Feds Issue New Rules to Improve Teacher Preparation Programs



On Oct. 12 the U.S Department of Education released final rules that will require states to establish an accountability system for their teacher preparation programs that includes how graduates perform as teachers based on their students’ academic success. Low performing programs that don’t measure up will risk the loss of federal TEACH grants.

The final regulations are designed “to provide transparency around the effectiveness of all preparation programs” (traditional, alternative routes, and distance) and will require states to report annually – at the program level – on the following measures:

    • Placement and retention rates of graduates in their first three years of teaching, including placement and retention in high-need schools;
    • Feedback from graduates and their employers on the effectiveness of program preparation;
    • Student learning outcomes measured by novice teachers’ student growth, teacher evaluation results, and/or another state-determined measure that is relevant to students’ outcomes, including academic performance, and meaningfully differentiates amongst teachers; and
    • Other program characteristics, including assurances that the program has specialized accreditation or graduates candidates with content and pedagogical knowledge, and quality clinical preparation, who have met rigorous exit requirements.

States have the flexibility to report on additional measures, and how to weigh all outcome measures, but must use at least three levels of performance indicators (effective, at-risk, and low-performing).

States (and stakeholders) must design their reporting system in 2016-17 academic year. They may choose to use 2017-18 as a pilot year and the system must be fully implemented in 2018-19. The first year for which any program might lose TEACH grant eligibility will be 2021-2022.

They must engage with stakeholders to develop and/or improve their teacher preparation systems to identify effective and low-performing programs and provide technical assistance to any program rated as low-performing.

The new regulations—which took about five years start to finish –largely reflect the administration’s original proposal from 2014. These regulations, especially language that ties preparation programs to student learning outcomes, faced (and continues to face) huge opposition from many groups.  (In their press release, the Department flagged a “notable” change in the final rule was providing states with “increased flexibility in how they measure student learning outcomes and weigh various components of their systems, specifically by allowing states to determine their own student learning outcome measures that are relevant, but not necessarily directly tied, to student achievement or educator evaluation results.”)

In a statement American Association for Colleges of Teacher Education President Sharon Robinson says “ At first glance, it appears that the voices of the profession may have been heard, as the new rule includes some adjustments that reflect concerns raised during the public comment periods. While the main oversight structure remains in place as described in the initial notice of proposed rulemaking, the final rule gives states more leeway in determining some aspects of the accountability system. Therefore, as it is with the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, the advocacy of AACTE members at the state level remains critical.”

The American Association of State Colleges and Universities statement notes “AASCU has long opposed a federally mandated state-rating structure for programmatic offerings of colleges and universities.  It sets a dangerous precedent for political intervention in academic policy. We are disappointed that the Department did not delay the regulations that address teacher education. We urged them to wait until after Congress, state colleges and universities, and other key stakeholders could work together, through the reauthorization process of the Higher Education Act (HEA), to address the underlying policies and practices around preparing America’s teachers.  Additionally we disagree with the department’s view that the regulation will have only a minimal affect on costs for our institutions.”

The rules were roundly condemned by union leaders:  American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said it was “ludicrous to propose evaluating teacher preparation programs based on the performance of the students taught by a program’s graduates . . . Instead of designing a system to support and improve teacher prep programs, the regulations build on the now-rejected high-stakes testing system established under NCLB and greatly expanded under this administration’s Race to the Top and waiver programs. It’s stunning that the department would evaluate teaching colleges based on the academic performance of the students of their graduates when ESSA—enacted by large bipartisan majorities in both the House and Senate last December—prohibited the department from requiring school districts to do that kind of teacher evaluation.” 

National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García says the regulations “takes us back to the failed No Child Left Behind days . . . Using P-12 student test data to measure the quality of teacher preparation ignores whether new teachers are more likely to work in schools with limited resources for textbooks, technology, engaging learning experiences such as connections to community projects. It ignores potentially crucial differences between the quality of mentoring available in one school but not in another, class sizes and class loads beginning teachers may encounter, and the availability of supplemental services to ensure that each student can come to class ready to learn.”

