speakers and earbuds.

Chapter 4, “An In-depth Look at 3-D,” is particularly relevant to middle school students who have grown up surrounded by the latest 3-D technology in video games, televisions, and movies. The activity worksheet in that chapter focuses on vision and perception as a means to investigating 3-D. Each of the chapters in the book provide helpful teacher background information, historical context, a materials list, and safety information.

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) stress the importance of incorporating engineering and technology into the science classroom. This book can help teachers connect science and engineering, and can serve as a useful tool for engineers leading outreach activities, leaders of after-school and summer enrichment programs, and parents. Most importantly, the book helps provide opportunities for students “to deepen their understanding of science by applying their developing scientific knowledge to the solution of practical problems” (see NGSS, Appendix A).

This book is also available as an e-book.

Fall for These Savings on NSTA Press Books!

Between now and November 1, 2016, save $15 off your order of $75 or more of NSTA Press books or e-books by entering promo code BKS16 at checkout in the online Science Store. Offer valid only on orders placed of NSTA Press books or e-books on the web and may not be combined with any other offer.

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FLIR ONE Thermal Imaging Camera


The imaginations of middle school and high school students will be fully engaged in the science classroom with the FLIR ONE Thermal Imaging Camera. This camera’s thermal capabilities offer students the ability to explore things invisible to the human eye. By using the Thermal Camera, students will investigate the world of thermodynamics in a manner that parallels the excitement and mystery evoked by sitting on the edge of your seat during a cutting-edge science fiction movie.


How does it work?

What we can see with naked eye is restricted to visible light. Therefore, when you consider the electromagnetic spectrum (EM), which encompasses radio waves, microwaves, infrared light, visible light, ultraviolet light, x-rays, and gamma rays, it becomes evident that what we can see with our eyes is limited. As an example, devices such as military night vision goggles make it possible to see images in the dark. In a similar way, the FLIR ONE Thermal Imaging Camera is a device for us to “see” beyond visible light.

Thermal-imaging cameras, like the FLIR ONE, can “see” heat signatures, which are converted to display variations of temperatures, e.g., How an icy soft drink contrasts with the flame on a candle. This is because all objects emit thermal energy and the hotter the object; the more energy given off by the object. The energy emitted is known as the “heat signature.” Hence, every object has a different heat signature; and it’s those signatures that are detected by thermal imagers like the FLIR ONE. Moreover, since thermal cameras are not concerned with visible light, regardless of lighting conditions, thermal cameras can detect the different heat signatures in a variety of situations. Therefore, images of temperature variations can be observed with this type of device.


Continue reading …

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Working cooperatively

I’m frustrated by my sixth graders. When they’re supposed to be working cooperatively, they are unfocused—it seems more like a social event. By middle school, shouldn’t students know how to work cooperatively? Or are they too immature? – G., Virgina

Immaturity is not an excuse. I’ve seen wonderful cooperative learning taking place in kindergarten classes, with teacher guidance, modeling, and monitoring.

One might assume students have specific skill sets and experiences, but I’ve learned never to take anything for granted. If the students attended different elementary schools, their science backgrounds and the emphasis schools placed on science investigations will vary. You may have to teach (or remind) students what cooperative learning in science looks like.

Defining roles is a key component. Common roles in middle level science labs include group leader, presenter, data recorder, measurer, equipment manager, liaison/questioner, artist/illustrator, online researcher, timekeeper, and notetaker. Depending on the size of the groups, some roles can be combined.

It may help to have students define the roles, giving them ownership in the process. Ask, “What would a data recorder do?” (Students must answer without using the words data or recorder.) You can add suggestions, especially on safety. Job descriptions could be shared as posters, student-created videos, or put into students’ notebooks. Rotate roles periodically so all students have a chance to experience each one.

If some students lack polished interpersonal skills, start with brief, structured activities. Model cooperative behaviors and share examples of appropriate (and inappropriate) language.

