NASA Grants Rocket Informal Ed Ahead

As part of a NASA CP4SMPVC grant to Fairchild Tropical
Botanic Garden in Coral Gables, Florida, middle and high
school students have identified 91 varieties of edible plants
suitable for zero-gravity growth. Photo courtesy of Andrew Kearns, Jose Marti MAST 6–12 Academy

Grants from NASA’s Competitive Program for Science Museums, Planetariums, and NASA Visitor Centers (CP4SMPVC) enable the agency to partner with informal education venues to enhance their space science related–programs and engage teachers and students in NASA’s mission. But the CP4SMPVC hasn’t awarded new grants since early 2017. Why should science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) teachers care about this?

Teachers and students partnering with Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Coral Gables, Florida, on the Growing Beyond Earth (GBE) STEM education program care because in the first two years of Fairchild’s $1.25 million, four-year CP4SMPVC grant for the program, middle and high school students identified 91 varieties of edible plants suitable for zero-gravity growth in the International Space Station’s plant growth facility. GBE students have tested 106 varieties of plants so far as part of the Fairchild Challenge, a Miami-based environmental science competition, according to Amy Padolf, Fairchild’s director of education. Padolf and Carl Lewis, Fairchild’s director, designed GBE with researchers at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

According to Padolf, 136 classrooms in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Monroe counties participate, and GBE will expand to “another 15 in Palm Beach County” and be tested at the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Columbus, Ohio.

With the grant funding, which began in 2016 and will last until 2020, “we give schools all the equipment necessary to conduct the research, along with rigid research protocols from NASA scientists, and provide training for the teachers,” Padolf explains. The schools grow the plants, collect data, and “input it into spreadsheets that are shared with NASA researchers… It’s one of the few NASA grant projects that is feeding their research,” she points out. Continue reading …

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Model-making and engineering in a preK program

Through visits to other programs, reading books, attending conferences and webinars, and having conversations with colleagues, I continue to learn about teaching young children. In conversation, preschool teacher Barbara Foster related how children used engineering design to make a model that represents their experience. She helps children deepen their understanding of natural phenomena through documentation of experiences and observations, making models, and reflecting on the documentation. The program uses emergent curriculum—they “believe that children learn best when engaged in work and play that is meaningful to them.”

Here’s Barbara:

A group of older children were working with their teacher on developing a model of a forest by posting paintings on the walls of the stairway landing. I approached my group of students to see what they wanted to add to the forest. The resulting project the class worked on involved using science and engineering practices (making a model, using tools), redesigning the process when it wasn’t working, and seeing how the part fit into the whole (core idea in science PS1.A Structure of matter. See page 108).

We took a really long time to make a model of the paper wasp nest that had been removed from a tree in summer. First we made paper, beginning with tearing scrap paper up and soaking it for a very long time. But that didn’t work so we tried using hand beaters but that wasn’t sufficient so I found out how to do it—put the paper and water in the blender to make the paper pulp. With adult help the children used a screen frame to lift out a small amount of pulp to make a page of new paper. The pulp was smelly and a little too tactile for the children’s  comfort so I took the it home to make a few more pages.  Continue reading …

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Argument-Driven Inquiry for the High School Physics Classroom

Argument-Driven Inquiry in Physics Volume 1, Mechanics Lab Investigations for Grades 9–12 is the latest addition to the popular NSTA Press Argument-Driven Inquiry (ADI) series. The book includes 23 field-tested labs, along with reproducible student pages, teacher notes, and detailed instructions for running lab investigations, all designed to make it easier to teach complex concepts.

The authors, who are veteran teachers, want to shift instruction from students’ passively receiving information to instead learning how to ask questions and determine conclusions.

“Traditional instructional approaches, which were designed to help students ‘learn about’ the concepts, theories, and laws of science rather than how to ‘figure out’ how or why things work, were not created to foster the development of science proficiency inside the classroom,” the authors write in the book’s introduction. 

Times are changing. The innovative and engaging ADI approach focuses students on the practices of questioning, data analysis, argument development, evaluation, double-blind peer review, and report revision—all of which can prepare students for real-world application in a science career, while also meeting current science instructional standards.

“To help students become proficient in science in ways described by the National Research Council in A Framework for K–12 Science Education, teachers will need to use new instructional approaches that give students an opportunity to use the three dimensions of science to explain natural phenomena or develop novel solutions to problems,” the authors state.

The field-tested labs cover topics related to mechanics, including forces and interactions, energy, work, and power. Each lab is designed to help students to understand the disciplinary core ideas in the physical sciences, to use crosscutting concepts that span across various scientific disciplines, and to learn how to use fundamental scientific and engineering practices.

