How Do Real Science Teachers Prepare for BTS?

Knowing science teachers like I do, I’m not surprised to see that they express a gamut of emotions and have some really innovative ideas about how to prepare for going back to school. A completely unscientific survey of the Twittersphere reveals a few gems that may help science teachers everywhere—or at least bring a smile to a few faces!


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Electronic science notebooks

4509556824_24c58e6d33_mWe’re a 1:1 school, and all of my students have access to iPads in class. I’m thinking of transitioning from hard-copy notebooks to electronic notebooks. My students are not thrilled with this.  —R., New York

In a previous blog/column, Mary Morgan, a science teacher at Belton High School in Belton, Texas, shared her thoughts on interactive science notebooks. She also has experience with electronic formats, and here she shares her thoughts on electronic notebooking:

I have used INBs (Interactive Notebooks) for the last eight of the nine years I’ve been teaching, for all levels of biology. I’ve toyed with the idea of an electronic interactive notebook, (my school is a 1:1 iPad school), but I just can’t see myself completely transitioning to full iPad interactive notebooks anytime soon.

First, I’ve searched for a program or app that would help students organize the notebook, but I can’t find anything I like. (If I could find something I would certainly give it a pilot run with one of my classes—My pre-AP students are pretty resilient to any pilot programs that might not be successful or have some bumps along the way.)

Mary Morgan

Mary Morgan

For example, Google docs and LiveBinders are great, but don’t give the organized notebook “feel.” By notebook “feel” I mean that I like the students to be able to see their notes while they are doing the processing piece on the right side. When they are studying they can have multiple documents “open” in the notebook at the same time (using the flip-ups and right/left side model) which cannot yet be achieved on the iPad. (If we had laptops, I might be more inclined, but I haven’t found anything yet for the iPad. I’m open to suggestions!)

Also, I’ve done some straw-polls with my students (no official, scientific research other than papers I’ve read from others on the topic) and the vast majority of them (usually about 98-99% each year) do not like putting their notes on their iPads. When I go further with the questioning, those who have tried taking notes on the iPad say they never go back and study them because they are hard to find, and they’re distracted by the games and apps that are readily available.

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Where are you reading Science and Children this summer?

Teacher holding up a copy of Science and Children in front of a lake and mountains in Glacier National Park.A family trip took me to a new and breathtaking location—Glacier National Park. We went before the Reynolds Creek Wildland fire started but evidence of past burns and avalanches was dramatic. The trip also provided the moments I needed away from daily chores to thoroughly read the July issue of Science and Children. Where have you been reading Science and Children this summer? 

Send me a picture of your copy of Science and Children (and you, if you’d like) in your favorite summer location—a beach, your backyard, the neighbor’s pool, a fab museum or on lunch break at your summer job, and I’ll add them to this post. Send your picture of Science and Children to theearlyyearsnsta at gmail dot com.

Send me a picture of your copy of Science and Children (with you, if you’d like to be part of the picture) in your favorite summer location—a beach, your backyard, the neighbor’s pool, a fab museum or on lunch break at your summer job, and I’ll add them to this post.

Here’s a bit about just a few of the many interesting articles in the summer issue:

In “Dig Into Fossils!”, an article free to all, Lisa Borgerding writes about the “big ideas” she introduces to preschool and kindergarten students in a science-focused camp:

  • Fossils are the remains of organisms that used to be alive a long time ago.
  • We make inferences about fossil organisms’ form, function, and habitats based on observations.
  • Fossils can be similar to organisms alive today.

Jyoti Gopal writes about her kindergarten class’s investigation into the taste, color and origin of foods as they tasted their way through the alphabet, in “Eating the Alphabet: Using a daily morning routine to link science, math, literacy, and social studies in a kindergarten classroom” (pgs 50-58). Have you ever tasted a tamarind, tzatziki or turnip?

Editor Linda Froschauer gives tips on how to accomplish an instructional sequence that supports a valid learning progression and can be followed by our learning community in her Editor’s Note: Identifying a Progression of Learning.

If you’d rather read it on your digital device, see the choices here.

Happy reading!

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SXSWedu 2016: Vote for NSTA’s Session Idea, The Next Generation of Science Teachers

SXSWedu graphic for 2016 panel picker sessionsVoting opens today for SXSWedu session proposals for the conference’s 2016 program, and NSTA needs your vote! To be selected for inclusion at SXSWedu, proposals must pass an extremely competitive crowd-sourced PanelPicker process.

