Preschool experiences in a winter forest

Children talk about photos with a teacher.Once a month each three-year-old and four-year-old class at the Arlington Unitarian Cooperative Preschool (AUCP) spends the morning on a fieldtrip at a local natural area. The lead nature teacher arrives and spreads out a large tarp and a few sleeping bags as a place for their morning meeting. On this occasion the ground is cold and wet with melted snow. The classroom teacher and assistant and the school director are there. Parents arrive to stay and co-op (assist the teachers) or to drop off their children. Everyone is wearing insulated boots, warm pants, jackets, hats and mittens and the children have brought snacks in their backpacks. The nearby heated nature center with bathrooms opens in an hour.

Children and teacher read one of the book pages that are posted alongside the trail.The lead teacher begins by passing around photos from this class’ last visit, a month ago when the weather was warmer and the children waded in edge of the creek. The group talks briefly about their previous experience, looks at the temperature (32*F) and settles in to hear a book. After the story is over the children choose a direction and walk off in small groups attended by adults in a 2 children to 1 adult ration. I followed an adult with a pair of children who wanted to walk on the paved trail downstream to the location where they had waded the last time they were here. Along the way they read the text from a children’s book, Over and Under the Snow by Kate Messner. The text is on posters, illustrated by children from the local elementary school, and displayed on signs along the trail.

The children walk carefully on the frost-slippery trail, find sticks and poke at remnants of ice but can’t dislodge it. When they reach their destination, they find it hard to throw stones with mittens on. Only a few stones make it into the water, rippling the surface. All along the trail the adult and children talk about what they see and hear—the story, ice, trees, the water moving over stones and a few bird calls. The children begin walking back and meet another small group of children with an adult at a place where the creek goes under the trail. Larger chunks of ice lie broken up on the trail Child carries a large chunk of ice to drop into the and the children work hard to dislodge them, carry them to the edge of the trail and throw them into the flowing creek. I hold my breath, thinking that the effort of heaving a large chunk of ice will carry a child over the edge too. The adults stand close by but not close enough to catch the child, and they don’t give any warnings. Splash, the ice is in the water, floating away, and the child is not. The drop is less than a foot, the water is less than a foot deep, the child has a backpack full of dry clothes and the heated nature center is a short walk up the trail. If the child did fall in, there are enough adults that the others could continue their exploration while the wet one got quickly changed. Getting wet on a cold day is not part of the plan but there is a plan in place in case it happens.

The preschool class meets for snack on a large tarp.Back at the tarp, children who are hungry have broken open their snack bags and the adults are serving warm cider. After refueling, there are rock piles to clamber over, bathroom breaks to take and other paths to take. You can read more about this program, and the resources they link to about “forest kindergartens” and nature play for children.

The director describes how the school was so inspired and transformed by what they learned from the documentary, “School’s Out: Lessons from a Forest Kindergarten” that they implemented what they call “Timber Tuesdays” for a few classes. Their 3-year-olds, and two mixed-aged classes of 3, 4 and 5s, rotate each week and spend their class day outside. Instead of dropping the children off at school, the parents drop off at a local nature center and they spend their 3-hour day outside regardless of the rain, cold, snow etc. They are hoping to expand their program next year!

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Meet me in the middle

DSC02156Another round table/poster session at the NSTA conference–this time focused on middle school science. It was quite a hike to the end of the conference center, but the sharing session (and the view of Lake Michigan) was worth it!

Those who attended were treated to another “extravaganza” of ideas for their classrooms. From activities that use simple materials to more sophisticated technology applications, there was something for everyone. NGSS, notebooking, plant growth, graphing — lots of good ideas!

DSC02149This is a session that elementary teachers could also learn from, especially those in the upper grades or who have students with advanced interests. And high school teachers can learn strategies to work with students who do not have a strong background in science.

Great classroom ideas, handouts and take-aways, coffee, refreshments, and door prizes — the organizers know how to appeal to middle school teachers!


DSC02154To see more from the 2015 National Conference on Science Education in Chicago, March 12-15, please view the #NSTA15 Facebook Album—and if you see yourself, please tag yourself!

