The TOMODACHI Academy: Friendship Beyond Borders

How can two countries with vast cultural differences maintain a relationship in which they can share ideas on how to improve their educational system and focus on STEM literacy? That is the goal of a partnership between the United States and Japan—two superpowers willing to borrow each nation’s system and experience to improve one’s own.

In August 2016, U.S. and Japanese teachers and students witnessed the sharing of ideas between the two countries through the TOMODACHI Toshiba Science & Technology Leadership Academy (TTA). The TTA is a one-week, cross-cultural science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) exchange and leadership program for 16 high school students and eight teachers from Japan and the United States. High school students and teachers who promote strong achievements in science and mathematics education and international student exchanges were selected as the Japanese counterparts. The program was held from July 31 to August 7, 2016, at Yoyogi National Olympic Center.

Two Teams, Two Challenges

This year’s program presented two challenges to student teams. One was to propose solutions for developing a disaster-resilient, smart community of the future using learning experiences that are central to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and the engineering design process. The second was to build a tower with miniature elevators that show the student’s engineering and creative skills. Both challenges were presented to an audience wherein the latter was critiqued by a panel of judges.


(Tower building)

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The Vernier LabQuest Stream: The Absolute Hub of Discovery


Nouns are useful, but verbs are educational. So when Vernier released their LabQuest Stream sensor interface into the wild, the familiar grey box quickly proved to be much more than just a powerful and innovative radio station that broadcasts up to five data channels via Bluetooth to any device that can listen, but truly a hub of discovery. 


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The Power of Children’s Ideas: Thoughts about Science Learning and Teaching in the Early Years

Guest post by Cindy Hoisington, with thanks to Karen Worth and other dear colleagues for their inspiration

CindyWelcome guest blogger Cindy Hoisington, an early childhood science educator at Education Development Center Inc. (EDC) in Waltham, Massachusetts. A preschool teacher for many years, Cindy now works with early childhood teachers, coaches, and administrators in various settings to support young children’s STEM learning. Cindy loves to share stories about aha! teaching moments with other educators and believes that a story can be a valuable teaching and learning tool, especially when it captures a shared experience and stimulates reflection and discussion. In this post Cindy shares a story from her preschool teaching days about how she came to appreciate the power of children’s science ideas during a sinking and floating unit.

As an early childhood teacher I loved doing science with preschoolers but sometimes their crazy ideas seemed to get in the way of all the interesting science concepts I wanted to teach them such as: shadows are made when an object blocks the light; animals are adapted to habitats that meet their needs; and the properties of building materials influence how they can be used in structures. I thought that children’s ideas, such as shadows are living things because they run and jump like I do; birds are not animals because they don’t have fur; and only tall blocks can make tall buildings, were adorable and funny but I didn’t have a clue what to do with them. I didn’t want to inhibit children’s explorations with constant corrections and I worried that providing overly simplistic explanations would further confuse them. Lucky for me, several years into my teaching, I had the opportunity to work with an early childhood science mentor who suggested that I rethink my role in supporting children’s science learning and focus on three primary and mutually reinforcing science-teaching strategies: Get ALL of the children’s science ideas out on the table, Provide opportunities for children to investigate their ideas, Facilitate children’s reflection on the evidence.

Sinking and Floating Explorations

I had always begun a sinking and floating unit by holding up some familiar objects like a marble, a rock, a crayon, and a block and asking children to predict whether the objects would sink or float in water. I would chart children’s predictions, and we would test the objects and record the results in small groups. Later we would compare our predictions to what actually happened.  This time I was determined to dig more deeply into children’s science ideas and to extend their explorations over several weeks rather than several days.

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Recess: Outdoors and sometimes indoors

IMG_9697When the children and I leave the school building for playground time or recess, I feel a sense of relaxation and heightened awareness. We can see farther and the input from the surrounding environment to our senses changes every minute as the wind blows, the sun moves across the sky, and we cross paths with animals such as a tiny ant or flying bird. We all look forward to the change of scene.

The length of outdoor learning time varies between early childhood educational settings. In “forest” early childhood programs children spend the entire school day outdoors. In some states, public schools mandate a minimum of 20 minutes a day for recess. This wide range of time spent outdoor raises the question, How much time outdoor is optimum for children’s learning in general, and for learning what skills, concepts and information?

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folder icon  Safety

Preventing Overcrowding in K–12 Science Labs

Of all the safety concerns expressed by science teachers, class size is high on the list. Thus, occupancy loads in science laboratories should be restricted to create and maintain a safer learning environment.

Ever since the 1996 National Science Education Standards were put in place, science teachers have been encouraged or required to do more laboratory activities with their students. If such hazards as gas, electricity, and hazardous chemicals are present in K–12 science instructional spaces, they are classified as laboratories. The class size refers to the number of students in the lab, whereas occupancy load is the total number of individuals occupying the lab, including the teacher, students, and paraprofessionals.

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NSTA Back-to-School Science Resources For Parents

crazy mom

Keshia Gardner via

One of my favorite things about back-to-school time is to see my social media accounts blow up with pictures of kids’ first day back at school.  Even more entertaining is when the camera is turned on the parents. My recent favorite was featured on

It’s also nice to see the explosion of news articles and blogs talk about the changes coming to schools and districts this fall.  In many schools, these changes include science. For example, check out this article from LaJolla, California.

