Ideas and info from NSTA’s November K-12 journals

Each of the K-12 journals this month includes Three-Dimensional Instruction: Using a New Type of Teaching in the Science Classroom with suggestions on how to integrate Disciplinary Core Ideas, Science and Engineering Practices, and CroEarath ss-Cutting Concepts into our teaching. “None of the dimensions can be used in isolation; they work together so that students can build a deeper understanding as they grapple with making sense of a phenomenon or finding solutions to problems.” A must read!

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Let Your Voice Be Heard–Support STEM Education in Final No Child Left Behind Bill

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Hopes mount that Congress will complete reauthorization of No Child Left Behind this fall, establishing the federal funding and programs that will help to define K-12 education for the next several years.

House and Senate education leaders and their staff are continuing their work to reconcile the differences in their respective bills (H.R. 5 and S. 1177). Lend your voice to the discussion now by signing on to a new letter addressed to conference leaders asking them to include the targeted funding for STEM funding in the final federal education bill.

We are seeking organizational (not individual) sign-on for the letter, which is below or read it here. If your organization or school/district/business can sign on to this letter, or if you have questions, please e-mail me at The letter will close on Friday, November 13. Please feel free to share this information with your networks in the state and district. Thank you.

Jodi Peterson is Assistant Executive Director of Legislative Affairs for the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and Chair of the STEM Education Coalition. e-mail Jodi at; follow her on Twitter at @stemedadvocate.


Dear Chairman Alexander, Ranking Member Murray, Chairman Kline, and Ranking Member Scott:

As you and your staff work to reach agreement on the legislation to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA),we urge you to include a provision of the Every Child Achieves Act (S. 1177, Title II.E) that would provide targeted funding to each state for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) related activities.

In recent weeks, more than 50 members of the House and Senate from both parties have also written to you in united support of making STEM education a priority within the final legislation agreement and have similarly urged the inclusion of Title II.E in the conference agreement.

This key STEM education provision would provide formula grants to the states, which then administer grants to partnerships between schools, businesses, non-profits and institutions of higher education. These state-based partners would have broad discretion under the language of the provision to decide how to best use resources to improve teaching and learning in STEM subjects. Funding would support a wide range of STEM-focused objectives including recruitment, retention, and professional development of educators.   Additionally, the provision would expand learning both in and outside the classroom, support STEM-related competitions and other forms of hands-on-learning, and improve student academic achievement in the STEM areas for underserved groups.

Title II.E is not a new program. Instead, it improves upon the existing Math and Science Partnership program at the Department of Education, which has a demonstrably positive impact on nearly 2.4 million students and thousands of educators every year.   The STEM funding provision is also not duplicative of STEM programs at other federal agencies. The Title II.E provision would be the only education program—at the Department of Education or any other federal agency—providing direct formula-based funding to every state for the exclusive purpose of supporting STEM-related learning.

Federal investments in STEM education are critical in helping states to prepare our students for the challenges of today’s increasingly competitive world.   If we are going to empower our students to compete in the global economy we must maintain a strong federal commitment to improve teaching and learning in the critical STEM fields. It is both appropriate and essential for the nation’s most prominent education law to establish STEM education as a critical priority.  


National Science Teachers Association

STEM Education Coalition

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The STEM in Kitchen Appliances

header showing kitchen appliances and saying "Science and The STEM Classroom looks at the STEM Lessons to be found in Kitchen appliances"

We just returned from a visit to Le Cordon Bleu School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where our older son is considering getting a culinary arts certificate after his high school graduation in (gasp!) June. We took a tour of their many kitchens, and I was impressed by the size of the mixers in the baking kitchen. Upon return, our microwave mysteriously quit working and my husband and I had a conversation about how appliances just aren’t built like they used to be. Happily, I discovered after some investigating that the unit had become unplugged from the socket in the back of the cabinet under which it is mounted. One problem solved!

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Schools Offer Specialized Science

Students at BioTECH @ Richmond Heights High School, a conservation biology magnet school in Miami, Florida, conduct botanical research in this state-of-the-art lab. Photo: FAIRCHILD TROPICAL BOTANIC GARDEN

Students at BioTECH @ Richmond Heights High School, a conservation biology magnet school in Miami, Florida, conduct botanical research in this state-of-the-art lab. Photo: FAIRCHILD TROPICAL BOTANIC GARDEN

To motivate students to learn science, some schools are expanding the range of their courses. While at Mission Heights Preparatory High School in Casa Grande, Arizona, biology teacher Robert Gay created a paleontology program after he told his students about his training and work in paleontology, and they “felt my passion for it and were really intrigued by it,” he relates. The program, which began with one course in 2014, grew to four courses, including a two-week summer field course.

“Paleontology is a good way to engage kids in science. Kids like fossils and dinosaurs, and they want to know what is true and what isn’t: [They ask,] ‘Is Jurassic Park real?’,” he maintains, adding, “you can talk about physics, biology, and chemistry through a lens they’re already interested in.”