Congressional leaders were equally displeased with the final rules. House Education and Workforce Chairman John Kline said in a statement “While more needs to be done to ensure teachers are prepared for the classroom, the department is taking a one-size-fits-all approach that will lead to unintended consequences. It will be impossible to effectively implement this vast regulatory scheme, and it may lead to fewer teachers serving some our nation’s most vulnerable children. And to add insult to injury, this new rule does not reflect the bipartisan consensus that was reached in our recent efforts to improve K-12 education. This is an issue policymakers should discuss and resolve through broader reforms of the Higher Education Act, not through the unilateral actions of the Department of Education.

Senate education committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) noted “Today’s regulation appears to violate the Higher Education Act, which specifically says that states—not bureaucrats at a distant department in Washington—are responsible for evaluating whether a college’s program gives teachers the skills they need for the classroom. The regulation also effectively mandates teacher evaluations and forces states to focus on students’ test scores in a way that Congress explicitly rejected just months ago when we fixed No Child Left Behind and its unworkable National School Board approach.” 

Several education reform groups, including Education Reform Now, Chiefs for Change, National Center for Teacher Quality support and praised the Department of Education for the new rules.

The regs can be found here.

The press release from the Department of Education can be found here

Read the letter from the Association for Science Teacher Education on the proposed regulations

Check out this article from Ed Week:  Final U.S. Teacher-Prep Regs Allow Flexibility on Student-Outcome Measures and Inside Higher Ed:  New Accountability for Teacher Prep

 Having a Seat at the Table with ESSA Implementation

ASCD and the National Education Association are jointly hosting a webinar on how educators and key stakeholder groups can get involved in the ESSA implementation process. Hear state and local education leaders talk about their experiences and lessons learned so that you can advocate effectively for the best ESSA-related policies to support schools and students. The webinar will be held 7:30 pm eastern time, Monday, October 17, 2016. Learn more and register to attend here.

New STEM Playbook for State Policymakers

The Education Commission of the States Promising Practices: A State Policymaker’s STEM Playbook, highlights the Utah STEM Action Center, the road to the successful legislation tthat created the center, and the three essential elements to the STEM practices in Utah–coordination, resources, and the evaluation of funded programs. Read more.

Jodi Peterson is Assistant Executive Director of Legislative Affairs for the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and Chair of the STEM Education Coalition. e-mail Peterson at jpeterson@nsta.org; follow her on Twitter at @stemedadvocate.

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Ideas and inspiration from NSTA’s October K-12 journals

The Four Strands of Science Learning and the Next Generation Science Standards from Science Scope is an informative article for teachers of any grade level.

Science Scope – Earth Science Activities

According to the editor, “Today’s students will become adults tasked with making decisions about environmental issues that will require a solid understanding of the Earth sciences.” And the Earth sciences are so interesting, too! If I were designing curriculum, Earth science would be the capstone course, integrating concepts from physics, chemistry, and the life sciences.

Articles that describe lessons include a helpful sidebar documenting the big idea, essential pre-knowledge, time, and cost.

For more on the content that provides a context for these projects and strategies see the SciLinks topics Clouds, Earthquakes, Eclipses, Layers of the Earth, Minerals and Rocks, Moon Phases, Natural Hazards and Disasters, Stratigraphy, Water Cycle.

Continue reading …

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Using the Go!Temp Probe


The Go!Temp probe, made and sold by “Vernier Software and Technology,” collects real-time temperate data, making it applicable in a number of different fields, e.g., biology, chemistry, physics, earth science , etc.

The Go!Temp is easily compatible with a computer flash drive without the need for an interface. Before connecting the Go!Temp to the computer, download either “Logger Lite” or “Logger Pro” from the Vernier website (link below). Logger Lite is available for free download. Logger Pro has more capabilities, including the use of XY graphs, log graphs, or manual data entry, but will cost $249. Once either Logger Lite or Logger Pro is downloaded and the Go!Temp is connected to the computer, the computer will automatically detect the Go!Temp and it is ready for use.

