A Much-Needed Roadmap for STEM Educators During Unconventional, Uncertain Times

Six-time NSTA author Rodger Bybee’s deep subject-matter expertise draws on 50 years of working in the science education field as well as keeping up with relevant STEM education-related publications, meetings, and projects. In the last few years, Bybee began noticing that far too many STEM initiatives seemed to suffer from the same shortcoming: They used the STEM acronym in broad, ambiguous ways.

STEM, Bybee said, had become just another slogan and lacked a clear definition and plan for policies, programs, and teaching practices.

Bybee’s latest book, STEM Education Now More Than Ever, presents ideas to counteract the weaknesses that the author sees in STEM education, an urgent call to action during a critical time in American history when the integrity of core STEM disciplines is under assault. He wants students to better understand the important place STEM education occupies across cultural, political, and ethical areas of their lives, especially as they prepare to become citizens of our democracy as well as the global community.

The book is organized into four thought-provoking sections that cover a wide range of issues:

The chapters organized under Part 1 (Innovations for STEM Education) make the new and urgent case for STEM education in light of the recent and seemingly growing challenges to science’s validity from the highest levels of government; discuss what STEM means for state policies, school curriculum, and classroom practices; cover how to connect STEM education with new state standards and the Next Generation Science Standards; and provide a plan of action to move STEM education from a collection of initiatives to a lasting component of American education. Continue reading …

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Careers in science and engineering

The April edition of NSTA’s Science Scope includes the article Classic Lessons 2.0: What kind of person becomes a scientist?

Some teachers have used the draw-a-scientist activity to ascertain the (mis)conceptions students have about who scientists are and what they do. It’s encouraging to read studies such as U.S. Children Are Drawing Female Scientists Now More Than Ever and What We Learn From 50 Years of Kids Drawing Scientists

As the Science Scope Editor notes, “It is important that students are aware of the careers available to them and to have experiences that mirror the tasks a scientist performs when doing research and conducting experiments.”

Unfortunately, our students may not be familiar with the variety of career opportunities in the 21st century. (Indeed, may of our students will participate in careers that don’t exist right now!)

For students of any age who are interested in careers in science and engineering, NSTA’s The Science Teacher features a “Career of the Month” column. This two-page article includes interviews with professionals who use science in their work, a description of the job (work overview, career knowledge, and skills), and career advice in a student-friendly, easy to read format.

Here is a sample of careers described in the 2013-2018 journals (access other years for more careers). Note that many are cross-disciplinary, incorporating not only science and engineering but also writing, creativity, technology, and the social science.(I personally was intrigued by Ethnobotanist and Forensic Entomologist!)

For more, see the SciLinks topics Biology Careers, Careers in Chemistry, Careers in Earth Science, Careers in Life Science, Careers in Environmental Science, Careers in Physics, Geologists, Paleontologists, Pharmacologist, Physiologist, Public Health Careers, Wildlife Biologists


Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/glaciernps/4427417055/in/photostream/

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Thank You, Mrs. Woracek

I’ve wanted to work in education for as long as I can remember. My mom tells a story of me “teaching” our family cat before I would leave for preschool. This typically involved storytime (me reading to the cat) and a snack (mostly for me) and was lovingly called “Kitty-garden.” As far back as anyone in my family can remember, I was born to be a teacher.

Jump forward a few years (“few” meaning about twenty), and I was lucky enough to secure a summer job at Fontenelle Forest as a summer camp counselor. In this role, I taught a different summer camp each week with a fellow counselor – one week could be a group of third graders hiking through the forest all day, and the next week could be half-day preschool nature exploration. My supervisor in this role, Deborah Woracek, inspired our team, and myself especially, to love science education. We were taught how to ask important questions, and lead the children to ask their own. We had access to unbelievable resources (quite literally an entire forest) to engage and explore with the campers in an education experience of a lifetime. Most importantly, in my opinion, she taught me how to be okay not having all the answers. My favorite line to respond to a question I didn’t have the answer to is: “I don’t know – how can we all find out together?” Deborah taught me how to be vulnerable and inquisitive – and for that I am extremely grateful.

Because of this camp, and especially Deborah, I brought my love of inquiry to the classroom as a first grade teacher. All questions were valid, and all made the classroom community stronger. If I didn’t have the answer, which was more often than not the case, we discussed how we could find the answer and why it was important to “do the research.” I was a better science teacher because of Deborah Woracek. So during Teacher Appreciation Week, I’d like to say thank you to all informal science educators, but especially Deborah, who open the doors to a world (or forest) we can’t always find in a classroom.

