Three Ways To Be An NSTA Volunteer


MMYM_30minMany educators use summer break to reevaluate career goals. Volunteering is often considered a valuable asset on a resume or CV for almost any profession, including educators. Professionals of any age can develop new skills, expand professional networks, and open doors to opportunities for career growth through volunteering.

Get involved in shaping the future of NSTA by participating in one of the following three options: standing committees, advisory boards, or award review panels. With more than 30 different topics, you are sure to find an opportunity to spark your interest. Take some time to review your options before online applications go live on September 1.

Standing Committees

Standing Committee volunteers review NSTA policies, programs, and activities on an annual basis. Although there are 14 different committee topics, these committees are further broken into three subsets:

  • Level: Volunteers review and report on whether the organization serves the interests of educators at four levels of science teaching: preschool/elementary; middle level; high school; and college.
  • Function: Volunteers review the impact of NSTA’s work on roles outside the classroom, such as coordination and supervision; informal science; multicultural and equity issues; preservice teacher preparation; and professional development.
  • Task: Volunteers review internal and external NSTA tasks and processes behind activities such as awards and recognition; budget and finance; nominations; and organizational auditing.

Committee members work directly with members of the Board of Directors and can have a positive impact on science education at the national level.

Advisory Boards

Have you ever wanted to submit an idea for improvement to an NSTA journal, conference, or program? Do you have a great inkling for innovation in urban science or special education? Advisory Board members have the opportunity to give direct input, guidance, and advice to members of the NSTA staff and the Board of Directors.

More than 15 different Advisory Boards cover the breadth of the organization:

Publication Advisory Boards

  • Science and Children Advisory Board
  • Science Scope Advisory Board
  • The Science Teacher Advisory Board
  • Journal of College Science Teaching Advisory Board

NSTA Reports Advisory Board

Aerospace Programs Advisory Board

Conference Advisory Board

Development Advisory Board

International Advisory Board

Investment Advisory Board

John Glenn Center for Science Education Advisory Board

Retired Members Advisory Board

Science Matters Advisory Board

Science Safety Advisory Board

Special Education Advisory Board

Technology Advisory Board

Urban Science Education Advisory Board

Review Panels

Members who volunteer on Review Panels are charged with joint selection for specific NSTA programs, including the following:

  • Children’s Book Council (which selects the annual “Outstanding Science Trade Books for Children” list)
  • New Science Teachers Academy
  • Shell Science Teaching Award

Volunteers bring outside perspectives and professional experience to NSTA programs, products, and activities, so consider taking your membership beyond reading your journal or attending a conference. Volunteers are essential to the success of NSTA. Join our team of volunteers by applying this fall!

More Time?

The best volunteers love to be part of a team—and they are always looking for passionate new volunteers. Learn more about the current Board of Directors and the newest leaders selected for Standing Committees, Advisory Boards, and Review Panels. Reach out to learn more about these opportunities!

Laura Berry of Cogberry Creative is our guest blogger for this series. Laura is a communications professional for the education community.

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Count on These Science Stories to Engage Your Students

51casestudies“Our students should be able to at least reason quantitatively: to read and interpret data, graphs, and statistics. They should be astute enough to demand to see the evidence when some politician claims that a new drug cures cancer, job numbers are up, our carbon footprint is too big, the president’s budget is the highest ever, and the world is coming to an end on December 21….But if this is a worthy ideal, how do we achieve numerical nirvana?”

Authors Clyde Freeman Herreid, Nancy A. Schiller, and Ky F. Herreid make the case in Science Stories You Can Count On: 51 Case Studies with Quantitative Reasoning in Biology that introductory biology is an ideal place to start. Teaching biology using real stories with quantitative reasoning skills enmeshed in the story line is a powerful and logical way to teach the subject and to show its relevance to the lives of future citizens regardless of whether they are science specialists or laypeople. “Biology is well suited for mathematical description, from the perfect geometry of viruses, to equations that describe the flux of ions across cellular membranes, to computationally intensive models for protein folding.”

