Big learning from short observations of birds: February 17-20, 2017

Walk outside with your children, watch and count birds for 15 minutes while recording the names of those you know, and report your bird count to be part of a world-wide citizen-science project to collect data on wild birds, creating an annual snapshot of the distribution and abundance of birds. On any or all of these four days, February 17-20, 2017, you will be part of the more than 160,000 people who do this every February for the Great Backyard Bird Count, a global event facilitated by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Audubon, and Bird Studies Canada.

Chickadee bird shape rubbingGet children ready for the day by looking at the birds that regularly hang out around the play yard or nearby park. The Great Backyard Bird Count website has many tools for identifying birds. I like children to handle life-size cardboard silhouettes of the common birds to help them remember bird sizes and shapes. See February 2007 The Early Years column, “Birds in Winter,” (free to all) for a description of using silhouettes to make bird shape rubbings. See additional resources for children about birds in a March 2011 blog post.

Pigeons roosting on a street lamp.As children see birds, help them tally up the total number seen at a single time (you don’t want to count the same pigeon 25 times!). Observing birds is a great way to begin a discussion on animal diversity, comparing size, colors, and the locations birds seem to prefer. Over time, children begin to identify distinctive bird calls and songs. By entering the data your children collect, they will be helping to answer questions such as, “What kinds of differences in bird diversity are apparent in cities versus suburban, rural, and natural areas?”

When children’s interest in bird watching is high, setting up a feeder near a window can create an on-going science center for collecting data about which species visit which type of feeder. See an example of a data collection sheet that you can revise to show the species in your area. Begin now and your children will see the bird population at their feeder change as the season changes from winter to spring and beyond.

Posted in Early Years | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Responses
folder icon  Safety

Avoiding Electrical Hazards in the Lab

In science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) labs, teachers and students can be exposed to a number of electrical hazards such as damaged electrical receptacles, missing ground prongs, and faulty electrical equipment. These hazards can result in electric shock, electrocution, fire, and explosions.

Circuit breakers only protect the science lab and school building—not the teachers or students—from these hazards. A ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI), a device that constantly compares current flowing from the hot wire to the neutral wire in a circuit, can help protect lab occupants from electrical accidents. If the GFCI senses an imbalance in the current, a switch will open and the current will stop flowing in about 1/40 of a second.

Continue reading …

Posted in Safety | Leave a comment

Join NSTA Press Authors at the 2017 National Conference in Los Angeles

NSTA authors
We rely on their expertise and have their books lined up on our resource shelves for handy reference, but the opportunity to hear so many NSTA Press authors speak in person is too good to pass up. The array of authors who are scheduled to present at the NSTA National Conference in Los Angeles, March 30–April 2, 2017, is impressive.

The wide range of topic areas ensures that there is something for everyone. Listen to Page Keeley discuss formative assessment probes; Emily Morgan and Karen Ansberry share how to use children’s picture books to teach STEM, inquiry, and more; or Steve Rich present many ways to bring outdoor science in to your students. Some of NSTA Press’ new authors will be there too, discussing big data, STEM, NGSS, and many other topics.

The Advance deadline for registration is fast approaching (February 24), so don’t delay. Register today and secure your opportunity to advance your own professional development by spending time with the experts. NSTA authors have developed classroom-tested solutions to the challenges you face every day.

Here is the complete list of NSTA Press authors and topics:

Continue reading …

Posted in Conferences, NSTA Press Books | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Surefire FirePak: A Smartphone Science Studio Lighting Solution

As the smartphone camera gains an ever-more sophisticated role in the science classroom, the technical limits of phone photography become more apparent. Luckily a dose of strong light can overcome many problems as well as provide access to a world unseen by the human eye. But not just any light will work. The amount, color and frequency modulation of the light all play important roles in scientific photography.


Continue reading …

Posted in NSTA Recommends: Technology, Science 2.0 | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Science education “trifecta”

I’m looking for creative ways for students to share what they know, other than traditional written reports or essays.  —K., Michigan

The creative process in science involves novel ways of thinking, problem solving, and communicating. When students are given the opportunity, encouragement, and support, their creativity can be astounding.

I found reworking information and/or experiences into another format can be an outlet for student design and creativity:

  • An infographic on a science topic to display in the school or on a website
  • A video or photo gallery documenting an activity
  • A set of posters on a topic such as lab safety
  • A “how-to” manual or video for an app or probe to be used as a tutorial for other students
  • Vocabulary exercises that result in concept maps or illustrated word wall entries displayed in the classroom
  • A video or presentation describing a concept to another audience
  • Models or drawings

Continue reading …

Posted in Ms. Mentor | Tagged , | 1 Response

Ed News: Scientists Take on New Roles in K–12 Classrooms

News Roundup banner

This week in education news, scientists take on new roles in K–12 classrooms, the U.S. Senate confirmed Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary, a new report finds California teacher shortages have led to ‘severe consequences’, the U.S. House voted to overturn ESSA accountability, and a bill to boost STEM education advances in New Mexico.