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WiFi Microscope











The WiFi Microscope facilitates STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) by enabling small or large groups of students to participate microscope investigations by sharing images and videos on their connected smartphones and tablets. The WiFi Microscope can be used with both iOS and Android operating systems. The WiFi Microscope features adjustable LED lights, a camera for capturing still images and videos, and a 80X magnification zoom option. The device requires three AA batteries, which are included. Each WiFi microscope can connect with three users that are within ten meters of the device, which should provide coverage to all students in a typical classroom.

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Will STEM Education Be the Child Left Behind? NSTA Legislative Update

Text based image "Senators Franken and Kirk have a Dear Colleague letter to ESEA conference leaders that asks them to include the targeted funding for STEM education in the final bill."

Last week in the Senate, Senators Franken and Kirk circulated a Dear Colleague letter addressed to the ESEA conference leaders, asking them to include the Senate language they introduced (and was passed) in the Senate bill that includes targeted funding for STEM education. As of Friday, October 30, 2015, the letter was signed by 16 Senators, (Kirk, Ayotte, Gillibrand, Cantwell, Coons, Mikulski, Stabenow, Heinrich, Murphy, Wyden, Hirono, Baldwin, Merkley, Capito, Blumenthal, and Udall). NSTA and the STEM Education Coalition were very active in garnering support for this Dear Colleague. As you will recall from previous legislative updates, a similar House Dear Colleague letter supporting the Senate language with dedicated STEM funding in the final ESEA conference bill sponsored by Representatives Hanna and Courtney garnered 34 signatures from both sides of the aisle.

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Games for vocabulary

11093465225_95df3e80fa_mI like to provide activities that help students learn science vocabulary, but at a recent department meeting we discussed the value (if any) of word games and puzzles. Do you have any insights or research on the topic? –W., New York

Many K-12 teachers use word games and puzzles to help students review concepts and learn vocabulary. The puzzles are available to students who finish other activities early or in emergency packets for substitute teachers. As long as they are not overused, many students seem to enjoy puzzles as well as word games that include active use of the words.

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Tailoring professional development to the needs of a small group

I sometimes wish I could have another hour or more with a presenter of a session at a IMG_3691aconference or other professional development program. I want to more-fully explore the ideas presented or a question the discussion raised in my mind. I was able to try to fill this niche for two teachers in an early childhood full-day program for children ages 2-5. They wanted to expand their understanding of physical science and their strategies for teaching it.

We had joint meetings and discussions, participated in hands-on explorations, viewed video of ourselves and did independent reading. I led modeling of lessons. The objective and outline follows and I hope you will comment on it, and also describe professional development that was most beneficial to you, or training that you presented that you think helped early childhood educators understand more about science inquiry and the practices of science and engineering, and teaching them.

An example of a 7-week series about physical science for a small group of educators

Training Objectives:

Through examining their own practice, and the science education standards and position statements based on research into how children learn, participants will expand their knowledge of:

  • the nature of science,
  • selected science content,
  • resources for early childhood science education, and
  • how to implement science inquiry in the context of the program’s emergent curriculum.

We will begin with the understanding that we are learners together, seeking to understand how children learn and how to teach science and engineering concepts in early childhood programs. Hands-on exploration of materials by the participants will reveal ways to engage children and scaffold their understanding of science concepts.

Participants will examine the 2014 National Science Teachers Association’s position statement on Early Childhood Science Education and the standards used by their own early childhood center. Discussion will center on:

  • the practices of science and engineering as described in A Framework for K-12 Education,
  • how “science inquiry” is part of the practices, and
  • what the practices look like in the emergent curriculum of an early childhood classroom.

Through their experience doing hands-on manipulation of materials to make changes, observing model teaching, and through discussion, participants will understand the value of using open-ended productive questions to focus children’s attention on problem solving rather than solely teaching children science facts.

Participants will develop a beginning understanding of physical science concepts or expand upon their current level.

Participants will be able to implement physical science inquiries in their classrooms.

Discussion topics:                                                           Independent reading:

Meet and tour classrooms. Read the NSTA EC Science Education position statement, discuss, and develop questions to follow up. View the EC science inquiry chart in Worms Shadows and Whirlpools and look for connections with the NSTA position statement.

Discuss our goals and interests.

Reviewing the resource list.

Read selections from Worms Shadows and Whirlpools by Karen Worth and Sharon Grollman.

List and briefly describe 3 successful science or engineering moments, lessons or explorations that have taken place in your classroom.

Introduction to: What is engineering?

Discussion: Facilitating children’s problem solving. Favorite science tools.

View video clips from CEESTEM ( and discuss how to implement in our own programs.

Sharing our lists of successes.


Elsteegst, Jos. 1985. The right question at the right time.

Rowe, Mary Budd. 1986. Wait Time: Slowing Down May Be A Way of Speeding Up!

Participants will explore ramp materials without children present.

View and discuss video of teacher-led reflection on child’s ramp exploration.

What are appropriate science and engineering topics for early childhood inquiry? How does the setting change what is appropriate? How is “appropriate” related to “effective”?

View video clips and read materials from Peep and the Big Wide World-Ramps and the Regents Center Ramps and Pathways websites.

