What Parents Talk About When They Talk About Learning; A National Survey About Young Children and Science

Guest blogger Cindy Hoisington is an early childhood science educator at Education Development Center Inc. in Waltham, Massachusetts. She brings to her work more than 20 years of experience teaching young children, developing educational materials, and instructing and mentoring early childhood teachers. Cindy is a member of the EDC/SRI research team working on the CPB/PBS Ready to Learn Initiative, which is funded through the US Department of Education. Welcome Cindy!

As an early childhood teacher, or a parent of young children, do you generally like science and think you are “good” at it? Or does just hearing the word “science” make you sweat? (I’m assuming that since you are reading this blog, you have at least some interest in science!) Which science topics do you most enjoy exploring with children and which do you avoid? Do you like investigating earthworms or does the prospect of picking one up make you shudder? Do you relish collecting and categorizing rocks or does the thought of it bore you to tears? What about observing the moon over time? Or taking things apart and putting them back together?

EDC photo/Burt Granofsky

Think about your interest, motivation, and (I hope) your passion for doing, learning, and teaching science and how it developed.  If you are anything like the hundreds of science students, science educators, and even famous scientists like those described in Sherry Turkle’s book Falling for Science; Objects in Mind, it is likely that your own attitudes were shaped not at school, but at home, and in a family that provided “stuff’ for you to explore, nurtured your curiosity, and proudly encouraged your investigations, ideas, and interests. Neil deGrasse Tyson, prominent astrophysicist and director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History, has said, “I am where I am not because of what happened in school but in spite of it.” He credits his mother with nurturing his early interest in science by providing him with opera glasses to look at the night sky and by taking him to museums on the weekends. 

Father and child outside. Child looking through a cardboard tube

EDC photo/Burt Granofsky

What does this mean for a teacher’s work with young children? As the world becomes increasingly science- and technology-oriented, all students will need to be proficient in science, whether they choose careers in agriculture, health, education, science, or any other field. STEM education has become a national priority and early childhood teachers are being asked to think more deeply about the quantity and the quality of the science experiences they provide, particularly for their black, Latino, and female students and economically-disadvantaged children. Continue reading …

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New Book Helps Teachers of Young Children Discover the Wonders of Science Exploration

Curiosity, joy, and wonder. Our youngest students possess an over-abundance of these qualities, and when their teachers successfully tap into them, they help nurture a lifelong love of science.

But finding resources to help make science education relatable and engaging for three- to seven-year-olds can be challenging. That’s why educators will enthusiastically welcome William Straits’ wonderful new book A Head Start on Life Science: Encouraging a Sense of Wonder, which offers 24 inquiry-based lessons that encourage children to make scientific discoveries on their own. We dare you to resist the urge to explore a book whose cover features three wide-eyed, smiling youngsters enthusiastically observing the natural world around them.

Straits directs the National Center for Science in Early Childhood where he works with  teachers who “lovingly and tirelessly” dedicate their careers to helping children expand their joyful “sense of wonder” about the natural world. In writing this book, he collaborated with an extensive list of science and early childhood educators. Photos that capture some of the engaging lessons in action were taken at the Harry and Grace Steele Children’s Center at Orange Coast College and are featured throughout the book.

“We believe that a sense of wonder is part of all children’s experience and that children are intrinsically motivated to explore the natural world,” Strait says. “Therefore, it is important that all children have access to culturally relevant science experiences that are of value in learners’ everyday worlds. Our goal is not for children to acquire ‘facts,’ but to be active explorers, reveling in the process of discovering more about the natural world around them.”

Each lesson is aligned with high-quality early childhood science education and inspired by the learning cycle’s three-part teaching that first orients children toward the topic to be investigated, then gives them a chance to explore and develop an understanding of the concept; and finally offers students a situation where they can apply their new understandings.

