Following children’s interests–following a caterpillar over winter

It’s always interesting to hear how other early childhood educators make the most of children’s curiosity to teach science concepts. Guest blogger Maggie Posey is a mom to a curious two year old and preschool teacher to eight eager learners. She blogs about both at In this guest post she writes about how her preschool students’ interest in a caterpillar led to a month-long investigation.

Welcome Maggie!  ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Isabella Tiger Moth caterpillar or Banded Woolybear (Pyrrharctia isabella)I am not much of a bug person. In fact, creepy crawly things are just that to me—creepy. However, in October when one of my students asked if we could care for a caterpillar she found on the way to school, I decided to put my hesitation aside and explore her interest. Caterpillars quickly became an interest of all the children in my class, as they gathered around the new class “pet’, reaching for it and wanting to hold it.

At first, I strongly encouraged my students, eight almost four-year-olds, NOT to touch the caterpillar. I remembered hearing somewhere that they could be poisonous or stick your skin like cacti. Searching online I found the Discover Life website with pages for identifying caterpillars (note that not all caterpillars are listed on the site). As I checked Cover of the book, The Secret Life of the Woolly Bear Caterpillar.boxes detailing specific information about it like hairy body, brown hair, found in Virginia, the website narrowed the results until I was able to easily pick out an image of our caterpillar. After identifying our caterpillar as a Woolly Bear Caterpillar and eagerly researching this breed, I realized that it was harmless. Searching online, I found The Secret Life of the Woolly Bear Caterpillar by Laurence Pringle (2014).  This book became the main resource for our adventures with Woolly Bear. Using the information we learned in Children's design of a habitat for the caterpillar.that book, my children designed a plan for a habitat using paper, cotton balls (to represent rocks), leaves, stickers, markers, and pretty much any other art materials The habitat the children constructed for the caterpillar.they thought was necessary. Using the plans they made, we built the real habitat: a plastic container without a lid with rocks, dirt, sticks, and green leaves. I found the “What Do Caterpillars Eat” website to be a helpful guide, along with our book, in determining what to feed Woolly Bear. The  Peterson First Guide to Caterpillars of North America is another good resource.  Daily, the kids found green leaves for Woolly Bear at the playground or on their walks to school, adding their collections to the container. We also made three dimensional models of Woolly Bear, as we called it, observing the creature with magnifying glasses in and out of its habitat for inspiration.

As winter crept up on us, we noticed a lack of green foliage outside. Cabbage, lettuce, and plantains replaced leaves on Woolly Bear’s menu. Cue a tangent lesson on changing seasons! From Pringle’s book, we knew that Woolly Bear Caterpillars usually hibernate, but our Woolly Bear kept moving around! We wondered what would happen to Woolly Bear. Children look at the mini fridge as a place for overwintering the caterpillar.Could it somehow hibernate inside our room? Should we release it? What would happen if Woolly Bear didn’t hibernate? Could it still mature to a moth? I asked Peggy Ashbrook for some guidance, and she became known as the “expert” in our class. [Note from Peggy: I am not an expert but I was able to suggest some resources!] Having an expert was helpful. When my students asked me a question I didn’t know the answer to, they would suggest that I ask the “expert” or use other “resources” like our book or the Internet. After considering our options, and voting on our preferences, the kids decided to place the habitat in a small fridge in our room. Over Christmas break, Woolly Bear remained in the fridge. When we got back to school, we noticed that it had moved, not settling down under the rocks as we expected. It did not hibernate.

The woolly bear caterpillar made a cocoon inside the habitat inside the refrigerator.One day when we arrived at school, we couldn’t find Woolly Bear anywhere. We searched and searched. Finally, we noticed a hairy, brown cocoon on the bottom of a leaf. We were so excited! The students again made three-dimensional models of Woolly Bear, this time in the cocoon stage. In anticipation of its metamorphosis, we made a new habitat using laundry hampers with ample space for a moth to fly around. We waited and waited and waited.