The 2016 event marks the sixth anniversary of this highly interactive conference, which converges education’s most energetic and innovative leaders from all backgrounds of the teaching and learning landscape—including teachers, administrators, professors, and business and policy stakeholders—to discuss a number of key topics in education. We want to represent science teachers at the event and, to talk about the role that the next generation of science teachers will play in this fast-changing world.

What can you do to help? Please vote for our session proposal. Why does it work this way? SXSWedu crowd sources sessions to be sure the public has a chance to weigh in on the topics they’d most like to see covered. Public voting, in addition to the comments from the SXSWedu Advisory Board and staff, help to form the 2016 event.

Please help give science educators a voice in the discussion at SXSWedu by casting a vote for NSTA’s session, The Next Generation of Science Teachers. Public voting opens today, August 10, and closes September 4, so check out our session proposal now and cast your vote!

Carolyn HayesCarolyn Hayes is the NSTA President, 2015-2016; follow her on Twitter at caahayes.

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

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Transforming Teaching at the 2015 Mickelson ExxonMobil Teachers Academy

MEMTA group shot

What happens when you bring together 150 third- through fifth-grade teachers from around the country for a week of the highest quality professional development around STEM? I found out last week at the 2015 Mickelson ExxonMobil Teachers Academy (MEMTA) in Jersey City, where a major shift in mindset rippled out across all 50 states, expanding like the “Cubes that Grow.” A force was set in motion with the power to transform lives; as teachers, we were asked to teach our students not “what to think” but “how to think.”

Teachers working at MEMTA 2015

The Right Kind of Struggle

At MEMTA, the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) prepared five full days of lessons to help teachers build knowledge in specific content areas while experiencing and analyzing the best practices in teaching the multi-dimensional Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Sprinkled throughout the week were inspirational talks by leading thinkers on the subject of how children learn. We began the week with Cathy Seeley, author of Faster Isn’t Smarter and Smarter Than We Think, who spoke about “The Right Kind of Struggle”–creating opportunities for students to work through challenging problems that can increase intelligence. As the week continued, we heard from Sam Shaw and NASA astronaut Leland Melvin; and on Thursday, we spent the afternoon with numerous ExxonMobil engineers.

Each MEMTA class/session is focused around a guiding question. This year the theme was Force and Motion, and as the week progressed we actively explored Newton’s laws while simultaneously considering best practices for engaging students. Strategies were devised for setting up guided explorations and creating a classroom culture in which explanations based on claims and evidence can arise. Practices help students see themselves as scientific thinkers and develop habits of mind and the confidence to pursue a STEM career.

MEMTA speaker

Nurturing Scientific Thinking

As teachers gained confidence and experience throughout the week I heard repeatedly, “it is too bad I have only twenty minutes a day to teach science, art, and social studies.” It is true, the time constraints placed on most public school teachers can seem very restrictive, but there is a way to optimize the impact of teacher-structured classrooms, even on a tight schedule. The scientific approach to problem solving can be applied to other disciplines in the classroom. Teachers can embrace Rodger Bybee’s BSCS 5E Instructional Model and infuse the entire school day with meaningful engagement, rich exploration, and opportunities to learn from each other, with time allowed for purposeful idea sharing. They can encourage students to elaborate and foster an expectation that we will be reflective as we evaluate across the curriculum and throughout the day, so all of our students will grow and develop the thinking skills required to solve today’s problems and future challenges. The scientific mind is not something that turns off at the end of science class.


During the week at MEMTA we worked with the 5E model during both science and math activities. As we return to our schools we can also create language arts, social studies, and art classes that engage students in the same way. So, as we switch from teacher-centered classrooms to teacher-structured classrooms we can move forward with six hours of science-based thinking and claims based reasoning. We can take our experience in Jersey City and pay it forward. We no longer need to feel constrained by a limit of twenty minutes a day to teach science. We can infuse every minute of every school day with opportunities for students to engage, explore, explain, elaborate and evaluate. Developing the habits of mind to think like a scientist can and should move across the curriculum. Teachers can learn to talk less and to listen more.

