Ed News: Teach STEM Using Laughter, Creative Techniques

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This week in education news, in several states, retired teachers and other state workers haven’t gotten a cost-of-living adjustment to their pension checks in years; Bill Nye’s new podcast—Science Rules—to launch May 16; U.S. 8th-graders are getting better at applying their knowledge of technology and engineering to real-world challenges; NMSI unveiled new STEM Opportunity Index; Wyoming State Board of Education approves state computer science standards; different kinds of students are flocking to career and technical education, according to a new analysis; animal dissection will remain in California biology classrooms; 43% of U.S. adults believe teachers are “very prepared” or “prepared” to handle discipline issues in the classroom; and a new study finds black and Latino college students transfer or drop out of STEM programs at higher rates than their white peers.

2 State Universities Successfully Replicate STEM Program for Underrepresented Students

Two state flagship universities — Penn State and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) — have made strides in retaining and graduating more underrepresented students in STEM fields thanks to a program pioneered by the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), according to a new paper in Science magazine. Read the brief featured in Education DIVE.

Retired Teachers Struggle to Make Ends Meet

Many teachers go into the profession, despite the relatively low wages, with the expectation that they will be taken care of in retirement through their pension. But in many places, that promise isn’t being met. Read the article featured in Education Week.

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Learning Visualized with the Vernier Go Direct Hand Dynamometer

Collecting real-time data is important in science and science education, but it also presents a wonderful opportunity to learn about graphing and data visualization in general. It also provides an inspection into what learning actually looks like. I’ve used the Vernier Hand Dynamometers for many years to teach graphing to students from preschool to grad school. Using a few planned activities, and a gentle progression from concrete to abstract, “being the graph” leverages immediate feedback to “teach” how data is presented in a graph.
The Vernier Go Direct Hand Dynamometer can run as high as 10 samples per second over a 600 Newton range (safe up to 850 N) all while talking to a computing device via Bluetooth 4.2 up to 30 m away (your mileage may vary). The internal replaceable 300 mA rechargeable battery should easily allow a whole day’s worth of dynamometering.
The strain-gauge based isometric force sensor (AKA: Vernier Go Direct Hand Dynamometer) fits comfortable in the human hand, and a pair of fingertip pads are provided for more refined and less forceful gripping surfaces. Output can be in newtons, pounds, or kilograms and the dynamometer can talk to a computing device through Vernier’s Graphical Analysis 4 software whether by bluetooth or cable.
The Vernier Go Direct Hand Dynamometer is exceptionally good at measuring muscle fatigue in addition to strength. Single-subject experimentation can include limb position during data collection, dominant vs non-dominant limb measurements, and predication line following across different force values such as trying to follow a prediction line while at the upper end of grip strength.

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Legislative Update: Appropriators Provide Boost for Federal Education Programs

ESSA Title IVA and Title II See Increases for FY2020 Programs

Earlier this week the House of Representatives Appropriations Subcommittee for Education met to mark up their FY2020 annual spending bill for Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education. The Democratic-controlled subcommittee ignored the Administration’s proposals to eliminate key programs  (ESSA Title IVA, Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants; ESSA Title II, Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants; and ESSA 21st Century Community Learning Centers program) and instead provided a six percent funding increase for Department of Education programs.

Overall, the subcommittee provided $75.9 billion for the Department of Education, an $11.9 billion increase above the President’s budget request. Highlights include:

  • $500 million increase for Title II state grants, the only dedicated funding for teacher professional development for many States and districts, to a total of $2.55 billion;
  • $150 million increase for Title IV Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants for a total of $1.3 billion;  
  • $100 million increase for 21st Century Community Learning Center program which supports before school, afterschool and summer learning programs, for a total of $1.32 billion;
  • $1 billion increase for IDEA State grants to a total $13.4 billion;
  • $1 billion increase for Title I grants to a total $16.859 billion;
  • $300 million for the Education Innovation Research program, with $125 million devoted to STEM and Computer Science.