Logger Lite: http://www.vernier.com/products/software/logger-lite/

Logger Pro: http://www.vernier.com/products/software/lp/

To use the Go!Temp, hold the device by the plastic end and place the metal portion where you would like it to take the temperature measurement. Simply press the green “Collect” button at the top of the screen to begin data collection. Once the data is collected, you will be able to examine the data in a number of ways to meet your research goals.

Here is a video of the device being used:

Calculate statistics and speculate

Logger Lite has a built-in statistics calculator. Under analyze, if you select Statistics, students will have the mean and median temperature, as well as the minimum and maximum temperatures. Therefore, students can analyze the range of temperatures over time and can ask a variety of questions:

  • When was there less variation in the reading? What reason(s) can you suggest for steadier readings at this time?
  • When did the low and high temperatures occur? What factors contributed to these readings?
  • From differences you see in the temperature readings during the day, what can you infer about the amount of sunlight on the thermometer? Provide observations and reasonings to support your inferences.
  • Does the temperature in different places affect the duration of temperature change? If so, how does it?



The possibilities for experimental applications in the science classroom are endless. Students will be able to conduct a wide variety of experiments, such as investigating the thermal reaction between baking soda and vinegar in the chemistry classroom, monitor the energy given off by food as it burns during an experiment in the biology classroom, or to test Thermodynamics in the physics classroom. Clearly, the Go!Temp Thermometer is relevant in a number of different fields of study and can be used with elementary and high school students.



Having students collect temperature data through technology-based inquiry is commensurate with tenets of the National Science Standards. Undoubtedly, using the Go!Temp Probe can help teachers show students how to use the latest technology in an inquiry setting to gather data. In addition, the interactive graphs that can be generated by Logger Lite software help students interpret the results of their experiments and can be used to create professional laboratory reports.

 Go!Temp Cost: $39

User Manual: http://www.vernier.com/files/manuals/go-temp.pdf

Edwin P. Christmann is a professor and chairman of the secondary education department and graduate coordinator of the mathematics and science teaching program at Slippery Rock University in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania. Anthony Balos is a graduate student and a research assistant in the secondary education program at Slippery Rock University in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania.

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The NSTA (UN)conference: Coming This Fall

text-based header giving the definition of an unconference

Leave the lecture hall behind and join us for NSTA’s first un-conference experience, taking place in Minneapolis this October 27-29, and Portland, November 10-12!

What should you expect at this un-conference?

Taking place during the first two NSTA fall conferences on science education, this will give you the opportunity to continue the conversation, not the lecture. Many of our attendees have asked us to find a way to bring together people for engaging “offline” conversations. When something special bubbles up at the conference, or if there is a groundswell of people asking about a certain topic, we’ll make time for conversation and real-time reflection. Participants will be afforded an opportunity to present their findings from the conference while connecting with other science education enthusiasts.

Who will be invited to attend?

Anyone who attends the conference is invited, and we’ll use social media to connect with teachers who long to be part of NSTA conferences but are unable to travel. We’ll bring together conference attendees, favorite presenters, teams involved in the Maker Movement, community partners, science teacher superheros, your favorite authors, and perhaps a few STEM stars.

What is the expectation during your “Un-Conference Experience”?

The atmosphere will be relaxed, open, friendly, and fun. This will ensure that all participants, especially those joining for the first time, will feel welcome and respected. Learning will be spontaneous and inviting, providing you with information and, who knows, maybe a new comrade in education.  

Where and when will it be?

The first two will be in the exhibit hall, onsite at NSTA’s Minneapolis Conference, October 27-29, and the Portland Conference, November 10-12. We’ll bring updates to you live, via NSTA’s Twitter feed and Facebook page.

How can I suggest topics?

Add your ideas to the comments here, or tweet your ideas with the #NSTA16 hashtag. We’ll be monitoring the hashtag and encourage you to join us in this new venture.

Dedric McGheeWho is the host?

This is being supported by the NSTA staff and leadership, and I am the host. Please feel free to reach out to me via Twitter as well, and follow me at @DedricMcghee.