To keep the groups focused and on-task, be sure students understand the purpose and the learning goals for the project or investigation and monitor them as they work.

Middle schoolers are capable of working cooperatively, and their enthusiasm is a bonus!



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Join the National Day of Action for Full Funding of ESSA Student Success


Science educators, teacher leaders, and others in the STEM education community are encouraged to join thousands of K-12 educators, counselors, technology specialists, and librarians on October 26 for the national “Day of Action” to urge Congress to fully fund the flexible block grant (Student Support and Academic Enrichment Title IV, Part A) recently authorized in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

The Student Support and Academic Enrichment (SSAE) block grant is designed to ensure that high needs districts have access to programs that foster safe and healthy students, provide students with a well-rounded education, and increase the effective use of technology in our nation’s schools. 

Districts can choose to spend their Title IV/A dollars to improve instruction and student engagement in STEM by:

  • Expanding high-quality STEM courses;
  • Increasing access to STEM for underserved and at risk student populations;
  • Supporting the participation of students in STEM nonprofit competitions (such as robotics, science research, invention, mathematics, computer science, and technology competitions);
  • Providing hands-on learning opportunities in STEM;
  • Integrating other academic subjects, including the arts, into STEM subject programs;
  • Creating or enhancing STEM specialty schools;
  • Integrating classroom based and afterschool and informal STEM instruction; and
  • Expanding environmental education. 

Advocates are trying to drive the highest possible funding level for the program, and are asking their members to call on lawmakers to fully fund this program.

Send a pre-written letter to your Member of Congress via the STEM Education Coalition Congressional Action Center

Call or email the Member’s office and ask to speak to the legislative assistant who handles appropriations issues. Call the Capitol Hill switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask to be connected to your member of Congress.  If the legislative assistant is not in, you can leave a voicemail with your request. A sample script can be found here.

Send a tweet to your members of Congress.

Read the press release on the Title IV/A National Day of Action here. Continue reading …

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Best STEM Books for K-12: List Coming Soon from NSTA

blog header reading "Best STEM Books for K-12, Coming November 2016"

Over the last few years, members of the teaching community have asked for a list of books containing the best STEM content for K–12. So we’re thrilled to be working on that now and to be able to invite readers to join us in late November, when we announce the list. Please bookmark this site (Best STEM Books for K–12), and follow NSTA on Twitter or Facebook to see if your favorite books make the list.


When an acronym becomes so common that users forget its origins, it can take on a life of its own. That’s what’s happened to STEM. The integration of mathematics, engineering, technology, and science began as a model (“METS”) in grant funding. From a basket category for college and career, STEM has now become a model for education from early childhood onward.

But the journey from a paradigm to implementation has proved challenging in school settings. In many schools “silos” still exist; Teachers of each discipline form a community of learning and cooperate in their ideas, but often the ways of knowing in each discipline remain.

STEM is more than a concept diagram with connections among four (or more) subject areas. It’s a unique way of knowing and exploring the world. The STEM approach involves the essence of the practices of science and engineering. Tools like mathematics, technology, and communication skills are interwoven in STEM explorations. That seamlessness is what challenges educators around the world. Continue reading …

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Health Wise: If Students Injure Their Heads

Football battle

In a recent anonymous online survey, (KH 2015) asked parents and coaches what they should do if a child takes a hit to the head on a playing field. The correct answer—according to numerous health associations and laws in all 50 states and the District of Columbia—is that the child should immediately stop playing or practicing and then get checked out by a doctor before returning to the field.

About half of parents and almost as many coaches did not know that they should take those steps, according to the survey (KH 2015). Some parents told us that they would allow a child to get right back in the game or wait just 15 minutes before resuming the sport. Others said they would stop the child from playing but would not check in with a doctor.

Teachers need to know the correct steps to take, too, because “concussions can happen any time a student’s head comes into contact with a hard object, such as a floor, desk, or another student’s head or body,” according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) factsheet for teachers (CDC 2015).

