einstein dataDesigned to provide an interactive laboratory experience to science students across a wide range of ability levels, the einstein Tablet+ is a mobile device produced by Fourier Education designed to provide an interactive laboratory experience to science students across a variety of ages and grade levels. Furnished with an android operating system, the einstein Tablet+ can access the internet and download and run android applications. For example, Fourier Education produces three applications for the einstein Tablet+, which are included with the device: 1) MiLAB, 2) Einstein World, and 3) TrackIt!.

Using the variety of sensors available with the device , the MiLAB application allows students to record, collect, and graph data. The device has built-in sensors that can be used to detect the following: 1) UV, 2) light, 3) humidity, 4) temperature, 5) accelerometer, and 6) microphone. The einstein Tablet+ also houses five ports that can be used with any of Fourier Education’s 65 external sensors. These sensors can be used for a variety of science applications. In addition to the sensor ports, the device is equipped with a headphone jack as well as USB, HDMI, and MicroSD ports.

einsteinLABStudents can collect data in real time by using the MiLAB application, which has several features that allow students to record their observations and to save data for later review. For example, students can record observations alongside their graph in the notes section or take a video of their experiment. In addition, students can save graphs and screenshots and “run back” recorded graphs to review the progress of their experiment over time from the beginning to the end. Continue reading …

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Create Teachable Moments for Your Students

The BSCS 5E Instructional Model: Creating Teachable MomentsLike classroom teachers at all levels and disciplines, you have probably experienced teachable moments. They are those positive distractions from planned lessons where students are engaged and you have the opportunity to explore ideas and provide an explanation or insight. These are exciting, even magical, moments for teachers.

In The BSCS 5E Instructional Model: Creating Teachable Moments, author Rodger Bybee explains why a teachable moment occurs:

“Teachable moments occur when individuals experience something they recognize and that has meaning, but they cannot formulate an explanation for the phenomenon or experience. The experience is within their cognitive grasp but beyond their full understanding…. At a slightly deeper level, the student is expressing cognitive disequilibrium with phenomena in the classroom, school, or environment. In short, the student’s current knowledge and understanding do not provide an explanation for something he or she has experienced.”

A former executive director of the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS) and an author of this instructional model, Bybee describes the BSCS 5E Instructional Model as an approach to teaching that centers on important content and abilities and that increases the opportunities for teachable moments.

As a classroom teacher, you do not have to wait for something out of the blue; you can create teachable moments by using a sequence of lessons that includes engaging experiences and activities for students, but the experiences should be beyond students’ immediate grasp. Imagine using an instructional sequence that begins with an experience of high interest but is beyond students’ understanding, and then the lessons provide opportunities for students to sort out their ideas and try to explain the initial situation as the sequence continues.

This leads you to the moment where you can help students gain knowledge and understanding of the experience. Then, you provide a situation where students have to apply their new knowledge to another situation. Finally, students and the teacher conclude with an assessment.

What Are the 5Es?

The BSCS instructional model consists of five phases of learning:

  • Engage: The goal of this phase is to capture the students’ attention; it need not be a full lesson, but often it is.
  • Explore: Students participate in activities that provide the time and opportunities to resolve the mental disequilibrium or dissonance of the engagement experience.
  • Explain: Keeping students connected to, and explaining, the teachable moment is the emphasis of this phase.
  • Elaborate: Students are involved in learning experiences that expand and enrich the concepts and abilities developed in the prior phases.
  • Evaluate: Teachers and students should receive feedback on the adequacy of their explanations and abilities, so students should be involved in activities that are consistent with those of prior phases and designed to assess their explanations.

With this brief introduction, you can see the rich opportunities that the BSCS 5E Instructional Model affords for creating teachable moments for your students. This model will help teachers bridge the gap between research on learning and the realities of classrooms. Once you understand the aims, orientation, and flexibility of the five phases, you can incorporate the unique demands of the Common Core State Standards, NGSS, and other state and local standards.

