NSTA Web Seminars Bring the Experts to You


NSTA knows not all teachers can travel, which is why our online programs bring NSTA experts and faculty directly to you. NSTA Web Seminars are free, live professional learning experiences that allow participants to interact with nationally acclaimed experts, NSTA Press authors, and scientists, engineers, and education specialists from NSTA partner organizations.

Free interactive online education is a great opportunity to enhance your understanding of content and pedagogy. Take advantage of the free online tools, including materials to strengthen your understanding of  the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

NSTA’s web seminars are hosted in the NSTA Learning Center and participants earn 100 Learning Center activity points and a certificate of participation for attending and completing the evaluation form at the end of the program.

  • Register for Upcoming Web Seminars
    With a dozen live web seminars through November and December, NSTA Learning Center is helping you schedule professional development time on your calendar. Get involved in the NGSS conversation, ask questions from presenters, and download all the free materials.
  • Interact with the presenter and participants via a chat window and interactive polls and slides.
  • Meet and network with other educators from across the country and around the world.
  • Explore the Archives
    Can’t participate live? Hundreds of seminars have been archived and are available for viewing after the live event has occurred. The archive includes  the capture of the live presentation—and it’s free to all!

Brew a cup of coffee, curl up with your laptop, and enjoy content from NASA, NOAA, NSF and so many other great partners. NSTA Web Seminars are a great way to access the treasure trove of NSTA materials.

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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Prepping for a pre-service teacher

I agreed to work with a student teacher next semester, and I’m looking forward to the experience. I teach three classes of biology and an AP class at the high school and two sections of middle school science. Should the student teacher take all of these preps, including the middle school one? In addition to classroom teaching, should the student teacher take on my other duties? What else do I need to know?

P, California

Pre-service teachers can learn a lot in their content courses, methods courses, and classroom visits, but there is no substitute for real day-to-day teaching. It’s hard to let go of your own classes and have some one else take over, especially when he or she might make mistakes. You’ll find that you’re working just as hard as you did when you did not have a student teacher, but it’s a different kind of work (and a form of professional development).

Contact the college or university student teaching office or check the student teaching handbook to find out what duties the student teacher is to assume and any other suggested or required activities. Ask questions: What are the supervisor’s expectations for phasing the student teacher into your teaching schedule? What lesson plan format will the student teacher use? What are the student teacher’s content strengths and areas of certification? Is co-teaching an option for some sections? How and by whom will the student teacher be evaluated? What are the procedures if the student teacher is not the right fit for your school or classes? It would be great if you can meet the student teacher and supervisor prior to the first day to discuss and clarify these and other expectations and requirements

With the way the job market is, it might be good for your student teacher to have a variety of experiences, including some with younger students, assuming his certifications will include this level. I was assigned to a junior high situation as a student teacher and found that I really enjoyed the younger students. (I spent 17 subsequent years in the seventh grade!) Or he can decide that they’re not for him and focus a job search on high school. Even if he does not totally take over the middle school or AP classes, it still would give him some exposure to these courses.

In the real world, many teachers have multiple preps, so it would be helpful for your student teacher to understand how to coordinate planning and class activities. Perhaps co-teaching the middle school or AP class would be a possibility. It would also be important for him to have experiences with students who have special needs and to understand the requirements and documentation associated with Individual Education Plans.

Continue reading …

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New from NSTA: Quick Reference Guides to the Next Generation Science Standards

Elementary level quick NGSS guideIn focus groups, science teachers tell NSTA staff members that time is their biggest challenge. We hear that again and again, and we listen! Many science educators are excited about the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and have begun to implement them in their schools and districts. We hear from many members of our network that, even in states where the standards have not been adopted, teachers still want to use them because of the innovative research underpinning them, and to use the practices. And they tell us they need resources that are quick and easy to access. So we are pleased to say that we have released a series of quick reference guides to the NGSS, and they’ve been edited by our in-house NGSS guru, Ted Willard!

HMiddle level quick NGSS guideere’s a link to each grade-specific version, and the description follows:

Since the release of the first draft of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), NSTA has been at the forefront in promoting the standards and helping science educators become familiar with and learn to navigate this exciting but complex document. Later, when the final version was released and states began adopting the standards, NSTA started to develop resources that would assist educators with their implementation.

