Where Can I Find Inspiration for New Lesson Plans?


NSTA member Todd Hoover, who now teaches preservice science teachers, began his career as an elementary and middle-level science teacher. When starting out, he didn’t know about NSTA. “One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t become a member sooner,” he says. “I wish that I had joined NSTA when I was teaching K–12 because I missed out on a world of good ideas that I could have used in the classroom.” Hoover says that for busy teachers, NSTA provides a wealth of ideas that educators “can take and almost immediately use in the classroom with students.”

Hoover: I find it extremely important that I share information about NSTA with every one of my preservice teachers because I don’t want them to start their careers and not know about the association. When teachers have a resource that is readily available to them, particularly at their fingertips like the NSTA Learning Center, they save a lot of valuable time in planning and preparation.

NSTA provides a number of resources that range from how to write a grant to content knowledge support. There’s an endless amount of topics to choose from when you go to an NSTA Conference or when you’re using the Learning Center. I find that for me, personally, the part that is most beneficial are the lesson ideas that I can take and use right away.

Every NSTA Conference I attend, both regional and national, is filled with practical, real-world, hands-on, and effective ideas. I use those ideas in my college classrooms, and I teach my preservice students those same ideas so they can implement them in the K–12 system.

During one of the most recent conferences I attended, for example, I went to a session where the presenter showed educational science games that can be used in the classroom. He must have presented 30 or more games in just that one-hour time. I found practically every one of the games to be useful and have shared the games with my preservice teachers so that they can use them in their classrooms.

When I go to the NSTA Conferences, I also find that I leave there with ideas that are able to be implemented in the classroom at little or no cost. All teachers are trying to find ways to do good teaching without breaking the bank.

How else has your NSTA membership helped you in your career?

Hoover: I have served on committees such as the Science and Children Advisory Board and the planning committee for the 2015 NSTA area conference in Philadelphia. The networking opportunities have been huge. I have also gotten involved with NSTA’s state chapter here in Pennsylvania and in two years I’ll be serving as the chapter’s president. Through all of these different connections, I’ve been able to improve my own professional development. I get to network with some of the best science educators in the nation now. There are good ideas that come from that.

 (Note from NSTA: How has NSTA helped you save time on lesson planning? We’d love to hear from you in the comments section below. Not a member of NSTA? Learn more about how to join.)

Jennifer Henderson is our guest blogger for this series. Before launching her freelance career as a writer/editor, Jennifer was Managing Editor of The Science Teacher, NSTA’s peer-reviewed journal for high school science teachers.

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Middle school to high school

I’ve heard that there will be a vacancy in the high school science department next year. The position is for three sections of general biology and two sections of environmental science (not AP). I currently teach middle school general science but I’m credentialed in biology and tempted to make a change after 10 years. What culture shock would I experience in high school? How can I handle two different preparations?
—M. fromTexas

I had a similar situation, switching to a high school position after many years at a middle school. I think my middle school experience gave me an off-beat sense of humor and helped me to deal with the high schoolers who needed different instructional approaches. Engaging high school students in spirited discussions and in high-level investigations and projects was intellectually exhilarating, although I must admit I still have a soft spot for middle schoolers. But I don’t regret taking on a rewarding challenge that enabled me to grow professionally and expand my circle of colleagues.

In terms of “culture shock,” you’ll find the students are physically bigger and they have a lot on their plates in addition to their academic classes: extracurriculars, social issues, interactions with their peers, after-school jobs, and concerns about college and post-high school employment. In many places, the high school starts earlier than the other schools. Access to social media can be a distraction during the day. You might not have a high percentage of parents at back-to-school night.

Continue reading …

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Uncovering Student Ideas in Science Workshops at NSTA’s Area Conferences This Fall

Uncovering vol 4 coverUncovering Student Ideas is highly recommended for teachers at every level; it contains a set of essential tools that cross discipline, grade, and ability levels. There’s no better way to guide your planning and decision-making process.”
—from Juliana Texley’s review of Uncovering Student Ideas in Science, Vol. 4

Research has shown that the effective use of formative assessment can significantly improve learning for all students. Learn how to use formative assessment to transform instruction while simultaneously supporting learning. During these daylong workshops with NSTA Press authors Page Keeley and Joyce Tugel, participants will be introduced to the use of formative assessment in science, learn about the nature of students’ misconceptions, experience a framework used to address students’ ideas within a cycle of instruction, and experience interactive formative classroom techniques (FACTs) that support language literacy capacities and the scientific practices of constructing explanations and argument from evidence. Applications to both K–12 teaching and teacher professional or preservice development will be addressed. All participants will receive a copy of Uncovering Student Ideas in Science, Vol . 4, a $31.95 value.