Twelve days later, we noticed a tiny hole at one end of the cocoon. Searching around our makeshift terrarium, we found our Isabella Tiger Moth! The students shared fresh fruit from their lunches for the moth to drink the juice, observed its behavior, made new 3D models of this life stage, and wondered what would happen next. In preparation for what I knew was coming quickly (Woolly Bear’s death), I talked a lot to my students about how moths only live for a short time. Three days later, we found Woolly Bear face up, wings spread. Although our Isabella Tiger moth had died, the kids were thrilled to learn that our caterpillar was a girl; she had laid eggs! In the corner of our habitat there were about fifty eggs, almost too tiny to pick up, but perfect for viewing under a microscope. Through research, we learned the eggs were sterile; two of these moths are needed to make new woolly bears.

As our journey came to an end, we made models of the eggs and added all of our models to life cycle mobiles. We disassembled our habitats and discussed all we had learned. From new vocabulary and knowledge of life cycles to different types of habitats and the process of scientific inquiry, following my student’s interest led to deep, multifaceted learning, and it expanded my comfort zone!



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Collaborating to Collect Data

In this video, columnists Ben Smith and Jared Mader share information from their Science 2.0 column, “Collaborative Data Collection,” that appeared in a recent issue of The Science Teacher. Read the article here:

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It’s All About the Hashtag for @2footgiraffe

Hi, Social Media at NSTA? Oops, I mean #NSTA. Double oops, I mean #NSTA15. It’s all about the hashtag. Want to see what happened at #NSTA15? Well, go to Twitter, Instagram, or Vine and search the hashtag. Yes, there are pictures and funny videos being shared. However, there is much more than images and jokes. Sharing through social media can be powerful even if you only have 140 characters.

Twitter: Did you know some of the talks about the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are on iTunes? Thanks to David Grossman @tkSciGuy I now know.

Tweet from David Grossman

Instagram image from the conferenceInstagram can be used to document learning, share images with unlimited space for captions, and even record 15 seconds of video. Scott Sowers ( got some awesome images from Chicago, like the one to the right.

Vine is a social media tool that can to time lapse-video and 6.5 second power clips. Check out this hypnotic jellyfish vine from EiC. Six seconds may not seem like a lot but check out what you can do.

As you can see from the social media posts above, connections, resources, and ideas are being shared. There is no limit to the potential of social media.

What about for education? Yes! Social media can be used to help teachers and students learn, communicate, and collaborate. As a science teacher I have found Twitter to be incredibly beneficial when trying to connect with experts outside the physical structure of the school. Students and I have connected with shark scientists, physicists, herpetologists, mammalogists, cancer researchers, microbiologists, and volcanologists. I can list a dozen more. It is  difficult for scientists to get out of the lab and visit the classroom. Especially if the lab, research location, or field site is thousands of miles away. Twitter can bridge that gap which can then lead to other options like video conferences through Google Hangouts On Air or Skype.

Once in a while these connections lead to more than just conversations. My colleague Tricia Shelton @tdishelton had a student receive funding from one of the science groups for a research project as a result of connections through social media. This particular connection was the result of a monthly Twitter chat called #SciStuChat—details at The second Thursday of each month we host an organized discussion with high school students and scientists. Student moderators write the questions for a chosen topic. Students and scientists join together to answer the questions. Scientists also help dispel misconceptions. Sometimes the conversations between scientists and students will continue the next day depending on questions students generate after the hour chat.

There isn’t a PG-rated app that can’t be used for education (i.e., every PG-rated app can be used in education in some way). Yes, a teacher might need to get creative but that is part of the challenge.  Twitter, Vine, Instagram are a few examples.

If you are skeptical go to then look up some of the people on this list of scientists. After some investigation, if you feel Twitter might have value in your classroom or for you personally, then check out for support. You can also visit

Author Adam Taylor teaches at Dickson County High School; reach him on Twitter @2footgiraffe.

 Adam Taylor with Flat Fred

To see more from the 2015 National Conference on Science Education in Chicago, March 12-15, please view the #NSTA15 Facebook Album—and if you see yourself, please tag yourself!

