Embark on Your STEM Odyssey in LA at #NSTA17

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This spring, the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) will feature a special strand “2017: A STEM Odyssey” at our 2017 National Conference on Science Education, in Los Angeles: March 30–April 2. Students’ science learning has changed dramatically from learning in the past. In a STEM environment, students’ understanding of the world around them is facilitated through the intentional connections between the four disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. STEM curriculum provides research-based instructional strategies that engage diverse learners and highlights career pathways in STEM-related fields. More importantly, STEM provides opportunities for all students to place themselves in a 21st-century world. Participants will connect and collaborate to increase their understanding and ability to teach STEM-based lessons and instructional sequences.

Roni EllingtonThe featured presentation for this strand will be “Reenvisioning STEM Education: Transcending Boundaries to Realize the Vision of Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity in STEM Fields,” on Saturday, April 1 12:30 PM – 1:30 PM, in the Los Angeles Convention Center, Theatre (411). Presenter Roni Ellington (from Morgan State University: Baltimore, MD) will share a framework for STEM education that will transform the ways in which we conceptualize the aims and goals of STEM education with implications for curriculum, instruction, and pedagogy across all STEM disciplines. Ellington will provide an alternative view of STEM education and transformative instructional strategies that can support and realize true equity, inclusion, and diversity in STEM.

Below is a small sampling of other sessions on this topic:

  • Host a Rockstar Family STEM Event
  • Incorporating Global STEM Collaboration into Your Classroom!
  • Interactive Science Notebooks: Low-Tech Creations for Higher Level Thinking
  • Bilingual Engineering Adventures for the Whole Family
  • Using Robots to Teach Science, Math, Art, and Language Arts
  • A STEM Approach to Integrate Drones as a Teaching and Technology Tool
  • Early Elementary STEM Curriculum

LA preview coverWant more? Browse the program preview, or check out more sessions and other events with the LA Session Browser/Personal Scheduler. Follow all our conference tweets using #NSTA17, and if you tweet, please feel free to tag us @NSTA so we see it! Need to request funding or time off? Download this letter of support.

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

Future NSTA Conferences

2017 National Conference

2017 STEM Forum & Expo

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Engaging Students in the STEM Lab

Eighth graders in Englewood Middle School's STEM Lab

In the STEM Lab at Englewood Middle School in Englewood, Colorado, eighth graders
discuss plans for building a quadcopter drone of their own design. Students in the
Englewood school district research the careers associated with each of their STEM Lab
projects. Photo by Bill Gilmore

Schools nationwide are adding STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) Labs, spaces where students can apply science and math concepts. “We have two dedicated ‘STEM Labs’ spaces,” shared by two grade-level groups, K–4 and 5–8, says Jessica Boualavong, K–4 STEM teacher at Town School for Boys, an independent school in San Francisco. “For our STEM program, we integrate engineering projects and skills into traditionally science-based units,” she notes.

“One STEM lab is designed for heavy-duty prototyping and experimenting, [with] tool chests and large sinks for easy access and management of supplies and cleanup,” she explains. “It’s essential to have a very well-defined, student-accessible supply area for prototyping across subject areas.” 

Continue reading …

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Student recycling project

IMG_4758I sponsor an after-school science club for upper elementary students. They’d like to expand the recycling program at the school. I’m looking for suggestions on what they can do. – C., Pennsylvania

It may help to add a context to your students’ efforts. In a “garbology” lesson, the teacher collects the classroom trash for a week. Students weigh the contents and separate it (wearing gloves) into actual trash and recyclable materials such as paper, cans, bottles. They then weigh the recyclables. By extrapolating this to the number of classrooms in the school, they estimate how much trash was generated in their school and what percentage could be recycled. (See also the lessons in Teaching the Three R’s: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle in the March 2012 issue of Science & Children)

The amount of paper used in the school might be a good start for students’ efforts to reduce, reuse, and recycle. Teachers could save old handouts or outdated materials that were printed on one side. Students could put a box next to the copier for any “mistake” copies with blank sides. Students could then collect and cut the paper in halves or quarters for quizzes, notes, or practice work. This would be one last use before recycling the paper.

Do students drink from water bottles in the classroom? In addition to installing containers to recycle them, club members could begin an awareness program to encourage reusable bottles. (Bottles with the school logo could be a fund-raiser.)

Your members could be “recycling monitors” in their classrooms, reminding others to put materials that could be reused or recycled in the proper containers.

For more ideas, NSTA’s The Science Teacher features the monthly column The Green Room with suggestions on making classrooms and teaching more environmentally friendly. These ideas could be adapted for any level of students.


Photo: http://tinyurl.com/zro35su

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Citizen science + Photos of signs in public spaces = literacy and spatial awareness

If you and the children need to be active to stay warm outdoors in cold temperatures, consider walking fast on a walking field trip to locate and document signs around your community. In the September 2011 issue of Science and Children I wrote about helping children understand what models are by taking a walking field trip to create a model (map) of the area around the school (Early Years column, A Sense of Place: Schoolyard as a Model). Using photographs taken by teachers, children matched each photo with the actual sign as they walked past it, and placed the photo on a paper map, locating the sign relative to other landmarks.