“Current research suggests that all students benefit from three-dimensional instruction because it gives all students more voice and choice during a lesson and it makes the learning process inside the classroom more active and inclusive,” the authors state.

The ADI approach promotes and supports three-dimensional instruction because it gives students an opportunity to construct and critique claims about how things work or why things happen. The labs can provide ways to make physics instruction more authentic and meaningful for students. In addition, the lab activities will allow students to develop the literacy skills outlined in the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts by creating presentations, reports, and evaluations.

Read the sample lab “Falling Objects and Air Resistance: How Does the Surface Area of a Parachute Affect the Force Due to Air Resistance as an Object Falls Toward the Ground?” 

Also check out the Student Lab Manual for Argument-Driven Inquiry in Physics, Volume 1: Mechanics Lab Investigations for Grades 9–12 by Victor Sampson, Todd L. Hutner, Daniel FitzPatrick, Adam LaMee, and Jonathan Grooms.

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Ed News: A Novel Way To Improve Teacher Prep, Give Teacher Better Curriculum

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This week in education news, a new paper released by Education First suggests that a lack of focus on curriculum is the missing piece in the preparation of teachers; professional sports teams are becoming more involved in math and science education; the Girls Scouts announce the Girl Scout STEM Pledge; Rep. Lamar Smith believes that to fill STEM jobs, federal programs need to focus on results; new study shows that girls in Korea score and enroll in more STEM classes when assigned female teachers; Louisiana is trying to improve the number of students who pursue careers in STEM; and there is more to STEM than hard skills.

Let Science Educators Build New Science Standards

The Utah Science Teachers Association believes that all citizens should have a scientifically based understanding of the natural world in order to engage meaningfully in public discussions, be informed voters and discerning consumers. Problems arise when nonscience ideals impede the teaching and learning of science, either through the use of pseudoscience or the avoidance of topics because they are politically charged. This unfortunately occurred, to no avail, during the process of developing the sixth-eighth grade SEEd standards with regard to evolution and climate change, in particular. Read the article featured in The Deseret News.

A Novel Way To Improve Teacher Prep: Give Teacher Better Curriculum

Is a focus on curriculum the missing piece in the preparation of teachers? That’s the argument made by in a new paper released by Education First, a global education consulting group. It’s part of a project, partly funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, bringing together teacher-preparation experts from Finland, Brazil, Australia, and the United States. Read the article featured in Education Week.

From The Field To The Classroom: Pro Sports Teams Are Becoming Players In Math, Science Education

An emergency has occurred at the 49ers football museum in Santa Clara: the stand holding the famous football from “The Catch” has broken, and a classroom of 3rd-graders must build a replacement. Using drinking straws, scissors and tape, the students are tasked with building a device strong enough to hold a 14-ounce, 22-inch football without collapsing. Read the article featured in EdSource.

Continue reading …

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Engineering in Early Childhood: Learning from conference sessions

One of the conference sessions on engineering I attended at NAEYC quoted children in the title: “Don’t Call Us Kinders, We’re Engineers!”  To introduce an engineering design process to children in kindergarten up to second grade, Emily Poster and Jessica Holm from the Science Museum of Minnesota thoughtfully revise storylines used with older children by placing stories in more familiar settings and keeping them to a developmentally appropriate length. The revised stories still have a challenge, and include a character who is a professional engineer and how they use science, math, and creative thinking to design a technology. They recommend adding visual symbols to the words in graphic representations of engineering design processes, and encouraging children to “imagine” using their hands.

Materials chart lists everything needed for the fire tower building challenge.We were able to handle the materials for four different kinds of engineering design challenges, and engaged in an engineering challenge ourselves. The challenge was based on meeting a real life need that children in their region would be aware of—to design and build a model fire tower, a structure once essential for detecting and locating fires in areas that were the responsibility of the United States Forest Service, and still in use in some parts of the country. (See other lookouts at: )

Multi-level tower made with cardboard and cups.Working together with people at our table we designed and built a tower with the goals of a structure taller than the model tree (so the look outs could see over the forest to watch for fires), able to support 1 person (doll), and able to withstand the force of the wind (a fan) blowing on it. The materials were inexpensive, and easily found: paper cups in two sizes two sizes of cardboard pieces, two figures to stand on the tower to test its balance and sturdiness, and a model tree and the fan, used by the instructors. Emily and Jessica came around with the model tree cut-out to help us measure our towers and provide support for redesigning structures that were not successful. Our discussion included our redesign processes, what we might bring from our experience in the session to our own setting, and what supports we need to implement engineering lessons with K–2 students. Continue reading …

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Country Living

My partner and I are thinking of moving to rural North Dakota to teach. I teach high school science while my partner teaches middle school. We would both like to teach in the same district. Do you have any advice on how we should proceed?
—A., Missouri


Unpacking your question, I actually see several facets that can be touched upon: teaching in a rural setting; living in the country; finding jobs together.