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

Future NSTA Conferences

2015 STEM Forum & Expo

DSC021592015 Area Conferences

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Elementary Extravaganza

DSC02140I just finished visiting the Elementary Extravaganza at the NSTA 2015 conference. What an amazing display of what our youngest student/scientists are doing! The teacher/presenters showed how to engage students in experimenting with circuits, studying living things up close and personal, notebooking, going on virtual field trips, building/making things, and connecting reading and writing with science. It’s set up as a series of tables with the presenters sharing their ideas and resources. Conference-goers could come and go during the 2 hour time slot. Some conferences might call this type of event a “poster session.”

DSC02142As I walked around, I saw a lot of engaged conversations among teachers and presenters. Many of the activities used readily-available materials, and presenters were willing to share their resources via handouts or posting the documents online.

Several organizations participate in the Elementary Extravaganza including

  • Council for Elementary Science International
  • NSTA Preschool Elementary Committee
  • Science & Children authors and reviewers
  • Society of Elementary Presidential Awardees

DSC02143Next year, I hope secondary teachers take a look at what our colleagues in the elementary years are doing. I could see using or adapting some of these activities and investigations for middle and high school, especially for students who do not have a strong background in science (yet). The activities could also be used in professional development workshops for teachers or as part of a family science night program. I took some ideas to share with a nature center I work with.

DSC02148It’s also a painless, informal way to present and share your ideas at the conference.

It was enjoyable to talk with the teachers. I gathered up new ideas and reconnected with colleagues whom I haven’t seen since last year.

DSC02145AND–coffee was provided! No need to stand in line at the coffee shop. Door prizes, too. Thanks to the organizers and presenters who made this a wonderful event and a conference highlight!

To see more from the 2015 National Conference on Science Education in Chicago, March 12-15, please view the #NSTA15 Facebook Album—and if you see yourself, please tag yourself!

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

Future NSTA Conferences

2015 STEM Forum & Expo

2015 Area Conferences

Follow NSTA

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NSTA 2015—Science Teachers’ Sense of Humor

One word I have never heard used to describe an NSTA conference is “boring.” There were swarms of science teachers everywhere! I am always amazed by the sheer number of educators at every career level, from first year teachers to veteran educators, eager to share and learn together.  And plenty of science and education humor was on display, from a slide featuring Einstein and fish during Neil Shubin’s Your Inner Fish presentation to a teacher displaying her science humor on her back.


There were plenty notable moments today—Education Secretary Arne Duncan participated in a panel discussion with three educators, the always popular Bill Nye, and of course, the opening of the exhibit hall!   

View the #NSTA15 Facebook Album—if you see yourself, please tag yourself!

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

Future NSTA Conferences

2015 STEM Forum & Expo

  • Minneapolis, May 20–23

2015 Area Conferences

  • Reno, October 22–24
  • Philadelphia, November 12–14
  • Kansas City, December 3–5
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Any Way You Say It, Science Is the Key

text-based blog graphicLast fall, for the first time in our nation’s history, the majority of public school students were minorities. According to the Pew Research Center, of about 50 million students, approximately 49.7 percent were white (down from 65 percent in 1997). Many of these students (over 4 million) were English language (ELL) learners. Almost 70 percent of the children of immigrants spoke a language other than English in the home. Also for the first time in 2014, the majority of public school students was eligible for free and reduced lunch. The strongest correlation to achievement is a student’s economic level (ASCD). It’s clear that achievement gaps are growing, and the resources of districts—especially in rural areas—are stretched to the limit.

On Friday, March 6, NSTA participated in a special panel on bilingual education at the annual conference of the National Association of Bilingual Educators. Why were we there? First and foremost, we believe in our mission statement… “promoting excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all.” We also believe NSTA has the necessary tools and resources to help in the nationwide effort to narrow the achievement gap.

Since the curriculum development glory days of the 1960s, educators have developed tools for supporting students who show early promise for college and career science. The equally effective projects that have brought underrepresented groups to success in both science and citizenship have received less attention. A Citizen Science effort in south Texas, an effort to embed literacy into science in Cleveland, a preschool in Omaha—in today’s challenging educational environment, programs like these represent shining guideposts to a better and more equitable future.