The authors also contend: All students need some mathematics. They receive the fundamentals in their K-12 education. Once they are in higher education, the kind and extent of their quantitative instruction depends on their career plans. It is especially important that all students, regardless of their major, leave school knowing what questions to ask when they see data rolled out. One way to approach this is to use active learning, such as case study teaching.

The case studies presented in the book are divided into 12 sections. Each case study presents an abstract, learning objectives, quantitative reasoning skills/concepts, the case study itself, questions, and links to a web version.

The case studies delve into topics that your students will find relevant, dealing with items and questions they face in their daily lives. Here’s a sampling from each section:

The Scientific Method

  • Cell Phone Use and Cancer
  • Is High-Fructose Corn Syrup Bad for the Apple Industry?

Chemistry of Life

The Cell

  • Wrestling With Weight Loss: The Dangers of a Weight-Loss Drug
  • Nanobacteria: Are They or Aren’t They Alive?


  • Elvis Meltdown! Microbiology Concepts of Culture, Growth, and Metabolism
  • Resistance Is Futile…or Is It? The Immunity System and HIV Infection


  • In Sickness and in Health: A Trip to the Genetic Counselor
  • The Case of Desiree’s Baby: The Genetics and Evolution of Human Skin Color

Molecular Biology

  • The Case of the Druid Dracula
  • Which Little Piggy Went to Market? Bioinformatics and Meat Science


  • As the Worm Turns: Speciation and the Maggot Fly
  • Super Bug: Antibiotics and Evolution

Plant Form and Function

  • I’m Looking Over a White-Striped Clover: A Case of Natural Selection
  • Tougher Plants: Beating Stress by Protecting Photosynthesis in Genetically Modified Plants

Animal Form and Function

  • Girl Pulled Alive From Ruins, 15 Days After Earthquake
  • The Hunger Pains: Ghrelin, Weight Loss, and Maintenance


  • Michael’s Story: A Case Study of Autism
  • A Light Lunch? A Case in Calorie Counting

Ecology and Behavior

  • The Dead Zone: Ecology and Oceanography in the Gulf of Mexico
  • Mathematics in Conservation: The Case of the Endangered Florida Panther

Biosphere and Conservation

  • Living Downstream: Atrazine and Coliform Bacteria Effects on Water Quality
  • The Effects of Coyote Removal in Texas: A Case Study in Conservation Biology

These 51 case studies are a great way to engage your students in science and mathematics. Blend 12 areas of general biology with quantitative reasoning in ways that will make your students better at evaluating product claims and news reports.

This book is also available as an e-book.

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How Can NSTA Help Me Meet the Needs of ALL Students?


Before NSTA member Kelly O’Connor became a seventh- and eighth-grade science teacher, she spent 17 years in an emergency room as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). The skills she cultivated as an EMT have transferred nicely to the middle school classroom, allowing her to provide a “real-world” perspective to the science concepts she teaches. To ensure her students fully grasp those concepts, O’Connor says she relies heavily on her NSTA membership, especially when it comes to finding ways to meet the needs of all learners.

O’Connor: I first found out about NSTA when we used the NSTA Learning Center in my Methods class as our textbook. We read so many NSTA book chapters available in the Learning Center about the nature of science, literacy, inquiry science, and how to help children construct knowledge based on novel experiences. Now that I’m in the classroom, I use what I learned in those chapters to check for understanding and to structure questions that encourage students to engage their brains and provide higher-order thinking responses.

As a member, there are a lot of amazing resources in the Learning Center if you want in-depth information about the nature of learning, styles of learning, constructivism, and how to better scaffold a lesson. For instance, I worked as a long-term sub in a district where almost half of the students were English Language Learners (ELL). I used the Learning Center to access NSTA journal articles about ways to make inquiry science more accessible to ELL students. I learned that the hands-on approach is best for students of all language abilities.