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

Future NSTA Conferences

2015 STEM Forum & Expo

2015 Area Conferences

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#NSTA15 | Your Science Teaching Superpower

Chicago. I have arrived.  One of us will not be the same after this. #NSTA15
@porchdragon, March 11, 2015

Neil Shubin speaking to science teachers at the 2015 National Conference on Science Education in ChicagoNSTA conferences are where science teachers transform into learners for a week. This year the theme of transformation was ubiquitous–even the river turned green for a day! Keynote Neil Shubin walked us through the evolution of humans and brought out the Inner Fish in all of us. And an entire day was devoted to the Next Generation Science Standards, giving attendees a firm grasp on the amazing new ways science is learned and taught.

tweet about Bill NyeWho was there? Everyone from Bill Nye to the Geico Gecko. And they came from as far away as China and New Zealand. In fact, the day before the conference started, a team of international educators met for the 10th Annual NSTA Global Conversations in Science Education Conference.

If they couldn’t be there in person, teachers used their true super power (ingenuity) to find ways to join us virtually. They embodied one of my favorite quotes from the conference. Neil Shubin said “Science is Teamwork; Science is Collaboration.”tweet about flat fred And collaborate they did! A live #NGSSchat via Twitter brought together a strong professional learning network that included dozens of people, both in person and online.

One NSTA member was so dismayed to miss the conference that he defied all known laws of science and morphed into a 2D version of himself and allowed complete strangers to tote him from session to session. Flat Fred was popular, but who was attendees’ favorite celebrity of the conference? According to our survey results, it was Bill Nye, with the Penguin coming in a close second.

To read more about the social media sharing and virtual learning that happened at the conference, read what Adam Taylor (@2footgiraffe) has to say in his new blog post: It’s All About the Hashtag for @2footgiraffe.

Arne Duncan meeting with science teachers at the 2015 NSTA National Conference on Science EducationSticking with the theme of collaboration, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan came to meet with a panel of teachers. He said he was happy to be home in Chicago and told attendees: “You’re not just teaching, you’re transforming students’ lives.” And he turned into a learner for the day–attentively taking notes and listening as the teachers expressed their hopes for the future and shared the very difficult challenges they face daily in their professional lives.

Fascinating stories were everywhere last week. The New York Times declared Saturday, March 14, to be the Pi day of the century. NSTA TV captured the personal messages of many of our speakers, leadership, and sponsors. Watch here to see interviews with Bill Nye; Chandra James, Schmitty the Weather DogDirector of Science for Chicago Public Schools; the “100% of our kids are going to college” team at Seton Hall University; and other inspiring thought leaders in STEM education. Education Week reporter wrote a great article about the NGSS representing “a shift from learning about something to figuring out something” (Teaching the Next Generation Science Standards With ‘Mysteries’). Not all the stories were told by humans last week, though. Not to be missed was an intrepid little dog named Schmitty the Weather Dog who braved the elements daily to report on the weather.

Not everything new had to be experienced in Chicago. Four NSTA Press books were unveiled at the conference–The Power of Questioning: Guiding Student Investigations (by Julie V. McGough and Lisa M. Nyberg); The BSCS 5E Instructional Model: Creating Teachable Moments (by Rodger W. Bybee); Reimagining the Science Department (by Wayne Melville, Doug Jones, and Todd Campbell); and Earth Science Success, 2nd Edition: 55 Tablet-Ready, Notebook-Based Lessons (by Catherine Oates-Bockenstedt and Michael Oates). Those onsite got to meet the authors and be the first to page through these gems; but they’re available to all and have free chapters you can review.

4 new book covers

Extending the Experience

Arne Duncan with teachersThe exhibit hall, a perennial favorite, turned ordinary educators into STEM stars. They came, they played, they tested new products, and they walked away enthused, their minds bursting with smart ideas and their arms loaded with goodies. In her advice for first-time attendees, NSTA’s Miss Mentor recommends bringing an empty suitcase to take home exhibit hall swag–and she was right; giveaways ranged from bird feeders to t-shirts.