Continental breakfast is included in the ticket price. These workshops take place in conjunction with the NSTA Area Conferences in Orlando, FL (Weds., Nov. 5) and Long Beach, CA (Weds., Dec. 3).

More information and registration details can be found here:

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Picture-Perfect Science Workshops at NSTA’s Area Conferences This Fall

PB186X3“Emily Morgan and Karen Ansberry have done it again! Their newest volume, Even More Picture-Perfect Science Lessons, K–5: Using Children’s Books to Guide Inquiry, is as excellent as their previous books.” –from a review in Science Books & Film/AAAS

STEM education begins in elementary school, but it can be difficult for elementary teachers to fit science into the school day. Picture-Perfect Science integrates science and reading in a meaningful way, so you can teach both subjects at once. In these full-day workshops with NSTA Press authors Emily Morgan and Karen Ansberry, you will participate in model lessons that integrate science and reading, learn the benefits and cautions of using children’s picture books in science, become familiar with the BSCS 5E model, and receive a bibliography of recommended science-related picture books. All attendees will also receive a copy of Even More Picture-Perfect Science Lessons, winner of a 2014 Gold EXCEL Award from Association Media & Publishing. This bestselling book contains 15 classroom-ready lessons for grades K–5—a $39.95 value. Continental breakfast is included in the ticket price.

Come to these Picture-Perfect Science Workshops and rejuvenate elementary science instruction in your school! The workshops take place in conjunction with the NSTA Area Conferences in Richmond, VA (Weds., Oct. 15); Orlando, FL (Weds., Nov. 5); and Long Beach, CA (Weds., Dec. 3). More information and registration details can be found here:

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How Can Elementary Teachers Work Toward the Vision of the Next Generation Science Standards?

NGSS coverWhen I taught elementary school, science was the foundation around which I built my multi-age classroom, but I think this approach was rare. With the release of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), we have the opportunity for science to become front and center in more elementary classrooms. I am thrilled about the NGSS and the promise and opportunity it holds for ALL students. I am also relieved because finally someone out there “gets it”—just look at Practices # 6 (constructing explanations and designing solutions) and #8 (obtaining, evaluating and communicating information). Science can be the basis of rich instruction around where reading, writing, speaking, and listening are learned and practiced! We don’t have to teach only mathematics and language arts to make students better readers and writers.

What's Your Evidence book coverFor K–5 teachers, the thought of implementing the NGSS in classrooms can be overwhelming. But, it’s exciting too! The NGSS gives us opportunities that we’ve not had in the past to finally make science the centerpiece of the elementary classroom. I think we can make this transition to NGSS more easily if we have a deeper understanding of the NGSS content we need to use in our science instruction. Most (many) elementary teachers, including me, did not learn much science in college, so whenever a learning opportunity presents itself, I am usually the first to sign up. One of those opportunities is coming up soon. NSTA is sponsoring a series of web seminars specifically designed for elementary teachers by people who know elementary teachers best—me, a former elementary teacher turned state science coordinator five years ago; Dr. Mary Starr, author, Executive Director of the Michigan Mathematics and Science Centers Network, and a science consultant who has been working with elementary teachers; and Dr. Carla Zembal-Saul, author of What’s Your Evidence?: Engaging K–5 Children in Constructing Explanations in Science, and a teacher educator who focuses on elementary science and strives to create strong connections between research and practice.

Working in collaboration with these two educators to prepare these web seminars has been a unique learning experience. My own understanding of the NGSS has grown as we have grappled with how to best share our ideas with you within the limitations of the medium. I am looking forward to learning more from you as we move forward with these professional learning experiences. Our vision is that the series of web seminars will encourage teachers to come together in a professional learning community that will be nourished by discussions in the NSTA Learning Center forums. Continue reading …

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When are children old enough to smell a flower, touch an earthworm, or talk about the Nature of Science (NOS)?