The hands-on approach was very successful in a classification unit I helped with as a student teacher. The unit was my cooperating teacher’s idea, and I looked up NSTA journal articles and sample lessons to incorporate classification activities into the unit. The students designed and built their own field guides for made-up creatures. The first thing I did was teach them about the history of classification. After students learned how to name creatures, we practiced naming a few made-up creatures. The unit took place over the course of a few weeks and culminated in students making their own field guides.

The NSTA journal articles and sample lessons I found in the Learning Center that were free due to my membership were very helpful. I also went to the NSTA Community Forums and posted, “Has anyone done this before? This is what I’m thinking of doing. What has worked for you?” I received excellent feedback from other educators.

All 150 students completed the unit and everyone completed it well. I scaled back the requirements for some learners to meet their own individual needs. For example, I had a child with a physical disability who was not capable of doing some of the work. Some students chose to illustrate their own field guides and added beautiful artwork and were very creative. The unit was a terrific way to meet the skills and abilities of all of the students and even encouraged students who didn’t feel at the time that they were good at science.

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

O’Connor: The SciPacks and SciGuides have strengthened my content knowledge. For instance, I have used the Earth, Sun, and Moon SciPack and the Atomic Structure SciPack. The SciPacks help teachers meet the needs of diverse learners because they encompass two of the three major learning styles–visual and auditory. The SciPacks are structured so that you can periodically check for your own understanding and make sure you are on the right track.

In addition, I relied heavily on the NSTA position statements (like the one on NGSS) when I was interviewing for a science teacher position. I read the position statements to make sure I was up to speed on anything that may have changed in science education in the months since I was out of school. I think that talking about my association with NSTA and preparing for the interview by reading the NSTA resources helped me get my job. I made the most of my membership, because I knew I wanted to teach science and NSTA was going to help me do that.

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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What is “rigor”?

RigorAt the end of the year, my principal mentioned—again—that he wanted Honors Biology to be the “hardest” ninth grade course. I have tried explaining and showing that my Honors students are having different, more thought-provoking assignments, in addition to going into more depth than my general Biology classes. I think he equates rigor with students doing more work. Suggestions?
—Kiley, Florida

Rigor is a “I know it when I see it” concept. It seems to be a current buzzword as the fourth R, along with reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic. I did a search on “academic rigor” and found dozens of articles, blogs, reports, and position papers using the term, but few defined it.

Having a consensus definition is the first step in determining whether a class fits the definition. (I was part of a Tweetchat on the topic, and most of the discussion was about defining what it is and what it is not.) The cover of the report Understanding and Reporting on Academic Rigor from the Hechinger Institute has a concept map around the word “rigor,” showing how complicated the concept can be. The report is a good read on t

In the paper Debunking the Myth: The Social Studies and Rigor, Barbara Slater Stern states: “… academic rigor will be defined as studies that require students and teachers to pursue knowledge and skills with enough depth and understanding to be able to apply this knowledge and these skills in their daily activities, present and future.” This definition ties into the performance expectations of the Next Generation Science Standards which incorporate disciplinary core ideas, crosscutting concepts, and science and engineering practices. Students are encouraged to think and investigate like scientists.

So it seems like you’re on the right track with the honors class, going in-depth and using challenging activities and investigations. (And there are those who would say that all students should have such experiences at their appropriate level.) But I would ask your principal what he means by “rigor” and what a “hard” course would look like to him.

Unfortunately, people use literal definitions of rigor: difficult and unpleasant conditions or experiences; being very exact, careful, strict, harsh, or inflexible. You may hear, “My course is rigorous because…

Continue reading …

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Science safety

Ken Roy, NSTA Chief Science Safety Compliance Consultant and NSTA Safety Advisory Board Contact, has some comments based on the issue of a substitute leaving a science lab unattended, a situation described in a previous blog entry:

  • In lieu of a “safety contract” as suggested, there is a need to have a safety acknowledgement form. Safety contracts have no legal basis for students under 18 to sign.  NSTA’s safety portal has a sample acknowledgement form on it developed by the NSTA Safety Advisory Board. 
  • Unless the substitute is a certified active or retired science teacher, no lab activities should take place. Under “duty of care,” the teacher and school district would be liable for any accident that took place under direction of the substitute teacher.  
  • In no way should a laboratory have students left unattended – at any time – no matter how short or for what excuse. There are major legal implications including negligence should some one get hurt without any direct adult supervision.