—Dedric McGhee, STEM Manager, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Shelby County Schools

2016 Area Conferences

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Two New NSTA Kids Books Highlight Importance of Observation

Two new children’s books published by NSTA Kids, a division of NSTA Press, are filled with rich illustrations and highlight the importance of discovery, observation, and investigation.

flowertofruitIn From Flower to Fruit, young scientists are encouraged to use a magnifying glass to study plants in a garden. The book, intended for grades K–4, takes readers on a colorful journey that teaches them about flowers, fruits, and bees, and how plants have special parts that help them reproduce.   

The authors, Richard Konicek-Moran and Kathleen Konicek-Moran, write that flowers can provide “great teaching and learning opportunities for all ages,” and that botany is underrated as a topic for investigation because it is often considered a categorizing science. “We hope this book will introduce the discovery and wonder of botany,” the authors write.

In addition to the story, the authors include six activities for children and informative background information for parents and teachers. The book comes alive with beautiful and helpful drawings, illustrated by coauthor Kathleen Konicek-Moran. These detailed illustrations reinforce the role observation plays in science. “When you draw something, you look very closely at it and see things you might have missed if you were not drawing it,” Mrs. Maria—one of the story’s characters—says in the book.

notablenotebooksSketching, writing, and recording data and observations is also a major theme of the other new NSTA Kids book—Notable Notebooks: Scientists and Their Writings. The author, Jessica Fries-Gaither, captures why journaling is such an important part of the scientific process.

The book, written in rhyme for grades 3–5, profiles a diverse group of nine scientists (both modern day and past) and provides examples of their writings and illustrations. Dr. Jane Goodall is shown studying drawings of chimps in her notebook, Galileo’s diagram of planetary orbits is featured, and a section on Charles Henry Turner displays how his notes uncovered patterns in insect behavior. “A notebook is a place to plan experiments or tests and also to see patterns in what data could suggest,” the author writes.

Notable Notebooks includes four steps to help students create their own science notebooks. The steps encourage students to write down their findings and wonderings and share their work with family, friends, or teachers at school. “What makes a notebook special? It’s a place to think and dream, to write down thoughts and questions about all that you have seen,” Fries-Gaither writes.

Fall for These Savings on NSTA Press Books!

Between now and November 1, 2016, save $15 off your order of $75 or more of NSTA Press books or e-books by entering promo code BKS16 at checkout in the online Science Store. Offer valid only on orders placed of NSTA Press books or e-books on the web and may not be combined with any other offer.

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Weather watching

NASA GOES photo of Hurricane Matthew 2016

This visible image on Oct. 6 at 1:00 p.m. EDT from NOAA’s GOES-East satellite shows Hurricane Matthew as it regained Category 4 Hurricane Status.
Credits: NASA/NOAA GOES Project

As Hurricane Matthew traveled across the Caribbean and into the Atlantic, I think of how children who live in its path and those at a distance will make sense of the force of this extreme weather event. Science education can sometimes mean talking about scary or tragic events. Be sensitive to fears and stress by asking families about children’s previous experiences with natural disasters such as the flooding in Louisiana and West Virginia this past summer.

Even with relatively minor flooding events, children have questions such as, “What happens when water goes or stays where we don’t want it?” When localized flooding due to a plugged county drain affected just their building, children in the Frog Pond Early Learning Center in Fairfax County, Virginia, wanted to understand the process and talk about how to prevent it. Gail Dickert, Executive Director of the non-profit, said that the flooding led to stronger relationships with and between families. For the five weeks of cleanup after the county line backed up and poured sewage into their building, the school helped some families make other arrangements and created a combined age classroom for children 18 months to 5 years old for others. The children missed being with their usual friends but were curious about “how and why.” They were interested in finding solutions because they were displaced from their usual routines.

Resources for adults to help young children cope with violence and tragedies include The Fred Rogers Company article about tragic events. Mr. Rogers said, “In times of crisis, children want to know, ‘Who will take care of me?’…They also need to hear that people in the government and other grownups they don’t even know are working hard to keep them safe, too.” “Other grownups” includes teachers!

Cover photo of October 2016 journal, Science and ChildrenResources for understanding weather events of all kinds includes the October issue of Science and Children  with “Storm Warning,” a free feature article by Tammy Lee, Meredith Kier, and Kelsey Phillips, and these additional resources:

“Science Shorts: Weather Watchers,” in the April 2011 Science and Children by Sami Kahn. 