The bill also requests an additional $13 million for grants to improve the effectiveness of CTE programs in STEM areas, “particularly computer science,” and an extra $60 million to support state-level “pre-apprenticeship” programs.

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Adding Inquiry to ‘Cookbook’ Labs

Jose Rivas’s AP Physics 1 students at Lennox Math, Science, and Technology Academy in Lennox, California, work on a rotational inertia investigation.

“I have converted several standard labs from AP Physics 1 to more engaging inquiry labs using NGSS [Next Generation Science Standards]. I want my labs to connect to my students’ lives, phenomena they see and feel every day,” says Jose Rivas, AP Physics 1 and engineering teacher at Lennox Math, Science, and Technology Academy in Lennox, California. “The old way [of teaching labs] was very procedural. Students had to follow steps and get a result, then answer questions at the end. It was very teacher-guided,” he says.

One lab Rivas revamped uses an Atwood machine, a physics laboratory device often used to demonstrate basic principles of dynamics and acceleration. The machine typically involves a pulley, a string, and a system of weights. “Students look at how mass affects acceleration when they find the weight of a penny using an Atwood machine…I tell [them], ‘You have a penny and equipment [I provide, such as rulers and stopwatches]. You have to figure out how much this penny weighs,’” he explains. He no longer gives students instructions for doing this. Continue reading …

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Why I Am Voting YES for Science Teaching

I am an elementary teacher, not a science teacher. I teach everything from shoelace tying to technology. When I began teaching, my science content knowledge was at a minimal and when I taught science I tiptoed around it as if I were Indiana Jones navigating through the Temple of Doom.

I feared and avoided any science sessions at our state teachers’ conference and never considered attending an NSTA conference because I didn’t have the content knowledge that the middle and high school science teachers had. I was just an elementary teacher. I never thought of joining our state science organization or NSTA. After all, I wasn’t a science teacher. Then I got involved in a three-year professional development initiative on watershed studies from a local non-profit organization. They taught me content and the pedagogy behind the Framework of NGSS. These educators proved invaluable to me as do many of the other educators of science. They are “teaching” science and should be included in the NSTA title.

My students are my inspiration for becoming involved in science and NSTA. The change I have seen in them is phenomenal. They come to school because of science. My shelves, walls, and floors are covered with phenomena they have brought into school. The first thing they ask me when they come into the classroom is, “What are we doing in science today?” And, they ask at the end of the day, “What are we doing tomorrow?” They don’t consider writing in their science notebooks work. Continue reading …

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Handouts available, NSTA19 was great—thanks Missouri!

Poster for the Keynote Presentation by Scott Kelly.Where but at an NSTA national conference can you: See a possible future for your students in the keynote speech by retired astronaut and U.S. Navy captain Scott Kelly who saw the Earth from space 520 days in his career, get a free button with a photo of a natural feature of our beautiful Earth as seen from space at the USGS booth, then go to ERSI’s booth in the Exhibit Hall and have the location of that image instantly identified, AND, later meet an educator colleague from the state pictured who you met through her science education outreach on Twitter!? 

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folder icon  Safety

Heat Source Safety

Many hands-on STEM activities and demonstrations require the use of a heat source. The challenge is to determine the appropriate heat source based on safety while still meeting the needs of the activity. For example, the Bunsen burner is perhaps the most common heat source found in school science labs. However, it can be difficult to control the temperatures of Bunsen burners compared to electrical heaters (e.g., hot plates). This blog post describes different kinds of heat sources and the safety precautions for each source.

What Are The Options?

The following list describes the safety concerns associated with each heat source.

