Top 10 reasons for visting the conference exhibit hall

With a nod to David Letterman, here are my top 10 reasons for spending time in the exhibit hall:


10.  Interacting with people. You get a chance to meet and talk with other members and vendors.


9.  Planning ideas for your summer “vacation.” Lots of information about summer programs, travel opportunities, and graduate study.


8.  Playing with cool science-related toys (I mean teaching materials), such as robots or models.

7. Getting ideas to share with colleagues and students. For example, organizations such as USGS, NOAA, NASA, and publishers have a wealth to share.


6. Learning new strategies at vendor mini-classes. And there’s usually a drawing at the end to win some of the tools.


5. Being introduced to new species, such as a big brown bat.

4. Picking up freebies to take home. How many birdfeeders will be put  up on Monday?



3. Seeing new technologies. This is the first time I saw a 3-D printer up close and personal.

2.  Gathering information on science equipment.


Number 1 best reason to visit the exhibit hall!

And… 1. Meeting a terrific group of students who are designing prosthetics and building biodiesel processors.




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Elementary Extravaganza, Ramps and pathways

The Elementary Extravaganza was pulsing with energy as educators from many settings rushed in at 8am to get personal attention from the hundreds of presenters who were ready to share their work. Thanks to the sponsors–, Delta Education, School Speciality, ScienceCompanion, and Carolina, as well as NSTA.
The setting with presentations at round conference tables made it possible for everyone to do the hands-on activities, share their experiences, and ask their questions.
To find the handouts for the many presenters, go to the NSTA Boston conference sessions schedule, search for “Elementary Extravaganza” and click on the links to the handouts.

Which Elementary Extravaganza or conference session did you find useful? Share your resource links in a comment below.

The Ramps and Pathways table I was staffing featured physical science and engineering design materials–see how they engaged the educators! (Handouts ran out but will be uploaded onto the NSTA session schedule.)image




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Great ideas from Boston

skylineOn the train to Boston on Wednesday, the view for most of the ride was gray and dreary. But coming out of the station–blue sky and sun! After what seemed to be an endless winter, I hope that was a sign to indicate the bright ideas we’ll learn from our colleagues here at the conference.

In addition to the general sessions and a stroll through the Exhibit Hall, I went to a session hosted by Gary Nakagiri, an educator from California on “Developing a Toolkit for the Next Generation of Science Leaders.” He demonstrated with us the use of case studies to examine beliefs and facilitate the change process. I’m wondering if a collection of case studies around the implementation of NGSS would be a helpful resource?

drexelWe’ve all heard of amusement park physics and seen projects that related physics and music. Using the nearby Philadelphia Museum of Art (yes, the one whose steps Rocky ran up in the film), a team from Drexel University has developed an app for “Physics in the Art Museum.” The app can be accessed for free through the App Store. Search for “Drexel” (right now, the app is best used on a iPad). You can use it without going to the museum, because photos of the art work are included in the app. I visted the Boston Museum of Fine Arts this evening after the conference (it has later hours on Thursdays), and I found myself looking at art from a new perspective!

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NSTA National Conference in Boston–early childhood too!

I’m looking forward to learning, collaborating, meeting, laughing, learning, sharing, and getting a break from the usual schedule while attending the National Science Teachers Association’s conference in Boston. It’s one of several NSTA yearly conferences so if you aren’t attending this one, check the schedule –there might be an area conference or an expo near you.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children will have a booth on the Exhibit floor, and members of the Early Childhood Science Interest Forum plan to meet and share what we’ve learned from the sessions we attend.

Will I get to see the “Make Way for Ducklings” pond? I’m not sure yet. I will get to be part of the fabulous Elementary Extravaganza where over 100 presenters share their useful, fun, and informative activities, lesson plans, student work and  science and engineering tools for children from preK up to sixth grade.

