January journals and SciLinks

One of the perks of being an NSTA member is having access to all of the journals online. Regardless of the grade level you teach, the journals have ideas for authentic activities and investigations that can be used, adapted, or extended for different levels of student interest and experience. Most are aligned with the NGSS.

This month, the article EQuIP-ped for Success appears in all three journals, describing a rubric with criteria on which to evaluate lessons and units and their alignment with the NGSS.

Science & Children: Systems and System Models

Most of our students are familiar with the solar and metric “systems,” but any interaction of two or more things can be considered a system, and the resulting system can help us understand phenomena. This issue explores systems and the models used to understand them. Bill Robertson’s Science 101 column–How Should We Use the Concept of Systems?—is a good summary of the topic. And here are some SciLinks that provide content information and suggestions for additional activities and investigations related to this month’s featured articles:

Science Scope: Human Impacts on Earth Systems

The featured articles explore the ever-threatening human impact on Earth systems. Get some ideas for student projects and investigations on the topic. Here are some SciLinks that provide content information and suggestions for additional activities and investigations related to this month’s featured articles:

The Science Teacher: Project-Based Science

Projects have come a long way from the days of gumdrop replicas of the atom! Working on projects provides students with ways of connecting and applying the content, practices, and concepts they are learning. The article Project-Based Science leads off this discussion. Here are some SciLinks that provide content information and suggestions for additional activities and investigations related to this month’s featured articles:


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The Next Generation Science Standards: a transformational opportunity

NGSS coverThe Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and A Framework for K–12 Science Education articulate a beautiful vision for students. The overarching goal of the standards is a coherent and rigorous science education for all students, enabling them to be critical consumers of science and attain the scientific literacy necessary to be informed citizens able to engage in public discourse and decision making on issues of science, engineering, and technology. For those who are so inspired, attaining proficiency in the standards provides students with the foundation needed to pursue STEM careers (a much-needed cohort in our society). Whereas the vision is clear, there is no single path teachers can follow to implement the Next Generation Science Standards. K–12 teachers who want to play a central role in transforming science teaching and learning need guidance in creating paths along which they can translate the NGSS into strong curricula and inspired instruction.

So, how can teachers build aligned NGSS curricula and instruction? Through individual reflection and productive struggle; conversation and collaboration with science educators nationwide; and partnerships with national, state, and local supporters, teachers can develop and implement a shared vision for classroom teaching and learning in science.


Introducing Teachers and Administrators to the NGSS book coverGroups of teachers all over the United States are finding the path to NGSS less daunting when they actively engage in adult learning through reflection on how their new approaches to science teaching are working and are mindful when reviewing resources for implementation. There is always that temptation to look for the easy answers about “How to do the NGSS.” But following someone else’s plans without thoughtful reflection, analysis, and debate will not enable us to reach our own understanding. Without our own deep understanding, we cannot truly shift our classrooms in a sustained way to the deep thinking and critical perspectives required in NGSS. As authors Eric Brunsell, Deb M. Kneser, and Kevin J. Niemi so effectively state in one of my favorite new resources, Introducing Teachers and Administrators to the NGSS, “the NGSS represents an evolution of our understanding of the standards, not a complete break with the past.”

If we develop a deep understanding of the NGSS and build our capacity as teachers to coach students toward independent thinking and lifelong learning, we will be able to use many of our own resources by making revisions and shifts in design, and we will be able to develop our own skills as critical consumers of new resources. The productive struggle of “figuring it out” for ourselves with support from others is what leads to deep understanding. We already know this to be true for our students, so shouldn’t we apply the same principles to our own learning? What could we build together if we applied this thinking to ourselves when it comes to NGSS? Continue reading …

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Supplementing a budget decrease

6355318323_4c41d3ef76_mOur principal just informed us that the science department budget will be decreased for next year. It’s already bare bones, so my colleagues and I are interested in finding other funding sources such as grants. What do we need to know to get started?   – G., Oregon

In a perfect world, schools and teachers would all be funded adequately to provide the highest quality education for our students. As we wait for this to happen, you won’t be the only one looking for external funds to supplement a shrinking budget, and many agencies and organizations are themselves facing reduced resources.