The CoCoRaHS School Pilot Program for collecting data, a project of the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network. 

Hurricanes! by Gail Gibbons. 2009. Holiday House. 

Hurricanes by Seymore Simon. 2007. HarperCollins.

Ready, Set…WAIT! by Patti R. Zelch, Illustrated by Connie McLennan. 2009. Arbordale.


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Partnering With Utilities for Hands-On STEM

measuring water turbidity

Granada High School’s Interact Club students work with David Lunn of Friends of the Arroyo to measure water turbidity during the Tri-Valley Creeks to Bay Clean-up event. Photo by William Rasor.

Utility companies, hoping to inspire the next generation of employees, meet community outreach and other obligations, or both, are teaming up with educators to create innovative, hands-on learning opportunities.
Keri Randolph, director of innovation for Hamilton County Schools in Tennessee, has worked with two utility companies—the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and the local electric power board (EPB)—to expand science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) offerings for Hamilton County students. TVA’s Partners in Education program supports initiatives including robotics and energy-focused supports, such as donating solar arrays and other equipment.

Her work with the EPB grew out of a casual conversation with an EPB employee about the challenge of marketing a community solar energy program. That led to a meeting with EPB and K–12 teachers from six Hamilton County schools who brainstormed project- based learning ideas based on the program. Randolph reports that each grade level took a different approach, and in the end, “the kids had a whole package of solutions they presented to EPB.” They included public service announcements created by kindergarten students and a solar power education kiosk designed by high school students.

“EPB has said they will take some ideas and implement them,” she notes. “This has opened up more opportunities for us to partner [with EPB]… At our STEM high school, students do quarterly [projects. When EPB was designing] a new power grid in a new neighborhood, our kids came up with their own plan… that would reduce the number of transformers [needed] and save [EPB] money.”

She says teachers have reported higher student engagement and are requesting more opportunities to partner with utilities and other companies, despite the extra planning time required. “It’s a win-win on both sides,” Randolph notes. “The project-based learning work…came out from casual conversation. I do that a lot more. I ask people if they’ve had kids work on problems; they are pleasantly surprised with the results [when they do].”

The Center for Mathematics, Science, and Technology at Illinois State University (CeMaST) is in its third year of support from the Illinois Science and Energy Innovation Foundation, funded primarily by Illinois power companies to provide K–12 energy education.

“They were probably thinking three-ring binders and PowerPoint slides. We don’t do that,” declares Brad Christensen, CeMaST STEM specialist. Instead, they created a series of rooms—kitchen/dining room, utility room/garage, and bedroom/ bathroom—contained in boxes that can be set up inside a school. In the kitchen, for example, students find all the appliances they would see in a typical kitchen, including a blender, toaster, stove, and refrigerator.

“Students plug things in to see the energy use and calculate the bill. Then they trade the standard [electricity] meter for a smart meter, and get real-time rate adjustments. They get to see what’s most cost-effective, such as using the clothes dryer or oven at off-peak times. We have basically three of every appliance. Every appliance has an Energy Guide tag identifying its energy use as either a low-, middle-, or high-efficiency appliance. Students plug in different appliances with different tags, and see different usages,” says Christensen.

The program has expanded to include a construction set that challenges students to build a working power grid. The curriculum guides them through its construction just as the power grid itself evolved from a “chronological/ historical perspective…Students connect various power plants, transformers, transmission and distribution lines, and meters to form a grid line. They can then combine grid lines to form a complex grid very similar to what we have today, including coal-fired plants, natural gas, renewable [hydroelectric] energy, nuclear, and most lately, a resurgence in wind and solar power,” he explains.

Teachers “download curriculum [from http://cemast.illinoisstate.edu]. All of our curricula are written in a learning cycle format, so [they’re] student-led… The students get the lesson plan and get started doing something immediately… This has really turned out to be good for all of us. Students really understand electrical power, the grid, and how the Smart Grid works,” Christensen asserts.