This book is also available as an e-book.

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

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Ideas from visiting another classroom

Visiting other schools always makes me think about classroom organization, I get new ideas about how to document children’s learning, and gets me thinking about changes I want to implement in my teaching. Changes in weather often lead to changes in activities and we begin favorite spring investigations and look for new ways to explore and record the children’s work. With the warmer weather, children can get wet and not have to change clothes to remain comfortable. So I was happy to see some new ways of documenting water exploration by a four-year-old class in another school.

Children's and parents' responses to the question, "List 3 ways you use water."This school has a Question of the Morning for parents and children to consider together at drop off time, a time of transition that gets its own time slot, not just a moment but a period of time that is planned for. The questions are considered for as long as the child is interested and the responses are recorded by either, or both, child and adult. 

Some of the questions relate to an investigation that the children are pursuing, such as into the properties of water. Sensory table filled with cups, spoons, sponges, turkey basters for water play.Sensory tables and tubs, buckets and mud puddles provide experiences with water. Children can find out about the properties of water using tools such as scoops, funnels, droppers, spoons, sieves, cups,child drying off a riding toy. sponges, tubes….the list is endless! Don’t forget towels to learn about absorption and to keep the floor from being slippery. Begin with a few and tools can be added and set aside as needed when children begin playing with pouring, flow and containment. Drying off the playground equipment is a “real life” link to this investigation.

Small annotated drawings by children hung on lengths of string like a mobile.Close up of children's water drawings.Further documentation of children’s thinking has been linked together on lengths of string—a visual of how the ideas are linked around the central idea of “How does water influence your world?” I wish I could have heard the conversation about the meaning of the word “influence.” “How does water influence your world?” So much more active and of consequence than “Where do you see water?”


Using a small amount of water can be just as engaging as pouring from buckets. In this activity inspired by a workshop led by Karen Worth and Jeff Winokur from Wheelock College and EDC, Inc., children make drops and talk about their shape and appearance on different surfaces. Other ways for working with water include holding melting ice, and painting with liquid water!

100_3185a IMG_4359abIMG_6432  Water in drops, as ice, and painted on a fence.


Child putting a funnel, tube and container.Manipulating larger amounts of water with tools can lead to creating a system, requiring children to think about cause and effect and how the pieces can go together to meet a goal. Can you suggest some more ways to document this work?


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Online resource collections

NSTA’s SciLinks has a searchable database of vetted websites with information, graphics, and lesson plans. These cover topics K-12 in the life, physical and earth sciences as well as health and engineering. The sites are correlated to specific keywords (such as Food Chains, Phases of the Moon, or Magnetic Fields). The data base is available to any teacher.

There are other online collections of more focused resources. Although many of the individual resources have been aligned with specific SciLinks keywords and are included in the database, the entire collection may be of interest to teachers looking for supplements, lesson suggestions, differentiation ideas, enrichment opportunities for students, or to enhance their own knowledge.

These are not simply lists of someone’s favorite websites. These are activities, simulations, and resources created by organizations or institutions as part of an outreach program or related to their projects and research. You can search for sites by grade level and subject area. No fees or paid subscriptions are required, although users may be asked to register. Here are just a few examples:

  • TeachEngineering is designed “to make applied science and math come alive through engineering design in K-12 settings.” Concepts in life, earth and physical science are taught, connected, and reinforced through real-life problems or scenarios in student- and teacher-friendly formats. There is also an option to search by NGSS standards. The lessons have been designed by university engineering faculty and teachers. Example: 20/20 Vision for grades 3-5 illustrates the format and design of the lessons. 
  • The Royal Society of Chemistry’s (UK)  Learn Chemistry site provide access to thousands of chemistry-related activities, simulations, games, tutorials, handouts, quizzes, journal articles, podcasts, apps, and videos in a searchable format for both teachers and students. Example: The Mole, a bi-monthly E-zine written in student-friendly language
  • Middle School Chemistry (from the American Chemical Society) is “a resource of guided, inquiry-based lesson plans that covers basic chemistry concepts along with the process of scientific investigation.” The lessons are written in the 5E model and include background information and student activity sheets. The lessons can be accessed individually or the entire resource can be downloaded as a PDF file. Example: Heat, Temperature, and Conduction illustrates the design and format of the lessons. 
  • Kids Health from the Nemours Foundation has health and wellness resources (including information on human body systems) for kids, teens, educators, and parents. These often have a Spanish version and they can be downloaded, printed, or emailed to share with parents or to use in class. Example: The Digestive System has a brief video, an article (also in Spanish), and a quiz. 
  • Biointeractive from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) has a searchable collection of free resources for science teachers and students, including animations, short films, lectures, virtual labs, and apps. Example: A search for “Environmental Science” produces 42 resources, including the EarthViewer app.


Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/treevillage/5107999448/sizes/l/in/photostream/

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The STEM in Food Science

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Food science has come a long way since the days of girls taking home economics and boys taking shop class. The classes in my sons’ middle and high schools are now called family and consumer science, or food technology (and both of the boys have taken at least one semester). For simplicity’s sake I will call all such classes food science, because the ultimate aim is to get your students into a career that will support them, and food science is one such. I have written before about food chemistry, big agriculture, and food biotechnology, all of which inform modern food science curricula.

STEM | Food | Economics

A good STEM unit on food science could be developed in conjunction with an economics teacher. A significant percentage of all food globally is imported. In developing countries, the percentage of imported food increases as the country’s income rises. In 2013, there were 13 countries that were 100% dependent on imports for their grain supplies. Importing food may seem like a good economic choice that frees up land for urbanization and population growth, but it leaves a country vulnerable to natural disasters and political changes outside its borders. Russia is one of the world’s largest grain exporters, and it has banned grain exports several times in the last 10 years. Even developed countries are not immune to external disruptions in food supply. In 2009 the United States imported around 16% of all food consumed by its people. In that same year, the United Kingdom imported 50.5% of all its food.

It is important for all students to have some background in food science, because the importance of safe and reliable food sources cannot be overstated. In the United States, the imported and domestic foods we consume sometimes bring food safety issues. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is nominally responsible for inspecting all food production facilities that supply food for its people. In 2011, there were approximately 130,000 facilities worldwide that the FDA was responsible for inspecting. Food contaminants include foreign materials, chemicals and pesticides, natural toxins, and metals (primarily arsenic, lead, or mercury).

The most common causes of food poisoning in the United States are four strains of bacteria: E. coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter, and Listeria. Campylobacter is most commonly found in poultry and dairy products. The risk of bacterial contamination is much reduced by pasteurization, which is the primary reason most dairy products are treated with this process. Another common method of reducing bacterial contamination in food is irradiation. Thorough cooking of poultry can reduce the risk of contamination from that source. E. coli is well-known for outbreaks associated with ground meat. Listeria has been the cause of outbreaks in consumers of bean sprouts, and peanut butter was the source of a recent outbreak of Salmonella. Continue reading …

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Help Your Students Achieve Earth Science Success

Earth Science SuccessNSTA Press authors Catherine Oates-Bockenstedt and Michael Oates, a daughter-father team, have collaborated on a second edition of Earth Science Success: 55 Tablet-Ready, Notebook-Based Lessons. The book provides a one-year curriculum with 55 classroom-proven lessons designed to follow the disciplinary core ideas for middle school Earth and space science from the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Intended for teachers of grades 5-9, Earth Science Success emphasizes hands-on, sequential experiences through which students discover important science concepts lab by lab and develop critical-thinking skills. The first edition of the book focused more on the rationale for implementing the curriculum and the wisdom of using composition notebooks, this second edition focuses a special lens on the lessons themselves. The 55 lesson plans enable teachers to use electronic tablets, such as iPads, with best practice, field-tested methods.