Scientists Take on New Roles in K–12 Classrooms

As schools work to implement the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), practicing scientists are also rethinking how they work with schools to advance understanding of their field. The NGSS broaden opportunities for science-educator partnerships because they represent new approaches to scientists working with schools. Click here to read the article featured in Education Week.

Lawmakers File Bill to Protect ‘Religious Expression’ in FL Schools

Two state lawmakers, filed a bill—SB 436: Religious Express in Public Schools—which would prohibit a school district from discriminating against students on the basis of religious expression if they share their religious beliefs in their school work. A Florida advocacy group said the bill could be trouble for science education in Florida’s public schools if passed. Click here to read the article featured in the Orlando Sentinel.

Betsy DeVos Confirmed as Education Secretary, Pence Breaks Tie Continue reading …

Posted in Education News Roundup | Tagged , , , , | 1 Response

The goTenna Off-Grid Communication Device: Take A “Cell Network” on your next Field Trip

Imagine co-leading a science field trip indoors in a large museum with questionable cell coverage, or outside and too far from the nearest cell tower. The goTenna system allows you to directly contact another goTenna equipped teacher using their smartphone independent of a cellular connection. The goTennas are their own communication network that runs between the phones. And there is no limit to the number of goTennas that can play together.

Continue reading …

Posted in NSTA Recommends: Technology, Science 2.0 | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Legislative Update: DeVos Confirmed as ED Secretary/House Kills ESSA Accountability Regulations

After a long and contentious confirmation battle the Senate confirmed Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education on February 7 after a highly partisan 51 to 50 vote. Vice President Mike Pence cast the deciding vote to confirm DeVos after two Republican Senators—Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska—joined Democrats and voted nay during the full Senate vote, days after both voted yes to the nomination in the HELP committee (which moved the confirmation to the full Senate.)

Prior to the vote, Senate Democrats staged a 24 hour “talkathon” on the Senate floor to oppose the DeVos nomination and to encourage a Republican to vote nay on the confirmation. This came after a huge public backlash in opposition to the DeVos nomination.

DeVos became the nation’s 11th Education secretary.

Reactions to the confirmation came quickly after the vote. Senate HELP Committee ranking member Patty Murray said DeVos would be “one of the most controversial and embattled Education secretaries in the history of the department.”

AFT President Randi Weingarten said in a statement that “DeVos’ confirmation battle has a major silver lining: The public in public education has never been more visible or more vocal, and it is not going back in the shadows.”  

NEA President Lily Eskelsen García noted “Americans across the nation drove a bipartisan repudiation of the Trump-DeVos agenda for students and public education. Today’s outcome marks only the beginning of the resistance. Students, educators, parents, civil rights and special education advocates—along with millions of Americans—are speaking loud and clear: we are here to stay…we will protect public education.”

Ed Patru, a spokesman for DeVos, told POLITICO, DeVos overcame “an unprecedented personal assault” from teachers unions, noting “Betsy DeVos’ confirmation marks a critically important shift in federal education policy: from now on, the needs of kids will supersede the political interests of adults, and education policies will be decided by states and local school boards, not Washington.”

Read more here.

House Overturns Rules on ESSA Accountability and Teacher Prep

As expected this week the House overturned the Obama Administration’s accountability rule under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and the regulation governing teacher preparation programs.

The House and Senate have until early May to use the Congressional Review Act on regulations issued in the last half year of the Obama administration. 

The ESSA Accountability regulation was issued to help states design and implement new accountability provisions required in the Every Student Succeeds Act. Many Republicans believe the rule was too prescriptive and gave the Secretary of Education too much authority in state decision making. Democrats issued a statement saying that eliminating the rule would create uncertainty as states developed their ESSA plans. More here.

Most in the education community are opposed to the teacher preparation rules and believe changes made by the federal government should be part of the upcoming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

The American Association for Colleges of Teacher Education (AACTE) Action Alert system is working to rescind the teacher prep regulations in the Senate. Go here.

And finally . . .

The House education committee held its first hearing this week about higher education in the 115th Congress in anticipation of the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. The hearing focused on ways to strengthen the nation’s system of higher education “for students, parents, institutions and taxpayers.”

On the day that Betsy DeVos was confirmed as ED Secretary, Kentucky Congressman Thomas Massie introduced H.R. 899, a bill to abolish the federal Department of Education. The one sentence long bill states, “The Department of Education shall terminate on December 31, 2018.”