“The curriculum is not aligned to NGSS [Next Generation Science Standards] or Common Core, but the teachers do [align with them],” he adds, noting the learning cycle “approach aligns with the philosophy of NGSS. I hope we’re having some impact on pedagogy through their use of the learning cycle format.”

When Laura Spence, K–12 STEM specialist for Pinellas County (Florida) Schools, took over the district’s after-school STEM academies, she realized there wasn’t enough funding for all the district schools. She looked at current district partners and ways to expand their collaborations. “I didn’t want to just ask a business partner for money… I felt it was much more important for them to become a vested partner on many different levels,” she recalls. The investment options included sponsoring STEM Family Nights and “teacher learning journeys” at company sites.

STEM Family Night events are opportunities for STEM Academy students and their families to work on engineering projects, now with the assistance from Duke Energy (DE) employees. “The employees work side by side with families and teachers on the engineering design projects, discussing [their role in the community and] their career path,…providing STEM expertise to families [on the project] while also sharing their long-term community goals with the Pinellas County School STEM Academies,” Spence adds. DE also sponsors STEM Learning Journey professional development for STEM Academy teachers and participates in an annual STEM Expo.

“We started four years ago with 56 STEM academies. This year, we have 250 after-school STEM academies,” Spence says. “Having half funded by the district and half funded by [DE], it’s a win-win for our students to have as many STEM opportunities as possible.”

In California, Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District STEM Coordinator Regina Brinker has partnered with the City of Livermore’s Water Resource Division (WRD) to clean trash from local waterways and monitor water quality around the area. On the third Saturday of September, students and their families can join the Tri-Valley Creeks to Bay Clean-up, part of the Adopt a Creek Spot program and Coastal Cleanup Day. WRD selects the cleanup sites, and employees share maps of the local watershed. WRD also provides water-quality test kits.

“We clean up [and quantify] trash… Adding the education component… has impacted students and adults there,” Brinker says. “It brings an element of place-based learning…By working at the creek near our schoolyard, there is higher student engagement.”

Adopt a Creek Spot helps WRD meet permit requirements from the Regional Water Quality Control Board, according to Lynna Allen, WRD water resources coordinator. In addition, the clean-up event is “getting more people involved and raises awareness,” she says. Allen, with partners at the Livermore Area Recreation and Parks Department, Zone 7 Water Agency, and Friends of the Arroyos, also has worked with Brinker and other Livermore teachers to develop K–12 curricula focused on the watershed.

Livermore teachers borrow the water- testing kits from WRD throughout the year to use with their students. “People use test kits as part of World Water Monitoring Day. Kids can look at data worldwide. It fits nicely with NGSS; we look at local data and how does that compare internationally,” Brinker asserts.

Analyzing Utility Data

Data analysis is central to many educator- utility collaborations. In Princeton, New Jersey, Sustainable New Jersey provided a grant to make energy usage data from the elementary, middle, and high schools available to students. The data is streamed online so students can compare power usage among the schools and monitor the impact of any changes, such as replacing windows with more energy-efficient models. In addition, the schools have worked with the Princeton University power plant on projects ranging from energy audits to field trips to the plant. According to Edward Cohen, supervisor of science preK–12 for Princeton Public Schools, “When doing an energy audit, the idea is to have kids present to the facilities committee on ways to reduce costs… Kids are seeing the data and asking questions about the data…Kids are using data to construct explanations and [find ways to] reduce energy usage.”
However, schools don’t need a local utility company willing to share data. The Solar4RSchools program is “leveraging utility-scale systems” to provide real-time, real-world data for students to analyze, according to Program Director Chaun MacQueen.

“More than 50% of utility [employees] will be retiring by [the time this year’s freshman classes] graduate,” says Parker Mullins, who works with MacQueen as program manager for energy education at the Bonneville Environmental Foundation in Portland, Oregon. “We need more students who know programming and software development, as well as engineering, science, finance, and marketing.”

Educators can access solar energy data from schools across the country at www.solar4rschools.org. MacQueen notes, “Teachers and students can look up projects around the country and [track and] graph the data…There’s so much opportunity [in this field, but there’s] also inequity of access to that opportunity. We’re working with teachers and school districts to expand access.”