This book is a follow up to NSTA’s popular A Head Start on Science and allows teachers to generate a greater interest among their students in life science by: offering a diverse range of inquiry-based and engaging lessons on animals, plants, and nature walks; connecting to a range of other subjects such as reading, art, writing, dramatic play, and math; and extending learning beyond the classroom with activities—written in both English and Spanish—so that children can continue to explore life sciences with their families via activities that are related to their everyday lives.

Read the free sample chapter, “Science for Young Children”, to understand the components of a high quality ECSE and what constitutes developmentally appropriate science; get a lesson overview, learn how to plan for a lesson, and more.

This book is also available as an e-book.

Don’t miss out on this opportunity to make science accessible to your youngest students. There are jumping crickets, earthworms, and snails to observe; plants to smell, compare, and measure; weeds to investigate and map where they grow, outdoor scavenger hunts to plan, and so much more. 

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NSTA Student Chapters Cultivate Professional, Community Ties

Coryn Cange, a member of the NSTA Student Chapter at Stony Brook University, guides high school students as they study water filtration in a chemistry teaching lab. Photo courtesy of Judy Nimmo

Whether they’re helping to judge a regional science fair; conducting family science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) nights; or learning about professional norms from an inservice teacher, members of NSTA Student Chapters are laying the foundations for their professional lives.

At Stony Brook University, New York, all science teacher preparation students are strongly encouraged to join NSTA and the Science Teachers Association of New York State. “This is the beginning of their professional preparation; we encourage them to become part of the larger science teacher community. We try to set [our students] off on a path that will shape their professional careers” by encouraging membership in professional organizations, explains Linda Padwa, associate director of Stony Brook’s Science Teacher Preparation Program. The students, typically either seniors or graduate students, interact with inservice teachers and secondary school students through volunteer work with the Science Olympiad and regional science fairs. They also work as assistants in the university’s Institute for STEM Education after-school program and teaching labs taught by faculty members.

“These are genuine interactions with students. [Stony Brook preservice teachers] demonstrate how to use equipment and guide [the grades 7–12] students through the lab protocols. Our students who participate in teaching labs are really ready for student teaching: They’re comfortable; they’re ready to go when they get into the classroom,” Padwa asserts. “When our students participate, they meet inservice teachers…they frequently make connections that lead to placements for student teaching and even future employment.” Continue reading …

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Ed News: Using Science To Bring Literature To Life

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This week in education news, Florida lawmakers are considering giving the public more power to influence what educators teach students; new report finds that states must provide more information than what’s required to give administrators and parents a clearer view of how schools are performing; homework is beneficial, but only to a degree; DeVos wants to direct federal funds to school choice, STEM, career preparation; In # ArmMeWith movement, teachers ask to be armed but not with guns; not enough states are using data to determine if their supply of teachers is meeting the demand of school districts; and a new study finds text messages tailored to students’ needs boost retention.

Florida Residents Could Soon Get The Power To Alter Science Classes

Policymakers in the United States are pushing to give the public more power to influence what educators teach students. Last week, Florida’s legislature started considering two related bills that, if enacted, would let residents recommend which instructional materials teachers in their school district use in their classrooms. The bills build on a law enacted in June 2017, which enables any Florida resident to challenge the textbooks and other educational tools used in their district as being biased or inaccurate. Read the article featured in Nature.

Using Science To Bring Literature To Life

Too often when we consider how to connect science and literacy, we think about using literature to support science. Maybe it’s reading a fictional book with a science theme, or exploring a biography of a famous scientist. But we could instead turn that around and use science experiments as a way of bringing literature to life. Read the article featured in edutopia.

Continue reading …

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folder icon  Safety

Science Activity Safety Checklist

The “Science Activity Safety Checklist,” written by NSTA’s Science Safety Advisory Board, allows teachers to vet any new demonstration, activity, laboratory, or field investigation before using it in the classroom or laboratory. The checklist requires that the teacher has met the following safety requirements.

Safety training must be completed before any activity or demonstration.

After safety training, have students and a parent or guardian review and sign a safety acknowledgment form. For examples of elementary, middle, and high school safety acknowledgement forms, visit the NSTA Safety Portal.