Alcohol Burners: Some states have prohibited the use of traditional alcohol lamps with metal caps and wicks. This is with good reason! The vapors from these burners can explode and cause burns. If alcohol lamps are to be used, wickless alcohol burners are a much safer alternative. I recommend that you not use alcohol burners in K–12 classrooms. Continue reading …

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Ed News: Teachers Are Paid Less Than Similar Professionals

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This week in education news, more than 80% of parents in the U.S. support the teaching of climate change; new study provides a window into teachers’ beliefs about grading; Congresswomen Dingell and Brownley introduced legislation to promote education programs focused on climate to improve the public’s understanding of changes; new survey finds that over a third of teachers say they would prefer to negotiate salary and benefits for themselves; expecting 10th-graders to have the knowledge and skills that would allow them to succeed in the first year of community college, demanding more of university teacher preparation programs and pairing struggling schools with high-performing ones are among the lessons U.S. districts can learn from leading education systems across the world; survey of 2,000 elementary schools in three states found that not much advanced content is actually being taught to gifted students; teachers are skeptical about ed tech’s impact on classrooms; and teachers are paid less than similar professional.

Most Teachers Don’t Teach Climate Change; 4 In 5 Parents Wish They Did

More than 80% of parents in the U.S. support the teaching of climate change. And that support crosses political divides, according to the results of an exclusive new NPR/Ipsos poll: Whether they have children or not, two-thirds of Republicans and 9 in 10 Democrats agree that the subject needs to be taught in school. Read the article featured on NPR.org.

No zeroes, accepting late work among recent shifts in teachers’ grading practices

A new study of a professional development effort in two high schools shows teachers are reluctant to change some of their long-held beliefs about evaluating student work. Read the article featured in Education DIVE.

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Having the right chemistry

I was wondering how I could incorporate chemistry into my early elementary classes and what some good resources are to use. — G., Montana

Chemistry activities for young children are some of the coolest and most engaging for students. Putting on goggles, using measuring utensils, and mixing substances are what most students think of when they hear the word “scientist.”

Elaborate equipment isn’t required to teach chemistry. Stick with easy, inexpensive “bucket” or “kitchen” chemistry activities. Before you try any activity, practice it and follow all safety precautions. Insist students wear goggles—just like you!

Demonstrations like elephant toothpaste are always a hit with students in all grades, but make sure to incorporate a lesson in the chemistry of what is happening. Ask students to observe carefully, attempt to explain what they see and ask questions.

While demos are exciting nothing beats hands-on activities. Slime or crystals are great. You can find many recipes that your students can experiment with. There are inquiry activities like, “What dissolves and what doesn’t?” in which you can really give students a chance to follow their own paths – making observations all the way.

Search NSTA’s Learning Center https://learningcenter.nsta.org; and Freebies for Science Teachers: https://bit.ly/2YrQ1qP for ideas, lessons and activities.

The American Chemical Society (ACS) has developed several free, online and hands-on activities for elementary classrooms including Adventures in Chemistry (https://bit.ly/2eoKxcI) and
Science Activities for the Classroom (https://bit.ly/2HPY8HM).

And I particularly like the Janice VanCleave books for the multitudes of experiments! NSTA Recommends includes reviews of several of her books at www.nsta.org/recommends.

Hope this helps!


Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

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PASCO Wireless Pressure Sensor


The PASCO Wireless Pressure sensor is easy to use and connects via Bluetooth to the user’s cell phone or to another electronic device, e.g., IPad. The sensor has a range of 0-400 kilopascals (kPa)- with its most accurate reported measurements reported over 20 kPa. Prior to using the sensor, users must charge it with a micro USB charging cable. Subsequently, the micro USB end of the cable is inserted into the sensor and the USB end of the cable is inserted into a USB port (e.g., the USB port of a computer) for approximately 3 hours. According to the website description of the product (which can be found at https://www.pasco.com/prodCatalog/PS/PS-3203_wireless-pressure-sensor/index.cfm ) the battery has an expected life of approximately 3-4 months with normal use after a full charge and the LED light blinks red to indicate to users that the battery is charging.

Image 1: A picture of the PASCO Wireless Pressure sensor.

Once the battery is fully charged, via a Bluetooth connection, users can open SPARKvue or PASCO Capstone to connect their device to the sensor. In order to connect the sensor via Bluetooth, users must first launch the PASCO data collection software, i.e, SPARKvue or PASCO Capstone. We selected SPARKvue which is compatible with Mac, Windows, iOS, Android, and Chromebooks. However, PASCO Capstone is compatible with Mac or Windows and is also easy to use. Continue reading …

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