Each of the labs is organized to follow a pattern of active involvement by students. Students are continually asked to search for evidence using a three-step discovery approach. The three steps are: anticipation, evidence collection, and analysis. Anticipation involves reflection on observations and a problem statement, recall of previous knowledge about the topic, discussion of misconceptions, and definition of concepts. Evidence collection includes hands-on laboratory investigation techniques. Analysis requires confirmation or rejection of results, reporting the findings, and drawing conclusions about the observations.

The book is organized into seven sections:

  • Process of Science and Engineering Design
  • Earth’s Place in the Solar System and the Universe
  • Earth’s Surface Processes
  • History of Planet Earth
  • Earth’s Interior Systems
  • Earth’s Weather
  • Human Impacts on Earth Systems

The hope is that students will form good habits about testing and controlling all possible variables in their experiments whenever they are collecting evidence. They should be able to identify the manipulated, measured, and controlled variables in each experiment. Results should be reliable and valid. And students should set up controls, as a basis of comparison, so they can determine the actual charges in their data. This pattern of active involvement by students is followed throughout Earth Science Success.

The authors understand how busy a classroom science teacher is, and they know that successful strategies include those that save you time and promote skillful organization. Both composition notebooks and electronic tablets offer tremendous opportunities in this regard.

Why are notebooks, both electronic and nonelectronic, so valuable? One of the most important reasons is that students are able to organize, reflect upon, and achieve at higher levels. Students tend to have fewer missing assignments, and “no name” papers are a thing of the past. Tablets enable connections to internet research, word-processing capabilities, real-time data, and access to rich video vignettes to expand learning. The tablets and compositions notebooks are also great resources to use at parent/teacher conferences.

This book is also available as an e-book.

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

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Providing Real-World Science Through CTE


As the need for skilled science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) workers grows, schools and districts nationwide are revamping or expanding their Career and Technical Education (CTE) STEM courses and curricula. “A lot of schools have been doing CTE for years, [but now] there’s a push for everyone to do it,” says Stephanie Haas, CTE teacher at CORE Butte Charter School in Chico, California. “In California, there’s a push for students to be both career-ready and college-ready…It’s more about the skills [employers need],” she contends.

While CORE Butte already offers CTE courses in STEM-related subjects like information technology and agriculture, “we are currently setting up a medical CTE pathway that will start next year…[W]e will be offering medical biology, medical anatomy [and] physiology, global health, special health projects (vaccinations), and health care career explorations. We plan on using HASPI (San Diego’s Health and Science Pipeline Initiative; www.haspi.org) medical science lab curriculum to help focus the application of our science courses on the medical/health field,” she relates.

“With the [nation’s] constantly growing and aging population, medical [staffing] needs are huge,” Haas asserts. “A lot of kids think the only medical careers are [as a] doctor or nurse, but there are other career paths they don’t know about, [such as] pharmacy technician or phlebotomist,” she points out. “We’ll [also] cover mental health, surgeries, [and other medical topics]…[Vaccination] is a hot topic now.

“Students will research the topics, then be exposed to the argumentation process,” she explains. “[Students will be asked] what discourse [they will] have. What will they say based on their research and the evidence? We’re already doing a lot of this in our classes; we’re just adding the career aspect in the pathway.”

At CORE Butte, “some CTE classes are like college classes…Some students are doing independent study,” Haas reports. “Students want to learn [the material] because it means something to them [career-wise]…It gives kids that buy-in.”

One challenge with CTE is that “career pathways don’t always fall in with No Child Left Behind and testing,” she observes. Fortunately, the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and Common Core State Standards (CCSS) “offer more justification for career pathways,” she maintains. “CTE is a way to get to the NGSS.”

John Vreyens, science and CTE teacher at Chino Valley High School in Chino Valley, Arizona, agrees. “Our CTE standards are more like the NGSS standards than our state science standards. It’s more about performing a task than knowing a litany of facts. My CTE course (biotechnology) informs me on the way I really should be teaching my biology course.”

