Students Collaborate Worldwide on Science, Engineering

A student at Preston Middle School in Fort Collins, Colorado, holds up a prototype rechargeable lantern for inspection by collaborating students at the CHAT House in Uganda via Skype. Photo courtesy of Heidi Hood

A student at Preston Middle School in Fort Collins, Colorado, holds up a prototype rechargeable lantern for inspection by collaborating students at the CHAT House in Uganda via Skype. Photo courtesy of Heidi Hood

 It’s an international effort that may be unique: Students in the United States and Canada are working together to design 3D–printed, portable, battery-powered, rechargeable lanterns that students in Uganda and the Dominican Republic, who do not have reliable access to electricity, will field test. This isn’t an act of charity, it’s a “global collaboration to use kids’ unique talents and technology to make the world a better place,” says Tracey Winey, media specialist at Preston Middle School in Fort Collins, Colorado.

“The premise of the program is everybody has different talents,” she continues. “It’s not one group serving another. Each [group] is contributing unique talents to make a successful program. We have laid a foundation that everybody’s voice is important.”

The groups include students at Preston Middle School; Riverview High School in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada; the Care and Hope through Adoption and Technology (CHAT) House in Uganda; the Dominican Republic; and Pheasey Park Farm Primary School and Children’s Centre in Walsall, United Kingdom.

At Preston Middle School, students in the One Million Lights Club visit Winey’s media center before and after school and during lunch to work on the project. Along with Winey and John Howe, the school’s vice principal, they have Skyped with CHAT House students to learn more about their particular needs for the portable lights and shared their designs with the Riverview students. The CHAT House students also will field test the lights designed and built in Colorado. Winey says the CHAT House students will check the circuits to make sure they work and track how long the lights last, how many cranks are needed to charge the battery for how many minutes of light, whether the light is strong enough, how long batteries must be plugged into solar panels to be fully charged, and more. Their feedback will help the Preston students improve their designs.

“One byproduct [of the project] is light, but another is to foster global collaboration…[while] creating philanthropy in our kids,” explains Winey. “Our kids learn so much content through this program. This isn’t a class; my kids come before school, after school. Kids are motivated because they are curious and they know their work matters.” Continue reading …

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NSTA’s K-12 April/May Science Education Journals Online

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Stability and change; gathering, analyzing, and interpreting data; and science for all—these are the themes of the April/May 2015 journal articles from the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA). Browse through the thought-provoking selections below and learn more about the power of water, what happens when an environment changes, using authentic data, myths about English Language Learners, and other important topics in K–12 science education.

Science and Children

April/May 2015 cover of Science and ChildrenWhile stability and change are phenomena that we deal with frequently within many science concepts, they are rarely pointed out or emphasized. This issue of Science and Children offers ideas for helping students identify when they recognize these elements within the investigations and when it is appropriate to use these terms.

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

Science Scope

April/May 2015 cover of Science ScopeGathering, analyzing, and interpreting data are at the heart of doing science. In this issue we offer a variety of activities you can use with your students to engage them with real-world data as they explore different science topics. We hope they will help your students make better sense of the world around them.

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

The Science Teacher

April/May 2015 cover of The Science TeacherThis issue of The Science Teacher marks our 20th consecutive annual issue devoted to the theme of “Science for All.” Teaching strategies targeted toward a specific group almost always turn out to improve learning for all groups. And so, when this issue suggests ways to use quality graphics to support English language learners or provides ideas for using videos to engage reluctant readers, you will also discover ideas that work for all students who struggle to read science texts. Likewise, in an article describing strategies to support students with weak executive functioning skills, you will find ways to improve all your students’ organization, planning, and self-regulation abilities. High-quality teaching strategies like those in this issue benefit students well beyond the targeted groups.

YouTube fans, watch high school science teacher and TST Field Editor, Steve Metz, introduce this month’s issue.