High Schoollevel quick NGSS guideAlong the way, NSTA learned that even the simplest of resources, like a one-page cheat sheet, can be extremely useful. Many of those tools are collected here, including:

  • a two-page “cheat sheet” that describes the practices, core ideas, and crosscutting concepts that make up the three dimensions described in A Framework for K–12 Science Education;
  • an “Inside the Box” graphic that spells out all of the individual sections of text that appear on a page of the NGSS;
  • a Venn diagram comparing the practices in NGSS, Common Core State Standards, Mathematics, and Common Core State Standards, English Language Arts; and
  • matrices showing how the NGSS are organized by topic and disciplinary core idea.

This guide also provides the appropriate performance expectations; disciplinary core ideas; practices; crosscutting concepts; connections to engineering, technology, and applications of science; and connections to nature oK-12 level quick NGSS guidef science. It is designed to be used with the NGSS.

The NSTA Quick-Reference Guides to the NGSS are also available in grade-specific versions—one each for elementary and high school—plus a comprehensive K–12 edition. The four Quick-Reference Guides are indispensable to science teachers at all levels, as well as to administrators, curriculum developers, and teacher educators.

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Implementing the Next Generation Science Standards: How Your Classroom Is Framed Is as Important as What You Do in It

As humans, we are driven to explore and explain our surroundings; we wonder about the things we see and try to figure out how and why they appear the way they do and what some of the underlying mechanisms might be that drive what we see in the world. At its core, science is a systematic and community-driven process by which humans make sense of the world around them by examining patterns and data from the world and developing models that can account for those patterns. Ultimately, it is the models we have of the world that allow us to create explanations for the things we see around us. This process whereby we examine, wonder, and seek to explain is a cyclic one and is at the core of the scientific enterprise.

In contrast, as teachers we are used to thinking about our classes as a series of discrete topics to teach. We consult textbooks, pacing guides, and standards documents to get the list of things to make sure we cover by the end of our grade level. We tend to think about each unit of instruction separately, and despite good intentions to weave things together, many of us have trouble making really substantive connections from one unit to the next. But, this conceptualization is not in line with how scientists themselves think about their disciplines. The writers of the Framework for K-12 Science Education have been very deliberate about how they portrayed the content of each discipline as a set of big, overarching, interconnected core ideas with just a few major components identified for each idea. Part of the promise—and the challenge—inherent in the vision portrayed in the Framework is for us as educators to move away from lists of discrete facts organized into separate units and toward a coherent set of ideas that can provide a foundation for further thought and exploration in the discipline. Indeed, the writers of the Framework and most science educators agree that it is impossible to cover all the scientific content that is relevant to modern science.

Instead, our ambitions as teachers of science need to be re-focused on developing deep and flexible thinkers with an understanding of how a relatively small number of truly core ideas support the broader scientific endeavor on an ongoing and generative basis. Students with encyclopedic but inert knowledge will not be prepared for the 21st century. Instead, the outcome of a quality science education that spans grade levels and develops in appropriate ways from early childhood through adolescence should be a cadre of students who can use their understanding of the core ideas of the discipline to make sense of the world and to further our collective understanding of it. Good science education is not an end unto itself, but a beginning. Continue reading …

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Patterns: a crosscutting concept

Children notice patterns in nature in small moments as they play in natural areas and find a new kind of leaf, or suddenly realize one morning that they are leaving for school before the sun comes up. Did that happen recently with any of your children with the daylight savings time change? Teachers can build on these observations by helping children record their observations and track small changes, and then holding discussions or conversations reflecting on these records. One of the crosscutting concepts described by the Next Generation Science Standards, Patterns, is central to many science investigations at all ages.

Child makes pretend food out of plant leaves.The crosscutting concepts, “Patterns”, “Scale, proportion, and quantity” and “Structure and function” are evident in children’s play as they choose large leaves to serve as “plates” and smaller leaves or flowers as the “food” for their housekeeping scenario. They repeat the patterns they see in the layout of food on plates, and notice the scale of the food pieces compared to the size of the plates and the structure of the stiff large plates and the easy-to-tear smaller leaves.

In the October 2014 issue of Science and Children, I wrote an Early Years column about children examining plant leaves on multiple occasions over time, and discovering patterns in shape and other attributes. 

If you have already investigated leaf shapes in your program, your children might be ready to become citizen scientists and observe the “leafing-out” of a favorite plant. Young children and their teachers can participate in Project BudBurst. This is an on-going investigation into when a plant bud begins to open–not very exciting if you only check once but when children check a plant weekly, and then document their observations with drawings or photos, the gradual change becomes exciting. And during the data gathering period, they can celebrate the day when a leaf is “as big as a fingernail”, or even their hand.