Learn more about MEMTA and how 3rd- through 5th-grade teachers can apply for next year’s academy at

Author Eileen Hynes is a 2015 MEMTA participant from the Lake and Park School in Seattle, WA; she can be reached at

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

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Interactive science notebooks

Teachers often have questions about interactive science notebooks, especially at the secondary level. Mary Morgan, a high school science teacher from Belton High School in Belton, Texas, shares her experiences (These ideas refer to traditional formats. Ms Morgan will share her thoughts on electronic notebooks in a future blog.)

Ms. Mentor: How are interactive science notebooks different from the traditional idea of notebooks as a collection of handouts, lab reports, and notes copied from the board and organized in a way determined by the teacher?

Headshot2 copy

Mary Morgan

Ms. Morgan: The “interactivity” of interactive notebooks comes from the fact that students are working with the information in various ways as they fill in the notebook. Usually this starts with taking Cornell notes on a topic on the right side, whether during a direct teach session, from a video or the textbook, or during a web-quest. Then the students use the left side of the notebook to process the information from the notes. Working with, and often times, struggling with, the new information is a crucial piece for learning. The processing leads students to take ownership of the information. The processing methods vary, but processing always require the students to interact with the new information in some form leading to understanding and owning the information.

Ms. Mentor: Are interactive notebooks appropriate for high school? How do students respond to them?

Ms. Morgan: I have used INBs (Interactive Notebooks) for the last eight of the nine years I’ve been teaching. I have used them for inclusion (low level learners), on-level, and pre-AP Biology; on-level and Honors Anatomy; and physiology; zoology; and AP Biology. My students complain at first every year, but by the time the end-of-course (EOC) exams roll around in May, they thank me for doing the notebooks because they are organized and easy to study!

Ms. Mentor: Do you get any feedback from parents?

Interactive Notebook Photos 004 copyMs. Morgan: The feedback from parents is usually similar to students at first. They usually have some trepidation as this is new for many parents as well. Some will ask why we are doing a middle school notebook or how we are covering all the information in a small space. Some parents also have concerns about how we grade the notebook. However, once I sit with the parents in a one-on-one conference, show them completed notebooks from prior years, explain how the notebook organizes the information and helps students study for unit tests, and creates an EOC review guide throughout the year, most parents are on-board with the INBs. By the end of the year, the parents I speak with comment about how great the INBs are and they wish other teachers would do them as well. I am planning a parent/guardian/trusted adult check-off sheet to encourage parents and guardians to be more hands on with their students’ work and study habits.

Ms. Mentor: Teachers have different ideas about the format of the notebook: composition books, spiral books, binders, pocket folders. Is there a “best” format to use?

Ms. Morgan: I use composition notebooks. They are a little pricier than spirals, but they hold together all year long and the pages being harder to remove. I make it quite clear to the students that no pages are to be ripped out ever! (I offer notebook paper to those who need it if someone at home is tempted to tear a page out. This has been an issue with some students in the past.) For students who can’t afford a notebook, I will quietly give them one I purchased. Continue reading …

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Recycling in the STEM Classroom

girl recycling and text saying "Science and the STEM Classroom looks at the STEM lessons to be found in recycling."

Our oldest son will be a senior in high school next year. (Deep breath.) All Delaware public high school students must perform 60 hours of documented volunteer work for a non-profit group as a requirement for graduation. With a little nudging from me, our son chose Habitat for Humanity. New Castle County’s Habitat chapter runs a ReStore, where homeowners and contractors donate new or gently used home parts, like windows, flooring, sinks, tile, and furniture. The donated items are sold at very reasonable prices to other members of the community for use in their homes. The boy has found his niche, and wants to keep volunteering there as long as he can. They’re happy to have him, since he’s built like a lumberjack and can carry like one too. Having a way to keep cabinets, doors, and windows out of landfills is a great help to the environment and got me thinking about the many STEM elements in recycling programs of all kinds. This month we’ll take a tour around the world, and dip into geology, hydrology, technology, environmental science, chemistry, economics, global politics, and ethics.

Bottled water

Yes, bottled water has borne the brunt of criticism from environmentalists for years. If you don’t have a refillable aluminum, glass, or plastic jug on your desk by now, you’re doing it wrong. We all know how much energy it takes to make those ubiquitous thin plastic, half-liter bottles. (Approximately 3 to 5 million joules each, to be specific.) Beyond the cost of plastic production are the added factors of transportation, distribution and refrigeration at the point of sale. Bottled spring water comes from sources all over the world, including Fiji and the Alps. Getting that water to your refrigerator adds significantly to its costs.