Ken’s columns on safety appear in NSTA journals each month and are must-reads for all science teachers (and should be shared with administrators, too.)


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Five Ways to Spend 15 Minutes with Science Scope


MMYM_15minThe middle level covers crucial learning years as students cross the bridge from their elementary foundations in science to the more advanced concepts taught in high school. NSTA’s peer-reviewed and award-winning journal, Science Scope, is a great resource for innovative and standards-based activities and educational strategies for grade 6–8 teachers, university faculty responsible for teacher preparation, and state and district science supervisors and leaders.

Here are five ways you can enhance your science education practices through Science Scope:

  1. Go digital.

NSTA is now offering digital versions of its print journals. Same great content, but now you can read Science Scope on your computer, tablet, or phone. You can also stay in touch with the journal on Facebook and through the NSTA Twitter feed. Stay up to date with the latest information and share with other educators.

  1. Engineer lessons with an NGSS and STEM focus.

Science Scope provides content aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), Common Core state standards, and STEM-related career materials. Each issue is packed with advice, examples, and resources to help new educators and seasoned teachers alike. Don’t miss the popular, long-running Everyday Engineering column for inspiration and examples.

  1. Guess the Mystery Photo

Sometimes it is more fun to start at the end and work your way forward. Each issue the staff of Science Scope picks a Mystery Photo that readers are asked to identify. Guesses can be submitted on behalf of your class or students. Those classes that correctly identify the photo will be entered into a drawing for an item of their choice from the NSTA Science Store.

  1. Curate your favorite columns

Six short columns in the journal focus on specific interests each month for secondary science educators:

  • Science Scoops is a roundup of new findings in science across the fields of earth and space science, life science, and physical science and with links to explore further.
  • Scope on Safety is written by Ken Roy, NSTA’s staff liaison to the Science Safety Advisory Board; he shares best safety practices for science educators.
  • Scope on the Skies providing background information on current topics in astronomy as well as a monthly calendar. Note that, although this column only appears in Science Scope, it’s a valuable resource in all grade levels because the Next Generation Science Standards have astronomy from K-12.
  • Tried and True presents activities and lessons that have withstood the test of time. These classic lab lessons can generate excitement with your students and develop valued lab or process skills.
  • Teacher’s Toolkit provides how-to strategies and practical advice for both the novice and veteran teacher.
  1. Dive into articles written for teachers by teachers—and submit one of your own.

Every issue of Science Scope features real-life glimpses of classrooms from around the country. Interested in successful science lessons written by science educators? Enjoy proven classroom experiences through the eyes of educational professionals who create an overview of a specific science investigation from introduction, to engagement, and through assessment.

Take it one step further by submitting your own manuscript. Science Scope is always looking for manuscripts from members. Do you have a science investigation you think other science teachers should know about? Read the guidelines and write for Science Scope!

More time?

Each issue of Science Scope provides resources tailored for the NGSS and Common Core standards.Exploring the science of sound, Earth and space sciences, and science literacy are just a few of the topics. Before you start planning, search the archives for topics tailored to your field of study or a particular standard.

Learn more about Science Scope on the NSTA website.

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

Laura Berry of Cogberry Creative is our guest blogger for this series. Laura is a communications professional for the education community.