It’s important for parents to understand the changes taking place in science education and to learn how they can support children’s science learning at home and at school. NSTA is offering a number of free resources to help them.

Prepare Children for The Next Generation of Science Learning

Many schools and districts around the country are using the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) to transform science teaching and learning. Parents can get a snapshot of why our country needs these new science education standards with NSTA’s infographic. A Parent Q&A and a video interview with NSTA Executive Director, David Evans, also provides a quick overview of standards and helps parents understand the exciting new way students will be learning science this fall.

Get Recommendations and Tips on Parent Involvement

Parents can and should talk with teachers to learn more about the schools’ science program. 10 Questions Your Kid’s Science Teacher Wishes You Would Ask will foster a better understanding of science learning at school and how it can be supported at home. The resource is perfect for back-to-school night, teacher conferences, or at any point during the school year.

Empower Young Inventors, Scientists, and Leaders

Fall is the perfect time to plan STEM learning opportunities that go beyond the school curriculum, such as after-school science competitions and clubs. NSTA offers a number of science competitions and awards programs that give students opportunities to explore their own science ideas…and be rewarded for their efforts.

Encourage Children to Curl Up with a Good Science Book

NSTA’s popular line of children’s picture books—NSTAKids—nurture the wonder and curiosity inherent in young minds. Need recommendations on great science trade books? Parents can find them in the Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K–12 selected by NSTA in conjunction with the Children’s Book Council.

The mission of NSTA is to promote excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all. Learn more about the Next Generation Science Standards at the NGSS@NSTA Hub.

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Engineering activities for students

24455707_9afa116566_mIf you’re concerned about how to teach engineering concepts in a K-12 environment, here are two resources that may be helpful.

The TeachEngineering project is designed “to make applied science and math come alive through engineering design in K-12 settings.” Concepts in life, earth and physical science are taught, connected, and reinforced through real-life problems or scenarios in student- and teacher-friendly formats. The site is searchable by grade level and topic with an option to search by NGSS standards. The lessons have been designed by university engineering faculty and teachers and build on what students learn in science. The lessons include objectives, background information, suggested activities, discussion questions, vocabulary, handouts, and suggested assessments and extensions. For example, here are some problem-solving lessons that could relate to a study of anatomy or the skeletal system:

Another source is IEEE’s TryEngineering. This is a portal of engineering activities and career information with lesson plans and engineering-related “games.” These can be searched by age level or topic. The lessons are PDF documents and also show alignment with curriculum frameworks (such as NGSS and Common Core).

The resources from both of these project are complete enough that even if you never studied engineering, you and your students can be involved in interesting problem-solving activities.



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Connecting with your students

I meet with more than 100 students per day in my Earth science classes. As a relatively new teacher, I need suggestions on how to get to know them better including learning their names and interests in a timely manner. – L., Connecticut

Students like to know teachers care about and respect them. Knowing their names is important from the start. When I would dutifully call out names on the first day, I predictably mispronounced a few or used a full name rather than a preferred nickname. Although some students found this hilarious, it embarrassed me and other students. So I started asking the students to introduce themselves, allowing me to annotate my list with phonetic spellings and nicknames. Regardless of how you feel about seating charts, I found them helpful at the beginning of the year to connect names and faces.

Identifying their interests can help personalize the science class. During the first week of school, ask students to write down information about themselves on index cards: name, birthday, nickname, interests/hobbies, school-related activities, out-of-school activities, (e.g., community organizations, sports teams, jobs), and other favorites and conversation-starters. I used a different color for each class, and each day I pulled a card and made a point to talk to that student informally. Other ideas from our colleagues:

  • Steve Olenchek created a “Sciencebook” page for students to share more information about themselves (the page is similar to a Facebook page). 
  • Darci Sosa collects similar information in an online Google Docs survey. The results can be viewed in a spreadsheet. She sorts by any of the columns and uses information to group students with similar responses.

Your initial connections with students can promote participation and create a positive climate for learning.



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Book Beat: August 2016

Book Beat: August 2016 header

Tips for the First Days of School

From engaging first-day activities to tips for setting a positive and supportive tone in science class, teacher-to-teacher advice is like Olympic gold at this time of year. NSTA Press authors offer lots of strategies and ideas to help you start the school year off right. Download these chapters and add them to your classroom tool kit this fall. Best wishes for the new school year from all of us at NSTA Press!

Start the Year Off Right

Rise and Shine book coverAuthors Linda Froschauer and Mary L. Bigelow offer excellent guidance for novice and experienced science teachers in their book Rise and Shine: A Practical Guide for the Beginning Science Teacher. From classroom management ideas to suggestions on best ways to support all learners, the chapter “Creating an Environment for Learning” offers practical advice to help you set the stage for learning and exploration right from the start.

