NSTA Legislative Update: What’s Ahead for K-12 Education and CCSS Snapshot

Official Washington has slowed to a crawl with the midterm election just weeks away and the possible power shift in the U.S. Senate. This Ed Week blog has a great take on what’s ahead for education if the Republicans take control of the Senate.

In the House, the message that many parents and educators are tired of over-testing students has been received. Lawmakers recently introduced a bill that speaks to a growing bipartisan consensus around reducing federal testing requirements.  The Tackling Excessive Standardized Testing (TEST) Act, introduced last week and supported by the American Federation of Teachers, would allow states to choose an alternative testing regimen for students in grades 3 through 8.  The bill focuses only on math and reading and does not include science testing.  Read more.

Meanwhile last week, Vice President Joe Biden announced $450 million would be going to over 270 community colleges nationwide for CTE training grants, many focusing on STEM.

And finally, a new report from the Education Commission of the States captures a snapshot of where states currently stand in regard to the Common Core State Standards (CSSS). Read more.

Jodi Peterson is the Assistant Executive Director, Communications, Legislative, and Public Affairs at the National Science Teachers Association; and the Chair of the STEM Education Coalition


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

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NSTA’s K–12 Science Education Journals: October 2014 Issues Online

Patterns,  arguing from evidence, and ecosystem ecology—these are the themes of the October 2014 science education journals published by the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA). Each issue is filled with articles written by science educators who’ve tested their ideas in the classroom. So take some time to enjoy the fall weather, and cozy up to the inspired ideas below. Explore conservation of matter in life sciences, learn how to find your school’s analemma, put new life in an old lesson, and more!

S&C cover from October 2014Science and Children

Establishing an understanding of patterns is important in childhood development. This issue of S&C is filled with ideas and resources you can use to help students make connections and understand the relationships that cause patterns.

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

Science Scope

Science Scope cover for October 2014Knowing how to argue from evidence when attributing an observed phenomenon to a specific cause is an essential skill for any scientist. We hope the articles found in this issue will help teach your students to accurately identify and explain cause-and-effect relationships, both inside and outside the classroom.

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

The Science Teacher journal cover for October 2014The Science Teacher

There can be no argument about the importance of ecosystem ecology to the modern science curriculum. Interdisciplinary by nature, the field involves chemistry, physics, biology, and Earth science and core ideas like energy, matter and its interactions, biodiversity, Earth’s systems and their related human impacts, and engineering solutions. The intricate interactions involved in even the simplest ecosystems can help students understand the messiness of science and the complex functioning of natural systems, fluxes, and reservoirs. Furthermore, the future of our planet depends on understanding and protecting vulnerable ecosystems.

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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Play and exploration

I’ve been reading the literature on the value of play in learning. I do give my students unstructured activity time in science class, but I’m not sure they’re getting anything out of it. For example, I gave each group of students a board and several toy cars. They began playing with them, and when I later asked what they learned or discovered about motion, the silence was deafening! I know they had fun “playing” with the cars, but I wanted them to learn something, too. How can I make this a better experience?

—D., Idaho

Unfortunately, some students (and adults) look at fun and learning as mutually exclusive: If we’re learning, it can’t be fun, and if we’re having fun, we can’t be learning.

This dichotomy was illustrated in an action research study conducted by a colleague. He asked his students to list the most fun things they did in class. The fifth-graders mentioned science activities, role-playing, word games, drawing, working with their peers, computer simulations, and more. He then asked what class activities best helped them learn. He assumed the answers would be the same, although ranked in a different order depending on the student. He was surprised when most of the students said worksheets and tests. When he discussed these results with his students, they mentioned that the worksheets and tests were graded and they had to stay in at recess if they missed one. They concluded that these were more important than the “fun” activities since they were used to calculate their grades as a summary of their “learning.” Reflecting on the results, the teacher concluded he needed to be more explicit in describing the learning goals of the activities and debrief more with the students on what they learned or discovered.

Exploration (I prefer this term to “playing”) is an important part of science, regardless of the age of the students. It provides open-ended opportunities without the concern of finding a single correct answer. It provides students with common experiences and helps the teacher identify misconceptions. During the rest of the lesson, students can build on these experiences, although the teacher may have to remind students of what they did. For students who are used to being told exactly what to do and how to do it, this can be a new and perhaps frustrating experience as they wonder, “But what are we supposed to do?”

