Learning from the online Early Childhood community

Child rolls a ball along a ramp she built.Do you have colleagues with whom you can share ideas for teaching science and engineering concepts? Do you have resources to develop science lessons? Does your program or district support the science and engineering curriculum that you know is best practice for your students? Sometimes the best support is available online from researchers who investigate how children learn, curriculum designers who use research to carefully plan developmentally appropriate learning experiences, educators who discuss the research and other classroom teachers who use and revise these learning experiences.

This is where blogs, journals, and resource websites can be helpful in becoming knowledgeable about recent research and others’ experiences. Here are two blog posts I found helpful in reflecting on my practice:

Cindy Hoisington, Senior Curriculum/Instructional Design Associate at Education Development Center, Inc, shares her experiences and thoughts on the recent National Science Teachers Association’s (NSTA) position statement on Early Childhood Science Education in a July post on a National Association for the Education of Young Children’s (NAEYC) blog, “Putting the Position Statement on Early Childhood Science to Work in Preschool Classrooms and Programs.” I share her excitement for NAEYC’s endorsement of the NSTA position statement! This document will help guide my teaching.

Read Cindy’s post, read the NSTA position statement on Early Childhood Science Education, and then respond to Cindy’s question:

How will you put the position statement to work in your classroom or program in the coming school year?

Jeff Winokur, science educator and Instructor of Elementary Education at Wheelock College, and colleague of Cindy’s at EDC, reflected on appropriate early childhood science lessons in a blog post at The Wheelock Blog. Continue reading …

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Use the NSTA Calendar: The Easiest Way to Get More Out of Your Membership


MMYM_15minEver wondered if there was a fellowship or grant to help you complete a research project? Have you ever wanted to submit an amazing classroom investigation you authored to an awards competition? What about an international workshop for teachers or a seminar for your students from an offshore drilling rig? If you only have 15 minutes each month to spend on NSTA membership benefits, the easiest way to access multiple opportunities is through your NSTA Calendar.

The NSTA Calendar organizes events and programs for science educators’ professional learning opportunities and their classrooms. Like the NSTA Reports Grab Bag, the calendar is packed with free resources, upcoming contests, and enrichment programs.

A sampling of current calendar events include the following:

  • Ambrose Monell grants for up to $100,000 for secondary educators who are seeking ways to improve the physical, mental, and moral condition of humanity;
  • A call for elementary, middle school, and high school educators to participate in a survey on garden ecology; and
  • NAIS Challenge 20/20 is an Internet-based program that pairs classes at any grade level (K-12) from schools in the U.S. with their counterpart classes in schools in other countries.

Explore and sort your calendar search by region and grade level. Take it one step further by breaking the search down by specific category:

  • Awards/Competitions
  • Grants/Fellowships
  • Summer Programs
  • Seminars/Workshops/Courses
  • Science/Education Events
  • Student Programs

NSTA Calendar will give you links to upcoming deadlines as well as revolving deadlines for longer-term awards and grant competitions. If you have a workshop, seminar, or fellowship for science educators consider submitting an event through the NSTA Calendar site or contact the Calendar Editor at calendar@nsta.org.

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The Joys of Gardening with Young Children

Guest blogger Gail LaubenthalI welcome guest blogger, Gail Laubenthal, who shares her experiences and tips for helping young children nurture a garden and being nurtured by it. Gail is a retired teacher (43 years), currently serving as an Educational Consultant, mentoring Early Childhood teachers in Austin ISD and Grand Prairie ISD. She is also a frequent workshop presenter at NSTA, NAEYC, TAEYC, and other state and local conferences and district events.Contact her at glaubent@yahoo.com

Give children the opportunity to nurture a small piece of earth, and in return, the earth will nurture them with a harvest. Hands-on gardening creates hope and renewal in the hearts of all who participate. As Maria Montessori advised us, “The best means of invigorating the child is to immerse him in nature.” (Montessori, 1964). When children plant, care for, and harvest vegetables, like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, turnips, beets, and lettuce, they are more likely to eat them…much to their parents’ surprise! They also begin to understand where their food comes from.

As you begin this school year, ask yourself if this might be the year to create or enhance a garden space for your children. If the answer is, “Yes!” then you can use these tips to help build a successful garden experience. The learning opportunities are endless!

So what should you be doing now?