Some favorite trade books that call attention to leaves and patterns are:


  • A Tree Is Nice by Janice May Udry,
  • Maples in the Mist. by Minfong Ho,
  • A Log’s Life by Wendy Pfeffer,
  • Autumn Leaves by Ken Robbins,
  • The wonderful tree; a story of the seasons by Adelaide Hall and Gyorgy Lehoczky,
  • I Am a Leaf by Jean Marzollo
  • Trees, Leaves & Bark by Diane Burns
  • Red Leaf Yellow Leaf by Lois Elhert
  • A Tree is Growing by Arthur Dorros

What other books that you use in your program can you share with us?


  • Echoes for the Eye by Barbara Juster Esbensen,
  • Insect by Laurence Mound,
  • Children’s Guide to Birds by Jinny Johnson,
  • Fish by Steve Parker,
  • The Book of Sea Shells by Michael H. Bevans,
  • Pattern (Math Counts) by Henry Pluckrose

The Children’s Museum of New Hampshire suggests using songs and books to teach the concept of patterns to young children.


What books or other resources about patterns can you share with us?

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Hesitate to Participate? Part 2

In a previous blog, a teacher posed a question about getting her students to participate in discussions.

She shared her experiences in trying the strategies suggested by our colleagues and her reflections on the results:

I have already implemented pair-share strategies, and students varied in their willingness to talk to each other. I found at this point that the girls were quieter when paired with the boys. I must say that the boys are not aggressive or demeaning, and really supportive of other students, so …direct intimidation was not evident.

I had one girl willing to participate at the beginning, but she tended to back off after a period of time. I got the sense she was feeling like others are not speaking up, so perhaps she shouldn’t either. There was another girl who, although very quiet, [became] willing to talk.

I tried to divide the room for a week between boys and girls so that the pair-share could be done with same gender. This was only mildly successful. But it gave me the opportunity, to meet with the girls to encourage them and listen to the discussion. I found they were still very quiet and seemed to be “afraid” to be wrong and did not want to risk speaking, even with their female peers. But it was better. After pair-share, I would open it up to allow the whole class to talk and when I asked for volunteers to share a certain answer based on their pair-share, all the boys hand went up and the girls just looked across the room and kept their hands down.

I did ask one student, outside of class, if she might be willing to try to volunteer more, as when I did call on her, she usually had something to say. I told her that I need some role models, and I thought she could help. The next day she did volunteer. I am also going to speak to the girl who started and then stopped to encourage her directly. 

I am now planning on changing seats again, based on personalities, and strengths to mix them back up and continue to try. I plan on starting with the suggested strategy about a small group in which students each have to take turns talking, then summarizing what the next person said, then sharing more and then the whole group decides to see who will share with the class. I will try this twice during the class, and a different person has to do the sharing part.

The hard part is I want to be able to get a pulse on their understanding as we go along, but with half the room not willing to share their answers, I never know where they stand. I do use the thumbs up and thumbs down technique to get some answers and this helps a little, but I still see the girls look toward the boys to confirm their decision of the “right” answer. 

So the pair-shares have been going a bit better, but there still is hesitation. I have started calling on students who did not raise their hands (I told them ahead of time) during pair share, so they could be sure they had something to say. This helped a bit. Boosting self-esteem is a piece I am going to work on, too. I think this is going to be a yearlong project. I need to break through layers of issues, but I will keep trying.

Continue reading …

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NSTA Legislative Update: K-12 Primer on the Midterm Elections and Everybody’s Talking about Testing

There is plenty of discussion this week on what’s ahead for education and science as Americans head to the polls on November 4, and the testing/accountability issue is really moving to the front burner as major players in education—including President Obama—weigh in on the issue.

But first, take a look at Education Week’s election guide, a great primer for K–12 political junkies interested in the key races to watch in the U.S. Senate, the U.S. House of Representatives, and the key gubernatorial races. The primer also tracks key education ballot measures in the states.

ScienceInsider is running an After Election 2014 series on issues of concern to the science community. This story on the American COMPETES bill nicely sums up the political divide on this legislation over the last few years.

Earlier ScienceInsider installments (featured in a previous issue of NSTA Express) focused on the federal government’s attempts to improve STEM education. Writes reporter Jeff Mervis, “The last 2 years have provided a vivid reminder that improving U.S. science education will depend at least as much on grassroots efforts as on the federal government. The administration’s biggest gambit—a plan to restructure the $3 billion federal investment in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education—went down in flames after lawmakers from both parties and community leaders denounced it as unwise and poorly designed.”