I’ll have a table where Dr. Beth Van Meeteren and I will have materials on the Ramps and Pathways physical science activity for you to try out! This activity engages children in learning about motion, and can develop into a science inquiry when children have time to remain involved over weeks and months.

Let’s share our what we find useful in comments below!





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Share Your Conference Experience

This is my sixth conference with NSTA — my first, in 2008, was in Boston as well. When I tried to walk through the NSTA Science Store this morning, it was packed virtually shoulder to shoulder (the lines are considerably shorter now if you want to get some NSTA gear or pick up a few NSTA Press books). The crowd who came to hear keynote speaker Mayim Bialik was more than the room could hold, so a number of people were redirected to another room so they could still attend.

Outside the NSTA 2014 exhibit hall, waiting for it to open.

Outside the NSTA 2014 exhibit hall, waiting for it to open.

As you can see from this photo, there were a lot of science educators eager to enter the exhibit hall this morning, too.

If you couldn’t make it to Boston this year, check out where daily videos from the conference are being shared. A lot of attendees are sharing their experiences on Twitter using #NSTA14.It’s been a busy day already, and it’s still early afternoon!

What’s your favorite part of an NSTA conference?

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Students as peer-editors (p. 2)

A previous question from a teacher related to using the peer-editing process in science class. Jaime Gratton follows up with a summary of her experiences:

I would love to share what I did. I also received some responses and helpful resources from members of the NSTA email lists. For example, Jani replied with “My favorite thing to do is to provide colored pencils and then assign a meaning for the color.  For example, anything underlined in red = facts or questions, blue = spelling, green=grammar. So I just have a quarter sheet of what the colors mean. Give them colors and they will edit. Just be careful with special needs kids and who edits their papers. It also makes you see really quickly if someone told the student prior to turning in their final paper they needed to fix things.”

What I ended up doing was taking pieces from each of the responses and resources. I made a peer edit sheet that I thought would work best with the research paper my students were working on.

One thing I did emphasize was the importance of using praise comments, but also making sure that there are suggestions/questions because their goal as a Peer Editor is to make the person’s paper they are editing the best paper they can. I had really good feedback from my students after we did the editing. They really liked using the colored pencils to mark the sections they were reading. They said it was a great visual to see exactly where their mistakes/topic sentences were, as well as other suggestions to improve.

Thanks to Jaime for sharing her Peer Edit sheet. Here are some additional resources:

I also compiled these links and Jaime’s Peer Editing Sheet into the NSTA Resource collection “Peer Editing.”


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Students as peer-editors

My students are working on research papers about inventions or chemical processes set mostly during the Industrial Revolution. I was wondering if you had any suggestions about peer editing.
—Jaime, Goffstown, New Hampshire

Examining and commenting on each other’s writing can be a meaningful learning experience for students. By looking at others’ writing, students can get insights into their own work. I’m sure we’ve all experienced writing something we thought was very clear only to have someone else raise questions or point out errors and inconsistencies. For those who struggle to write well, this is an intermediate step (formative) before the teacher’s evaluation and feedback (summative).

Peer editing is not about students correcting assignments or giving “grades” to each other. It can and should go beyond the simple process of proofreading. Peer editing (sometimes referred to as peer review, but not in the same context as a scholarly journal) is part of a formative process in which students provide feedback and suggestions on written work (and the process can be used for other types of projects or displays). Students have an opportunity to read each other’s work to see other ways of writing and communicating and then reflect on and revise their own, using the feedback they receive. Having one’s work reviewed by someone other than the teacher provides a wider audience for the work.

This is not a timesaver for teachers! The teacher has to introduce the project, use class time for the review process, monitor the students, and provide an opportunity for students to revise their work. And the teacher still has to read the final versions. But I found that this authentic type of collaboration worthwhile.

This could be a challenge if your students have not done this before or did so in a superficial manner (“I liked it. You did a good job.”). Some students may hesitate to offer suggestions to peers. And some students may have never received specific feedback from their teachers—just a letter grade and a generic “good job” or “needs work.”