  • Find a garden space that has a minimum of 6 hours of sun each day.
  • A nearby water source is important, but not essential. Use a long hose to fill a 5 gallon bucket with water and the children can use small cups and cans to dip their water and pour it on their seeds, sprouts, and plants.
  • If you already have a classroom garden, begin planning a cleanup day and invite your children and their families to help. If your school has business/organization volunteers, find out if they would be interested in helping with your gardening program. Plan a weekend garden cleanup event. One teacher “planted” a dead tree in a bucket and hung colorful paper pictures of fruits and vegetables on it. On each she put a request for garden tools, seeds, and plants. In no time, all of her garden needs had been fulfilled.
  • Children working in a raised bed "Square Foot" school garden.By using the Square Foot gardening method, you can build a 4-foot by 4-foot square garden and 16 children can have their own 1-foot by 1-foot space. Other methods, like container gardening, might also work, if space and sunlight is a factor. Many ideas on gardening with children can be found on Pinterest, including on my garden board at http://www.pinterest.com/flaubent/gardening-with-children/
  • Begin to think about what types of vegetables, fruits, flowers and/or herbs you would like to plant. It is best to include your children when making these decisions. Your local county extension office often has a yearly calendar listing seeds and plants that can be planted in your area based on a seasonal timeline.
  • August and September are often too hot if you live in the South, so most teachers use those months to prepare the garden site, with the goal of planting in late September or early October. Other areas will have different challenges and schedules. Be mindful of your local weather to determine when you should begin to plant. In some areas of the country, the fall/winter gardens reap the most bountiful harvest. In other areas, the spring/summer garden is the best. See planting guides from your cooperative extension service (see an example here) and the USDA Plant Hardiness map to determine which plants are most likely to survive over winter.

Continue reading …

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Career Education, NGSS, Teacher Tenure, Creationism, and Dissections: The STEM Landscape Across the United States

As schools get back into session and teachers prepare to go back, many stories are popping up in the news about science and STEM education across the United States. The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) follows these stories and gets involved through our journals, conferences, and professional development programs. This week the stories I found to be the most interesting to science teachers are:\

Jodi Peterson is the Assistant Executive Director, Communication, Legislative & Public Affairs for the National Science Teachers Association and the Chair of the STEM Education Coalition. Reach her at jpeterson@nsta.org or follow her on Twitter @STEMedadvocate.

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Where Can I Find Professional Development Opportunities and Resources for Science Teachers?


NSTA member Becky Litherland, a middle level STEM coordinator, loves taking the teachers in her district to the NSTA Conferences on Science Education. “One of my favorite things is to take a teacher to their first NSTA conference,” she says. “It’s so much fun. They come back to the classroom super charged and ready to do all kinds of things.” Litherland’s teachers aren’t the only ones who have benefited from those trips, however. Litherland, who served as a district science coordinator for 26 years before becoming a STEM coordinator, has found a number of professional learning resources at the conferences. She has turned to NSTA many times for guidance on how to provide quality learning opportunities for teachers.

Litherland: Over many years, I have encouraged teachers to become presenters at NSTA conferences. Usually, I have them present with me the first time. Then, the second time, they present on their own. The process of preparing for and presenting at a conference is an educational experience. There is so much learning that takes place at an NSTA conference.

I have a long list of professional development resources I’ve found at NSTA conferences. For instance, I already knew about Science Notebooks when I attended an NSTA conference in New Orleans. I came out of a session and said to a colleague, ‘This is what our district needs. This is the next piece to the Science Notebooks.’ When I came home I ordered the book Writing in Science and I realized the presenter was the author!

At the NSTA Conference in Seattle I happened upon a session by Julia Cothron, author of Science Experiments by the Hundreds. Her work also has had a major impact on my teachers and students. She has conducted professional development for our teachers many times. When Missouri wrote their grade-level expectations, their inquiry strand was basically the experimental design that Cothron outlined in her book. It wasn’t the intent of her book, but it became a great match. Part of our state test involves experimental design or inquiry. Our district does a pre- and post-test for sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade science that is similar to the state piece, but it all aligns with the ideas we got from Julia Cothron. My teachers are taking their labs and modifying them to be more open and more student-centered all thanks to Cothron’s work. It is fun to think this all got started from an NSTA session years ago.

How else has your NSTA membership helped you with professional development?

Litherland: I’ve served on the NSTA Board of Directors and Council. That’s been a great learning experience and I have met fantastic people. You always pick up ideas whenever you get science people together. You also get a good sense that science education is bigger than you and it’s bigger than just your school district. NSTA sets you up for professional networking, which increases your professionalism.

And, you make connections that you wouldn’t have made if you weren’t an NSTA member. For example, our district applied for a Mathematics and Science Partnership (MSP) grant through our state department of education called the Scientist in Residence Program. The RFP for the three-year project made it very clear that they wanted us to provide content training for third- through sixth-grade teachers. As we worked on the RFP, we were trying to figure out how to provide that content. Another colleague (who is also active in NSTA) and I we were at one of our writing meetings and we both thought of Bill Robertson. I had seen his Stop Faking It series, which is published by NSTA. So, we called NSTA and they gave us Bill’s contact information. We got in touch with him and he ended up working with us for three years. It was fantastic. We purchased many of his books.