Some of these changes happen on the scene, when people see themselves in a new light. But some of the long-term projects that attendees connect with at our conferences (such as ExploraVision, eCYBERMISSION, and the Chevron-supported NSTA Administrators Initiative) are the result of strong, forward-thinking partnerships forged by strong ties with the community, government, and corporations.

conference organizers cutting the ribbonWho is responsible for this mind-blowing extravaganza? A hard-working conference staff at NSTA to be sure. But the secret sauce comes from the local committee, sponsors, organizers, conference planners, and the many other people who work for more than a year in advance to bring together sessions and speakers that will meet the needs of science teachers.

river turning green in ChicagoWant to help us improve the process? Growth and transformation are something we want to foster continually, so we invite attendees to take a moment to fill out an evaluation of their session(s). Follow these instructions, and once you’ve evaluated your session(s), you’ll be entered into a drawing to win a Kindle!

What was your favorite part of #NSTA15 Chicago? Please leave us a comment and let us know!

To see more from the 2015 National Conference on Science Education in Chicago, March 12-15, please view the #NSTA15 Facebook Album—and if you see yourself, please tag yourself!

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

Future NSTA Conferences

2015 STEM Forum & Expo

2015 Area Conferences

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Preschool experiences in a winter forest

Children talk about photos with a teacher.Once a month each three-year-old and four-year-old class at the Arlington Unitarian Cooperative Preschool (AUCP) spends the morning on a fieldtrip at a local natural area. The lead nature teacher arrives and spreads out a large tarp and a few sleeping bags as a place for their morning meeting. On this occasion the ground is cold and wet with melted snow. The classroom teacher and assistant and the school director are there. Parents arrive to stay and co-op (assist the teachers) or to drop off their children. Everyone is wearing insulated boots, warm pants, jackets, hats and mittens and the children have brought snacks in their backpacks. The nearby heated nature center with bathrooms opens in an hour.

Children and teacher read one of the book pages that are posted alongside the trail.The lead teacher begins by passing around photos from this class’ last visit, a month ago when the weather was warmer and the children waded in edge of the creek. The group talks briefly about their previous experience, looks at the temperature (32*F) and settles in to hear a book. After the story is over the children choose a direction and walk off in small groups attended by adults in a 2 children to 1 adult ration. I followed an adult with a pair of children who wanted to walk on the paved trail downstream to the location where they had waded the last time they were here. Along the way they read the text from a children’s book, Over and Under the Snow by Kate Messner. The text is on posters, illustrated by children from the local elementary school, and displayed on signs along the trail.

The children walk carefully on the frost-slippery trail, find sticks and poke at remnants of ice but can’t dislodge it. When they reach their destination, they find it hard to throw stones with mittens on. Only a few stones make it into the water, rippling the surface. All along the trail the adult and children talk about what they see and hear—the story, ice, trees, the water moving over stones and a few bird calls. The children begin walking back and meet another small group of children with an adult at a place where the creek goes under the trail. Larger chunks of ice lie broken up on the trail Child carries a large chunk of ice to drop into the and the children work hard to dislodge them, carry them to the edge of the trail and throw them into the flowing creek. I hold my breath, thinking that the effort of heaving a large chunk of ice will carry a child over the edge too. The adults stand close by but not close enough to catch the child, and they don’t give any warnings. Splash, the ice is in the water, floating away, and the child is not. The drop is less than a foot, the water is less than a foot deep, the child has a backpack full of dry clothes and the heated nature center is a short walk up the trail. If the child did fall in, there are enough adults that the others could continue their exploration while the wet one got quickly changed. Getting wet on a cold day is not part of the plan but there is a plan in place in case it happens.

The preschool class meets for snack on a large tarp.Back at the tarp, children who are hungry have broken open their snack bags and the adults are serving warm cider. After refueling, there are rock piles to clamber over, bathroom breaks to take and other paths to take. You can read more about this program, and the resources they link to about “forest kindergartens” and nature play for children.

The director describes how the school was so inspired and transformed by what they learned from the documentary, “School’s Out: Lessons from a Forest Kindergarten” that they implemented what they call “Timber Tuesdays” for a few classes. Their 3-year-olds, and two mixed-aged classes of 3, 4 and 5s, rotate each week and spend their class day outside. Instead of dropping the children off at school, the parents drop off at a local nature center and they spend their 3-hour day outside regardless of the rain, cold, snow etc. They are hoping to expand their program next year!