Continue reading …

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Scope on the skies

When I was in elementary/middle school, the earth and space sciences were largely ignored in the curriculum. We looked at some rocks and learned the names of the planets and a few constellations, but that was about it. In high school, earth and space science was not offered, even as an elective! Even though this time was the beginning of space exploration, we students were largely unaware of this incredible branch of science, unless we were independent learners.

In college as a science major (chemistry), I had to take some earth science electives for my teaching certificate. My eyes were opened in the geology, meteorology, and paleontology classes I took. It was a little late then to change my major, but I’ve made the earth and spaces science a lifelong avocation. I attend NSTA sessions on the topics, visit museums and planetariums, participate in professional development activities in the subject, joined the earth science teacher’s association in my state, and subscribe to newsfeeds, blogs, tweets, and Facebook sites from NASA and other organizations.

I also really enjoy reading the Scope on the Skies column in NSTA’s Science Scope middle school journal. In each issue, Bob Riddle writes on seasonal astronomy topics, using graphics, a user-friendly writing style, and suggestions for further study. These articles could be shared with students, too. Bob also has a website Qué tal in the Current Skies (What’s up).  And I just discovered that he also has a blog- Bob’s Spaces -which he updates several times a week. I’ve  added these to my “must-reads.”

As an NSTA member, you have online access to his columns even if you subscribe to the elementary, high school, or college journal. Just go to the Science Scope page and click on “Full table of contents” to get to his article each month. You can read the article there as a PDF file or download it to your NSTA library.

Bob also participates in listserve discussions, sharing his expertise and experiences. Thank you!





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So what is a “must do” at an NSTA Conference?

This month we are looking for comments and recommendations on what you are most looking forward to at the upcoming conference on science education in Boston! Help our fellow educators by highlighting your “must do” session along with the reason why you put it in the “must do” category.

So, what is my “must do?” Well, that is NOT an easy question in my book! I look forward to the NSTA Conference on Science Education each and every year. I have often been heard to state the phrase “I just need to go be with my own kind for a while.” Being with fellow science educators at this annual conference is a way to rejuvenate my spirit and continue to engage in professional development. So, I offer a few of the following items that I try to never miss at a conference.

As a person who works with children’s trade books in the science classroom, I make it a point to always find something related to children’s literature. This has become more important in recent years with the use of nonfiction texts as part of the ELA Common Core Standards. So, I always try and find sessions given by friends (and co-authors) Karen Ansberry and Emily Morgan. One of their sessions “Picture-Perfect Science Lessons: Using Picture Books to Guide Inquiry” will be held Friday at the conference. Another “must do” on my list involves seeing the newly released list and hearing about the Outstanding Science Trade Books which are always featured in the exhibit hall.

An organization that I am involved with – NSELA – has several workshops and sessions that help to build professional development tools for science leaders. Download a schedule of events (pdf) so you don’t miss out on one of these sessions. NSELA and NSTA will also be co-presenting an extended session on NSTA/NSELA Leadership Standards Forum: NGSS: Using Standards as Leverage to Build Science and Language Literacy which is Friday afternoon.

The exhibit hall is absolutely somewhere that needs to be scheduled in to your time at the conference. If you are interested in seeing who will be there and where they will be, you can plan your visit to the exhibit hall by previewing volume four of the program which includes exhibitor information. A new aspect to this year’s conference that is going to be a “must see since its new” item is visiting the NSTA Expo which is part of the exhibit hall. The announcements indicate giveaways, live presentations and more.

There are so many things that I can add to my “must do” list of recommendations –

• attending an NSTA Press session with featured authors such as Page Keeley, Brenda Wojnowski and Susan Koba, Steve Rich, and many more

• searching by content information in one of the program books to find sessions on a particular subject such as physics, chemistry, etc.

• picking out a short course or field trip to participate in as a half or full day experience.