Testing and accountability are also hot in Washington, D.C. right now. On October 15, the Council of Chief State School Officers and the Council of Great City Schools announced a joint effort to improve student testing and released a two-page Commitments on High-Quality Assessments.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s blog post earlier this summer, which stated “testing and test preparation takes up too much time,” seemed to raise eyebrows since the Department of Education has been a stalwart champion of testing/accountability/teacher evaluations.  Last week Education Week reporter/blogger Alyson Klein reported that “President Barack Obama appears to be behind his administration’s recent rhetorical push on the need to reconsider the number of tests students take, sources say. And the president’s new thinking on tests would seem to put U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in a pretty awkward position.” Read why.

A few days later a broad-based group of 17 organizations—including the Alliance for Quality Education, the American Federation of Teachers, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the National Education Association, and the National School Boards Association—announced A New Social Compact for American Education, promising “a groundbreaking rethinking of accountability that replaces the current paradigm of ‘test and punish’ with a focus on what is needed to support and improve teaching and learning.”

On Oct. 29, Education Week again blogged that big suburban district leaders are now favoring different testing models for NCLB waivers, calling for options for districts such as grade-span testing at key points, or testing that just samples certain students. The group called for fewer and better local assessments, and less focus on the state summative tests.

Capitol Hill is also on top of the testing issue. Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) introduced the TEST Act, a bill that would significantly change the K-12 testing and accountability regime and would eliminate the federal requirement for science testing.    This bill has bipartisan support and garnered significant attention in the press, along with a similar bill introduced by Rep. Chris Gibson (D-NY) and Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), which has the support of the NEA.

Stay tuned.

Jodi Peterson is NSTA’s Assistant Executive Director, Communications, Legislative, and Public Affairs; and Chair of the STEM Education Coalition. She can be reached at via e-mail at jpeterson@nsta.org or Twitter @STEMedadvocate.

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

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#NSTA14 Orlando: Highlights From the Hall

Orlando logoWe’re just one short week away from the Orlando NSTA 2014 Area Conference on Science Education. We’ll be making ourselves at home at the Orange County Convention Center in sunny Orlando, Florida, November 6–8, 2014. We invite you to join us as we explore Science: Adventures into the Future. Conference strands will focus on elementary science education, environmental explorations, and STEM connections.

Michael A. DiSpezioWe’ll kick things off on Thursday morning (November 6) with our keynote presentation Michael DiSpezio at 9:15 am. Lauded for his interactive presentations, DiSpezio has hosted more than 60 broadcasts of the Jason Project, The Discovery channel, PBS, MTV, and the Weather Channel just to name a few. A former marine biologist, he has co-authored several dozen science textbooks that are used in K–12 classrooms and several dozen trade books on science topics ranging from critical-thinking puzzles to HIV awareness. After completing his graduate studies at the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, he worked as a research assistant for Nobel laureate Albert Szent-Györgyi. With a master’s degree in biology from Boston University, he extended his passion for education as a K–12 classroom teacher for nearly 10 years.

cover of the Orlando programProgramming-wise, we’ve hand-selected and vetted more than 200 unique sessions, workshops, and presentations resulting in a diverse range of programming with something for everyone—from classroom teachers to administrators and informal educators at all age levels and interests.  You can check out all the sessions online via the Session Browser or view the program (pdf).

We would also like to recognize and thank our outstanding Exhibitors who have lots of exciting hands-on activities in store for you.  We have over 90 unique exhibits to visit and have put together nearly three pages of highlighted activities taking place in the Exhibit Hall over the course of the conference. You can also review all of the Exhibitors by taking a spin around the online floor plan, which includes a roster of exhibitors, a description of what they’ll be featuring, and where they’re located in the Exhibit Hall.

image of a phone with the conference appFor the latest conference information, download the Orlando Conference App. If you’re not already registered, there is still time to join us and you can register online 24/7.  We’re excited to see you next week!

Today’s guest blogger is Jason Sheldrake, Assistant Executive Director, National Science Teachers Association. For question about the Richmond exhibits, please contact Jason at jsheldrake@nsta.org; or contact Jeffrey LeGrand, NSTA Exhibits and Advertising Associate, at jlegrand@nsta.org.