In addition to the environmental impact of bottled water consumption, another issue is economic. Did you know that almost 55% of bottled water is glorified tap water, not spring water? It’s almost the same thing you can get from your own faucet at any time. What’s worse, is that a number of large bottled water companies are located in California, which is experiencing record drought conditions. Water privatization is an issue that should concern everyone. Approximately 10% of the world’s water is currently under private control and this percentage is expected to grow as municipalities look for ways to reduce the cost of maintaining aging infrastructure. Privatization removes this cost from the government’s balance sheet, but puts the water supply under the control of a corporation, which has the sole aim of making money for its shareholders. When more than 1 billion people in the world lack access to safe drinking water, this seems short sighted at best.

Tap water in the United States has an average cost of US$2 per 1000 gallons. When you consider that the average wholesale cost of bottled water in the United States is US$1.21 per gallon, you can see that choosing a bottle over a glass in your own kitchen makes very little sense. If the taste of your home’s water bothers you, consider buying a filter for the tap or a pitcher with a built-in filter. You’ll come out ahead on cost, and the environment will benefit too. The current recycling rate for water bottles is about 39%. The rest of the bottles end up in landfills or as trash in the environment. The water bottle industry has worked to reduce the amount of plastic in its bottles as a nod to environmental responsibility, but these measures have also reduced their costs. Continue reading …

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What’s the Role of Science Teachers in the New Conceptual Economy?

In the new conceptual economy, what skills will students need to acquire to walk into professional settings and tackle complex problems? A recent podcast Innovation Skills for the 21st Century Workplace (BFM 89.9) details the mindset that contributes to success–the ability to continually learn and improve. And it’s striking how well the skills and qualities needed align with the types of skills and qualities that can be honed in a science classroom–communication, collaboration, and adaptability, among others.

Creatively Teach Creativity

What can science teachers do? Science evangelist Ainissa Ramirez writes frequently about these types of skills. In a recent blog, Ramirez talks about Encouraging the Einstein and Edison in Everyone. And she gives simple, inexpensive ideas that any teacher can use. She explains how to nurture divergent thinking within  students with an ordinary object like a key or a toothbrush. And, she recommends helping students learn to make connections among formerly unconnected topics. The takeaway? “Let’s be creative in the way that we teach children to be creative.”

Cultivate Collaboration

In Building Team Science, education professor Christine Royce gives ideas for team-building activities that have found their way into her classroom activities throughout the years:

Innovation in Action

So what does a classroom look like when innovative thinking is nurtured? Check out NSTA’s video series In the NGSS Classroom with Teacher Kristin Mayer. These 8 videos introduce science teachers to important strategies based on the Framework for K-12 Science Education and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The videos highlight the major shifts in science instruction, explore the new role of the teacher, and demonstrate new instructional strategies in the high school classroom. 

At NSTA we’re lucky to work with and learn from innovative teachers every day. If you’ve got ideas to share with us, please let us know!

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

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House and Senate Leaders Begin Work to Reconcile Education Bills to Replace No Child Left Behind: NSTA Legislative Update for July 31, 2015

Text based header that says "STEM education advocates will be strongly encouraged to reach out to targeted members of Congress in a few weeks and this Fall to ensure the conference committee adopts the Senate language in ECAA (Title II, Part E, Section 2005)...that would allow states to develop STEM programs."

Work has officially begun on the conference bill to resolve the differences in the House (H.R. 5, the Student Success Act) and Senate (S. 1177, the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015) bills to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and replace No Child Left Behind.

In a press statement issued on Thursday, July 30, the four education leaders in the House and Senate [House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN); Ranking Member Bobby Scott (D-VA); Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN); and Senate Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA);] issued statements which expressed confidence and expressed hope that they can work together to produce a bicameral education bill.

As noted in an earlier NSTA Legislative blog post, on July 16 the U.S. Senate passed legislation to rewrite the No Child Left Behind Act. The bipartisan Senate bill, the Every Child Achieves Act (S.1177) passed 81-17 and contains a strong focus on STEM education. The partisan House bill, the Student Success Act (H.R. 5), passed on July 8, with 27 Republicans joining all House Democrats voting against the bill. The House bill goes much further than the Senate bill in reducing the federal role in education and does not include a dedicated program for STEM education.