Solar4RSchools offers online instructions for its use, an online educator library with “classroom- and teacher-tested lesson plans,” and professional development opportunities.

This article originally appeared in the October 2016 issue of NSTA Reports, the member newspaper of the National Science Teachers Association. Each month, NSTA members receive NSTA Reports, featuring news on science education, the association, and more. Not a member? Learn how NSTA can help you become the best science teacher you can be.

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

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Figure-it-out time

I get frustrated when I give directions for an activity and students immediately have questions about what to do. How can I help them become more confident and self-sufficient?  —C., Michigan

Students have us trained! We offer directions or suggestions, and students know we’ll go over them again (and again). Some students panic right away if they are confused about something. Others are perfectionists, afraid to make a mistake, and want constant reinforcement (and some aren’t paying attention).

My students did a lot of projects and I would work with students individually. When other hands went up, I would acknowledge the questioner with a “wait-a-minute” gesture, indicating that I would be with him or her shortly. Once I reached the student, I often heard “Never mind; I figured it out.”

I was intrigued. Wait time was a staple in my classroom discussions, and I wondered if students benefitted from comparable “figure-it-out” time during investigations or activities.

In my action research, I asked the students about their original problem and how they solved it. Their strategies included I asked a friend, I re-read the directions, I thought about it, I tried something to see how it worked, I looked at the rubric. A high-five or thumbs-up from me reinforced these strategies, and we modeled them in class.

We rush to help students in our desire for them to be successful (and obviously we must respond immediately if a student is engaging in unsafe or disruptive behaviors). But sometimes, students just need time to figure out a solution themselves.

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Editor’s Corner: Science and the Arts

“The greatest scientists are always artists
as well.” —Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein at 25.

Albert Einstein at 25.

Einstein played the violin and piano, Richard Feynman the bongos. Max Planck composed songs and operas and played piano, organ, and cello. Neuroscientist Santiago Ramón y Cajal was a renowned illustrator, draftsman, and photographer. American chemist Roald Hoffmann is a published poet and playwright. These Nobel Prize winners are not isolated examples: It turns out that Nobel laureates in the sciences are 17 times likelier than the average scientist to be a painter, 12 times more likely to be a poet, and four times more likely to be a musician (Pomeroy 2012).

This should not be surprising, since science and the arts (the theme of our October 2016 issue) both spring from the same deep well of human creativity and imagination. Renaissance artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Albrecht Durer were also scientists, and the field journals and drawings of Charles Darwin and James Audubon added much to our scientific understanding of nature.

Mae Jemison—doctor, dancer, and first African-American woman in space—observes that “The arts and sciences are avatars of human creativity” (2002). The Next Generation Science Standards recognize that “Scientific knowledge is a result of human endeavor, imagination, and creativity” (NGSS Appendix H, p. 6).

The overlap of science and art can provide rich learning experiences for students. Both science and art help develop careful habits of observation, and both engage students with crosscutting concepts like patterns, scale, and proportion. Science teachers appreciate the value of artwork and creativity every time they assign a poster project, design challenge, or creative writing assignment.

Perhaps best of all, including the creative arts in science instruction can help dislodge the common misconception that science is simply a dry, tedious accumulation of facts about the world instead of the imaginative, collaborative enterprise that the history of science shows it to be. I’m in awe of the imagination required for Ernest Rutherford to propose the atomic nucleus, James Watson and Francis Crick to visualize the DNA molecule, and Einstein to develop the general theory of relativity, and for the countless other examples of scientific creativity.

Coupled with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, art and design will drive innovation in the 21st century. Our goal should be to foster the creativity essential to both scientific and artistic ways of thinking.

Steve Metz is the Field Editor of The Science Teacher.

Jemison, M. 2002. Teach arts and sciences together. TED2002.

NGSS Lead States. 2013. Next Generation Science Standards: For states, by states. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

Pomeroy, S. 2012. From STEM to STEAM: Science and art go hand-in-hand. Scientific American blog network.

Editor’s Note

This article was originally published in the October 2016 issue of The Science Teacher journal from the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA).