NSTA also connected me with Page Keeley. I can’t tell you how many of her Uncovering Student Ideas in Science books I’ve bought. For five years, I was in charge of inquiry training in our district. Everyone who attended the training got copies of Page’s books. Her work has really made an impact on my teachers who use her formative assessment approach quite frequently.

(Note from NSTA: How has NSTA helped you with professional development? We’d love to hear from you in the comments section below. Not a member of NSTA? Learn more about how to join.)

Jennifer Henderson is our guest blogger for this series. Before launching her freelance career as a writer/editor, Jennifer was Managing Editor of The Science Teacher, NSTA’s peer-reviewed journal for high school science teachers.

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Notetaking vs notemaking

6681499071_f7ffb7223e_m(1)I really want to stop “giving” notes to students because it doesn’t seem like a good use of class time. They use tablets, so they can find facts easily, but I want students to actually manipulate the content and think about it. But I’m struggling a bit with letting go of the notes. Guidance or thoughts?
—Kelly, Raleigh, North Carolina

From my review of the notetaking literature (a focus of my dissertation), I found two schools of thought. One was note taking as a record of events. This would correspond to the minutes of a meeting or a transcript of a video. With this concept, teachers would give students a copy of important facts as a handout or file (or make the students copy them from the board or screen). Every student would have the same information in a standard style. [I've interviewed students who listed copying notes as their least favorite class activity.]

The other thought is notetaking as a form of information processing (notemaking might be a better term). As students read text, listen to a lecture, participate in a discussion, or watch a video, they connect what they’re seeing or hearing to what they already know, ask questions, reflect on their understanding, and summarize. This could be in a variety of formats depending on the information: Cornell notes, sketches, lists, annotating text, graphic organizers. Much of the literature on science notebooks reflects this concept of note taking.*

Do students know how to make their own notes? As veteran learners, we teachers often take things for granted, but if students are used to having notes given to them, they’ll need guidance. I observed a chemistry teacher who did this effectively. He projected the text on the board (the students had their own copies) as he read the text aloud. He paused and noted key words such as most important, three reasons for…, first. He underlined a few key phrases and annotated the margins with key terms or questions from the paragraph. After a page or two, he encouraged students to try this on their own as he circulated around the room and monitored their efforts. With a notemaking approach, teachers need to accept that students’ notes will not be uniform.

Regardless of the approach you use, the key is what students do with the notes. If they’re stored on a device or online, do they have access to them at home? Can they archive the notes for another year or class? Do students know how to use notes for review? Can they use them during other activities? Younger or less experienced students will need your guidance, modeling, scaffolding, and feedback to learn to use their notes.

Here are some additional suggestions from a recent e-mail list discussion**:

Continue reading …

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A Picture Perfect Approach to Connecting Reading Strategies and Science

PPS authors with science teachersToday’s guest blogger is Kim Stilwell, an education consultant who plans and conducts professional development workshops. Kim, along with her colleague, Chris Gibler, are presenters in the August 6 NSTA Virtual Conference on Connecting Literacy and Science with NGSS and Common Core, where they will share how using Picture Perfect Science resources became part of the foundation to successfully connecting literacy and science in their district. Learn more and register for the Virtual Conference here. For all resources on NGSS, visit the NGSS@NSTA Hub.

Building an elementary program connecting literary and science can be an overwhelming thought. The common core standards address the need for reading complex informational text at an early age. Infusing the language arts block with rich, age-appropriate content knowledge and vocabulary in science is essential. Having students listen to informational read-alouds in the early grades helps lay the necessary foundation for students’ reading and understanding of increasingly complex texts on their own in subsequent grades.

Science Teachers at summer instituteUsing Picture Perfect Science resources became part of the foundation for our teachers to successfully connect literacy and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). We’ve found author visits to be a key factor in teacher buy in. Over the past several years, we invited the Picture Perfect Science (PPS) authors Emily Morgan and Karen Ansberry to visit and work with our teachers. Starting off with a five-day workshop was a tremendous success in getting our teachers familiar with inquiry, reading strategies, and the BSCS 5E (Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate) model of instruction. Karen and Emily modeled lessons and went in-depth with our teachers about using the lessons in the K–6 classrooms. You can learn more about the background of PPS by watching authors Emily Morgan and Karen Ansberry discuss Picture-Perfect Science Lessons on the NSTA YouTube channel. Continue reading …

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NGSS@NSTA Hub: Your One-Stop Source for Next Generation Science Standards Information


MMYM_30minAs you ramp up your plans for the coming school year, be sure to include time to visit the NGSS@NSTA Hub. Setting aside 30 minutes of professional learning time regularly will help you keep up with the latest news and developments regarding the Next Generation Science Standards. This one-stop source for blog posts, journal articles, web seminars, updated NGSS adoption news, and more is tailored to assist K-12 science teachers across the United States.