Below are the key STEM provision in the Senate bill and other highlights from the House and Senate education bills. Congress adjourns at the end of July until after the Labor Day break (but education staff will continue to move the conference process along) so STEM education advocates will be strongly encouraged to reach out to targeted members of Congress in a few weeks and this Fall to ensure the conference committee adopts the Senate language in ECAA (Title II, Part E, Section 2005) listed below that would allow states to develop STEM programs.

Every Child Achieves Act (S. 1177) STEM Funding Provision (Title II, Part E, Section 2005)

Section 2005, which was added in a bipartisan Franken-Kirk Amendment during Committee consideration, establishes a program to provide each state with formula-based funding that would be used to support partnerships among local schools, businesses, universities, and non-profit organizations to improve student learning in the critical science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects. Each state would choose how to spend and prioritize these funds, which can support a wide range of STEM activities from in-depth teacher training, to engineering design competitions, to improving the diversity of the STEM workforce. Activities supported through these funds include:

  • Professional development for STEM educators
  • Improving access and quality for STEM programs targeting high-need and underrepresented student populations
  • Integrating in-school and out-of-school STEM education activities
  • Supporting STEM-related competitions
  • Facilitating the involvement of mid-career STEM professionals in educational activities
  • Recruiting, retaining, and rewarding outstanding STEM educators through state-level STEM Master Teacher Corps programs

A funding level has not yet been established for this provision and is currently “such sums as required.” The funding authorization level for the current Math and Science Partnerships program at the Department of Education, which this provision would replace, is $450 million per year; however the appropriations for this program in FY2015 is $155 million. Continue reading …

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Building Team Science

Team building is something that any sports team undertakes; business teams participate in; as well as other professional areas focus on.  The purpose of team building is to bring individuals together to develop interactions that enhance or increase the effectiveness of the team. So yes – it is important to develop and build skills in students that will help them be successful in Team Science situations.

The recently released report Enhancing the Effectiveness of Team Science focuses on how the pursuit of scientific endeavors has become “team science.”   According to the report, team science is defined as “scientific collaboration, i.e., research conducted by more than one individual in an interdependent fashion, including research conducted by small teams and larger groups.” The reason for this team science approach is that scientific research is increasingly conducted by small teams and larger groups rather than individual investigators. However there are some drawbacks to this approach as well which include the challenges of collaboration which can slow these teams’ progress in achieving their scientific goals. How well a team works together is viewed as “team effectiveness (also referred to as team performance) [which is] [a] team’s capacity to achieve its goals and objectives. This capacity to achieve goals and objectives leads to improved outcomes for the team members (e.g., team member satisfaction and willingness to remain together), as well as outcomes produced or influenced by the team. In a science team or larger group, the outcomes include new research findings or methods and may also include translational applications of the research.”

In considering the these definitions, the idea of creating an environment that generates communication, collaboration, promotes creativity and innovation, as well as using critical thinking and problem solving skills is exactly what the college and career ready reports have been requesting for many years. In a second report titled Preparing 21st Century Students for A Global Society: An Educator’s Guide to the Four Cs there is a discussion of the importance for helping students become skilled in these 21st century skills that are needed in all aspects of our global world.

While solid science instruction is necessary to build student’s understanding of science, there is still a need to develop these other skills which often is not part of the actual curriculum. Therefore, a disclaimer – I am not sure where these activities would fit into your curriculum as they do not meet a national or state standard most likely. Furthermore, time is short and working together is something that one would think most students should learn early on in life. With that stated, the following are a few activities that have been used in various professional development activities attended that have found their way into classroom activities throughout the years.

Colored Broken Squares – A non-verbal problem solving activity that requires collaboration and cooperation as well as attention to detail.

Write It Do It – An older activity from the Science Olympiad that asks students to practice their writing skills in describing a structure and then switch with a partner who must follow the directions.

Tower of Cups – A problem solving activity that requires critical thinking and communication among team members.

Yes/No Conundrums – Requires students to ask yes/no questions to solve a riddle that is presented. Sometimes these are referred to by a commercial name as Stories with Holes.

These are but a few of the strategies that have found their way into my classroom regardless of the level over the years. Since helping students master the four Cs places them in a better position for the future, it is important to find the time to allow them time to develop communication, collaboration, critical thinking and problem solving and creativity and innovation. What activities or approaches can you add to the list as we collaborate together?

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