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Bringing Japan Into My Chicago Classroom

TOMODACHI participant

On July 30th, eight high school students and four teachers from the United States traveled to Tokyo to participate in the third annual TOMODACHI Toshiba Science and Leadership Academy. The goal of our trip was to work with Japanese students and teachers on two science and engineering projects that I will also be implementing in my classroom this year. The first project was to build a marble elevator using the engineering and design process and the second project was to use science and technology ideas to improve a real-life community by making it smarter and more disaster-resilient. At the closing ceremonies each group presented their suggestions for one of the following communities: Jakarta, Beijing, Lesbos, or Kuchineorabu-jima.

To help research the community design, our group visited the Toshiba Science Museum to learn more about smart community design and the Tokyo Skytree tower where we learned about earthquake resistant architecture. Taichi Furuhashi from Crisis Mappers Japan brought his drone and spoke with our group about disaster mapping. Students also had the chance to practice 3D mapping by collecting data about the building around the center where we were staying and updating online maps. We also visited the Life Safety Learning Center, a hands-on disaster readiness and prevention facility.

The Tomodachi Initiative was born out of support for Japan’s recovery from the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011 and walking around Tokyo made it very clear how disaster conscious the city and Japanese people are in the wake of the earthquake. On the sides of construction sites in Harajuku I saw signs in Japanese and English reading “Are you sure and safe? Don’t let earthquakes turn over, knock down, or move the furniture” and markers in subway entrances told you how many meters above sea level you are so you can find higher ground in the event of a tidal wave. Nowhere was this focus on disaster prevention more evident than in the Life Safety Learning Center.


In the center we practiced putting out a fire on a screen using water-filled extinguishers and escaped from a series smoke-filled rooms by staying low to the ground. We also experienced typhoon force winds in a simulator. Unfortunately due to a drought were were not able to don the waterproof boots and jackets and experience the “rain” along with the wind. Just before leaving we took turns experiencing what it feels like to be in a magnitude 7 earthquake on the center’s earthquake simulator, complete with falling foam furniture.

We also watched an informational cartoon about three Japanese children discussing how the next big earthquake could occur at any time. Then, the children magically travel back in time to visit three different earthquake events, one being the Great East Japan Earthquake. With each visit the children learn valuable lessons about being prepared and cooperation during a disaster. The video ends with the children back in their classrooms presenting to their classmates about the importance of being prepared when an earthquake strikes. This is foreshadowed by the students discussing in a previous scene about how the next big earthquake could occur at any time.

I was shocked by how disaster conscious the Japanese culture was. In Chicago we have our students complete a tornado drill every school year, but I could never imagine a disaster learning center in the city nor signs on buildings reminding residents to be prepared for flooding even though it is becoming more and more common in the city. In general, I think in our country we have a tendency to shelter our students and children from the existence of natural disasters rather than prepare them for their inevitable occurrence.

Over the past year our country has been ravaged by massive flooding, record-setting blizzards, and drought-fueled fires, and unfortunately events like these will become more common as the affects of climate change continue to unfold. As science educators, we are in the unique position to discuss these events with our students and challenge them to design new ways to raise awareness and protect against natural disasters.


Inspired by my trip, this year I will be challenging my senior-level environmental science students with the same community redesign challenge that the students completed as part of the Tomodachi Toshiba Science and Leadership Academy. We need to provide our students with more opportunities to solve real-life problems that affect individuals from a local to global level. Not only do these opportunities hook and engage students in the science and engineering practices, but they also open students up to future college and career pathways that they might not have been exposed to otherwise.

NSTA guest blogger Michael Kosko is the Science Chair and Career and Technical Education (CTE) Coordinator at Al Raby School for Community and Environment in Chicago, IL. Kosko teaches environmental science and a STEM design course and runs the school’s hydroponic grow lab and new makerspace. Follow him on Twitter @MrKosko.

For more photos from this year’s TOMODACHI Toshiba Science & Technology Leadership Academy please click here.

The mission of NSTA is to promote excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all. Learn more about the Next Generation Science Standards at theNGSS@NSTA Hub.

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