Continue reading …

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NSTA’s E-mail List Server: A Gold Mine of Help at Your Fingertips


MMYM_15minAs the rush of back-to-school finally dwindles, teachers of all levels now face day-to-day classroom management, assessments, and ongoing professional development. In addition to upcoming in-person conferences, NSTA Members from teachers to administrators need ways to reach out virtually for help from fellow members.

One of the most popular and accessible ways for members to get quick professional development advice and stay abreast of education trends is through the free NSTA’s E-Mail List Server. October is Connected Educator Month and there is no better time to connect with your fellow members online.

  1. Anytime answers

With more than 18 categories of discussion, the list server allows members to sign up for specific topics such as early childhood, Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), and pedagogy. No need to wait until regular working hours to pose a question or vet an idea.

  1. Established community

Developed more than 10 years ago, NSTA e-mail lists are stronger than ever. Exclusive to NSTA members, you can know that each voice on the lists is a member in the science education community. With each email, participants are instantly connected to expertise around the world.

  1. Etiquette and guidance

Like any professional community, NSTA asks for members to agree to rules for participation. Organic conversations are expected, yet topics should stay on topic. NSTA allows participants to unsubscribe at any time.

It’s not just participants who learn from these discussions. Did you know NSTA E-Mail threads have been considered the “PD gold mine” and have led to articles in NSTA publications such as NSTA Reports? Connect with other educators, connect with members, and connect directly with NSTA through the E-mail List Server.

More time?

Take your e-mail discussion to the next level by joining the NSTA Learning Center to connect with like-minded colleagues at various levels of experience. Join a community forum to learn and to share. You can always ask questions from online advisors, but you might be the one person with the answer for someone else.

Not a member of NSTA? Learn more about how to join.

Laura Berry of Cogberry Creative is our guest blogger for this series. Laura is a communications professional for the education community.

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7 NSTA Resources that Save Science Teachers Time and Money

Having worked at the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) for many years, I get to talk to a lot of science teachers. One of my favorite things about them is how much they share with each other. In fact, I joked at our recent national conference that all the selfies were really “groupies”! So, inspired by this sharing, I wanted to pass along some of NSTA’s best time- and money-saving resources, written by (you guessed it) science teachers. The books below all contain tried-and-true ideas, and in the spirit of sharing, I made sure to list a free chapter from each. You won’t have to pull out your wallet for this one—each freebie delivers actionable advice you can use in the classroom tomorrow.

Frugal Science teacher book coverThe Frugal Science Teacher, PreK–5: Strategies and Activities

This collection of essays, carefully selected by former NSTA President and current Science and Children editor Linda Froschauer, outlines creative and inexpensive ways for preK through fifth-grade science teachers to keep their expenses to a minimum in five categories:

  • Student-Created Constructions
  • Teacher-Created Constructions and Repurposed Materials
  • Teaching Strategies That Maximize the Budget
  • Instructional Lessons That Maximize the Budget
  • Funds and Materials

Chapters provide inexpensive alternatives to costly classroom projects, offer re-imagined uses for items teachers already have at home or school, and suggest new and untapped resources for materials. Even more important than offering ideas for frugality, the activities and strategies—such as “String Racers,” “Discovery Bottles,” “Ecosystem Jenga,” and “An Outdoor Learning Center”—enhance teachers’ abilities to develop their students’ conceptual understanding. (Read a sample chapter: Materials Repurposed: Find a Wealth of Free Resources at Your Local Recycling Center)

Even More Picture Perfect book coverEven More Picture-Perfect Science Lessons: Using Children’s Books to Guide Inquiry, K–5

Since the debut of the Picture-Perfect Science books and workshops more than 10 years ago, authors Emily Morgan and Karen Ansberry have learned one thing for certain: Elementary school teachers are constantly clamoring for even more ways to engage children in reading and science through picture books. To meet that demand, the 15 all-new lessons in Even More Picture-Perfect Science Lessons bring you:

  • Even more convenience: You can cover reading and science content simultaneously and save time with ready-to-use student pages and assessments.
  • Even more confidence in your own expertise: You get relevant science concepts and reading comprehension strategies to keep your teaching on track.
  • Even more ways to entice even reading-phobic children: Each lesson makes students yearn to learn science from such captivating fiction and nonfiction picture books as Houdini the Amazing Caterpillar; Captain Kidd’s Crew Experiments With Sinking and Floating; and The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind.

Plus: This latest volume even connects the lessons to A Framework for K–12 Science Education and the English Language Arts and Literacy Common Core State Standards.

Just as teachers like you have been hoping, Even More Picture-Perfect Science Lessons delivers the whole package: teacher-friendly lessons, strong standards-based science content, and a kid-magnet formula that will get your students engrossed in science while they improve their reading skills. (Read a sample chapter: The Wind Blew)

Everyday Science Sourcebook coverThe Everyday Science Sourcebook, Revised 2nd Edition: Ideas for Teaching in Elementary and Middle School

Think of this unique reference book as Inspiration Central for elementary and middle school science teachers. The Everyday Science Sourcebook is structured like an easy-to-use thesaurus. Just look up a topic in the Index, note the reference number, and then use that number to find a wealth of related activities in the Entry section. For example, looking up meteorology can lead you to notes on the Earth’s temperature. From there, you’ll see entries on how students can make a liquid thermometer, graph air temperatures, and measure the conversion of solar energy to heat energy. The Everyday Science Sourcebook deserves a prominent spot on your bookshelf. Refer to it daily as a springboard for ideas that make science memorable. (Read a sample chapter: Weather) Continue reading …

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“Time” on task

7080721_1412fe24df_qI’m a new high school teacher looking for suggestions on how to estimate the amount of time a lesson will take. My lessons look good when I plan them, but I find that often a lesson is either too short and we have extra time at the end of the class or I run out of time to complete the activity or get to everything I wanted to do. I’m a beginning high school teacher looking for suggestions on how to estimate the amount of time a lesson will take.

—H. from Minnesota

I wish I had an algorithm to share for estimating time for class activities, but there are many variables involved: the number of questions students have, the amount and depth of discussion, interruptions and distractions, equipment or technology issues, time spent on classroom management, and digressions for “teachable moments.”

For teaching several sections of the same class, I found it helpful to keep them near the same pace, within reason, for planning lab investigations or assignment due dates. It didn’t help that some of the class periods in my school were 40 minutes and others were 45! Due to school events, there were days when I did not meet with all of my classes. There also were days when activities were completed quickly in some classes and dragged on in others.

At the end of each class, annotate your plans with what students were able to accomplish and any issues that arose. The next time you plan this lesson, you’ll be better able to determine how much time to allow. You’ll see that many lessons will take more than one class period.

You may find it necessary to spend time on extra discussion or to slow the pace if students are struggling or need assistance. But you can maximize productive class time by establishing and using routines. When students come into the classroom, they could follow a bell-ringer activity to get them ready and focused for class. With routines in place, students should know how to transition between activities, how and where to get materials, and what to do when disruptions happen.

Continue reading …

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The Vernier Motion Encoder System: Motion Encoding Made Personal

The Vernier Motion Encoder System marks a significant shift in the science teacher’s ability to transition between the conceptual, formula-based physics of motion to the “real world” application of those concepts and formulas—and here’s the big news—without the need for disclaimers explaining away anomalous data, inconsistent graphs, and the general background noise of low resolution measurements. While it is possible to argue that the essence of a motion activity transitions from concept to concrete without using meaningful data since the students at this level are able to imagine what was supposed to happen, by actually capturing accurate and precise motion data, the traditional conclusion of the motion lesson is actually just the beginning of what is now possible to experiment with and visualize.

YouTube Preview Image

While it would be easy to dismiss all the good science taught with primitive methods, instead the simplicity, accuracy and operational speed of Vernier’s Motion Encoder System provides students not only a crystal clear insight into the nuts and bolts of motion, but also raises the bar on the subtitles and nuances of motion through actual hands-on experimentation and, if you will, science play.

Vernier describes their paradigm shift somewhat dryly as, “The encoder strip consists of alternating black and white bars with a 4 mm period, allowing the optical sensor to detect the passage of the bars as the cart moves. With two sensors appropriately placed, a change in position with 1 mm resolution can be determined, as well as the direction of travel. A narrow infrared beam transmits motion data to a receiver.”

This descriptive paragraph reminded me of a NASA STARDUST announcement where a sample return mission brought back some comet material that contained features known as CAIs or calcium aluminum inclusions. The excitement of CAIs is in their status as one of the first solids to condense out of the solar nebula after the birth of our solar system.  What NASA should have announced is that comets contain material older than the earth! And let the details shake out once the reader’s attention was secured. Check out this link to a NASA/JPL instructional product that adds more humor and exclamation points to comet science.

cart-n-sensorVernier, in their humble pursuit of elegant science teaching solutions, has produced a motion track the length of a tall student’s arm with carts the size of human hands and a motion resolution at the limit of our finger fine motor skill!

Well, OK, maybe it’s not quite as exciting as being truly older than dirt, but given the overwhelming quantity of our brain that is devoted to exploring the world with our hands, the Motion Encoder System has just brought the fundamental principles of motion into a bio-conceptual arena that we humans are uniquely prepared to explore.

Continue reading …

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Engaging in the Art of Teaching With the Next Generation Science Standards

NGSS coverFor the past 15 months, a four-letter acronym has been on the tip of science educators’ tongues: NGSS, the Next Generation Science Standards. Whether you personally are or your state board of education is “in favor of,” or “opposed to,” or you are simply “engaged with” the NGSS, there is no doubt that their release has been scrutinized in the media and intensively discussed within the science education community; it is an exciting time for science education.

Crosscutting concepts, disciplinary core ideas, science and engineering practices, performance expectations, and assessment boundaries are all important aspects of the curricular process that science educators should consider while planning curriculums, units, and daily lessons. Considering the information the document contains, it is fair to say that the NGSS covers the “what” of teaching—the content students should know and understand—and up to a point, the “why” has been incorporated into the architecture, which used the learning progressions from A Framework for K–12 Science Education to design the performance expectations.

NGSS does not mention the “how” or method by which these core ideas, crosscutting concepts, and practices should be taught. An online search of the NGSS for the keywords “teaching” and “pedagogy” returned no hits for either. However, if we review the Framework, it has some valuable points to remember and continue to practice in our classrooms every day to engage students in learning. The Framework states, “[I]nstruction refers to methods of teaching and the learning activities used to help students master the content and objectives specified by a curriculum. Instruction encompasses the activities of both teachers and students. It can be carried out by a variety of pedagogical techniques, sequences of activities, and ordering of topics” (NRC 2012, p. 250). The overarching point of this quote connects with the “how” or method a teacher selects to engage students and assist them in discovering the content, concepts, and practices outlined in the NGSS. These decisions are not as clearly spelled out and require experience, skill, and creativity in selection.

In recent years, there has been discussion, discourse, and debate about direct instruction versus inquiry, which are on opposite ends of the spectrum. This debate has produced research results on both sides of the topic (some of which are published by the National Academy of Sciences, the publisher of the Framework and the NGSS). Furthermore, current generalized approaches in the educational arena too often bleed into the science area and focus on remediation, intervention, and test preparation skills, with little or no direct relationship to how students learn science.

In developing the Framework, the Committee on a Conceptual Framework for New K12 Science Education Standards was not charged with addressing instruction, but rather content. However, they still felt the need to incorporate the chapter titled “implementation,” which discusses instruction. They quickly pointed out that they were not making formal recommendations, but understood the “[s]tandards provide a vision for teaching and learning, but the vision cannot be realized unless the standards permeate the education system and guide curriculum, instruction, teacher preparation and professional development, and student assessment” (NRC 2012, p. 241). So the area of instruction becomes the question of “how” and thus becomes personal to each teacher in each classroom each day. Decisions of “how” or what teaching methods to select are at the intersection of general educational understanding, content knowledge, and knowledge of how the students in an individual class will best learn. Some call the intersection of these three aspects pedagogical content knowledge (PCK). Applied PCK is at the heart of decision-making in the moment; it is “the art of teaching.” Teachers need to take the individual components within PCK, combine them with their own passion and energy for learning and teaching, and encourage students to engage in the learning process. No two classes will be the same, no two lessons will follow the exact path, and no two students will arrive at the same outcome at the same moment. Each of these experiences for the students, class, and teacher will be an individual discovery. As the American poet and teacher Mark Van Doren stated, “The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery”—and I contend the ultimate answer to the question of “how.”

My certificate from the state of Pennsylvania certifies me “to practice the art of teaching and render services” in my certificated areas. I support and believe in the efficacy and importance of the NGSS, the focus they bring to what students should know and understand, as well as the explicit need to integrate the three dimensions within the classroom lessons. However, like each of you, I am a teacher who knows my students and needs to make informed decisions about how to best engage them in the instruction of the content presented in the standards. In the end, it is important to remember that we need to know about the content and resources available, as well as make decisions that will best bring that content alive for our students. This intersection among content, an understanding of education, and knowledge of our students is where we must all practice the art of teaching and help our students engage in discovery.

Author Christine RoyceToday’s Blogger

Christine Anne Royce, a professor of education at Shippensburg University, where she also serves as department chair. For the past two years, she also has codirected the Master of Arts in Teaching in Science Education program and focuses on the integration of science and literacy for her research area. Royce earned an EdD in science education from Temple University and has taught science at all levels. She has served on the NSTA Board and Council. Email her at caroyce@aol.com or follow her on twitter @caroyce.

Editor’s Note

This article was originally published in the September issue of NSTA Reports, the member newspaper of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA). Visit the NGSS@NSTA Hub at http://www.nsta.org/ngss to access NSTA’s growing collection of NGSS resources.

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Solace in the Solstice? Shedding Light on the Nature of Science

Google Doodle: First Day of Autumn 2014The coming of autumn at 9:29 EDT last night (which I was pleased to see featured in today’s Google Doodle) serves as the perfect segue to a theme of mine as Executive Director of the National Science Teachers Association: We must teach students to understand that there are testable predictions about that physical world that together comprise a body of knowledge known as “science.” And we cannot debate those “facts.” But what we can do, and must do better, is teach our students how those facts can be used to make societal decisions, such as whether daylight savings time is a benefit or not to our society.

Autumn began last night at 9:29 PM EDT as the sun crossed the equator. For those of us living at mid latitudes, the hours of daylight will now be fewer than those dark. Indeed the rate at which the day disappears is at its quickest, slowing only as we approach the dark and cold days of December and January.  Our understanding of the tilt of the Earth’s axis and its motion around the Sun allows us forecast these changes with a high degree of confidence, a simple example of how science leads to testable predictions about the physical world.

Daylight Saving Time ends at 2:00 AM on Sunday November 2, at least here in most of the United States. But not everywhere, which leads to the debate over the use of daylight saving time–something that has been controversial since Benjamin Franklin proposed it. Arguments in favor point to better use of daylight and energy conservation. Opponents argue against the nuisance of changing clocks, disrupted sleep schedules, the risk to school children due to poor visibility in the early hours, the conflict with religious law and practice, and the fact that farm animals don’t use clocks at all.

Daylight saving time is based on the science mentioned above but in itself is not science. While we can debate the costs and benefits of changing our clocks twice a year, we can’t ignore or legislate against the seasonal change in the number of hours of daylight. We can debate how we will respond and we can use the science to inform that discussion, but we may decide that other factors are more important and accept the predictable consequences of our decision.

As the Sun continues its southward trip and the days shorten, we turn back the air conditioning and turn up the heat against winter’s chill. For over a hundred years science has told us that increased combustion of fossil fuels will lead to a change in the planet’s climate. In 1896 Svante Arrhenius calculated a value of the amount of that change that is quite close to modern estimates. And just as we measure the days shortening, so we have we measured the planet’s beginning to warm. We can and must debate what to do with that information but we cannot pretend that it does not exist any more than we can deny the solstice.

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NGSS and 21st century tools and skills

One of the perks of being an NSTA member is having access to all of the journals online. Regardless of the grade level you teach, the journals have ideas for authentic activities and investigations that can be used, adapted, or extended for different levels of student interest and experience.

In NSTA’s September K-12 journals, the overarching theme seems to be rethinking and expanding traditional learning experiences. The articles have ideas for helping students incorporate different ways of thinking and learning via activities incorporating the NGSS and 21st century technology applications.

Keep reading for more from Science & Children, Science Scope, and The Science Teacher.

Continue reading …

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