Read: Science 101 columns in Science and Children: Why Don’t All Rolling Objects Reach the Bottom of an Incline at the Same Time? and Q-Do Moving Objects “Carry” a Force With Them?

Read:  “Newton’s First Law: Not So Simple After All” by William C. Robertson, Jeremiah Gallagher, and William Miller in Science and Children.

Teachers, try out demonstrations described in readings without children present. Peggy will model introducing ramps to classes of preschool children, or introduce a ramp challenge to a small group that has already been using ramps.

Read selections from Worms Shadows and Whirlpools.

Read “Let it Roll! Exploring motion with young children” by Kathy Cabe Trundle and Mandy McCormick Smith in Science and Children.

Read The Early Years columns: October 2005 and January 2008.

What can children learn about magnetic force? Teachers use materials without children present and discover some answers to this question.

Discuss what vocabulary and concepts are developmentally appropriate.

Read: The Early Years columns: January 2007, March 2007, March 2009, December 2009, October 2012.

Properties of light explorations for young children. Review of a variety of activities to explore light and shadows, and hands-on explore materials for 2 of them.

Prepare to video yourself teaching a science concept—10 minutes of video, in any part of the day and any structure.

View our video and discuss what we will do next in the science or engineering investigations are going on in our classes.

Signing up for the NSTA Learning Center and reading a forum thread.


Share your practice and new knowledge and resources with other educators.

What would you add or omit from this professional development?

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Next Time You See a Spiderweb

“Children are naturally fascinated by spiderwebs, and when they learn that these webs are clever traps made by small and skillful spiders that never had a single lesson, these structures become even more remarkable. My wish is that after reading this book, you and your child feel a sense of wonder the next time you see a spiderweb.”

Emily Morgan, author of Next Time You See a Spiderweb

spiderwebcoverThe latest book in the Next Time You See series of NSTA Kids books, Next Time You See a Spiderweb will have even the most nervous of spider observers fascinated by the structures that spiders can create. The beautiful photography in the book reveals the many incredible shapes and sizes spun by different types of spiders.

Check out this video to get a sense of the innate skill that spiders possess to create the web traps they need to catch their prey. Using tangled webs, funnel-webs, and orb webs, spiders spin sticky silk without getting stuck themselves.


Author Emily Morgan is an educator who knows how to connect with children both intellectually and emotionally. Her Next Time You See series is intended to inspire children in grades K–6 to experience the enchantment of everyday phenomena.

Next Time You See a Spiderweb explains how spiders create the silk and spin it from their bodies. The strength and flexibility of spider silk intrigues scientists because the silk is stronger than a thread of steel and can stretch great lengths without breaking. Scientists are trying to mimic spider silk to create new materials that could help people improve their lives.

Engineers and architects also study the construction of spiderwebs to learn how most of a spiderweb can remain intact, even when a part of it is damaged. If they can learn how that works, they might be able to design structures that can hold up in an earthquake.

This is a book that children and adults will want to take along on their next nature walk. And the next time you see a spiderweb, remember that a small, skillful spider knows how to create something remarkable that people cannot, but wish they could.

Browse sample pages of this new book.

Fall for These Savings on NSTA Press Books!

Between now and October 31, 2015, save $15 off your order of $75 or more of NSTA Press books or NSTA Press e-books by entering promo code FALL15 at checkout in the online Science Store.

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Managing lesson time

7080721_1412fe24df_mAs a beginning science teacher, I have issues with time management. Some days a lesson I thought would take the entire class period doesn’t. Other activities take longer than I planned. How do teachers handle this?  —D., Vermont

It’s a challenge for science teachers to design activities and investigations that fit into our allotted time. Secondary teachers deal with projects and investigations that don’t always fit neatly into 45- or 60- or even 90-minute packages. (One of my challenges was a class split in half by a lunch period!) Elementary teachers may have more flexibility, but time for science can be affected by schedules for specials or limited by a focus on reading and math.

Some curriculum documents or lesson plans have recommendations on how much time to allow. But even if you teach the same lesson to several classes on the same day, you’ll find that the time required may differ based on student interest and experiences, distractions, interruptions, or equipment glitches.

As you get to know your students and after teaching a lesson or activity a few times, you’ll get a feel for the time required. I would suggest annotating your lesson plans at the end of the day for future reference. How much time did the activity take? How much progress did each class make (if you teach more than one)? What affected the amount of time? What should be done differently next time?

I posed your question to a colleague, and she suggested from her experiences that it’s better to overplan than to wind up with a lot of extra time. She also recommended choosing activities that fit within your class period or can be paused and continued the next day.

It may take some work at first, but it’s good to have a repertoire of backup activities for days (or class periods) when an activity finishes early. These could include vocabulary games, time for students to update science notebooks, card sorts, or quick writes (responding to an open-ended question or prompt). The books in Page Keeley’s Uncovering Student Ideas series from NSTA have short “assessment probes” that challenge students and provide insight into their thinking. You could choose ones related to your current topic or that preview upcoming topics.

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