Megan Doty is the e-Learning Engagement Specialist with the NSTA Learning Center.

Reach her via email at mdoty@nsta.org or via Twitter @Megan_NSTA



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Building Electric Cars Enhances STEM Learning

Brownsville (Texas) Independent School District’s top three Middle School Division cars that competed in the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) HESTEC (Hispanic Engineering, Science, and Technology Week) GreenPowerUSA South Texas Electric Car Competition included the second-place winning car from Garcia Middle School (center car). PHOTO COURTESY OF UTRGV—DAVID PIKE

Students around the country are learning science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) by designing, building, and racing electric cars. Mario Molina, eighth-grade science teacher at Dr. Juliet V. Garcia Middle School in Brownsville, Texas, co-coached (with a seventh-grade math teacher) a team of 3 seventh graders and 10 eighth graders who built a single-seat electric-powered racecar and competed in the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley HESTEC (Hispanic Engineering, Science, and Technology Week) GreenPowerUSA South Texas Electric Car Competition, held at the Brownsville South Padre Island International Airport on April 6–7 (see www.greenpowerusa.net). They competed to see which car could drive the farthest in 90 minutes with one set of batteries. “It was a good opportunity for students to look at a vehicle and see the components from start to end, and work on a project in a group setting,” Molina contends.

Brownsville Independent School District paid for 10 car kits from GreenpowerUSA for its 10 middle schools. The kits cost about $5,000 each and consisted of “a body, a motor, and batteries,” says Molina. “The students had to design the outside body panels, choose their own design and colors… The skeleton of the car had two pieces and had to be put together with the motor and wiring,” he explains. The kits arrived in February 2018, giving the students two months to build them before the race.

As they built the car’s interior, Molina says students learned about engineering and electrical work, as well as using hand tools and safety equipment, reading a blueprint, and “problem solving—why is the car making this noise?” Students designed the car’s exterior “on their own as homework, and they brought their ideas to school. There was a lot of homework with this project,” he reports. Continue reading …

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The Vernier Go Direct Motion Detector: A Modern Twist on a Timeless Design

Vernier Software and Technology has introduced the next generation of its ultrasonic motion detector. While the gold circle sensor portion looks much like it’s previous five generations, the self-contained battery power source, the cubic form factor and most importantly the Bluetooth radio, are all new. But first some backstory.

In 2008 I had the enormous pleasure of spending several days with Robert (Bob) Gilliland while at a Smithsonian Air and Space Award Ceremony where a team I worked with won the Smithsonian Air and Space Annual Achievement Trophy. Accepting the Lifetime Achievement Trophy that year was Joe Kittinger who brought his guest Mr. Gilliland. Joe Kittinger, by the way, is that guy who jumped out of a balloon in 1960 setting the world record for the highest skydive at 19 miles!

Joe Kittinger at press conference in National Air and Space Museum

That record stood until Felix Baumbartner broke it in 2012 (on the 65th anniversary of Chuck Yeager’s first breaking of the sound barrier) jumping from a height of 24 miles. Kittinger was the capsule communicator on Baumgartner’s Red Bull Stratos team. And speaking of records, Baumbartner’s jump was streamed live over the internet and the 9.5 million concurrent viewers set the record for the “live stream with the most concurrent views ever on YouTube.” I was on the team that helped set that record! It took almost ten million of us, but we did it! In the video below, you can hear Joe Kittinger talking Baumgartner through the jump a full 52 years after Kittinger set his jump record (something featured at the very end of the video).

Joe Kittinger’s friend Robert Gilliland was the chief test pilot for the SR-71 Blackbird, which is by far the coolest aircraft ever. The sleek titanium body with two stubby wings housing a pair of massive SCRAM Jet engines cruised at Mach 3 across much of the globe taking pictures and leaving awe. In fact when Gilliland took the very first Blackbird for its maiden voyage on December 22, 1964, he flew the plane up to 50,000 feet and at mach 1.5! No gentle spin around the desert, but straight into the supersonic sound-barrier breaking rarified air that was first experienced by Chuck Yeager in the Bell X-1 back in 1947.  The precursor to the SR-71 was the Lockheed A-12, a similar looking aircraft that was one of many innovations to come out of Area 51. Yeah, that Area 51. Continue reading …

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Thank You, Mrs. Kennedy


I was in 6th grade at Rose Tree Elementary School in Media, Pennsylvania, in October of 1957 when Sputnik was launched. When our class heard the beep-beep-beep of its telemetry when it passed overhead, the Cold War seemed very warm indeed. This wake-up call for our nation was taken to heart by one special teacher of mine, and I thank her for changing the course of my life!