“Teachers and school counselors may be the first to notice changes in their students,” the CDC says (CDC 2015). “The signs and symptoms can take time to appear and can become evident during concentration and learning activities in the classroom. Send a student to the school nurse or another professional designated to address health issues, if you notice or suspect that a student has: 1. Any kind of forceful blow to the head or to the body that results in rapid movement of the head and 2. Any change in the student’s behavior, thinking, or physical functioning.” Continue reading …

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Computer Science Should Supplement, not Supplant Science Education

Text-based header reading "No one argues that American students need more computational skills.  Yet computer science should not be used to take the place of science graduation requirements that, in many states, now only require 2 to 3 science related classes across an entire four year high school program."

Computer science (CS) aficionados have a lot to celebrate recently.

Just today, new Frameworks for Computer Science were released. A few weeks ago, a new law (AB2329) signed by California Governor Jerry Brown will bring computer science to every grade in the state’s public schools. Federal legislation introduced in September—the Computer Science for All Act—would authorize $250 million for competitive grants to states and local education agencies solely for computer science education.

These efforts are largely due to the CS for All initiative, a national campaign fueled by the White House and lead by the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the National Science Foundation, and the U.S. Department of Education to expand federal investments in CS education and support teacher professional development.  On Sept. 16 NSF Science Foundation awarded more than $25 million in grants to support of CS for All.

Earlier this fall the Education Commission on the States issued a report that says 20 states are allowing high school students to count a computer science course as a math or science credit toward graduation. This is up from 14 states when the same report first was issued last year.  While the requirements vary from state to state, the report also notes that has identified eight states that have authorized computer science to fulfill a math or science credit through “non-policy means,” such as board resolutions or public announcements.  Change the Equation called the state policies to make computer science count towards graduation “a decisive step in the right direction.”  

We disagree.

No one argues that American students need more computational skills.  Yet computer science should not be used to take the place of science graduation requirements that, in many states, now only require 2 to 3 science related classes across an entire four year high school program. Continue reading …

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folder icon  Safety

An Acknowledgment Form Is Safer Than a Contract

The school year is well under way. But before students enter science labs, they must turn in a safety acknowledgment form.

After completing introductory safety training, as noted in NSTA’s Duty of Care (NSTA 2014), review and have students and their parent or guardian sign a safety acknowledgement form (see Resource), stating safety practices and protocols. In addition, test students on the safety training before they begin any lab work.

It’s important to know the difference between a safety acknowledgement form and a safety contract. Generally, a teenager can enter into a legal contract at age 18, so younger students should only be asked to sign a safety acknowledgment form. By signing a safety acknowledgment form, students confirm that they have been informed that the lab can be an unsafe place, and that they have agreed to follow safety procedures and protocols.

The science teacher needs to keep the original copy of the forms on file for the duration of the class. The statute of limitations for negligence in most states is three years from the date of harm. If there is an accident in the classroom or lab, the teacher should compile safety information records, including the acknowledgement form and accident report, and provide copies of the records to his or her school district. In the event of an accident, these documents should be kept until the statute of limitations run out. In some rare cases, when parents refuse to sign the safety acknowledgment form, teachers need to date, sign, and note the fact that the parent refused to sign the form.

Once the lab investigations are under way, science teachers also have the responsibility to:

1. Inspect for safety before, during, and at the close of activities, and monitor student behavior and equipment to help foster a safer learning environment.

2. Enforce appropriate safety behavior and apply a well-defined progressive disciplinary policy, which involves a progression of steps, starting with a verbal warning and escalating to removal from class.

3. Follow-up on maintenance to ensure engineering controls and personal protective equipment are operational and meet the manufacturers’ standards. If the ventilation cap on a chemical splash goggle has been removed, for instance, take the goggle out of operation.

Submit questions regarding safety in K–12 to Ken Roy at, or leave him a comment below. Follow Ken Roy on Twitter: @drroysafersci.


National Science Teachers Association (NSTA). 2014. NSTA—Duty or Standard of Care.