Example of a street sign: "Native Plant Conservation Zone"Now there is a group of scientists who need help collecting photos of signs and lettering in public spaces so they can analyze the diversity and dynamics of public writing. Their project is called Lingscape – Linguistic Landscaping and the project uses an app to send the data. Your children can help collect this data while becoming more aware of the spatial relationships between street signs and other human infrastructure and the landscape. As children find and photograph signage, they can identify symbols and letters, sound out and read words. While they help scientists in another location  study public writing, they can learn about how public writing is used in their community.

Find out more about this and other such citizen science projects from the SciStarter website.  

Children walking with cameraI used the Lingscape–Linguistic Landscaping app to document signs and lettering in public spaces near the school and it worked well. Even young children can use digital cameras although teachers might have to crop their photos for clarity. The location services must be turned on to locate your photos automatically on the app’s map but you can set the location yourself if you prefer not to share location on the camera or phone.

Print copies of the photos for children to use in creating a class book about signs in the neighborhood. Young children may not immediately understand that the satellite photography or map base represents the landscape around them but they will enjoy discovering and documenting signs, and looking at examples uploaded from other locations, perhaps some they have visited, lived in, or have family living there.

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Feedback from participants

504443770_b0f7743d87_mRecently, I did a hands-on workshop for other teachers on science apps and probes. I thought it went really well, and no one had any questions at the end of the session. But now, I’m getting lots of messages and phone calls for help. My colleague said that I must not have done a good job if there are so many questions. What did I do wrong? —T., Maryland

First of all, don’t beat yourself up. If the teachers have questions now, at least they’re trying to use what you introduced in the workshop. And it’s important they feel comfortable asking for your assistance. As you know from your own classroom, non-judgmental assistance can turn frustration into success.

When you asked for questions, perhaps the attendees were overloaded, ready to go home or back to the classroom. Or they felt comfortable with the apps at the time and thought they knew what they were doing. Now they’re unsure trying them without you and the others for immediate support. Some teachers are hesitant to introduce something new to students unless they are familiar with it themselves. They might need more encouragement, information, and feedback.

During future workshops, provide lots of modeling and practice time, even if you introduce fewer apps. Allow the attendees to make some mistakes and try to figure out a solution. I like to plan a follow-up session, either in person or online, to address teachers’ questions and for them to share their experiences.

Keep a record of the types of questions you’re asked. Use this feedback as you plan the next workshop (and please do so—it’s beneficial for teachers to learn from another teacher who can model the process.)

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Argument-Driven Inquiry in Physical Science

Interested in teaching your students how to make and support their science explanations in the classroom? We’ve got just the thing. The newest books in the Argument-Driven Inquiry Series from NSTA Press is here.

Argument-Driven Inquiry in Physical Science Lab Investigations for Grades 6-8 and the accompanying student manual offer 22 labs that align with the recommendations of A Framework for K-12 Science Education, as well as the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics.

The labs provide students with the independence to investigate, analyze, and determine a conclusion. Labs include “Mass and Motion: How Do Changes in the Mass of an Object Affect Its Motion?” In the lab, students will study the motion of a pull cart to investigate what makes a system stable and what causes changes within a system, and then draw conclusions from patterns they observe.

The lab “Kinetic Energy: How Do the Mass and Velocity of an Object Affect Its Kinetic Energy?” asks students to use what they know about force and motion, patterns, and causal relationships to design and carry out an investigation and create a mathematical model explaining the relationship between mass, velocity, and force of impact.

With the argument-driven inquiry model students are asked to give presentations to their peers; respond to questions; and write, evaluate, and revise reports as part of each lab. The model is designed to be thought-provoking and multi-layered. Students must identify the task and guiding question, design a method and collect data, analyze data to develop an argument, and more.

“Each of the eight stages in the argument-driven inquiry instructional model is designed to ensure that the experience is authentic (students have an opportunity to engage in the practices of science) and educative (students receive the feedback and explicit guidance that they need to improve on each aspect of science proficiency),” the authors write in the first chapter.

Check out the free sample lab “Potential Energy: How Can You Make an Action Figure Jump Higher?” from Argument-Driven Inquiry in Physical Science: Lab Investigations for Grades 6-8 by Jonathon Grooms, Patrick J. Enderle, Todd Hutner, Ashley Murphy, and Victor Sampson.

You can also get the accompanying student lab manual for grades 6-8 here. Explore other books in the Argument-Driven Inquiry Series, including volumes focused on life science, biology, and chemistry.

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Flying the Beam

A P-51.What did you do before the navigation apps on your smartphone? Just a few (OK, several) years ago we were all using paper road maps, or finding our way using local landmarks. But think about the lack of landmarks for a WWII fighter pilot navigating over open ocean toward a pinprick of an island. How would you do it?

Find out in Flying the Beam—one of 10 posted videos in the Chronicles of Courage series. The 20-video series from the partnership of NBC Learn and Flying Heritage Collection uses the collection’s WWII airplanes and aviation technology as their focal point.