None of my family members in my parents generation had gone to college. So, while my parents were certainly considering college for me, it was Mrs. Ruth Kennedy who took any other option off the table.

One afternoon that October, Mrs. Kennedy kept me after school for a “talk.” That was easy to do since I was a walker. She didn’t offer any options or, for that matter, any suggestions. She simply outlined for me what I was to do:

  • Go to college and study math and science.
  • Go to graduate school to get a PhD (I had never heard of that).
  • Become a professor to do research and teach others to do the same.

There really wasn’t any discussion; she made her presentation and I listened. It never occurred to me not do what she said. I don’t think that I ever knew someone who didn’t do what Mrs. Kennedy said.

After I graduated from college with a degree in math and taught high school for three years, I realized that I had not finished her agenda. What was this “graduate school” thing? By then, teaching in a public school had cured me of finishing a PhD in math; I needed to be much more closely connected to the real world and real people. (Sorry, but mathematicians often don’t fit that description.) But Mrs. Kennedy’s instructions were still firmly in mind. I loved the ocean and figured that my mathematics would be useful in studying it so I ended up as a professor of oceanography.

Mrs. Kennedy’s instruction didn’t go beyond that—except her advice to do something that was fun (math and science) and do something that was worthwhile (which she never defined). That was left as an exercise for the student.

Thank you, Mrs. Kennedy. All of the truly fun and worthwhile jobs that I’ve experienced go right back to you and your belief in me. And now I’ve gone full circle and get to work with science teachers. And so I say thank you to all science teachers, and I hope our work at NSTA gives you the inspiration you need to pursue your dreams as well.

NSTA Executive Director David Evans

Dr. David L. Evans is the Executive Director of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA). Reach him via e-mail at devans@nsta.org or via Twitter @devans_NSTA

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



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Get Moving!

Newton’s Apple Tree – Cambridge University, England

I am currently a student teacher in an incredible third grade classroom. I was thinking about doing a lesson on Force and Motion. Are there any great strategies and tips for this subject?
– J., Virginia


The Forces and Motion topic lends itself to fun STEM activities like balloon cars, wheeled cars, and so on.

Newton’s laws of motion should be introduced using simple terms.


  • Newton’s First Law: Things normally just sit there or stay moving in a straight line at the same speed! Changes in motion only happen if forces are involved.

  • Newton’s Second Law: the bigger the force, the faster the change in motion. The more massive things are, the more force needed to change motion.
    e.g. A small car needs less force to start moving than a large truck. So small cars use smaller engines than trucks. Small cars need less braking force to stop because they have a much smaller mass than a large truck.
  • Newton’s Third Law: all forces come in equal pairs, in opposite directions!
    This one is very poorly understood by many people!
    e.g. To jump in the air your feet push down on the floor… (now switch the two nouns) …the floor pushes up on your feet. The floor is much more massive than you so it doesn’t move as much (see the Second Law)!

Have your students try to explain why their projects move the way they do! The key is to always link motion to forces.

For STEM activities you can search The Learning Center and feel free to check out my public collection: https://goo.gl/EbZKsk

Hope this helps!


Photo Credit:  Public Domain

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Ed News: 3D Printers Weave Art, Science To Harness Students’ Imaginations

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This week in education news, new project looks to promote family math; California schools are making progress in implementing environmental education standards; study finds that the U.S. not doing enough to prepare students for the automation age; growing STEM skills gap is causing the outsourcing of high-paying technical jobs; teacher pay is so low that some school districts are now recruiting overseas; and President Trump honors the nation’s top teachers.

Stop Using The Word ‘Nerd’ – The Future Of Science May Depend On It

My Forbes articles are inspired by many different things. This one was inspired by browsing social media and seeing that my colleague Brian McNoldy had posted a really neat analysis of near-surface ocean winds from NASA’s Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System (CYGNSS). It is a mission that could improve our understanding of hurricanes. What caught my eye is that one of his friends playfully commented, “Nerd.” In that instance, it was certainly light-hearted banter between friends. However, it made me reflect on my own personal observations, and how such terms may impact kids’ desire to purse STEM. Read the article featured in Forbes magazine.