You and your colleagues should discuss your needs and make some decisions as you begin the process. Your needs may include “everything,” so you should prioritize them into categories such as equipment, safety, instructional materials, professional development (including conferences), field trips, technology, and more. Discuss your needs assessment and how meeting those needs will improve student learning. Very few organizations or agencies will write blank checks, so this will help you match your needs with the missions of potential funders.

Differentiate between donations and grants. Donations are straightforward gifts, often very modest, with few strings attached, and often from more local organizations. Grants from large foundations or government agencies usually focus on projects for a particular purpose or audience and have requirements spelled out in a formal contract that must be signed by a school official. These requirements may include periodic progress reports, a formal evaluation component, student learning data, and an itemized budget. They are usually competitive. As a grantwriter, I found that the larger the grant, the more strings are attached.

Finding potential sources is another challenge.

Continue reading …

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System exploration in early childhood

Children's coats hanging on hooks.When winter sets in, teachers set aside time in the schedule for children to remove and store their winter outwear. Such a variety of clothing systems appear! Coats and jackets with zippers, hoods, snaps and Velcro, mittens and gloves, hats that pull on or strap on, snow pants and overalls, scarves and boots! These items are the parts of the system that keeps children warm outside. 

Children master the skill of putting on and fastening these items over time as their fine motor skills develop and they have repeated opportunities to practice. Some children get undressed or dressed faster than their classmates. Instead of waiting, they can collect data. On a tally chart with pictures of each kind of clothing, they can make a tally mark for each item they observe. Some questions to investigate include, “Does the number of _____ change with changing weather?” “What kind of hat do children find easiest to put on? What kind of jacket do children find easiest to fasten? Which kinds of fastening do children prefer? 

Cover of January 2015 Science and ChildrenIn the January 2015 issue of Science and Children, I wrote about children investigating coats as systems, examining the parts of various coats and measuring and recording data. What systems are the children in your program investigating?

Although children experience a world where complex systems, such as atomic structure, operate, they may have not reached a developmental age where they understand these systems, forces and particles. We know this because researchers who investigate how children learn have discovered the age ranges when children can use their information to demonstrate or model these concepts (Michaels and others). Ready Set SCIENCE! (Michaels), particularly Chapter 3, discusses conceptual change in children’s thinking “as a result of instruction, experience, and maturation.” The authors state, “A key challenge for teachers is to build on students’ embodied knowledge and understanding of the world and to help them confront their misconceptions productively in order to develop new understanding” (pg 38).

 Beginning with systems common in the lives of young children, early childhood educators can lay the foundation for later learning.


Michaels Sarah, and Andrew W. Shouse, Heidi A. Schweingruber. 2007. Ready, Set, Science!: Putting Research to Work in K-8 Science Classrooms. National Research Council

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NSTA encourages West Virginia Board of Education to maintain fidelity to the Next Generation Science Standards

In a letter to the West Virginia Board of Education, the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) encourages the members of the Board to eliminate changes that were made to the Next Generation Content Standards and Objectives for Science in West Virginia Schools and revert back to the original published text. The West Virginia standards are based on the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), but changes were made to two performance expectations prior to adoption that do not reflect the intent of the original published NGSS document. The letter is below, and readers can download a copy as a pdf here.

January 13, 2015

West Virginia State Board of Education
1900 Kanawha Boulevard East
Charleston, WV 25305

Dear Members of the Board,

On behalf of the Board, Council, and 55,000 members of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), we strongly encourage you to eliminate changes that were made to the Next Generation Content Standards and Objectives for Science in West Virginia Schools prior to adoption in December and revert back to the original published text.

While West Virginia standards are based on the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), changes made to two performance expectations do not reflect the intent of the original published NGSS document or the Framework for K-12 Science Education.