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

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Building with Blocks: Exploring stability and change in systems

In my neighborhood, flowing rainwater from rooftops and yards is making a small gully in the hillside before it runs into the street and goes into the storm sewer. The hillside used to be just a grassy slope. As the original bare patch deepened, roots and rocks became visible in the soil. I wondered what changes in the neighborhood made this happen? The neighborhood is a system of surfaces where rain falls and flows off on its way to the river—roof tops, downspouts, drainage pipes to direct the water, trees, grass yards, garden slopes, sidewalks and roads. What changes in this system led to the erosion of the hillside?

Maybe your children can see the changes made by rain or wind in their local environment. Observing these changes can help us think of our neighborhood and environment as a system. “A system is an organized group of related objects or components that form a whole. (NRC 1996).”

Child at the block shelf where blocks are sorted by shape.A common and simple system that children work with in early childhood programs is the structure they build from blocks. Teachers have a role in supporting children’s work in block building. Professional organizations that support teaching science, The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), provide some resources (some at no cost) to help us understand Cover of journal, Young Childrenhow to maximize children’s learning in the block area. The topic of the March issue of Young Children is “Blocks: Great Learning Tools From Infancy Through the Primary Grades.” Two of the articles available to non-members address block building in preschool: Building Bridges to Understanding in a Preschool Classroom: A Morning in the Block Center by Lea Ann Christenson and Jenny James, and Using Blocks to Develop 21st Century Skills by Karen Wise Lindeman and Elizabeth McKendry Anderson.

Susan Friedman, Executive Editor of Digital Content at NAEYC, reminisced about the materials on the block shelves in her first classroom on the NAEYC blog—add your comment to describe your block area and how the children use it. Continue reading …

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Reviewing during a unit

Do you have any suggestions on how to help students review and apply what they learn during a unit? I’ve tried creating games and contests, but the students don’t seem to get much out of them.   —C., Minnesota

Many teachers have special review sessions prior to a test. With my middle and high school students, I found a few issues with this practice:

  • Some students became so dependent on reviews that they would say, “I was absent for the review session. Do I have to take the test now?”
  • The traditional games often focus on factual knowledge or vocabulary, even though the assessments had items that required higher-level thinking.
  • The games and other activities took time to create, find, or adapt, and I was the one doing this. The students had little ownership in the review process.
  • Even though the students enjoyed the games, they didn’t always realize that the purpose was to reinforce their learning or apply the concepts.

So I changed my plans to incorporate periodic review sessions, rather than a marathon one at the end of the unit. Here are some review activities that involved students, seemed to be most helpful for them, and did not take a lot of planning time.

Continue reading …

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einstein dataDesigned to provide an interactive laboratory experience to science students across a wide range of ability levels, the einstein Tablet+ is a mobile device produced by Fourier Education designed to provide an interactive laboratory experience to science students across a variety of ages and grade levels. Furnished with an android operating system, the einstein Tablet+ can access the internet and download and run android applications. For example, Fourier Education produces three applications for the einstein Tablet+, which are included with the device: 1) MiLAB, 2) Einstein World, and 3) TrackIt!.

Using the variety of sensors available with the device , the MiLAB application allows students to record, collect, and graph data. The device has built-in sensors that can be used to detect the following: 1) UV, 2) light, 3) humidity, 4) temperature, 5) accelerometer, and 6) microphone. The einstein Tablet+ also houses five ports that can be used with any of Fourier Education’s 65 external sensors. These sensors can be used for a variety of science applications. In addition to the sensor ports, the device is equipped with a headphone jack as well as USB, HDMI, and MicroSD ports.

einsteinLABStudents can collect data in real time by using the MiLAB application, which has several features that allow students to record their observations and to save data for later review. For example, students can record observations alongside their graph in the notes section or take a video of their experiment. In addition, students can save graphs and screenshots and “run back” recorded graphs to review the progress of their experiment over time from the beginning to the end. Continue reading …

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Create Teachable Moments for Your Students

The BSCS 5E Instructional Model: Creating Teachable MomentsLike classroom teachers at all levels and disciplines, you have probably experienced teachable moments. They are those positive distractions from planned lessons where students are engaged and you have the opportunity to explore ideas and provide an explanation or insight. These are exciting, even magical, moments for teachers.