Child is held by adult while exploring a tree leaf.When are children old enough to begin exploring the natural world? Can a three-year-old touch a crawling beetle? Can a two-year-old smell a flower; can a one-year-old? Can a 3-month-old feel a leaf? This question was raised in a recent training session about helping young children learn more about the small animals they are curious about: worms, insects and other small animals. People disagreed about what age would be appropriate to allow children these experiences but there was no disagreement about five-year-olds being ready to observe for longer periods and draw pictures of what they see. We also agreed that early childhood educators must know the children in their program and what activities they can safely engage in. As a family home child care provider I checked flowers for bees and others before bringing a child (including babies) close enough to smell—but not to taste! My yard only had plants that were not toxic so I did not have the lily-of-the-valley plants or wisteria vines that bear flowers I love to smell.

See these sites to find out more about poisonous plants—no list is complete but they are a good place to begin learning.

Cover of the September 2014 journal Science and Children.Early childhood educators may also wonder when children are old enough to learn about the “Nature of Science” (NOS) or how science ‘works’. Researchers are also interested in what young children can understand about aspects of the nature of science—read the article, “Demystifying Nature of Science: Two activities help young children understand the nature of science” (Lederman et al 2014), in the September 2014 Science and Children. I also learned from studies by Akerson and Donnelly (2009, 2011) including “Teaching Nature of Science to K-2 Students: What understanding do they attain?” Children who have an understanding of the nature of science, or how science works, may be able to apply it to many situations, not only the times they know some information.

Dr. Valarie L. Akerson, Professor of Science Education at Indiana University shares some thoughts: “Preschool and Kindergarten teachers are amazing! And they can definitely start young children in conceptualizing NOS from an early age. Research on young children’s understandings of NOS suggest a great strategy is to start with the concrete and move to the abstract, maintaining an emphasis on all NOS aspects throughout the course of the school year. A particularly favorite children’s book I have for NOS instruction is Jerry Pallotta’s “Skull Alphabet” which can be used to introduce and emphasize the distinction between observation and inference, the difference between evidence and observations, the importance of contextual clues, as well as background knowledge in making inferences.” Continue reading …

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The Next Generation Science Standards: Ready or Not, Here They Come!

NGSS coverThis is a particularly exciting time for science educators across our nation, both for those in states that have adopted the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and those in areas that will never formally take that step, as they begin the process of putting into practice the vision of science education outlined in the Framework for K–12 Science Education and the Next Generation Science Standards.

As exciting as this time is, it would be disingenuous to suggest that this process will be an easy one. Anyone who has ever been involved in a major renovation can attest to the fact that the business of change is never fast, can be overwhelming, and is always messy. In order to succeed, science teachers must prepare themselves for this task. In order for this vision of science education to fully take hold, teachers will have to take responsibility for their own professional learning and for shifting the instruction in their classroom. Teachers will have to take the lead, but they shouldn’t expect to do it on their own. My advice to readers is to start by connecting with your colleagues, whether that is in your school or district, through NSTA’s listservs and online communities, or on broader social media like Twitter (follow @NSTA or search #NGSS for starters).

Framework coverOnce you’re plugged into a professional learning community, how might you go about bringing the Framework for K-12 Science Education and the NGSS to life? First, fully familiarize yourself with the contents of both documents, beginning with the Framework, which brings together more than a decade’s worth of research on student learning in science and provides a solid foundation for the subsequent standards. This means not skipping the front matter or the appendices in order to get to the “good parts”! In fact, you might want to begin with the appendices, as they provide context and guidance for teachers as they translate the NGSS into classroom practice. Reflect deeply on your current instructional practices and compare them to those described in the Framework and NGSS.

A word of caution, it is easy to fall victim to the temptation to tell yourself that you are already using some teaching strategies that align with the Framework and NGSS. While you likely have some excellent lessons in your repertoire, this new vision of science teaching represents a true innovation for the vast majority of us. In order to shift our practice, we have to turn a critical eye toward that practice. Think about your needs in terms of professional knowledge and pedagogy and develop a plan to address those areas of need. NSTA offers a host of resources through the Learning Center and NGSS@NSTA hub, both of which can assist you in your quest for understanding. Continue reading …

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NSTA’s K-College Science Education Journals: September 2014 Issues Online

Just as teachers gear up for a new year, so too do NSTA journal editors! We just published our first issues of the school year, and there’s a lot of great science teaching ideas, lesson plans, STEM information, and of course materials to help you learn more about and integrate the Next Generation Science Standards. These journals, while published by the National Science Teachers Association, are full of articles written by your peers in the trenches. So take a minute to catch your breath, and read some of the articles below. Explore the mystery of argumentation, popular science nonfiction, the use of mobile devices in field science, post-secondary STEM education, and more!