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Meet me in the middle

DSC02156Another round table/poster session at the NSTA conference–this time focused on middle school science. It was quite a hike to the end of the conference center, but the sharing session (and the view of Lake Michigan) was worth it!

Those who attended were treated to another “extravaganza” of ideas for their classrooms. From activities that use simple materials to more sophisticated technology applications, there was something for everyone. NGSS, notebooking, plant growth, graphing — lots of good ideas!

DSC02149This is a session that elementary teachers could also learn from, especially those in the upper grades or who have students with advanced interests. And high school teachers can learn strategies to work with students who do not have a strong background in science.

Great classroom ideas, handouts and take-aways, coffee, refreshments, and door prizes — the organizers know how to appeal to middle school teachers!


DSC02154To see more from the 2015 National Conference on Science Education in Chicago, March 12-15, please view the #NSTA15 Facebook Album—and if you see yourself, please tag yourself!

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

Future NSTA Conferences

2015 STEM Forum & Expo

DSC021592015 Area Conferences

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Elementary Extravaganza

DSC02140I just finished visiting the Elementary Extravaganza at the NSTA 2015 conference. What an amazing display of what our youngest student/scientists are doing! The teacher/presenters showed how to engage students in experimenting with circuits, studying living things up close and personal, notebooking, going on virtual field trips, building/making things, and connecting reading and writing with science. It’s set up as a series of tables with the presenters sharing their ideas and resources. Conference-goers could come and go during the 2 hour time slot. Some conferences might call this type of event a “poster session.”

DSC02142As I walked around, I saw a lot of engaged conversations among teachers and presenters. Many of the activities used readily-available materials, and presenters were willing to share their resources via handouts or posting the documents online.

Several organizations participate in the Elementary Extravaganza including

  • Council for Elementary Science International
  • NSTA Preschool Elementary Committee
  • Science & Children authors and reviewers
  • Society of Elementary Presidential Awardees

DSC02143Next year, I hope secondary teachers take a look at what our colleagues in the elementary years are doing. I could see using or adapting some of these activities and investigations for middle and high school, especially for students who do not have a strong background in science (yet). The activities could also be used in professional development workshops for teachers or as part of a family science night program. I took some ideas to share with a nature center I work with.

DSC02148It’s also a painless, informal way to present and share your ideas at the conference.

It was enjoyable to talk with the teachers. I gathered up new ideas and reconnected with colleagues whom I haven’t seen since last year.

DSC02145AND–coffee was provided! No need to stand in line at the coffee shop. Door prizes, too. Thanks to the organizers and presenters who made this a wonderful event and a conference highlight!

To see more from the 2015 National Conference on Science Education in Chicago, March 12-15, please view the #NSTA15 Facebook Album—and if you see yourself, please tag yourself!

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

Future NSTA Conferences

2015 STEM Forum & Expo

2015 Area Conferences

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NSTA 2015—Science Teachers’ Sense of Humor

One word I have never heard used to describe an NSTA conference is “boring.” There were swarms of science teachers everywhere! I am always amazed by the sheer number of educators at every career level, from first year teachers to veteran educators, eager to share and learn together.  And plenty of science and education humor was on display, from a slide featuring Einstein and fish during Neil Shubin’s Your Inner Fish presentation to a teacher displaying her science humor on her back.


There were plenty notable moments today—Education Secretary Arne Duncan participated in a panel discussion with three educators, the always popular Bill Nye, and of course, the opening of the exhibit hall!   

View the #NSTA15 Facebook Album—if you see yourself, please tag yourself!