In The BSCS 5E Instructional Model: Creating Teachable Moments, author Rodger Bybee explains why a teachable moment occurs:

“Teachable moments occur when individuals experience something they recognize and that has meaning, but they cannot formulate an explanation for the phenomenon or experience. The experience is within their cognitive grasp but beyond their full understanding…. At a slightly deeper level, the student is expressing cognitive disequilibrium with phenomena in the classroom, school, or environment. In short, the student’s current knowledge and understanding do not provide an explanation for something he or she has experienced.”

A former executive director of the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS) and an author of this instructional model, Bybee describes the BSCS 5E Instructional Model as an approach to teaching that centers on important content and abilities and that increases the opportunities for teachable moments.

As a classroom teacher, you do not have to wait for something out of the blue; you can create teachable moments by using a sequence of lessons that includes engaging experiences and activities for students, but the experiences should be beyond students’ immediate grasp. Imagine using an instructional sequence that begins with an experience of high interest but is beyond students’ understanding, and then the lessons provide opportunities for students to sort out their ideas and try to explain the initial situation as the sequence continues.

This leads you to the moment where you can help students gain knowledge and understanding of the experience. Then, you provide a situation where students have to apply their new knowledge to another situation. Finally, students and the teacher conclude with an assessment.

What Are the 5Es?

The BSCS instructional model consists of five phases of learning:

  • Engage: The goal of this phase is to capture the students’ attention; it need not be a full lesson, but often it is.
  • Explore: Students participate in activities that provide the time and opportunities to resolve the mental disequilibrium or dissonance of the engagement experience.
  • Explain: Keeping students connected to, and explaining, the teachable moment is the emphasis of this phase.
  • Elaborate: Students are involved in learning experiences that expand and enrich the concepts and abilities developed in the prior phases.
  • Evaluate: Teachers and students should receive feedback on the adequacy of their explanations and abilities, so students should be involved in activities that are consistent with those of prior phases and designed to assess their explanations.

With this brief introduction, you can see the rich opportunities that the BSCS 5E Instructional Model affords for creating teachable moments for your students. This model will help teachers bridge the gap between research on learning and the realities of classrooms. Once you understand the aims, orientation, and flexibility of the five phases, you can incorporate the unique demands of the Common Core State Standards, NGSS, and other state and local standards.

This book is also available as an e-book.

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

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Ideas from visiting another classroom

Visiting other schools always makes me think about classroom organization, I get new ideas about how to document children’s learning, and gets me thinking about changes I want to implement in my teaching. Changes in weather often lead to changes in activities and we begin favorite spring investigations and look for new ways to explore and record the children’s work. With the warmer weather, children can get wet and not have to change clothes to remain comfortable. So I was happy to see some new ways of documenting water exploration by a four-year-old class in another school.

Children's and parents' responses to the question, "List 3 ways you use water."This school has a Question of the Morning for parents and children to consider together at drop off time, a time of transition that gets its own time slot, not just a moment but a period of time that is planned for. The questions are considered for as long as the child is interested and the responses are recorded by either, or both, child and adult. 

Some of the questions relate to an investigation that the children are pursuing, such as into the properties of water. Sensory table filled with cups, spoons, sponges, turkey basters for water play.Sensory tables and tubs, buckets and mud puddles provide experiences with water. Children can find out about the properties of water using tools such as scoops, funnels, droppers, spoons, sieves, cups,child drying off a riding toy. sponges, tubes….the list is endless! Don’t forget towels to learn about absorption and to keep the floor from being slippery. Begin with a few and tools can be added and set aside as needed when children begin playing with pouring, flow and containment. Drying off the playground equipment is a “real life” link to this investigation.