New Science Teacher's Handbook book coverIn The New Science Teacher’s Handbook: What You Didn’t Learn From Student Teaching, Sarah Reeves Young and Mike Roberts pack in a wealth of teaching tips and strategies on topics ranging from lab safety to classroom setup and supplies. Download the chapter “Starting Class the Right Way: Starter Activities” for four great ways to begin class. Your students will be energized and engaged from the first moments of class.

Help! I'm Teaching Middle School Science book coverAlso check out “The First Day,” a chapter from C. Jill Swango and Sally Boles Steward’s book Help! I’m Teaching Middle School Science that provides 10 opening-day icebreaker activities sure to capture the attention and imagination of your newest student scientists.

We Are All Scientists Here

Book cover of "Inquiring Scientists, Inquiring Readers"For elementary students, valuable activities for the first days of school include exploring what scientists do and observing and recording observations, skills that come into play throughout the year in science class. “Scientists Like Me” from Inquiring Scientists, Inquiring Readers: Using Nonfiction to Promote Science Literacy, Grades 3–5, by Jessica Fries-Gaither and Terry Shiverdecker, will open your elementary students’ eyes to who can become a scientist (they can!) and several key science practices.

Becoming a Responsive Science TeacherFor secondary students, check out “The Owls and the Snakes (1)” in Daniel Levin and coauthors’ Becoming a Responsive Science Teacher: Focusing on Student Thinking in Secondary Science. This chapter introduces a real-life mystery about blind snakes and screech owls that will launch your students on a quest for answers while boosting their scientific argumentation skills.

Participants in the NSTA Learning Center’s discussion boards this month are having a lively exchange of ideas for icebreaker activities in the classroom, including a group assignment to design a vehicle with limited materials and a first-day activity to draw a scientist and explore what scientists do. Why not add your own ideas for your favorite activities to help keep the teacher-to-teacher conversation going?

And the Medals Go to …

NSTA Press authors and staff have been honored with numerous awards for teacher and student books on topics ranging from environmental science to solar science and lab activities in life science. Visit the NSTA teachers awards page to learn more about the books receiving all the buzz. You might find your next “gold medal” classroom resource for a successful new school year.

NSTA’s Book Beat is also emailed as a monthly e-newsletter designed to keep NSTA Press® readers, and the wider audience of science teachers, informed about books and teacher resources available through the National Science Teachers Association. Each month’s issue highlights selected topics in science education and new content in NSTA Press books with links to free sample chapters and lessons. NSTA’s Book Beat also informs readers of special offers and discounts available through the NSTA Science Store. Click here to view past issues or to sign up to receive future issues.

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Taking a nature walk

Upon reflection on last year’s practice of taking children on “nature walks” outside, I see how much they enjoyed nature, made gains in vocabulary and became familiar with diversity in plants. In June, at the end of the school year, I had the occasion to write to the school families about their children’s nature learning from experiences in the tended garden around the building.

Child gently touches leaves of Paw Paw treeDear families,

Children who had never heard of a Paw paw tree now know where one is located in the Garden and may even recognize the shape of its leaves. This is significant because it represents the many times we’ve run to it, stopped to feel the leaves and notice how they have gotten bigger since last time, and the times we’ve picked leaves up some from the ground and felt the bare twigs and flower buds. The children have become familiar with several other trees (at least with what they can touch at ground level) and other plants by touch and smell. They understand that birds, deer, squirrels, and smaller animals, such as insects, live in the garden. They have learned to touch plants gently so the parts of the plants that are still being used do not get damaged.

Children stand around a still garden fountainThe sometimes-on and sometimes-off flow of water from the upper pool source to the “pond” (garden fountain) has challenged them to think about where the water might come from, why it stopped flowing, and what they can do about it. Some children speculated that the rocks in the upper pool are blocking the flow, or maybe too many leaves fell into the water and were excited to share their plans for reestablishing the flow. I wish I could let them try out their ideas for restoring the flow!

There are many ideas we can let them try out. These are questions children asked aloud or through their actions: “Are the peas ready to pick?” “Should I bury the beetle back in the sand where I found it?” What made the holes in the Paw paw leaf?” “How do birds get food from the bird feeder?” “Is that smell coming from the bush?” “What can I hear when I put the shell up to my ear?” “What does clay stick to besides my hands?” “How far will this leaf go when I throw it?” “Which is bigger, this leaf or my shoe?” “What lives under a log?” “How can I pour water into this tube?”

Through their investigations they are building a beginning understanding about plant life cycles, seasonal changes in plant life, the needs of small animals, diversity in plants, the properties of earth materials, and the physics of sound and water flow.

Sharing children’s work with their families strengthens their learning because they have additional opportunities to talk about their ideas and use new vocabulary words. Family members learn how deeply children think about science topics and may more often provide ways for children to try out ideas.

Clouds in sky above buildingsDuring a nature walk children may learn many new words: cloud cover, leaf, underside, stem, bark, insect, community. Repeating the walk each week gives them opportunities to use that vocabulary again and again, and to see changes in the area of the walk as weather and seasons change. Every early childhood program has some aspect of nature available to observe, talk about, and record. Can you see the sky from your front stoop? Whether you have a patch of grass or a huge field of prairie, your children can use their senses to experience it, describe it and notice weekly changes.

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