The first change focuses on S.6.ESS.6. The original NGSS text states, “Ask questions to clarify evidence of the factors that have caused the rise in global temperatures over the past century,” but it was changed to read, “Ask questions to clarify evidence of the factors that have caused the rise and fall in global temperatures over the past century.” Adding the words “and fall” to S.6.ESS.6 risks confusion among students between the concepts of weather and climate.

The second change focuses on S.9.ESS.14. The original NGSS text states, “Analyze geoscience data and the results from global climate models to make an evidence-based forecast of the current rate of global or regional climate change and associated future impacts to Earth systems.” This text was replaced with, “Analyze geoscience data and the predictions made by computer climate models to assess their creditability for predicting future impacts on the Earth System.” The original wording asks students to use data and models to forecast the rate of climate change and future impacts on the Earth System. The revised wording asks students to assess the credibility of computer climate models to predict future impacts on the Earth System. This substantially changes the intent of this learning goal.

We are pleased that West Virginia state leaders have been at the forefront of developing the NGSS, and we will continue to support West Virginia science teachers as they bring high-quality science to all students. NSTA supports the NGSS the way the writers wrote it because it reflects the best research in science and on how students learn science. It is our hope that you will reverse the changes indicated above so as not to compromise the work of so many science and education experts, including many science teachers in West Virginia.


Dr. David L. Evans
Executive Director
National Science Teachers Association
1840 Wilson Boulevard
Arlington, VA 22201

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The Pasco Wireless Dissolved Oxygen Probe VS. Winter Water

The power of a Bluetooth-connected Dissolved Oxygen probe is not only from the DO data, but the places the data can be collected, and the ways the data is presented. Over the holidays I took the Pasco wireless DO probe up in the mountains to generate some data and answer some questions. Since my winter/spring lesson plans will address the use of the probe outdoors, I needed to be more than a little familiar with it, and ensure that any limits or barriers of the technology were of my choosing or creation. 

Three sites were chosen in which to measure the DO; a ice-covered pond, a small creek, and a rushing mountain stream. The DO probe connected to a Bluetooth transmitter called a SPARKlink Air to my iPad Air protected by both a UZBL Shockwave case and a Ziploc® bag.

Needless to say, the DO Probe, the Bluetooth basestation, and the iPad worked flawlessly. The biggest hurdle was simply trying to view the iPad screen though a soggy plastic bag and against the glare of a snow-covered landscape.

Pasco DO Probe

The durability of the Pasco DO probe was obvious, and while I don’t recommend any abuse, I do encourage data collectors to push the envelope.

As you can see in the pictures, the weather was a bit of a challenge, but nothing that a pair of Ziploc® bags couldn’t fix. I’ve used the iPad in temperatures so low that only a few minutes of touch-display would work before the iPad had to be warmed up again before responding to a fingertip. Battery life was not a problem, but it was definitely less than under optimum conditions according to the battery-life indicators.

Pasco DO Probe

The Pasco DO Probe was lowered half-meter by half-meter with pauses at each interval until it reached its full 3m length.

The Pasco wireless Dissolved Oxygen sensor recorded both DO percentage and temperature. Some observations about the data are noted in the photo captions, but in a nutshell, the information was both predictable and surprising. In the end, not only was the data collection an enjoyable mini-expedition, but also plenty of food for thought that makes hands-on science oh-so much fun!

Continue reading …

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Science “home”work for interested students

4427417055_18a59e8b68_mI have several students this year who are really into science. I’d like to provide or suggest some elementary-level projects or activities that parents can do with them at home to encourage this interest. Do you have any ideas beyond book lists and activity sheets?    —M. from Maryland

Your desire to foster student interest in science through science activities with their families is commendable. Creating formal projects for this group of students would require time on your part to organize and could be a burden for families in terms of time and resources. But there are many ways to involve students and parents with informal and enjoyable science-related activities.

In your school or class newsletter, website, or blog, include information about free events at local parks, nature centers, libraries, or museums. Encourage students who attend these events to share their experiences and photographs. NSTA’s SciLinks can help you create a list of appropriate websites related to your unit topics that you could share with parents.