Small annotated drawings by children hung on lengths of string like a mobile.Close up of children's water drawings.Further documentation of children’s thinking has been linked together on lengths of string—a visual of how the ideas are linked around the central idea of “How does water influence your world?” I wish I could have heard the conversation about the meaning of the word “influence.” “How does water influence your world?” So much more active and of consequence than “Where do you see water?”


Using a small amount of water can be just as engaging as pouring from buckets. In this activity inspired by a workshop led by Karen Worth and Jeff Winokur from Wheelock College and EDC, Inc., children make drops and talk about their shape and appearance on different surfaces. Other ways for working with water include holding melting ice, and painting with liquid water!

100_3185a IMG_4359abIMG_6432  Water in drops, as ice, and painted on a fence.


Child putting a funnel, tube and container.Manipulating larger amounts of water with tools can lead to creating a system, requiring children to think about cause and effect and how the pieces can go together to meet a goal. Can you suggest some more ways to document this work?


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Online resource collections

NSTA’s SciLinks has a searchable database of vetted websites with information, graphics, and lesson plans. These cover topics K-12 in the life, physical and earth sciences as well as health and engineering. The sites are correlated to specific keywords (such as Food Chains, Phases of the Moon, or Magnetic Fields). The data base is available to any teacher.

There are other online collections of more focused resources. Although many of the individual resources have been aligned with specific SciLinks keywords and are included in the database, the entire collection may be of interest to teachers looking for supplements, lesson suggestions, differentiation ideas, enrichment opportunities for students, or to enhance their own knowledge.

These are not simply lists of someone’s favorite websites. These are activities, simulations, and resources created by organizations or institutions as part of an outreach program or related to their projects and research. You can search for sites by grade level and subject area. No fees or paid subscriptions are required, although users may be asked to register. Here are just a few examples:

  • TeachEngineering is designed “to make applied science and math come alive through engineering design in K-12 settings.” Concepts in life, earth and physical science are taught, connected, and reinforced through real-life problems or scenarios in student- and teacher-friendly formats. There is also an option to search by NGSS standards. The lessons have been designed by university engineering faculty and teachers. Example: 20/20 Vision for grades 3-5 illustrates the format and design of the lessons. 
  • The Royal Society of Chemistry’s (UK)  Learn Chemistry site provide access to thousands of chemistry-related activities, simulations, games, tutorials, handouts, quizzes, journal articles, podcasts, apps, and videos in a searchable format for both teachers and students. Example: The Mole, a bi-monthly E-zine written in student-friendly language
  • Middle School Chemistry (from the American Chemical Society) is “a resource of guided, inquiry-based lesson plans that covers basic chemistry concepts along with the process of scientific investigation.” The lessons are written in the 5E model and include background information and student activity sheets. The lessons can be accessed individually or the entire resource can be downloaded as a PDF file. Example: Heat, Temperature, and Conduction illustrates the design and format of the lessons. 
  • Kids Health from the Nemours Foundation has health and wellness resources (including information on human body systems) for kids, teens, educators, and parents. These often have a Spanish version and they can be downloaded, printed, or emailed to share with parents or to use in class. Example: The Digestive System has a brief video, an article (also in Spanish), and a quiz. 
  • Biointeractive from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) has a searchable collection of free resources for science teachers and students, including animations, short films, lectures, virtual labs, and apps. Example: A search for “Environmental Science” produces 42 resources, including the EarthViewer app.



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The STEM in Food Science

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Food science has come a long way since the days of girls taking home economics and boys taking shop class. The classes in my sons’ middle and high schools are now called family and consumer science, or food technology (and both of the boys have taken at least one semester). For simplicity’s sake I will call all such classes food science, because the ultimate aim is to get your students into a career that will support them, and food science is one such. I have written before about food chemistry, big agriculture, and food biotechnology, all of which inform modern food science curricula.