Giving Students More Choices

At Bremerton High School in Bremerton, Washington, “our ninth-grade science course is called STEM 9. We have it identified through our state as a CTE course, but our kids get science credit for it, rather than CTE credit. It meets all of the CTE requirements for leadership [and] employability, and [supports] NGSS and CCSS for [English language arts] and math,” says Emily Wise, one of Bremerton’s STEM 9 teachers. Continue reading …

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Senate Education Committee Passes ESEA Reauthorization Bill

text-based graphicOn Thursday April 16, 2015, on a unanimous vote of 22-0, the Senate HELP Committee approved a bipartisan bill that rewrites the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (No Child Left Behind). This means the bill will go to the Senate floor for final consideration, although floor time has not yet been scheduled.

During Senate markup of the bill, known as the Every Child Achieves Act, 60 amendments were debated, 21 amendments offered and withdrawn, 29 amendments were passed, and 8 amendments failed. See the list of amendments here. Most of the amendments were adopted via voice vote with little controversy or withdrawn out of respect for maintaining the bipartisan nature of the legislation.

I’m pleased to note that the Franken-Kirk-Murray STEM amendment, which restores STEM programs to the federal education bill, was adopted by a vote of 12-10 during consideration of the bill. The amendment language stipulates that each state receive formula-based funding to support partnerships between local schools, businesses, universities, and non-profit organizations to improve student learning in the critical STEM subjects. Each state would choose how to spend and prioritize these funds, which can support a wide range of STEM activities from in-depth teacher training, to engineering design competitions, to improving the diversity of the STEM workforce. This is a huge win for the STEM education community. See More Details on Franken-Kirk-Murray STEM Funding Amendment.

NSTA was very active in advocating for this amendment. We also spearheaded a letter with the STEM Coalition to Senate HELP Committee leaders urging support for STEM education as an ESEA priority. The letter was signed by a diverse array of more than 90 local, state, and national organizations that includes teacher and education groups, and professional and civic societies, and major corporations. Read the letter here.

Three amendments also to note, now part of the bill: An amendment from Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C. would alter the Title II funding formula so that it’s based 80 percent on poverty and 20 percent on population.

An amendment by Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., would allow states to use federal funds to audit the number and quality of tests and eliminate any they deem ineffective or of low-quality. The same provision was adopted in the House ESEA bill.

There were also a number of amendments relating to Title I portability introduced then withdrawn, that would allow funding for low-income students to follow those students to the public or private school of their choice. It is expected that these amendments, and amendments to strengthen the accountability system, will be offered during floor debate in the Senate.

My April 10 blog post outlines most of what is in the Every Child Achieves Act and you can read more about the mark up in this Education Week blog. Hill staffers are now incorporating amendment language into the bill, and we will bring you the final product when it is released and news on when/if this bill will reach the Senate floor.

Stay tuned and look for upcoming issues of NSTA Express for the latest information on developments in Washington, DC.

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 jpeterson@nsta.org; follow her on Twitter at @stemedadvocate.

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

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Science and the Media

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Scientists Christian Tomasetti and Bert Vogelstein published an article in the journal Science, “Variation in cancer risk among tissues can be explained by the number of stem cell divisions” (Science, January 2, 2015, p 78). The discussion this article engendered provides an excellent teaching tool for teachers to showcase how scientific debate takes place among members of the scientific community with the goal to elevate the quality of a body of knowledge and how it is different from the way the popular press reports on and communicates this work.

The amount and range of news coverage this research article received was remarkable. Most of the popular press, unfortunately, reported a simplified version of the story citing the statement that two-thirds of cancers are caused by chance and not by genetic or environmental factors without noting that that the authors explicitly stated that a number of the most commonly occurring cancers were not included in their study. Few of the news accounts reported that the original article addressed variation in cancer risk but not absolute cancer risk, therefore misleading readers that most cancers are due to ‘bad luck.’ The Guardian ran a story, “Bad luck, bad journalism and cancer rates,” that tried to clarify the science for the popular media and provided a simple account of the actual work while chastising colleagues in the news business.