Complete a Hazard analysis and review Safety Data Sheet (SDS). A hazard analysis is the first of three steps (hazard analysis, risk assessment, safety action) to determine the appropriate safety action. The SDS lists chemical hazards. Other sources for hazards include the NSTA listserv, NSTA Safety Blog, and NSTA Safety Portal.

Complete a risk assessment to determine what risks result from the hazards. If the hazard is a corrosive chemical such as an acid, for example, the risk is the acid’s potential to burn the skin or eyes.

Review and apply appropriate safety controls to address risks (elimination, substitution, engineering controls, standard operating safety procedures, class size, special needs students, and personal protective equipment). Based on the risk assessment, take the appropriate safety action. For example an acid would require students and teachers to wear indirectly vented chemical splash goggles, aprons, and nitrile gloves.

Share with students a list of PPE and other safety protocols documented in the procedure.

Prepare a general statement of safety precautions for the teacher and students. Before doing a hands-on activity or demo, teachers need to share with students a written document containing the required safety precautions of the activity or demo.

Review and document safety precautions for chemicals. Share salient safety precautions for hazardous chemicals found in SDS.

Review and document safety precautions for physical hazards (e.g., trip-fall hazards and projectiles). Review appropriate safety precautions for all determined physical hazards.

Review and document safety precautions for biological hazards (e.g., bloodborne pathogen exposure, toxic plants).

When using hand or power tools, make sure you review and document safety precautions prior to doing hands-on activities or demos.

The teacher performs lab, activity, or demonstration prior to its use with students. Performing new hands-on activities and demos prior to using it with students ensures all possible safety issues have been addressed.

Keep a plan in place to monitor student behavior in meeting safety expectations during the activity (e.g., making sure PPE stays on, keeping appropriately defined distance from apparatus). Enforce progressive discipline policies for students, including well-defined student behavior expectations, direct adult supervision, and specific discipline actions in steps. The first step, for instance, would involve a verbal warning, followed by the students’ removal from class and a zero for the lab activity if he or she repeats the same offense. The student may ultimately be permanently removed from the class if the behavior is not rectified.

In the end

Always make note of safety actions in your lesson plans and keep copies of the check list. Should there be a safety incident, this information will be helpful in providing proof that the science teacher took the appropriate actions. Accidents, of course, can still happen even when safety protocols are in place. Be vigilant during all activities and demonstrations.

Submit questions regarding safety in K–12 to Ken Roy at safesci@sbcglobal.net or leave him a comment below. Follow Ken Roy on Twitter: @drroysafersci.

NSTA resources and safety issue papers
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Go Direct® Gas Pressure Sensor


The Go Direct Gas Pressure Sensor is used to monitor pressure changes during gas-law experiments. Subsequently, science teachers can use it for graphical analysis and integrate its use in both mathematics and science instruction. In addition, it comes with a free free “Graphical Analysis™ 4 app,” which produces real-time graphs from experimental data and is very easy to use.

Once students have collected data, Moreover, the software generates a variety of statistics that students can use for data analysis and include in their laboratory reports, e.g., central tendency, range, curve fits, etc. In addition the free “Graphical Analysis™ 4 app,” in combination with the supported hardware, makes it possible to use your mobile device for data collection with other Vernier sensors, e.g., temperature, motion, force, pH, etc.

What’s Included

• Go Direct Gas Pressure Sensor
• Two tapered valve connectors & No. 5 stopper
• One tapered valve inserted into No. 1 stopper
• One two way valve
• Two Luer-lock connected to either end of plastic tubing
• One 20 mL syringe
• Two tubing clamps
• Connecting USB cord

How it Works

The sensor has a flexible membrane that reacts when the pressure changes and is arranged to measure absolute pressure. One side of the membrane is vacuum-like and the other side is open to the atmosphere. Hence, a pressure change is detected and the sensor produces an output voltage that is transmitted to the “Graphical Analysis™ 4 app,” which results in a graphic. The following video shows how to set-up the device:

Video Link:

Continue reading …

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Using Science and Children: Appreciating editors’ notes

A colleague mentioned that he has a few recent issues of Science and Children to catch up on. Reading an issue of the journal doesn’t have to be front to back. Like preschoolers making a play plan, educators can make a reading plan so a journal can be useful instead of filling up a “to-do” list. As a peer-reviewed journal for teachers, we can count on Science and Children to publish articles sharing effective strategies and workable lesson plans aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards. One colleague likes to tear out the pages that interest her to file for future use as a way to reduce her storage needs. I hold on to the entire issues because it makes it easier to read at the breakfast table, I loan them to colleagues, and I return to the whole issue when I’m revisiting a topic.

two page spread of the table of contents of the Feb 2018 Science and ChildrenThe table of contents states the issue topic (for February, Heredity: Inheritance and variation of traits) and lists each article and Teacher Resource by page number and a brief description. Articles that relate to the issue’s focus are marked with a colored dot. If you are looking for articles about a particular grade level, labels for grades K-3, and grades 3-5, identify the content grade level. Teacher Resources include regularly appearing and occasional columns—the Early Years, the Early Childhood Resources Review, Formative Assessment Probes, Teaching Through Trade Books, The Poetry of Science, Science 101 and 102, Engineering Encounters, Teaching Teachers, Methods and Strategies, Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12, and NSTA Recommends. In every issue: the Editor’s Note. I always read this note because it sets me up with a perspective to ponder as I read the journal, or the parts of the journal I have time for. 

Head shot of Linda FroschauerConsider this quote from the January 2018 Editor’s Note: Removing Barriers, from Science and Children’s Field Editor, Linda Froschauer:  “Science is for ALL. Not just students who are highly capable physically and mentally. Meeting the needs of the entire population is what we do. Remove as many barriers as possible, make learning accessible, and support students as they find their strengths to build on.”

I appreciate the way the NSTA journal editors, writers, and staff make Science and Children accessible and expand the learning through links to online content. Look for the sciLINKs icon in each issue for web links to accurate, age-appropriate content and pedagogy, the caution symbol, and the vintage film camera icon indicating video in the digital edition of the journal, and a “NSTA Connection” box at the end of some pieces indicating additional information available online.


Look for the “Call for Papers” in the print journal or online and consider sharing your teaching practice with others!

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Evolving ‘Controversy’ in School

I was considering sending a general email to our staff after learning a few teachers are telling students that evolution is wrong. At the very least I would like for my colleagues to be benign and not detrimental. What are your thoughts?
– G., Ohio

I think it would be a bad idea to send out a general email. You have to work with your colleagues and airing this out publicly would not be good for relations. Remember, only a few are involved.

Do you know if those staff members who don’t believe in evolution are telling your students to answer questions differently than what you teach? That would be a problem. If they are just stating their opinions then consider if there are larger implications. Depending on your district’s policies, you may be required to talk to the colleagues involved face-to-face as the first step. I recommend that you should talk to them. Remember: You are not trying to change their minds, so don’t argue about evolution. Focus on their effect on your curriculum.

The nature of science focuses on explanations that adhere to evidence. Evolution is a major unifying concept in science. You will teach it and expect your students to understand it, regardless of whether they believe it or not.

You may want to read over NSTA’s position statement on teaching evolution: https://goo.gl/uADYyw

Hope this helps!


Photo credit:  J. Cameron  [Public domain]

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Explore, investigate, experiment, and inquire: What do we call it when young children “do” science?

Child pointing to a cricket on the groundLearning about the natural and human built world begins at birth, if not before. The early childhood years, usually described as including children from birth through age eight, are a time when new experiences build brain connections that form the foundation for later connections.  The way we provide experiences for children may open or close parts of the world to them. Saying, “That’s nasty, put that down,” to a child holding a dead insect may cut off an interest in learning about this diverse group of animals. An adult with a strong fear of insects can still support children’s interest by saying, “Put it in a tissue and you can show it to everyone at circle time.” Doing a science demonstration while children watch may make them curious but if they don’t get to handle the materials themselves, their curiosity may not be satisfied. Unless they too get to manipulate the materials in ways they think of to try, they may get the idea that such exploration is not for them.