STEM | Food | Economics

A good STEM unit on food science could be developed in conjunction with an economics teacher. A significant percentage of all food globally is imported. In developing countries, the percentage of imported food increases as the country’s income rises. In 2013, there were 13 countries that were 100% dependent on imports for their grain supplies. Importing food may seem like a good economic choice that frees up land for urbanization and population growth, but it leaves a country vulnerable to natural disasters and political changes outside its borders. Russia is one of the world’s largest grain exporters, and it has banned grain exports several times in the last 10 years. Even developed countries are not immune to external disruptions in food supply. In 2009 the United States imported around 16% of all food consumed by its people. In that same year, the United Kingdom imported 50.5% of all its food.

It is important for all students to have some background in food science, because the importance of safe and reliable food sources cannot be overstated. In the United States, the imported and domestic foods we consume sometimes bring food safety issues. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is nominally responsible for inspecting all food production facilities that supply food for its people. In 2011, there were approximately 130,000 facilities worldwide that the FDA was responsible for inspecting. Food contaminants include foreign materials, chemicals and pesticides, natural toxins, and metals (primarily arsenic, lead, or mercury).

The most common causes of food poisoning in the United States are four strains of bacteria: E. coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter, and Listeria. Campylobacter is most commonly found in poultry and dairy products. The risk of bacterial contamination is much reduced by pasteurization, which is the primary reason most dairy products are treated with this process. Another common method of reducing bacterial contamination in food is irradiation. Thorough cooking of poultry can reduce the risk of contamination from that source. E. coli is well-known for outbreaks associated with ground meat. Listeria has been the cause of outbreaks in consumers of bean sprouts, and peanut butter was the source of a recent outbreak of Salmonella. Continue reading …

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Help Your Students Achieve Earth Science Success

Earth Science SuccessNSTA Press authors Catherine Oates-Bockenstedt and Michael Oates, a daughter-father team, have collaborated on a second edition of Earth Science Success: 55 Tablet-Ready, Notebook-Based Lessons. The book provides a one-year curriculum with 55 classroom-proven lessons designed to follow the disciplinary core ideas for middle school Earth and space science from the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Intended for teachers of grades 5-9, Earth Science Success emphasizes hands-on, sequential experiences through which students discover important science concepts lab by lab and develop critical-thinking skills. The first edition of the book focused more on the rationale for implementing the curriculum and the wisdom of using composition notebooks, this second edition focuses a special lens on the lessons themselves. The 55 lesson plans enable teachers to use electronic tablets, such as iPads, with best practice, field-tested methods.

Each of the labs is organized to follow a pattern of active involvement by students. Students are continually asked to search for evidence using a three-step discovery approach. The three steps are: anticipation, evidence collection, and analysis. Anticipation involves reflection on observations and a problem statement, recall of previous knowledge about the topic, discussion of misconceptions, and definition of concepts. Evidence collection includes hands-on laboratory investigation techniques. Analysis requires confirmation or rejection of results, reporting the findings, and drawing conclusions about the observations.

The book is organized into seven sections:

  • Process of Science and Engineering Design
  • Earth’s Place in the Solar System and the Universe
  • Earth’s Surface Processes
  • History of Planet Earth
  • Earth’s Interior Systems
  • Earth’s Weather
  • Human Impacts on Earth Systems

The hope is that students will form good habits about testing and controlling all possible variables in their experiments whenever they are collecting evidence. They should be able to identify the manipulated, measured, and controlled variables in each experiment. Results should be reliable and valid. And students should set up controls, as a basis of comparison, so they can determine the actual charges in their data. This pattern of active involvement by students is followed throughout Earth Science Success.

The authors understand how busy a classroom science teacher is, and they know that successful strategies include those that save you time and promote skillful organization. Both composition notebooks and electronic tablets offer tremendous opportunities in this regard.

Why are notebooks, both electronic and nonelectronic, so valuable? One of the most important reasons is that students are able to organize, reflect upon, and achieve at higher levels. Students tend to have fewer missing assignments, and “no name” papers are a thing of the past. Tablets enable connections to internet research, word-processing capabilities, real-time data, and access to rich video vignettes to expand learning. The tablets and compositions notebooks are also great resources to use at parent/teacher conferences.

This book is also available as an e-book.

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

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