These are just to name a few. I guess what makes the most sense is to add something as a “must do” to your list that will help meet your professional development goals!

So, if someone new to the conference asked you “what should I do?” – what would you recommend to them and suggest that they add to their “must do” list?





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Going Wild with the Go Wireless Temp Sensor

iPad and Sensor

The sensor is fairly small compared to an iPad Air.

The new Go Wireless Temp sensor is a welcome addition to the suite of Bluetooth tools produced by Vernier that are available for the iPad. While not much larger than the business end of the traditional, wired temperature sensor, the Go Wireless Temp has onboard power and a radio transmitter all nestled in a thumb-sized, water-resistant housing. Although the device’s temperature range is  a little narrower on the upper end due to its plastic and electronics, it still  safely measures molecular motion from -40°C to 125°C. While the merits of digital temperature probes are well known, and the benefits of wireless peripherals have promoted collaboration and creativity in the science classroom, the Go Wireless Temp has added a new dimension with its light weight, free accompanying app, and 30-meter range. I took the Go Wireless Temp for a spin, looking for ways to leverage the wireless potential of the sensor.

The Go Wireless Temp must be used with a mobile device. To use the sensor with an iPad, you can download either the Go Wireless Temp app, available for free through the iTunes store, or the Vernier’s Graphical Analysis app, available for $4.99, for more powerful data collection and analysis.

sensor hanging on string

The sensor is hanging on a 6-meter cord with its tip in the current.

To test the sensor, I attached it to a paracord harness  and lowered the sensor off a bridge and into the center of a stream. Once the Go Wireless Temp was tied to a railing, the iPad interface could pair with the sensor and record the temperature anywhere within radio frequency sphere with a 30-meter radius.

Temperature data

A screenshot of the Go Wireless Temp app’s autoscaled presentation of the data.


Numbers export

The data from the Go Wireless Temp app can export directly into an iPad spreadsheet app called Numbers. This is a screenshot of the river data, as exported.

Sensor on branch

The sensor is tied to a branch.

Next, the Go Wireless Temp was tied to a branch so it could be inserted precisely into various water pools. First, it was lowered into a fast-flowing current, then into a nearby still pool, and finally into the water collected inside an old tire.

Based on my tests, it will take at least 10 seconds to get the reading into the ballpark of its final value. The Go Wireless Temp is submersion-rated to 1 meter for 30 minutes.

Probe in current

The sensor at the end of a branch being dipped into the strong current.

Temp in a tire

Using the stick method, the sensor takes the temperature of the tire. It is warmer than the surrounding water.

Temperature in and around the tire.

The three temperature readings of the air, the water near the tire, and the water in the tire.

But the coup de grâce of my afternoon adventures was duct-taping the sensor to a quadcopter drone and flying it. At first, the merits of mounting a sensor with a limited range on something with a much larger range seemed questionable, but the temperature would be recorded as long as the sensor was in range, and the drone wouldn’t fall to the ground when the sensor lost communication.

Sensor on a drone

The sensor is duct-taped to the underside of the drone.

So, why did I put a Go Wireless Temp on a drone? I guess the easy answer is because I could. But in reality, I saved answering that question until after it was flying. One reason was to measure the temperature radiating off of various roof surfaces, roads, and foliage areas. Another reason was to suspend the probe on a harness, like noted above, and dip it into bodies of water or locations in the water that are normally inaccessible.

One hundred vertical centimeters might be a challenge to fly, but the real issue is the weakened radio strength when the probe is underwater. One solution, which I’ve yet to build, is a personal flotation doughnut, or PFD, for the Go Wireless Temp probe. A small disk of expanded polystyrene (Styrofoam) with the probe poked through the center would allow plenty of slack to build the vertical buffer for safer flight and a much greater margin for error. Stay tuned for that one!

So what would you do with a Go Wireless Temp sensor?

Share your creative ideas in the comments.


the sensor on the drone.

The drone can easily carry the sensor far beyond its 30m range.

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