Science and Children coverScience and Children

Lessons intended to develop all of the Next Generation Science Standards components must include the nature of science (NOS). But designing those lessons may not be easily accomplished; ways to infuse the NOS are often unclear. The resources in this issue of Science and Children will help deepen your understanding of the NOS and guide you as you cultivate this awareness in your students.

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

Science Scope

Science Scope coverEffective assessment is integral to the three-dimensional learning and teaching needed to realize the vision set forth in the Next Generation Science Standards and A Framework for K–12 Science Education. Use the articles found in this issue to learn how to align your assessment with the three-dimensional learning called for in the new standards.

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

The Science Teacher coverThe Science Teacher

New technologies—social media and cloud computing, mobile smart devices, “big data,” advanced computational modeling, and countless others—could revolutionalize science teaching and learning. While such advances make new classroom activities possible, the Next Generation Science Standards require us to rethink how we deliver science instruction. The pedagogical foundation provided by the NGSS can combine with new technology to create more engaging learning experiences for all students. Science teachers must lead the 21st-century skills movement. The articles in this issue of The Science Teacher describe teaching with a sample of new technologies, none of which would have been possible a mere decade ago.

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

JCST coverJournal of College Science Teaching

An article in the Two-Year Community column describes a dual-enrollment program that gives high school students an opportunity to experience college science in a supported environment, along with lessons learned and challenges faced by faculty when setting up such a program. Also, read how one group of investigators examined whether short “Kahn style” video lectures, assigned as homework, could replace live classroom lectures in the presentation of buffer theory and problem solving. This issue also has an article on the development and evaluation of graduate teaching assistant learning communities to enhance the implementation of inquiry experiences in undergraduate laboratories.

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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I’ve Retired from Classroom Teaching. How Can My NSTA Membership Still Benefit Me?


Kathy Brooks says that her NSTA membership helped her tremendously during her almost 30-year career as a middle-level science teacher. And, she says, her NSTA membership is still just as valuable to her now that she’s retired from classroom teaching. Brooks says that you don’t have to end your involvement with NSTA when you leave the classroom. “There are a lot of ways NSTA can help you with your career and ways that you can be involved in the organization,” she says.

Brooks: NSTA has been a wonderful resource for me throughout my career. For example, when I was in the classroom I used SciGuides and the NSTA Learning Center for lesson ideas and to beef up my own knowledge on scientific topics. And, when I was named a district project manager to oversee revisions to the K–12 science curriculum, I turned to NSTA’s Safety Issue Papers, written by the NSTA Safety Advisory Board. I used the papers as documentation and support for the safety precautions we included in the curriculum. The funny thing is, I now serve on the NSTA Science Safety Advisory Board. I’m editing and working on position papers that were once a lifeline for me and helped me do the right thing in the curriculum.

In addition, I’ve always enjoyed attending NSTA Conferences. Presenting at the NSTA conferences has helped me gain confidence. I retired from teaching a year ago because my district offered an early retirement at the right age for me. After retiring, I became an educational consultant for the Capital Region Education Council (CREC) in Connecticut. I think that all of the presentations I made at NSTA conferences has helped me with my consulting work.

I still attend every NSTA conference that I can. Now that I’m retired, though, I look at the conferences from a different angle than when I was teaching. I have the opportunity to share my experiences with other teachers who, like me 20 years ago, were so eager to learn. Giving back is part of our professional duty. It makes me feel good when I share something I’ve done in the classroom for years and somebody says, ‘wow, that’s really cool’. Also, part of my consulting work involves giving presentations on energy education. When I attend the conferences now, I go with the intent of getting more ideas for teaching about energy.

In addition to the conferences, I still rely on other NSTA resources for my consulting work. The company I consult for has a contract with Connecticut utility companies to oversee the eeSmarts program. It provides free professional development and curriculum materials to all teachers in the state. Consultants like me take the materials into the classroom and model the lessons for teachers. This summer, I had to write two investigations—one on energy and one on water. I’ve taught a great deal on water, but not as much on energy. So, I turned to a variety of resources in the NSTA Learning Center to get a better handle on my own understanding.

NSTA membership certainly has given me a lot of support over the years. I used my NSTA membership a great deal when I was teaching, and I still get a lot of use out of it now that I’m retired. Just because I stopped teaching full time doesn’t mean I’m not interested in science education anymore. I am still very involved with NSTA because I’m young enough in my retirement that I want to stay current.

Not a member of NSTA? Learn more about how to join.