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

Future NSTA Conferences

2015 STEM Forum & Expo

  • Minneapolis, May 20–23

2015 Area Conferences

  • Reno, October 22–24
  • Philadelphia, November 12–14
  • Kansas City, December 3–5
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Any Way You Say It, Science Is the Key

text-based blog graphicLast fall, for the first time in our nation’s history, the majority of public school students were minorities. According to the Pew Research Center, of about 50 million students, approximately 49.7 percent were white (down from 65 percent in 1997). Many of these students (over 4 million) were English language (ELL) learners. Almost 70 percent of the children of immigrants spoke a language other than English in the home. Also for the first time in 2014, the majority of public school students was eligible for free and reduced lunch. The strongest correlation to achievement is a student’s economic level (ASCD). It’s clear that achievement gaps are growing, and the resources of districts—especially in rural areas—are stretched to the limit.

On Friday, March 6, NSTA participated in a special panel on bilingual education at the annual conference of the National Association of Bilingual Educators. Why were we there? First and foremost, we believe in our mission statement… “promoting excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all.” We also believe NSTA has the necessary tools and resources to help in the nationwide effort to narrow the achievement gap.

Since the curriculum development glory days of the 1960s, educators have developed tools for supporting students who show early promise for college and career science. The equally effective projects that have brought underrepresented groups to success in both science and citizenship have received less attention. A Citizen Science effort in south Texas, an effort to embed literacy into science in Cleveland, a preschool in Omaha—in today’s challenging educational environment, programs like these represent shining guideposts to a better and more equitable future.

Better Science and Language Learning

What works to accelerate language learning? Data from many great initiatives in diverse communities show that integrated STEM programs at the earliest levels can foster both better science and language learning. But to prove that to skeptical school systems and communities, we must first dig into the commonalities of program successes in diverse communities with varying needs. Continue reading …

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NSTA’s K–College Science Education Journals: March 2015 Issues Online

Do STEM courses broaden access to science? Do you know how to use energy as a unifying theme that connects sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics? The March K–College journals from the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) have the answers you need. Written by science teachers for science teachers, these peer-reviewed journals are targeted to your teaching level and are packed with lesson plans, expert advice, and ideas for using whatever time/space you have available. Browse the March issues; they are online (see below), in members’ mailboxes, and ready to inspire teachers!

Science and Children coverScience and Children

Every science discipline provides excellent opportunities to connect with the crosscutting concept of Structure and Function. This issue of S&C offers ideas for introducing and developing this crosscutting concept in your classroom.

Featured articles (please note, only those marked “free” are available to nonmembers without a fee):

cover of the March 2015 issue of Science ScopeScience Scope

Engineering inspired by nature is just one approach you can use to incorporate the NGSS crosscutting concept of Structure and Function into your science curriculum. In this issue, we present several strategies for embedding crosscutting concepts and demonstrating to students how different science subjects are interconnected.

Featured articles (please note, only those marked “free” are available to nonmembers without a fee):

cover of the March 2015 issue of The Science TeacherThe Science Teacher

The concept of energy is central to all the sciences. A clear understanding of energy is essential for life science students, especially in topics like photosynthesis, cellular respiration, ecosystems, and cellular transport. Energy transformations also are fundamental to understanding basic processes in chemistry and physics, from rusting cars and exploding dynamite to electric motors and wind turbines. In Earth and space sciences, energy drives climate, tectonic plate movements, volcanoes, earthquakes, and ocean currents. Perhaps more than any other single topic, energy provides a unifying theme that connects the sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics in an authentic way.

Featured articles (please note, only those marked “free” are available to nonmembers without a fee):

cover of March/April 2015 issue of JCST Journal of College Science Teaching

Although there are many opportunities for undergraduates to participate in authentic research projects, little is known about the efficacy of such programs in achieving desired student learning outcomes. See Authentic Science Research Opportunities for a study that uses qualitative and quantitative data, surveys, and interviews to examine this issue. Do you use case studies in your teaching? If so, you may have wondered how to make those case studies part of your tests. Clyde F. Herreid provides some answers to this question in the Case Study column. And read about two cohort programs at a small liberal arts college designed to support the development of students from groups underrepresented in STEM fields in terms of their drive to succeed, their sense of belonging at college, and their learning in STEM courses in Broadening Access to Science.

Featured articles (please note, only those marked “free” are available to nonmembers without a fee):

Get these journals in your mailbox as well as your inbox—become an NSTA member!

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

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