Safety acknowledgment form—

NSTA resources and safety issue papers


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Focus on Physics: Skateboard Physics

spotAs with all sports, skateboarding involves a lot of intriguing physics. I’ve marveled at the maneuvers of skilled skateboarder Alex Hewitt (my grandson). When traveling along a horizontal surface, Alex crouches and then springs upward with his skateboard to continue horizontal motion along a nearly half-meter-high elevated surface (above).

He could easily do the same while wearing roller skates, which would be no big deal because the roller skates would be attached to his feet. But in no way is his skateboard so attached. So how does the skateboard manage to follow him along his upward trajectory? Furthermore, by what means does the board gain gravitational potential energy with no applied upward force and no apparent loss in kinetic energy?

This amazing feat bothered me because it seemed to contradict the laws of physics. I then watched a slow-motion video of Alex to learn how he does it.


Figure 1. The downward force on the tail of the board rotates the board upward.

Exerting a torque about the axis of the rear wheels
The leap that Alex executes is called an ollie, a blend of the physics of linear and rotational motion. While heading for the elevated surface, he crouches and springs directly upward while exerting a downward force on the tail of the board that produces a torque about the rear wheels. (Torque = force × distance about a rotational axis.) This quick downward snap of the tail, with or without its making contact with the ground, causes the board to rotate upward into the air (Figure 1).

The same thing happens when you give a sharp tap to the rounded end of a spoon lying on a table. The spoon flips up into the air, just as Alex’s skateboard does. The center of masses of both the spoon and board are raised by this snap-and-flip action.


Figure 2. The downward force by the front foot on the nose of the board counters the first rotation produced by the back foot.

Exerting a second torque about the board’s center of mass
Controlling lift goes further. While the airborne board rotates upward, Alex slides his forward foot toward the nose of the board and produces a second torque, in the opposite direction (Figure 2).

This second torque raises the tail, puts the board in contact with the back foot, and levels the board before it meets the elevated surface (Figure 3, below). So we see the results of two torques, one that flips the board upward and one that levels it off. Skillfully executed, this sequence enables Alex and his skateboard to meet the elevated surface. Continue reading …

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Investigating water with Early Childhood educators

“At what age can a child begin science learning?” asked one participant at an early childhood education workshop on investigating the properties of water in a fun, scientific way using observation, documentation and reflecting on that work. The group answered the question, “As infants,” “My babies do,” and “At any age,” just as I put this photograph on the screen:

Baby splashing water in a bowl.

The educators work in diverse programs, from Head Start to Montessori to their own child care programs in their own homes. About half of the Early Childhood Care Education workforce cares for and teaches children outside of formal child care centers and preschools (NAS 2012 pg 114). I began my career in early childhood education as one of the educators who care for children in our homes, a family child care provider. At this workshop most of the educators were immigrants and their education was a varied as the countries of their birth, and we came together in our shared passion for understanding how young children learn. Everyone participated, making and playing with small drops of water (thank you Young Scientist series!); pouring, scooping and splashing water; using tubes, funnels and frames to create systems to move water; and discovering how cups with holes in various positions can also create systems (thank you UNI’s CEESTEM!). We talked about safety first, liquid/solid, noticed the “stickiness” of water, explored displacement and the force of moving water. It was fun! I’d like to claim that it was my skill as a presenter that kept the group engaged but it was their curiosity and desire to continually improve so they can be even better teachers for the children in their care.

As we worked, the group discussed their ideas about science concepts and shared how to help the parents of the children they care for understand how children learn through experiences. As always, I appreciate the generosity of this education community—they listen to each other, ask questions to get the most out of the session, share materials and their expertise, and help clean up at the end.

Exploring how water drops form or absorb on various surfaces.




National Academy of Sciences (NAS). 2012. The Early Childhood Care and Education Workforce: Challenges and opportunities. Appendix B Summary of Background Data on the ECCE Workforce. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press.

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