Use the video as a backdrop for student investigations into the electromagnetic spectrum, Morse code and digital communication, GPS, and the mathematics of navigation. The NSTA-developed lesson plan for this video elaborates on some of these ideas and gives you more to incorporate this video into your science course as well as collaborations with social studies and English language arts.

Stay tuned during the upcoming break for more lesson plans that will help you prepare for the end-of-semester schedules that can leave you in need of real-world applications that are a bit out of the ordinary!

Chronicles of Courage: Stories of Wartime and Innovation “Flying the Beam” focuses on the use of low-frequency radio (LFR) range navigation during World War II.

STEM Lesson Plan—Adaptable for Grades 7–12

Chronicles of Courage: Stories of Wartime and Innovation “Flying the Beam” provides strategies for developing Science and Engineering Practices and support for building science literacy through reading and writing.

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Focus on Physics: How E = mc2 Helps Us Understand Nuclear Fission and Fusion

Nuclear physics has an undeserved reputation for being tough for students. This article may reduce this “toughness” by showing how Einstein’s familiar equation E = mc2 relates to the reductions in mass and enormous releases of energy that occur in the processes of nuclear fission and fusion.

We focus not on the mass of an atomic nucleus but on the mass per nucleon (a proton or neutron in the nucleus). If students can see the implications of how mass per nucleon varies from hydrogen to uranium, they will better comprehend nuclear fission and fusion.

In a typical fission reaction (Figure 1), a uranium-235 nucleus, after absorbing a neutron to become, momentarily, a U-236 nucleus, splits into nuclei of krypton and barium and releases three neutrons in the process. Note that the number of nucleons (protons + neutrons) before the reaction is equal to the number of nucleons after (true of both nuclear and chemical reactions).


Figure 1. A typical uranium fission reaction.

But most astounding is the energy released, some 200 million electron volts (eV) of energy per nucleus (an electron volt is a unit of energy equal to 1.6 × 10-19 joule). In comparison, about 2 eV of energy per molecule is involved in chemical reactions. Where does this nuclear energy come from? The answer has to do with a discovery made by Albert Einstein in 1905. Continue reading …

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P-47 and the Turbo Supercharger

You have to wonder about the engineering design advantages of a P-47 Thunderbolt airplane when WWII pilot Archie Maltbie recalls, “I flew the P-47 Thunderbolt in the 365th (Hellhawk) Fighter Group . . . and I know without doubt that I owe my life to [it].”A P-47

When the schedule leading up to holiday break becomes unpredictable, engage students in P-47 and the Turbo Supercharger—one of 10 posted videos in the Chronicles of Courage series. The 20-video series from the partnership of NBC Learn and Flying Heritage Collection uses the collection’s WWII airplanes and aviation technology as their focal point.

P-47 and the Turbo Supercharger delves into how this particular plane’s engine was designed to utilize exhaust gases to force more air into the engine, and thus increase the engine’s power. Boosting engine performance at both high and low altitudes gave the P-47 its advantage.

The companion NSTA-developed lesson plans give you a lot of ideas for how to use the videos as a centerpiece, or simply incorporate them into what you already do. Look through the lesson plans and adapt the parts most useful to you. We all know that everyone’s situation is just a bit different, so download the Word doc and modify at will to make it your own. After you give them a try with your students, let us know what you think! Suggestions for improvements are always welcome. Just leave a comment and we’ll get in touch with you.

Chronicles of Courage: Stories of Wartime and Innovation “P-47 and the Turbo Supercharger” focuses on the P-47 Thunderbolt and the mission for which it had been specifically designed—power at high altitudes.

STEM Lesson Plan—Adaptable for Grades 7–12

Chronicles of Courage: Stories of Wartime and Innovation “P-47 and the Turbo Supercharger” provides strategies for developing Science and Engineering Practices and support for building science literacy through reading and writing.

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Health Wise: Keeping Track of Sugar

Sugar in a spoon with the word obesity.

Students should consume no more than 25 g (6 tsp.) of added sugar per day, recommends the American Heart Association (AHA 2016).

“Added sugars contribute to a diet that is energy dense but nutrient poor, and increase risk of developing obesity, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, obesity-related cancers, and dental [cavities],” the recommendation says (AHA 2016).

The AHA’s recommendation is timely. A total of 29.9% of high school students are overweight or obese, according to a nationwide survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC 2016).

The 2015 survey of more than 15,000 students in grades 9–12 found that 13.9% of high school students were obese, and 16% were overweight (CDC 2016). In 1999, those percentages were 10.6% and 14.1%, respectively. For states surveyed, the 2015 obesity rates ranged from 10.3% in Montana to 18.9% in Mississippi. Overweight rates ranged from 13.3% in Missouri to 18.2% in South Carolina.

Added sugars are defined as “all sugars used as ingredients in processed and prepared foods and sugars eaten separately or added to foods at the table,” the recommendation says. “Sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup, both of which are made up of glucose and fructose… are the most commonly added sugars in the U.S. food supply.” Added sugars do not include “naturally occurring sugars … that are an innate component of foods (e.g., fructose in fruits and vegetables and lactose in milk and other dairy products)” (AHA 2016). Continue reading …

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