2014 Area Conferences on Science Education

Orlando, FL – November 6–8

Long Beach, CA (in collaboration with CSTA) – December 4–6

2015 National Conference on Science Education

Chicago, IL – March 12-15

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

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Why Did Mrs. Carter Ask a Science Teacher to Create a Butterfly Garden?

Mrs. Carter's Butterfly Garden book coverIt’s not every day that a science-teacher-turned-author gets the call that a former first lady of the United States could use his help. When that happened to me, I was uncertain if I would have anything to offer someone of Mrs. Carter’s stature. I dusted off my decades-old copy of her autobiography for a refresher on Mrs. Carter’s incredible life and assured myself that if she wanted a garden to attract monarch butterflies, I had the experience she needed—my 15 years of middle and elementary school teaching would come in handy in the months to come! Within 48 hours, I had security clearance and found myself in Mrs. Carter’s front yard helping her and the National Park Service plan a butterfly garden that would one day be part of the gardens surrounding a presidential burial site.

inside pages of Mrs. Carter's Butterfly GardenThe diminutive Mrs. Rosalynn (as she is affectionately known) exudes a certain soft-spoken elegance in addition to her ability to make everyone in her presence feel comfortable and welcomed. She listened intently to my butterfly-gardening suggestions, asked good questions, and had firm ideas that a garden should have a purpose that serves its surrounding environment. In this case, bringing butterflies and other pollinators to her hometown of 700 people would be helpful to the farmers in the area whose crops could benefit. Furthermore, schoolchildren and other visitors could learn from the garden when it eventually opened to the public. When she found out that multiple gardens would promote a higher butterfly population, she wanted to make that happen.

President and Mrs. Carter with author Steve RichThough it was her meeting, Mrs. Carter graciously allowed her husband to give input. Even though Jimmy Carter was the 39th president of the United States, it’s clear that he respects his wife’s projects and values her work and their partnership, which has lasted 68 years. Typical of the keenness of both Carters, the former president asked if any of the plants I suggested would bring unwanted pests to their yard. I explained that aphids would likely follow the milkweed to the yard, but that pesticides are not an option in a butterfly garden. This piqued the interest of both President and Mrs. Carter. When I suggested that ladybugs would be an environmentally friendly, natural option, the Carters looked at each other, seemingly sharing the same thought. The Carters’ local church has a couple of ladybug infestations a year, and they could bring some ladybugs home when it was their turn to help clean the building. (Yes, the former first couple helps clean their church!) As I reflected on the conversation, I often imagined the shoe box full of ladybugs they might bring home from their church to release in their garden.

The Carters are an incredibly humble, unassuming couple. They live in the same ranch-style home that was theirs before they lived in the White House. They are warm and genuine and still active learners at ages 87 and 90. Our very first meeting inspired me to write a book for children. I hope Mrs. Carter’s Butterfly Garden will inspire teachers, parents, and children to create gardens for butterflies and other wildlife.

TAuthor Steve Rich; photo by Brian Becneloday’s Guest Blogger
Steve Rich is a former elementary and middle school teacher and author of the NSTA Press books Mrs. Carter’s Butterfly Garden, My School Yard Garden, Bringing Outdoor Science In: Thrifty Classroom Lessons, and Outdoor Science: A Practical Guide. (photo, right, courtesy of Brian Becnel)


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

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Hesitate to participate?

I know this is a rare problem: quiet kids. But what suggestions do you have for a ninth-grade class that is made up predominately of students who seem to be unwilling (or unable) to share thoughts or ask questions during class discussion. They’re even hesitant to answer direct questions aloud. Add to that all the girls are quiet and the boys are willing to answer and ask questions. I’m looking for ideas to motivate conversation, as my regular tricks are not working!

—L from Massachusetts

This is not as rare a situation as you may think. Even in a class with many students eager to participate, there are some who hold back for a variety of reasons. These students may lack self-confidence, there may be cultural or social influences at work, or they may have had negative experiences in previous classes. It’s easy to overlook these students, but it’s worth the effort to work with them. I was a quiet student myself, and I appreciated when teachers were patient enough to find out what I was thinking.

You could certainly use written activities to find out what these quiet students are learning and to share with other students, but I suspect that you want to provide opportunities for these students to become more comfortable communicating ideas with other students and participating in real time.

Our colleagues on an NSTA listserve had suggestions, many of which I would recommend based on my experiences:

Continue reading …

Posted in Ms. Mentor | Tagged | 1 Response