Stay tuned, and watch for more updates in future issues of NSTA Express.

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

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

Follow NSTA

Facebook icon Twitter icon LinkedIn icon Pinterest icon G+ icon YouTube icon Instagram icon
Posted in Legislative Update | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Responses

An ECSTEM conference experience

An early childhood education conference is an opportunity to meet others who share a passion for improving our science teaching practice, meet our education mentors and gain new insights into why certain educational practices are effective. It’s a privilege to be able to attend, and fun to experience. It’s also a time to hear about new research that can guide us to achieve our goals of starting all children on the path to scientific literacy. Our local -AEYC and other professional organizations offer this kind of learning experience in smaller bites, and wider geographic locations. 

The Early Childhood Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (ECSTEM) conference hosted by The Children’s Center at CalTech for the fifth year, joined by THINK Together, brought together educators from 26 states and 5 countries as well as many, many more local California residents. The theme of “Curiosity” inspired presenters and promoted discussion. I felt fully in that happy place where early childhood education and science education overlap, so please join me as I reflect on the experience. Listen to what this Florida educator from the Osceola Center for Early Learning in the Osceola County School District has to say about her conference experience (we continued our conference networking while at the airport on the way home.)


I heard many times that the quality of the sessions met participants needs, and the venue, food, level of organization, and friendliness of the community made everything else a positive experience. With so many interesting session descriptions it was hard to choose among them. 

Arriving at the conference, an exhibit too!

Susan Wood greets Beth Van Meeteren

Susan Wood greets presenter Dr. Beth Van Meeteren

Poster from the exhibit

Hawkins’ Centers of Learning exhibit: “Cultivate the Scientist in Every Child: The Philosophy of Frances and David Hawkins”

At registration we were greeted by CCC Director and conference founder, Susan Wood, who engaged us with the Hawkins’ Centers of Learning exhibit, “Cultivate the Scientist in Every Child: The Philosophy of Frances and David Hawkins.” The panels illuminated the ideas of “eolithism,” “messing about,” “I, Thou, It,” and “Teacher as Learner.” The table of rocks gave us materials to mess about, a satisfying way to experience messing about and also wonder in a scientific way. We later heard more about these ideas from Alex CruickshankList of conference sponsors, Community Outreach Specialist of the Boulder Journey School.

As an early childhood educator I am very familiar with looking for funding to create opportunities to learn and appreciate how sponsors make these opportunities possible! Continue reading …

Posted in Conferences, Early Years | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Responses

The Celestron Micro-Fi Wireless Digital Microscope: A Handful of Wow!

The term “wireless” does not so much describe what is, but instead what isn’t. And what isn’t is wires. What’s strange about many wireless technologies is there was never a wired version to begin with so describing the device by an absent feature that never was present in the first place can be confusing to those who grew up in a post-wire world. Imagine if cars were still considered horseless carriages. Another indication of progress is the lack of a capitol letter or hyphen. For example, email officially became a thing when it changed from E-mail to e-mail, and finally to email. And the internet arrived when it no longer was capitalized in common usage. At least that is one perspective on so-called disruptive technologies.

The Celestron Micro-Fi is a highly portable handheld digital microscope/video camera released in 2014 that can magnify subjects up to 80x. Powered by three AA batteries, and carrying onboard lighting in the form of six LEDs surrounding the lens, the Micro-Fi has few limits in the field.

The ergonomics of the Celestron Micro-Fi are excellent and make for a simple effective one-handed user interface. For tripod mounting a 1/4-20 threaded port is included that provides mechanical stability when needed when distance, safety or stealth is desired. The other controls include a illumination adjustment wheel, a focus wheel, a shutter release button, and an on/off switch.

Outdoors, lichen and moss present stunning subjects for the Celestron Micro-Fi. At the microscopic scale, there is no shortage of things at your fingertips to explore, including exploring your own fingertips.


The Celestron Micro-Fi uses the 802.11x standard of wireless communication to share images and video at 15 frames per second. The 802.11 standard is the one common to wireless network routers. Someday Bluetooth may be able to carry enough information to share video, but for now the wireless of choice is something else. Why this is important is three-fold. First, the 802.11 standard is powerful enough for the lightweight battery-powered unit to send video through the air up to 10 meters and up to two hours. Second, the wireless standard is not exclusive to one pairing. Instead the the Celestron Micro-Fi can have up to three individual computing devices connected at one time. And those devices can be of different operating systems and platforms such as an iPhone, an Android tablet and an iPad. Continue reading …

Posted in Early Years, NSTA Recommends: Technology, Science 2.0 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment