The Surefire FirePak: A Smartphone Science Studio Lighting Solution

As the smartphone camera gains an ever-more sophisticated role in the science classroom, the technical limits of phone photography become more apparent. Luckily a dose of strong light can overcome many problems as well as provide access to a world unseen by the human eye. But not just any light will work. The amount, color and frequency modulation of the light all play important roles in scientific photography.


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Science education “trifecta”

I’m looking for creative ways for students to share what they know, other than traditional written reports or essays.  —K., Michigan

The creative process in science involves novel ways of thinking, problem solving, and communicating. When students are given the opportunity, encouragement, and support, their creativity can be astounding.

I found reworking information and/or experiences into another format can be an outlet for student design and creativity:

  • An infographic on a science topic to display in the school or on a website
  • A video or photo gallery documenting an activity
  • A set of posters on a topic such as lab safety
  • A “how-to” manual or video for an app or probe to be used as a tutorial for other students
  • Vocabulary exercises that result in concept maps or illustrated word wall entries displayed in the classroom
  • A video or presentation describing a concept to another audience
  • Models or drawings

Continue reading …

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Ed News: Scientists Take on New Roles in K–12 Classrooms

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This week in education news, scientists take on new roles in K–12 classrooms, the U.S. Senate confirmed Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary, a new report finds California teacher shortages have led to ‘severe consequences’, the U.S. House voted to overturn ESSA accountability, and a bill to boost STEM education advances in New Mexico.

Scientists Take on New Roles in K–12 Classrooms

As schools work to implement the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), practicing scientists are also rethinking how they work with schools to advance understanding of their field. The NGSS broaden opportunities for science-educator partnerships because they represent new approaches to scientists working with schools. Click here to read the article featured in Education Week.

Lawmakers File Bill to Protect ‘Religious Expression’ in FL Schools

Two state lawmakers, filed a bill—SB 436: Religious Express in Public Schools—which would prohibit a school district from discriminating against students on the basis of religious expression if they share their religious beliefs in their school work. A Florida advocacy group said the bill could be trouble for science education in Florida’s public schools if passed. Click here to read the article featured in the Orlando Sentinel.

Betsy DeVos Confirmed as Education Secretary, Pence Breaks Tie Continue reading …

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The goTenna Off-Grid Communication Device: Take A “Cell Network” on your next Field Trip

Imagine co-leading a science field trip indoors in a large museum with questionable cell coverage, or outside and too far from the nearest cell tower. The goTenna system allows you to directly contact another goTenna equipped teacher using their smartphone independent of a cellular connection. The goTennas are their own communication network that runs between the phones. And there is no limit to the number of goTennas that can play together.

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Legislative Update: DeVos Confirmed as ED Secretary/House Kills ESSA Accountability Regulations

After a long and contentious confirmation battle the Senate confirmed Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education on February 7 after a highly partisan 51 to 50 vote. Vice President Mike Pence cast the deciding vote to confirm DeVos after two Republican Senators—Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska—joined Democrats and voted nay during the full Senate vote, days after both voted yes to the nomination in the HELP committee (which moved the confirmation to the full Senate.)

Prior to the vote, Senate Democrats staged a 24 hour “talkathon” on the Senate floor to oppose the DeVos nomination and to encourage a Republican to vote nay on the confirmation. This came after a huge public backlash in opposition to the DeVos nomination.

DeVos became the nation’s 11th Education secretary.

Reactions to the confirmation came quickly after the vote. Senate HELP Committee ranking member Patty Murray said DeVos would be “one of the most controversial and embattled Education secretaries in the history of the department.”

AFT President Randi Weingarten said in a statement that “DeVos’ confirmation battle has a major silver lining: The public in public education has never been more visible or more vocal, and it is not going back in the shadows.”  

NEA President Lily Eskelsen García noted “Americans across the nation drove a bipartisan repudiation of the Trump-DeVos agenda for students and public education. Today’s outcome marks only the beginning of the resistance. Students, educators, parents, civil rights and special education advocates—along with millions of Americans—are speaking loud and clear: we are here to stay…we will protect public education.”

Ed Patru, a spokesman for DeVos, told POLITICO, DeVos overcame “an unprecedented personal assault” from teachers unions, noting “Betsy DeVos’ confirmation marks a critically important shift in federal education policy: from now on, the needs of kids will supersede the political interests of adults, and education policies will be decided by states and local school boards, not Washington.”

Read more here.

House Overturns Rules on ESSA Accountability and Teacher Prep

As expected this week the House overturned the Obama Administration’s accountability rule under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and the regulation governing teacher preparation programs.

The House and Senate have until early May to use the Congressional Review Act on regulations issued in the last half year of the Obama administration. 

The ESSA Accountability regulation was issued to help states design and implement new accountability provisions required in the Every Student Succeeds Act. Many Republicans believe the rule was too prescriptive and gave the Secretary of Education too much authority in state decision making. Democrats issued a statement saying that eliminating the rule would create uncertainty as states developed their ESSA plans. More here.

Most in the education community are opposed to the teacher preparation rules and believe changes made by the federal government should be part of the upcoming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

The American Association for Colleges of Teacher Education (AACTE) Action Alert system is working to rescind the teacher prep regulations in the Senate. Go here.

And finally . . .

The House education committee held its first hearing this week about higher education in the 115th Congress in anticipation of the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. The hearing focused on ways to strengthen the nation’s system of higher education “for students, parents, institutions and taxpayers.”

On the day that Betsy DeVos was confirmed as ED Secretary, Kentucky Congressman Thomas Massie introduced H.R. 899, a bill to abolish the federal Department of Education. The one sentence long bill states, “The Department of Education shall terminate on December 31, 2018.”

Stay tuned, and watch for more updates in future issues of NSTA Express.

Jodi Peterson is Assistant Executive Director of Communication, Legislative & Public Affairs for the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and Chair of the STEM Education Coalition. Reach her via e-mail at or via Twitter at @stemedadvocate.

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

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An ECSTEM conference experience

An early childhood education conference is an opportunity to meet others who share a passion for improving our science teaching practice, meet our education mentors and gain new insights into why certain educational practices are effective. It’s a privilege to be able to attend, and fun to experience. It’s also a time to hear about new research that can guide us to achieve our goals of starting all children on the path to scientific literacy. Our local -AEYC and other professional organizations offer this kind of learning experience in smaller bites, and wider geographic locations. 

The Early Childhood Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (ECSTEM) conference hosted by The Children’s Center at CalTech for the fifth year, joined by THINK Together, brought together educators from 26 states and 5 countries as well as many, many more local California residents. The theme of “Curiosity” inspired presenters and promoted discussion. I felt fully in that happy place where early childhood education and science education overlap, so please join me as I reflect on the experience. Listen to what this Florida educator from the Osceola Center for Early Learning in the Osceola County School District has to say about her conference experience (we continued our conference networking while at the airport on the way home.)


I heard many times that the quality of the sessions met participants needs, and the venue, food, level of organization, and friendliness of the community made everything else a positive experience. With so many interesting session descriptions it was hard to choose among them. 

Arriving at the conference, an exhibit too!

Susan Wood greets Beth Van Meeteren

Susan Wood greets presenter Dr. Beth Van Meeteren

Poster from the exhibit

Hawkins’ Centers of Learning exhibit: “Cultivate the Scientist in Every Child: The Philosophy of Frances and David Hawkins”

At registration we were greeted by CCC Director and conference founder, Susan Wood, who engaged us with the Hawkins’ Centers of Learning exhibit, “Cultivate the Scientist in Every Child: The Philosophy of Frances and David Hawkins.” The panels illuminated the ideas of “eolithism,” “messing about,” “I, Thou, It,” and “Teacher as Learner.” The table of rocks gave us materials to mess about, a satisfying way to experience messing about and also wonder in a scientific way. We later heard more about these ideas from Alex CruickshankList of conference sponsors, Community Outreach Specialist of the Boulder Journey School.

As an early childhood educator I am very familiar with looking for funding to create opportunities to learn and appreciate how sponsors make these opportunities possible! Continue reading …

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The Celestron Micro-Fi Wireless Digital Microscope: A Handful of Wow!

The term “wireless” does not so much describe what is, but instead what isn’t. And what isn’t is wires. What’s strange about many wireless technologies is there was never a wired version to begin with so describing the device by an absent feature that never was present in the first place can be confusing to those who grew up in a post-wire world. Imagine if cars were still considered horseless carriages. Another indication of progress is the lack of a capitol letter or hyphen. For example, email officially became a thing when it changed from E-mail to e-mail, and finally to email. And the internet arrived when it no longer was capitalized in common usage. At least that is one perspective on so-called disruptive technologies.

The Celestron Micro-Fi is a highly portable handheld digital microscope/video camera released in 2014 that can magnify subjects up to 80x. Powered by three AA batteries, and carrying onboard lighting in the form of six LEDs surrounding the lens, the Micro-Fi has few limits in the field.

The ergonomics of the Celestron Micro-Fi are excellent and make for a simple effective one-handed user interface. For tripod mounting a 1/4-20 threaded port is included that provides mechanical stability when needed when distance, safety or stealth is desired. The other controls include a illumination adjustment wheel, a focus wheel, a shutter release button, and an on/off switch.

Outdoors, lichen and moss present stunning subjects for the Celestron Micro-Fi. At the microscopic scale, there is no shortage of things at your fingertips to explore, including exploring your own fingertips.


The Celestron Micro-Fi uses the 802.11x standard of wireless communication to share images and video at 15 frames per second. The 802.11 standard is the one common to wireless network routers. Someday Bluetooth may be able to carry enough information to share video, but for now the wireless of choice is something else. Why this is important is three-fold. First, the 802.11 standard is powerful enough for the lightweight battery-powered unit to send video through the air up to 10 meters and up to two hours. Second, the wireless standard is not exclusive to one pairing. Instead the the Celestron Micro-Fi can have up to three individual computing devices connected at one time. And those devices can be of different operating systems and platforms such as an iPhone, an Android tablet and an iPad. Continue reading …

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STEM Sims: Interactive Simulations for the STEM Classroom


By subscribing to STEM Sims, teachers can open-up a kaleidoscope of educational and interactive classroom activities for students. These activities are relevant for teachers who are interested in a research-based approach to investigate STEM content that is aligned with the National NGSS Standards –

To begin, the first step is to visit the STEM Sims website, which can be found at the following website – Once there, you will find that STEM Sims maintains over 100 simulations of laboratory experiments and engineering design simulations. Designed with excellent graphics,  these simulations are meticulous in adhering to content and engaging students into meaningful classroom learning scenarios. Moreover, like the best video games, these simulations are challenging and are designed to harness students’ attention. The good news, however, is that the content of these  activities is relevant and standards-based.  

After sampling several activities, we found STEM Sims to be an incredibly user-friendly program for both teachers and students. Moreover,  a single subscription gives access for 30 students to participate in the activities. In addition, for students who need remediation, STEM Sims provides students with background information and terminology for each simulation activity. Continue reading …

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Mentoring — A team effort

The most experienced science teacher is retiring this year at the middle school where I am principal. The other five teachers on the science faculty are early in their teaching careers. What are your thoughts on asking an experienced non-science teacher to mentor the new hire?  —K., VA

When I started as a teacher we did not have a formal mentor program, and the other two science teachers were almost as new as I was. I struggled with an especially challenging group of students until a veteran English teacher took me under her wing and helped me through the first year.

Years later, I was asked to mentor a new Spanish teacher. My knowledge of Spanish is minimal, but the principal noted many issues faced by new teachers transcend specific subjects. Classroom management, relationships with students, dealing with parents, navigating paperwork—all beginning teachers face these challenges. Even though our subjects were different, my mentee and I worked well together, developing a sense of trust and mutual respect.

In addition, perhaps the retiring teacher would be willing to be “on-call” to answer questions or provide advice. The district safety officer can also help with questions related to safe practices and inventories. Encourage your team of young science teachers to form a “support group” to share ideas and experiences.

The onsite mentor can help the new teacher with school culture and local issues and requirements, even though subject areas are different. Remind your new teacher that he/she has hundreds of potential online science mentors in the NSTA listservs and discussion forums. These experienced colleagues can provide just-in-time answers to questions specific to science instruction.

Having an onsite and online team of mentors can help to make the first year less lonely.

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Commentary: It’s About Time to Teach Evolution Forthrightly

Fifty years ago, in 1967, the Tennessee legislature repealed the Butler Act, a 1925 law that made it a misdemeanor for a teacher in the state’s public schools to “teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals” (Larson 2012).

It was the Butler Act under which John Thomas Scopes was prosecuted and convicted in what remains the most iconic event in the litigious

Teacher John Scopes shortly before the 1925 “monkey trial.”

history of evolution education in the United States (Moore and McComas 2016).

Teaching evolution is still contentious
The repeal of the Butler Act notwithstanding, the teaching of evolution is still contentious. Proposals to require the teaching of Biblical creationism, creation “science,” and intelligent design—all billed as scientifically respectable alternatives to evolution—have, in a series of federal court cases, been ruled to be unconstitutional (Branch, Scott, and Rosenau 2010). Evolution’s opponents have thus resorted to calling for teachers to be required or encouraged to misrepresent evolution as scientifically controversial. Such proposals were enacted as laws in Louisiana in 2008 and Tennessee in 2012 (Matzke 2016).

But of course evolution is anything but scientifically controversial. The nation’s premier scientific organizations, the National Academy of Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, are on record as describing evolution as the foundation of the biological sciences (NAS 2008; AAAS 2006). Moreover, the consensus is reflected among individual scientists. In a 2014 survey, 98% of scientists—and 99% of active research scientists and working PhD biomedical scientists—accepted that “[h]umans and other living things have evolved over time” (Rainie and Funk 2015). Continue reading …

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