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Science of Golf: meteorology

Living near Tampa—the so-called “lightning capital”—and having a college-golfer (and budding engineer) daughter who plays daily, I’m always a bit jittery about localized storms that pop up regularly here during the summer. With a 60% chance of t-storms this afternoon, she says she’ll keep tabs with a couple of weather apps, and as long as it’s just rain, she’ll pull on her gear and play through it (because that’s what she would have to do in a tournament).

But it’s not just lightning that golfers think about during play. Watch Science of Golf: Meteorology and Weather, which explores the development of weather conditions and events and their impact on the game. Although players can use smartphones to access weather data during a round, they aren’t allowed to actually measure conditions on the course. The United States Golf Association (USGA) recently amended the Rules of Golf to clarify how players use these devices. In fact, they included a flowchart that reflects the same kinds of flowcharts engineers use as they develop systems.

NBC Learn’s partnership with the USGA and Chevron brings you yet another application of science concepts in the world of sports. While golf may not be your or your students’ favorite, it rates highly as a lifetime sport, or one that people participate in whether they are 8 or 80. So take a look at the NSTA-developed companion lesson plans and consider taking your science to the course!

SOG: Meteorology and Weather discusses how wind, humidity, and temperature can all impact the next golf shot and examines how weather prediction is crucial for planning and safety at every golf tournament.

STEM Lesson Plan—Adaptable for Grades 7–12
SOG: Meteorology and Weather describes how students might design a golf glove for rainy play or a weather monitoring system, or explore how best to hit a golf ball in strong wind. It also provides ideas for STEM exploration plus strategies to support students in their own quest for answers.

Image of hail on a course, courtesy of Alan English CPA.

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Lemonade stands and summer activity resources

Thanks to a teacher who was moving and in a new job, I received boxes of resources from Zoobooks to CESI publications to posters that will interest children and convey concepts today as well as they did 30 years ago—sorting by an attribute and measuring will always be important in science education. Many of the posters showed families doing things together, emphasizing the role that parents and other adult family members play in children’s education.

Child and adult look at sugar grains through a magnifier.Now that the weather is hot, I see evidence of family support for science and math learning, and review, on neighborhood street corners in the form of lemonade stands. “Made from scratch” lemonade requires cutting open fruit, squeezing the juice out of all the little vesicles in the lemons, measuring water and sugar, and stirring to mix it all together. With a magnifier, children can make close observations of the structure of a lemon, looking closely at the seeds and juice-holding vesicles, and at grains of sugar. Even very young children can learn vocabulary words, “wet” and “dry,” “liquid” and “solid,” and “dissolve.” By making careful observations, children can notice that the sugar 100_0777“disappears” as they stir, and by tasting, they can find out if the sugar is “still in the pitcher.” A mini lecture on the dissolution of a solid into a liquid might not be memorable but children will remember if they can continue the exploration into which common and safe solids will dissolve into which common and safe liquids. Salt, sand, baking soda, cornstarch and flour are possibilities to pair with water, vegetable oil and apple juice (it is easier to see any undissolved solids in clear liquids). Provide measuring tools such as teaspoons, measuring cups, and timers (how long did it take the sugar to dissolve?), and a way to document the results, by drawing, dictation or photography. Adult support is also valuable to help children think about what they did. Asking open-ended questions will encourage children to wonder and say what they think is happening. “What do you see?” “Tell me about any changes you see happening.” “How much of the solid do you see in the container?” “How many minutes did it take for the sugar to dissolve?” and “Do you think the sand will dissolve by tomorrow?”

Cover of Summer 2014 journal Science and ChildrenThe July 2014 issue of Science and Children has a collection of articles on informal science experiences, including the free article, Channeling Your Inner Entomologist by Tara C. Bell and Tara A.W. McGill, and my Early Years column about inviting parents to school and making lemonade from scratch. Kids Gardening has an article about beneficial insects,  those “that behave in ways that are helpful to the crops we grow.”

Children who get to explore through programs at museums, nature centers, aquariums and parks or on family trips to the backyard or across country are exposed to science concepts in ways that go beyond what is possible in the classroom.