In contrast to often poorly reasoned discussion in the popular press, members of the science community weighed in with criticism as well. Authors of six letters in the journal Science raised a number of mathematical and procedural questions about the work. Many of them were also as concerned with how people would interpret the results as they were with identifying errors. For example, the letter by Ashford, et al., begins “The report […] is dangerously misleading….” And in a subsequent blog post, one of the authors writes, “Our letter to the editor of Science not only challenges the misstatements of the reports that most cancers are due to ‘bad luck’, but points out that such misstatements dangerously undermine successful efforts to prevent cancers.”

In their response to the letters, Tomasetti and Vogelstein address each of the technical points either directly or by referring to the Supplementary Materials published online by Science. They also offer their views on the non-scientific aspects of the criticism. I encourage you to read the letters as well as the response.

The communications surrounding this very interesting and possibly important scientific paper can make for a very rich discussion about the differences between rhetorical argument that can be found in the mainstream press and blogosphere and the evidence-based argument included in the letters and response. It’s vital that we help our students understand the difference between the two.

NSTA Executive Director, David EvansDr. David L. Evans is the Executive Director of the National Science Teachers Association. Reach him at devans@nsta.org or via Twitter @devans_NSTA.

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

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Learn How to Reimagine Your Science Department

reimaginingIn NSTA Press’ new book, Reimagining the Science Department, authors Wayne Melville, Doug Jones, and Todd Campbell pose some atypical questions:

“Departments are a ubiquitous feature of secondary schools; but where did they come from, what purposes do they serve, and what is the traditional role of the chair?”

The authors explain that it is necessary to ask these questions if you want to understand the importance of both the department and the chair in the teaching and learning of science. By knowing how the features in contemporary departments have evolved, you can begin to appreciate the power of departments in perpetuating a particular view of science education. If you understand this history, then as a chair (or aspiring chair), you will have a knowledge base from which to work in reforming science instruction in your department.

Departments are not just convenient administrative structures within secondary schools, although that is often how they appear. Contemporary science departments are simultaneously learning communities, which powerfully influence what and how teachers teach and administrative organizations within secondary schools. A chair that sees the department as both organization and community is in the best position to judge the most appropriate approach to the issues being faced.

Implementing and supporting the teaching and learning rooted in engaging students in science and engineering practices to use disciplinary core ideas and crosscutting concepts to explain phenomena or solve problems outlined in the NGSS will require changes in teachers’ professional learning—changes that are intimately linked to the roles and responsibilities of the department chair.

To encourage teachers to take greater ownership of the reforms will, to a large extent, depend on your leadership capabilities. These capabilities, and increasingly those of individual teachers, will impact and ultimately shape what the department looks like in the future.

Departments do not, however, work in isolation from the rest of the school. To reimagine the department is to also be active in developing strong political and practical relationships with school administrators. Without their support, change is difficult to initiate and even more difficult to sustain. The aim of reimagining the department is to develop a long-term culture that is simultaneously owned by the teachers and supported by school administrators.

Building trust within the department is paramount. Faith in your colleagues and the assumptions that reimagining the department are based on emanates from trust. Leading a paradigm shift in thinking and practice of any magnitude is a challenge that requires leadership based on hope, trust, faith, and civility from both the chair and the department, supported by school administrators.

Reimagining the Science Department will help you understand the importance of the position and develop your ability to lead. School administrators or school board members will find it deepens the commitment to developing a department in which the practices of science are taught for the benefit of all students. The authors divide the book into five key sections:

  • A History of the Science Department
  • Changing Scripts
  • Roles and Responsibilities
  • Getting Started
  • Building for the Long Term

This book is also available as an e-book.

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

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