NSTA supports the implementation of the NGSS as an effective and research-based way to transform science education, to prepare all students for college and career readiness, and to foster a new generation of evidence-based consumers of science. NSTA is committed to supporting science educators, leaders, and states to help them prepare for NGSS implementation.

Science education aligned to the NGSS standards can bolster important skills learned in other disciplines, including the crucial skills of reading, writing, and argumentation. NSTA is always looking for ways to aggregate vast organizational resources and inform member professional learning.

As a premium benefit to NSTA members, you can now download five educational videos on the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), each one hour in length.

More Time?

NSTA’s Web Seminar Archive has a category devoted to NGSS. Explore past web seminars on NGSS to learn more about the standards and how to implement them in your classroom.


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How Can NSTA Help Me Give Back to My Profession?


When NSTA member Patty McGinnis attended her first NSTA national conference, she was hooked. “I thought, ‘this is the best thing ever!’ and I went again and again,” McGinnis says. “The conferences are energizing because you’re with other people who are passionate about what they do. They’re good teachers, they want to be better, and they want to give back to their profession.”

And that’s exactly what McGinnis wanted to do after the conference—give back to her profession and make a difference in science education. So, she started presenting at the NSTA conferences, writing and reviewing articles for the association’s journals, and volunteering for NSTA committees. Now, she serves on the NSTA Board of Directors as Director of Middle Level Science Teaching.

McGinnis: It’s amazing to have your voice heard. You feel valued. And, when you’re interacting with other really passionate teachers at the national level, you experience this energy that you wouldn’t anywhere else.

A coworker encouraged me to go to my first NSTA conference. After that, I started presenting, mainly at local NSTA conferences, because they were less intimidating. Then, I started presenting at the national level and soon realized there were other opportunities in addition to presenting. Now, I try to let NSTA members who attend conferences know that there are opportunities to serve that will continue to re-energize them beyond that conference.

Serving on an NSTA committee is a great opportunity for teachers to grow into teacher leaders. Your opinion is valued at NSTA. For instance, I served on the Science Scope journal advisory board. On that board, you have the opportunity to set the themes for the journal and to make suggestions for different columns. Ten years ago, I never would have thought I’d be making decisions that could potentially impact teachers across the nation.

As chair of the Committee on Middle Level Science Teaching, for example, I encourage my committee to consider the needs of middle school teachers and figure out ways to help them specifically. We decided that middle school teachers would want conference sessions geared toward just them. So, we held the first ever “Meet Me in the Middle” Day at the national conference in Boston. We had a two-hour networking round-table session that focused on different topics such as assessment and robotics. We also held 14 different half-hour sessions, and then a two-hour share-a-thon with 100 presenters and that was very dynamic. We had about 500 educators attend and we plan to repeat the event at the next conference in Chicago. It am proud that I played a part in creating this event. Being able to provide middle school teachers with something that specifically targets their needs feels very satisfying.

I love volunteering for NSTA and giving back to the profession. But, I didn’t anticipate that I would grow so much and benefit personally from the experience, as well. I can’t describe how much NSTA has impacted my professional life. It has made me into the leader I am today.

(Note from NSTA: Learn more about NSTA’s volunteer opportunities. Not a member of NSTA? Learn more about how to join.)

Jennifer Henderson is our guest blogger for this series. Before launching her freelance career as a writer/editor, Jennifer was Managing Editor of The Science Teacher, NSTA’s peer-reviewed journal for high school science teachers.

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Ideas for must-have strategies

I’m mentoring two new science teachers this year, and I want to focus on must-have strategies and effective practices for science. I’m sure they will have their own needs, but, based on your experience, what would be important to include in a plan for them?
—Chris, Baltimore, Maryland

Your new teachers are fortunate to have a mentor in place. Few teacher prep programs and practicums can prepare one for every circumstance, and new teachers are often placed in less-than-ideal situations (floating, working with the most challenging students, or teaching several subjects or subject levels). What is a common event for an experienced teacher who already has a repertoire of strategies is a brand-new challenge for a newbie.

A list of “must-have strategies and effective practices” in science must start with safety, and NSTA has many resources on its safety portal. New teachers should understand that if an activity or demonstration cannot be done safely, it should not be done at all, no matter how interesting or engaging it might be or how mature the students are.

Here are four other must-haves that I learned over more than 25 years of teaching science (in no particular order):

Continue reading …

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