Annotate the school or class calendar with prompts for family conversations (What is your first memory of being outdoors? How have inventions and technology changed over the years? Play I Spy at home and find objects made of metal, plastic, glass, wood. Talk about where food comes from.) If you involve other subject areas, every day on the calendar can have a conversation-starter. Encourage children and their parents/caregivers to build with blocks, walk and play outside if possible, grow a garden or even a few house plants, observe a pet’s behavior, or cook together (reinforcing measurement, nutrition). If your students and their parents speak another language at home, it would be helpful to have several versions of your suggestions.

I worked with an elementary school that had take-home “kits” in plastic bags, created by volunteers from a high school service group (backpacks or pizza boxes could also be used to organize the kits). The student- and parent-friendly materials were donated or bought at a dollar store or flea market. For science, these kits included CDs or DVDs with podcasts of science programs, trade books to read at home with suggested discussion questions, small collections (such as leaves, seashells, rocks, or pictures) with directions on sorting or identifying, a plastic ruler and a magnifying glass with some simple directions for observing and collecting data, maps of the night sky for star gazing, an inexpensive pair of binoculars and a field guide on birds, and sets of building blocks. Students signed out a kit to take home, and they were not “graded” on the use of the kits. Of course, some kits never made it back to the classroom, but that didn’t discourage the teachers from continuing the project. A project such as this would require your time or a group of volunteers to create, sign out, inventory, and replenish the kits.

Students could make small journals to take home with suggestions on each page for something to observe, illustrate, and write about (e.g., the weather, phases of the moon, insects, clouds). If you have a class website, students and parents could send photographs or writing to include (you would want to monitor and moderate this process, however, and provide guidelines and examples).

You could suggest citizen-science or collaborative research in which students, parents, and teachers participate in existing projects with science institutions and organizations. SciStarter is a searchable collection of these projects–regional, national, and international. There are projects appropriate for all grade levels and on a variety of topics. It’s a win-win scenario for all involved—the sponsor gets additional observers and data-collectors, parents and their children can work together on them, and the students get experiences that can extend into careers or lifelong learning. Follow SciStarter on Faceboook or Twitter for the latest projects.

Some parents may feel that they don’t have enough background in science, but how you introduce and promote the activities can encourage them to learn with their children. You’re giving “home” work a whole new life!

Additional resources and suggestions from NSTA:


Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/glaciernps/4427417055/in/photostream/


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NSTA’s K–College Science Education Journals: January 2015 Issues Online

graphic showing the 4 journal covers and saying that the January 2015 journals are onlineIs your science classroom equipped for success? Or are you teaching with limited resources? Either way, the K–College journals from the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) have the answers you need. Written by science teachers for science teachers, these peer-reviewed journals are targeted to your teaching level and are packed with lesson plans, expert advice, and ideas for using whatever time/space you have available. Browse the January issues; they are online (see below), in members’ mailboxes, and ready to inspire teachers!

2015JanCoverSandC110Science and Children

An interaction of two or more things can be considered a system, and the resulting system can help us understand phenomena. This issue explores systems and the models used to understand them.

Featured articles (please note, only those marked “free” are available to nonmembers without a fee):

2015JanCoverScope110Science Scope

Many of us have probably witnessed our footprints in the sand being washed away by the incoming tide. Unfortunately, the cumulative weight of our species footprint on our planet grows each day and is not so easily erased. To explore the ever-threatening human impact on Earth systems, check out the articles in this issue.

Featured articles (please note, only those marked “free” are available to nonmembers without a fee):

2015JanCoverTST110The Science Teacher

Project-based learning can be an important instructional model for meeting the three-dimensional learning goals of the Next Generation Science Standards. Complex, real-world projects provide opportunities for students to deeply engage in multiple science and engineering practices—like developing and using models, constructing explanations, and engaging in argument from evidence—while learning specific disciplinary core ideas and crosscutting concepts that can be used to make sense of phenomena and design solutions to relevant problems. This issue offers a variety of examples that may inspire you to try project-based science in your own classroom.