Do children learn science knowledge and the nature of science from exploring, investigating, experimenting, or in some other way? Early childhood educators may use different words to describe the work their young students do to learn about natural phenomenon, including, “testing your ideas,” “messing about,” “trying out an idea,” “exploring,” “figuring it out,” “experimenting,” and “investigation.” Does the term you use mean the same as a different term used by another early childhood educator? Does “messing about” mean children are “experimenting,” and what do they do, think about, and talk about when they are engaged in these behaviors? How do the words we use describe what we want children to do and learn?

Children standing around a puddle with rain drops falling.To me, “exploration” is when a child (or adult) has an open-ended experience with materials such as clay, or a phenomenon, such as rain, and is able to work with materials, make changes, and make and record observations.  I think of “messing about” in the same way, exploring all kinds of phenomena (the objects, materials, places, living things, and events that a child might explore). “Investigation” is when an exploration becomes focused with the help of discussions with adults and leads to a question, such as, “What will happen if I…?” and children test their answers to a question by manipulating the materials or making additional observations. “Trying out an idea” can be a focused exploration. In experimenting, also known as making a “fair test,” one factor is varied and all other factors are kept the same so comparisons can be made to see if or how the outcome was affected by the differences in that one factor. An experiment might be testing to see which tape will hold a piece of paper on the wall the longest, with using the same kind of paper, the same size piece of tape, and the same wall but only varying the kind of tape—transparent office tape, painters’ masking tape, duct tape, or packing tape. 

Child's drawing of a caterpillar.When I work with children I want them to build their understanding of materials, places, and phenomena by having time to explore and mess about. I work to support their science inquiry about a question by asking what they think and what they will do to find out. I want children to have time to look at their drawings and other documentation, describe their work, and tell what they might do next or what they still wonder. Early childhood science educator Cindy Hoisington says, “Drawing out and acknowledging children’s current ideas made them available for investigation. Children were able to revise their old ideas and construct new knowledge because their ideas had been at the heart of the experience and they had collected the evidence.”  

First page of the NSTA position statement on early childhood science educationIn the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) Position Statement on Early Childhood Science Education the NSTA “affirms that learning science and engineering practices in the early years can foster children’s curiosity and enjoyment in exploring the world around them and lay the foundation for a progression of science learning in K–12 settings and throughout their entire lives,” and “recognizes, however, the importance of exploratory play and other forms of active engagement for younger children from birth to age 3 as they come to explore and understand the world around them.  Continue reading …

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Ed News: All About STEM High Schools

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This week in education news, California state analysts aren’t happy about the governor’s plan to allocate $10 million to set up a new online “intersegmental” higher education initiative; some economics departments are changing the formal classification of their programs so that international students have more opportunities to work in the U.S.; NSTA unveils new book geared toward teachers of 3- to 7- year-olds; after-school programs level the playing field; and Idaho Senate Education Committee votes to approve revised school science standards.

All About STEM High Schools

What is a STEM school? It used to mean there were a few more science and math classes. These days, the best STEM schools engage students in real engineering and design challenges and connect them with career opportunities. Some STEM schools, with the help of employers, focus on specific job clusters. Others take advantage of community assets like a college, employer or a zoo. Read the article featured in Education Week.

Online Initiative Not The Answer to STEM Gaps In California

A proposed budget by California’s governor would allocate $10 million to set up a new online “intersegmental” higher education initiative. The project would fund competitive grants for intersegmental teams of faculty to create new and redesign existing STEM courses — both online and hybrid — in a program titled the “California Education Learning Lab.” However, state analysts aren’t keen on the idea. Read the article featured in Campus Technology.

Continue reading …

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