Better Science and Language Learning

What works to accelerate language learning? Data from many great initiatives in diverse communities show that integrated STEM programs at the earliest levels can foster both better science and language learning. But to prove that to skeptical school systems and communities, we must first dig into the commonalities of program successes in diverse communities with varying needs. Continue reading …

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NSTA’s K–College Science Education Journals: March 2015 Issues Online

Do STEM courses broaden access to science? Do you know how to use energy as a unifying theme that connects sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics? The March K–College 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 March issues; they are online (see below), in members’ mailboxes, and ready to inspire teachers!

Science and Children coverScience and Children

Every science discipline provides excellent opportunities to connect with the crosscutting concept of Structure and Function. This issue of S&C offers ideas for introducing and developing this crosscutting concept in your classroom.

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

cover of the March 2015 issue of Science ScopeScience Scope

Engineering inspired by nature is just one approach you can use to incorporate the NGSS crosscutting concept of Structure and Function into your science curriculum. In this issue, we present several strategies for embedding crosscutting concepts and demonstrating to students how different science subjects are interconnected.

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

cover of the March 2015 issue of The Science TeacherThe Science Teacher

The concept of energy is central to all the sciences. A clear understanding of energy is essential for life science students, especially in topics like photosynthesis, cellular respiration, ecosystems, and cellular transport. Energy transformations also are fundamental to understanding basic processes in chemistry and physics, from rusting cars and exploding dynamite to electric motors and wind turbines. In Earth and space sciences, energy drives climate, tectonic plate movements, volcanoes, earthquakes, and ocean currents. Perhaps more than any other single topic, energy provides a unifying theme that connects the sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics in an authentic way.

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

cover of March/April 2015 issue of JCST Journal of College Science Teaching

Although there are many opportunities for undergraduates to participate in authentic research projects, little is known about the efficacy of such programs in achieving desired student learning outcomes. See Authentic Science Research Opportunities for a study that uses qualitative and quantitative data, surveys, and interviews to examine this issue. Do you use case studies in your teaching? If so, you may have wondered how to make those case studies part of your tests. Clyde F. Herreid provides some answers to this question in the Case Study column. And read about two cohort programs at a small liberal arts college designed to support the development of students from groups underrepresented in STEM fields in terms of their drive to succeed, their sense of belonging at college, and their learning in STEM courses in Broadening Access to Science.

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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Going to the “EE” at the national conference on Friday March 13, 2015?

If I could only attend one session at the NSTA national conference in Chicago this week, it would be the Elementary Extravaganza! I had so much fun presenting last year but missed walking around to glean ideas and freebies from the other presenters. This year it will be held on Friday, March 13 8:00 AM – 10:00 AM, in the McCormick Place, Skyline W375c Room.

Here’s why this Extravaganza is not to be missed! Join preschool and elementary groups of professionals for an exceptional opportunity. The room is filled with presenters at their own tables sharing ideas and resources for use in your classroom immediately. Engaging hands-on activities such as Ramps and Pathways physical science and engineering, strategies to excite and encourage your students, a preview of the best trade books available, information about award opportunities, contacts with elementary science organizations and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) for teachers of children ages 0-8 years old, sharing with colleagues, door prizes, and much more will be available to participants.

Walk away with a head full of ideas and arms filled with materials.

Organizations participating in the Elementary Extravaganza include:

  • Council for Elementary Science International
  • NSTA Preschool Elementary Committee
  • Science & Children authors and reviewers
  • Society of Elementary Presidential Awardees

Sponsored by Carolina Biological Supply; Educational Innovations, Inc.; FOSS and Delta Education; TCI; and University of Nebraska–Lincoln Center for Science, Mathematics & Computer Education.

Advert for Elementary Extravaganza session.