Where or how do you suggest children and their families extend their science learning?

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How Can I Integrate Science and Technology?


Successfully teaching technology in the classroom involves more than just having students use the tools. It involves engaging students and seamlessly incorporating technology into lesson plans. As a former technology coordinator, NSTA member Rena Roybal was tasked with integrating science into K–5 technology classes. She used NSTA resources for content support and help with developing lesson plans.

Roybal: I relied heavily on SciPacks and SciGuides, which both gave me the background I needed to develop lessons that integrated technology and the science that the different grade levels were covering. (Note from NSTA: NSTA members receive a discount on SciPacks and SciGuides.)

I studied the SciPacks so that I would have enough background to teach my students the science lessons. I could have taught purely technology classes, but I find that it’s better if I can work with the grade levels and incorporate my lessons to support what they’re covering at the time. So, I used the Coral Reef Ecosystems SciPack for my fourth-grade lesson. Once I got the science background I needed from the SciPack, I had students conduct online research and also create food webs using Microsoft PowerPoint. Students created the food webs in PowerPoint because it was easy for them to add pictures to the program.

I found the Nutrition SciPack really helpful, too, when we covered the digestive system. I also needed help with classifications, so I spent time studying the Rocks SciPack. I was developing a lesson plan for the third graders who were covering rock classifications. Because I had never taught the upper grades (previously I had taught kindergarten and second grade), the SciPack helped me because I wasn’t familiar with the curriculum and the standards for the third, fourth, and fifth graders I was teaching. For the lesson on rocks, we reviewed classification and then students created thinking maps in Microsoft Word that illustrated the types of classification.

I also used the SciPaks for professional development classes. That helped me grow as a professional and the quizzes allowed me to truly assess myself. I used the SciGuides for assistance on thematic lesson plans and web-based resources.

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

Roybal: The Community Forums in the Learning Center are very helpful. Sometimes, I just log on and browse the forums. Even if the topic is not something I’m currently working on, I find it helpful to see what other teachers are doing. Getting feedback from other teachers helps you generate classroom ideas. I also like that you can search for resources on the Learning Center based on state standards. For me, NSTA is such a wealth of resources.

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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Science of Golf: Newton 1 & 2

From 0 to 175 mph in a fraction of a second, today’s top golfers can turn a golf ball into one of the fastest projectiles in sports. Science of Golf: Newton’s First and Second Laws of Motion showcases the insights of Suzann Pettersen, a professional golfer on the LPGA Tour who turns force and motion into dollars.

Pettersen may not be thinking about Newton’s Laws of Motion while stalking her competitors on the golf course but she obviously knows that “there’s nothing that beats hitting a pure golf shot.” I dare to say that most athletes think little about the science behind the critical actions of their sport. But it can be just the thing to help your students connect what they read and experience in the classroom to real life. NBC Learn and its partners think so. The Science of Golf is the latest installment of NBC Learn’s Emmy Award-winning “Science of Sports” series. Developed in partnership with the United States Golf Association (USGA) and Chevron, the Science of Golf is available cost-free on

The companion NSTA-developed lesson plans give you a lot of ideas for how to use the videos as a centerpiece, or simply incorporate them into what you already do. Look through the lesson plans and adapt any part that is most useful to you. We all know that everyone’s situation is just a bit different, so download the Word doc and modify at will to make it your own. After you give them a try with your students, let us know what you think! Suggestions for improvements are always welcome. Just leave a comment and we’ll get in touch with you.

SOG: Newton’s First & Second Laws of Motion is about how the First and Second Laws of Motion influence what happens to the golf ball.

STEM Lesson Plan—Adaptable for Grades 7–12
SOG: Newton’s First & Second Laws of Motion guides students in exploring the interaction between mass and force or the efficiency of a more massive golf club. It also provides ideas for STEM exploration plus strategies to support students in their own quest for answers.

Image of Suzann Pettersen courtesy of Keith Allison.

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