Featured articles (please note, only those marked “free” are available to nonmembers without a fee):

2015JanCoverJCST110Journal of College Science Teaching

Can online homework assignments predict the development of problem-solving skills for students taking an introductory physics course? See “The Role of Online Homework” to find out. Read about an innovative student-centered program with a focus on research designed to increase STEM retention rates of underrepresented students. Also, don’t miss the study that examines the teaching beliefs and practices of science faculty with education specialties and how these beliefs and practices relate to national pedagogical reform efforts.

Featured articles (please note, only those marked “free” are available to nonmembers without a fee):

Get these journals in your mailbox as well as your inbox—become an NSTA member!

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

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Natural Resources, Natural Partnerships: Featured Strand at NSTA’s 2015 National Conference on Science Education in Chicago, IL, March 12-15

Chicago conference graphicThis March, the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) will feature a special strand “Natural Resources, Natural Partnerships” at our 2015 National Conference on Science Education, in Chicago, March 12–15. Sustaining natural resources requires collaborative partnerships among many stakeholders, and science is the key to making smart decisions about resources. Educators and students can engage with environmental groups, agencies, and businesses to build and support a sustainable future. This strand will help teachers identify possibilities and potential partnerships.

Liam HeneghanSessions organized around this strand include a featured presentation on Friday March 13, 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 PM (“Beasts at Bedtime: Revealing the Embedded Environmental Curriculum in Classic Children’s Literature”) by Liam Heneghan (DePaul University: Chicago, IL). Not familiar with Heneghan? This blog on The Ecology of Pooh will give you a fun glimpse into his style! And there will be hundreds more sessions in Chicago to inspire teachers who love Natural Resources and see the wisdom of forming Natural Partnerships; below is a small sampling so you see what’s in store:

  • Chicago conference preview coverCreating a Culture of Conservation Using the NGSS Practices
  • Developing Partnerships: A Model of Outdoor Education
  • Special Pathway Session: Building K–6 Integrative STEM Through Technology, Engineering, Environment, Mathematics, and Science (TEEMS): A Project-based Student-centered Approach
  • Collaborative Conservation Through Birds and Citizen Science
  • Sharing the Night Sky with Your Students
  • Student Choice, Student Voice: Empowering the Next Generation of Environmental Stewards
  • NASA and GLOBE Connect K–12 Students to NGSS with Big-Data Applications
  • Making STEM Meaningful with Sea Turtles
  • Watering the Grassroots of Change:  Integrated Outdoor Science and Community-based Water Resource Education
  • On-the-Ground Stewardship + Great Lakes Science = A Five Star Place-based Education Program

Want more? Check out more sessions and other events with the Chicago Session Browser/Personal Scheduler, or take a peek at the online conference preview (pdf). Follow all our conference tweets using #NSTA15, and if you tweet, please feel free to tag us @NSTA so we see it!

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

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National Bird Day Resources from NSTA Press

Today is National Bird Day, and the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) has some great resources you can use to celebrate! Enjoy these free chapters from NSTA Press—they will ease you into the new year and help you look forward to spring.

Outdoor Science book coverBirds, Bugs, and Butterflies: Science Lessons for Your Outdoor Classroom | From the book Outdoor Science: A Practical Guide and geared toward elementary/middle school science teachers. Among the wild animals that may travel through a school yard, birds, bugs, and butterflies are the most common—and they are the focus of most of the lessons in this chapter. It offers a variety of activities to allow you to “tame” the wildlife to help you teach. Instructions for each lesson are presented first to help you make the most of each handout.

Scientific Argumentation book coverClassifying Birds in the United States | From the book Scientific Argumentation in Biology: 30 Classroom Activities and geared toward middle/high school science teachers. The purpose of the activity in this chapter is to help students understand (1) what counts as a species in the field of biology, (2) some of the various definitions for species that can be used by biologists, and (3) the challenges associated with biological classification. This activity also helps students learn how to engage in practices such as constructing explanations, arguing from evidence, and communicating information. This activity is also designed to give students an opportunity to learn how to write in science and develop their speaking and listening skills, which are important goals for literacy in science.

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

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