Posted in Conferences, Early Years | Tagged , , , | 2 Responses

Flipping Tools for the Science Classroom

In this video, columnist and educator Jared Mader shares information from the Science 2.0 column, “Flipping Tools for the Science Classroom,” that appears in the March 2015 issue of The Science Teacher. Read the article here:

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Materials for elementary science?

I’m starting a new position as a first grade teacher in a few weeks. When I toured the classroom I’ll be in, I saw very few science-related materials. I want to emphasize science with my students, so what should I start to gather up?  —J., Georgia

There are many schools in which science, especially in the younger grades, is seen as an extra or something to do after the tests are over. It’s good that you want your students to study the world around them through science investigations, building on their energy, enthusiasm and curiosity.

I would ask the school for a copy of the science curriculum. The activities there could be your guide for what materials you’ll need. Also ask the principal or department chairperson if there is a central storage area for science materials in the school. Perhaps what you need is there. And ask about the school’s science budget and the policy for reimbursing teachers who spend their own money on classroom materials.

The best-case scenario is the school having a well-planned curriculum and adequate materials for implementing the lessons in it. The worst case is the school has neither.

If the school does not have a detailed curriculum guide, look at your state science standards for guidance on what students should be learning or exploring at this level. If you need ideas for specific lessons and investigations, refer to NSTA’s Science & Children journal. You can access and search the issues online as an NSTA member.

Science teaching at the elementary level does not necessarily require a lot of expensive materials or equipment. As you look at the activities in your curriculum or the issues of Science & Children, you’ll see that many of them use everyday materials. Students can investigate plant growth, examine rock samples or insects, observe bird or insect behavior, study mechanics and motion, explore magnetism, and collect weather data with simple and inexpensive materials. (For more science-on-a-shoestring ideas, you can also refer to the NSTA publication The Frugal Science Teacher, PreK-5.)

In the February 2015 issue of Science & Children, Cindy Hoisington and Jeff Winokur list some ideas for a “science toolkit” in their article Tools of Science Inquiry That Support Life Science Investigations.* These simple materials can help young students make measurements, record observations, and describe plants and animals:

Continue reading …

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Avoiding burnout and staying positive

I’ve taught Earth Science for 10 years and I like my students and what I’m doing. But sometimes I feel overwhelmed and frustrated. Is this normal? How can I avoid burnout and stay positive?  —R., Washington

This dilemma came up at a recent event I attended. Most teachers identified with how you feel. One teacher remarked that when he started teaching 20 years ago, teachers were dealing with many of the same issues that we’re dealing with today—increased demands on our time, fewer resources for science, competition from students’ jobs and extracurricular activities, “lazy” students, helicopter parents or parents who don’t seem to be involved, administrators who don’t understand science teaching, the influence of standardized testing, and a lack of respect for teachers. He and the others agreed that a lot of burnout comes not from working with students but from unrealistic expectations and the influence of other adults. It’s not a comforting thought, but teachers have been overwhelmed for years!

We want to do whatever we can for our students but sometimes forget to do things for ourselves. By now you should have a good repertoire of teaching strategies and a comfort level with Earth Science content. If you’re doing schoolwork 24/7, it’s time to re-prioritize and focus on your health, your family, professional growth, and outside-of-school interests.

Here are some suggestions from our colleagues:

  • Some unrealistic expectations are self-inflicted. It’s OK to cut back on things that are not essential to student learning, such as creating elaborate bulletin boards or busywork assignments for students.
  • Put time for exercise on your calendar. Eat healthy and don’t skip meals.
  • Surround yourself with positive people. If the faculty room is a den of iniquity, stay away. Share your planning or lunch period with a colleague or two and share ideas or divide some of the work. Or talk about something other than school.
  • Students have one year of Earth science—you’ve already had 10 years of the course. Try a new theme or different big ideas each year to keep yourself from getting stale.
  • Take advantage of social media, such as e-mail lists, blogs, discussion forums, Facebook, and/or Twitter for new ideas and resources, advice and suggestions, a few laughs, or a virtual shoulder to lean on. NSTA’s Social Media Dashboard is a good place to start.

Continue reading …

Posted in Ms. Mentor | Tagged , | 2 Responses