Parents Read To Their Kids. Why Not Do Math Together? New Project Looks To Promote Family Math — And Help Close The Achievement Gap

“I’m just not a math person.” We’ve all heard that phrase from friends, family, or colleagues. Though usually presented as a harmless personality quirk, it conceals math anxiety, insecurity, and potentially a belief that math isn’t as valuable as other areas of study. This has real implications: Research shows that merely expressing math anxiety can damage math performance. Read the article featured in The 74.

Continue reading …

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Ed News Spotlight: The #RedonEd Movement

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Arguably, one of the biggest education stories of 2018 has been the protests over low teacher pay. Since late February, thousands of teachers have organized strikes in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Colorado, and Arizona—all states that pay teachers far less than the national average salary.

Here’s a brief overview and a compendium of some great articles that take a look at the education labor movements emerging across the country.

From Oklahoma, POLITICO’s Caitlin Emma in her April 12 article Teachers Are Going on Strike in Trump’s America writes  “While West Virginia teachers were still on the picket lines, Morejon decided it was time for his state to follow suit. He created a Facebook group called, “Oklahoma Teacher Walkout—The Time Is Now!” In just three days, the group swelled to 30,000 members. On March 8, the union laid out a list of demands—like a $10,000 raise for teachers and $200 million to make up for education funding cuts—threatening a massive school walkout on April 2 if they weren’t met. On March 31, the Legislature approved a $6,100 raise, but it wasn’t enough and the walkout was called.”

Learn more about Teacher Pay and How Salaries, Pensions, and Benefits Work in Schools, before opening this article where the headline (No, Teachers are Not Underpaid) says it all and boldly claims that “Across-the-board salary increases, such as those enacted in Arizona, West Virginia, and Kentucky, are the wrong solution to a non-problem.”

In this corner, The New York Times take on how the Teachers Revolt Spreads to Arizona says there are “several interrelated factors behind the teachers’ movement’s explosive growth. Most significant, of course, is that teachers in some red states feel backed into a corner after a decade or more of disinvestment by Republican governments. Because of a series of tax cuts, particularly over the last 10 years, Arizona teachers are among the worst paid in the nation, and they have some of the country’s largest class sizes — up to 40 students to a single teacher.”

It takes two-thirds of the state legislature in Arizona to impose new taxes or increase taxes and in Oklahoma, it takes 75 percent of the state legislature to make a tax change. Read more here.

The Sacramento Bee article Pension problems help drive US protests for teacher raises  suggests “the recent outcry over teacher pay could spread in coming years, whether pension costs are widely acknowledged as a driving factor or not.”

Read more about the #redoned movement and budget package that passed in Arizona here and here.

Will North Carolina teachers be the next to strike in this era of “Teacher Spring?” In this Washington Post article North Carolina teacher Justin Parmenter explains “Since taking over state government in 2010, Republican lawmakers in our state have ushered in a jaw-dropping decline in the quality of teacher working conditions and student learning conditions.”

Jodi Peterson is the Assistant Executive Director of Communication, Legislative & Public Affairs for the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and Chair of the STEM Education Coalition. Reach her via e-mail at jpeterson@nsta.org or via Twitter at @stemedadvocate.

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

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The long and short of field trips.

What do you think of the value of extended field trips? What should be considered?
– M., Florida

I love field trips and students often say that they are the highlights of school! Whether it is extended or just a single day, going outside the school gives students a chance to observe or experience things much better than videos or text. You also introduce them to enthusiastic professionals and role-models. However, I always made sure that field trips weren’t just walking around with our hands in our pockets.

Scout out what the field trip is all about and look for hands-on and authentic experiences. Most places will allow teachers to tour their facilities and check things out with no cost. Don’t be afraid to ask for modifications to suit your class – you are the customer and you know what your students need! I always made sure that a field trip wasn’t a completely isolated event. So, I recommend planning some preparatory and follow up activities. Make sure that your field trip fits your curriculum.

There are several things to consider on extended field trips: travel, time and cost. Ask yourself if you can do the same activities in your classroom for less? Can you borrow equipment or have outside people come to your class and run activities? Can you manage taking students out yourself?

I’d also ask the students for their feedback after a field trip. I often passed their comments on to whomever we visited or used the information to make changes myself.

Hope this helps!


Photo Credit: USembassy via Wikimedia Commons

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