Jennifer Henderson is our guest blogger for this series. Before launching her freelance career as a writer/editor, Jennifer was Managing Editor of The Science Teacher, NSTA’s peer-reviewed journal for high school science teachers.

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Do children in your program have direct access to nature?

Puffy clouds over a green landscape.Being outside under the sky is different from being inside under a roof. The experiences that can happen in either place are not necessarily better than the other place, but they are different. We know that children can learn about distant places and the living organisms in those places by using non-fiction books and videos, including television programs. I would not trade the week of my father’s bedtime hour read-alouds of The Borrowers Afield (Mary Norton 1955) for a week spent camping. I would not trade even one day spent in bed reading Charlotte’s Web (E.B. White 1952) for one day on a farm. But since I grew up in a house at the edge of “The Valley” of a small creek, I didn’t have to make those choices—I had both experiences of learning from books and learning through experiences in nature. I think all children should have outdoor experiences in natural settings in "NSTA Recommends" logoaddition to looking at fiction and non-fiction books (or reading or having them read aloud) that are engaging, have rich vocabulary and accurately present the topic. The National Science Teachers Association “NSTA Recommends” is a good source of non-fiction book titles that are accurate and engaging.

Cover of the Eric Carle book, The Very Hungry CaterpillarUsing teaching about the life cycle of an organism as an example, teachers can use the many fiction and non-fiction books, ideas for craft projects, and series cards to illustrate the life cycle of a butterfly. We can read The Very Hungry Caterpillar (Eric Carle 1969), have children paint and cut and glue to illustrate the egg-larvae- pupa-to-adult-egg lifecycle, and ask them to show us which life stage card comes first. These activities do not provide the same “ah-ha” moments as actually observing living butterflies. Details such as the roundness of a butterfly’s eye, or the two-part wings pop out when seen firsthand. When a school plants some plant sources for nectar for adult butterflies and “nice green leaves” for caterpillars, children can observe a butterfly drinking nectar from a flower, or find an egg or caterpillar on a leaf. They can make first hand observations, gathering evidence for understanding Child holds caterpillar with guidance from a docent.that animals depend on plants for food. When children observe an adult butterfly emerging from a chrysalis, they are gathering evidence from their own observations for understanding that a butterfly changes form during its life cycle. When teachers ask children for the evidence for their understanding, they will have first hand experiences and observations to relate. Early childhood educators in all programs can support children’s understanding of their observations by voicing their own thoughts aloud while making observations, and by supporting discussion and productive arguments about the meaning of those observations.

Weekly walking fieldtrips around the block expose children in built-up areas to a larger slice of nature than what they experience in the schoolyard. Can you go a bit farther once a season, to a near-by natural area? Longer walks can be great exercise and the open space found at many natural locations allow more vigorous exploration on the wider vistas. See the National Association for the Education of Young Children’s list, “Resources for Environments That Engage and Inspire Young Learners,” to find articles and other print sources for learning how others find ways to teach children in natural settings. The July 2009 Young Children article “We Need a Way to Get to the Other Side!: Exploring the Possibilities for Learning in Natural Spaces,” presents many reasons for outdoor exploration and some tips on how to implement it. The authors’ ability to work with small groups of five children is a strength of their program. If your program can not accommodate such groupings, consider other ways to bring children in contact with nature. Authors of the Young Children article, Carolyn Galizio, Julia Stoll, and Pamela Hutchins, reported that the outdoor play supported positive changes in children’s behavior and learning. They also said, “The freedom children experience in a natural environment heightens their feelings of joy, passion, fun, peace, excitement, wonder, and fear. These feelings make times spent outdoors in these spaces valuable for children and adults. As teachers this is foremost in our minds.”

The HighScope Curriculum Newsletter, Extensions (v25 no. 2), addresses nature education in preschool with tips for teachers, resources and support for inclusion of all children.

Cucumber flower
I’ve noticed that children find a way to engage with natural materials wherever they are. On one playground with just one tiny garden corner, children eagerly point out the bee in the cucumber flower and the struggling pumpkin vine. They dig in the wood mulch to create pits and scoop it up to move and mound it up. TheChildren look for ants on a tree trunk.y still use the “climbing structure” with steps, platform and ladder but not for as long as they engage w
ith the mulch. What natural materials can you add to playscapes made of only human-created materials? Tubs of water, a large pot for a few plants, and a box of sand come to mind. Going out the gate to view a neighboring tree and the ants that crawl on it, or walking to a nearby more-or-less natural area to run through the grass or investigate the ant
hills in the dirt will expand children’s world just a little more.


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