A rural school can be quite different from one in the city. Some schools are small and teachers often teach many subjects, including ones outside their expertise. Classes may be smaller, perhaps even multi-grade. Teachers frequently know every student, possibly having them in class many times over several years. However, many rural schools, particularly high schools, may be large and bus in students from many communities. There may also be greater parent and community involvement. In northern states, many students will miss classes during snow storms. You will have to be flexible and adapt lessons accordingly.

Don’t overlook the change in lifestyle. Living in the country usually means commuting and sometimes being far away from many of the shopping, entertainment, and dining options you may be used to, although local diners can be great places to meet new neighbors. If you purchase a home you will probably develop some good do-it-yourself skills and become a snow clearing expert. Property taxes tend to be lower in rural areas and you will have access to farm-fresh products. I was amazed just how quickly news spread around the community, so privacy did not seem to be as great as in the city!

Finding a job with your partner in the same district can be more challenging as there are usually more opportunities in an urban district than a rural one. Contact the local teachers’ association for advice on job prospects and how best to approach the district. My guess is that rural districts like having couples and families in their employment —they are more likely to settle down for the long haul and get involved in the community.

Good luck!

Hope this helps!


Photo Credit: WinterforceMedia

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A Q&A on Wisconsin’s Science Standards

Wisconsin recently adopted new K–12 science education standards. Learn more about the standards in this Q&A with Kevin Anderson, Science Education Consultant for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

When were your science standards adopted and can you tell us a bit about them?

The standards were officially adopted on November 16, 2017.

With local control in Wisconsin, districts have been using the Framework for K–12 Science Education (Framework) and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) for a long time.  Data from an informal survey revealed that over 80% of districts were already using the NGSS to some extent before we officially adopted new standards. Therefore, when we brought together our writing committee, they supported the idea of staying true to those documents.

Are the standards based on the Framework and the NGSS?

Our Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction template for standards emphasizes K2, 35, 68 and 912 grade bands. Our writing committee struggled with how to represent the three-dimensional nature of our standards (mirroring the NGSS) in this template. In the end, we decided to build from NGSS Appendices E, F, and G. We built from those grade-banded guides and encourage our educators to go to the Framework and NGSS for further depth in understanding these elements.

One change our committee made to the standards is to de-emphasize the Performance Expectations (PEs). We found that many districts around the state (and country) have been using them to determine curriculum and guide instruction. The committee wanted to help educators understand that while it’s essential that the three dimensions be integrated, they can be combined in various ways; a PE is only an example of one way to do it. We include the PEs in our document, but clearly label them as “examples” of three-dimensional performance indicators (“indicators” is a Wisconsin term). To emphasize the connection among our separated sections for each dimension, we added the following statement at the top of each part of the standards: “Students use science and engineering practices, disciplinary core ideas, and crosscutting concepts to make sense of phenomena and solve problems.” Each specific segment of our standards document about practices, core ideas, and crosscutting concepts only becomes a “standard” when it’s put into that statement as the practice, core idea, and/or crosscutting concept of focus.

Another change is the addition of a third Engineering, Technology, and the Applications of Science section, ETS-3. The committee titled it, “The Nature of Science and Engineering” because they felt that these ideas got lost in the NGSS and they were not sure if they were practices, crosscutting concepts, or an afterthought. The goal was to ensure these ideas receive a higher level of importance.

Did you have involvement from Wisconsin science teachers?

Yes. We had 26 committee members that included administrators, scientists, engineers, and higher education representatives, and K-12 teachers. Eric Brunsell, Associate Professor at UW-Oshkosh, and Christine Pratt, Science Coordinator at Kenosha Area School District, chaired our writing committee.

What excites you most about the standards?

As seen by the work already happening across Wisconsin, the standards provide an opportunity to revitalize science programs and more fully engage all students in making sense of relevant phenomena and solving meaningful problems. One tool that we’re excited about is Appendix A, which includes specific Wisconsin contexts and engineering connections linked to the core ideas of the standards.

What has been the response from science teachers in your state?

Teachers are glad the wait is over! Many feel justified to continue their use of the NGSS. Some districts have been waiting to move forward until they saw what the state would do, and now these teachers are grateful to join the same path of other districts. I’ve heard several comments that professional development around the science standards is increasing, particularly at the elementary level. Students will be the real beneficiaries.

What are your plans for implementation?

Telling stories and sharing our work will be critical. With so many district already years into this work, we need to learn from each other. I’ll continue to work with the Wisconsin Society of Science Teachers, our regional Cooperative Education Service Agencies, and local districts to support the learning of teachers and build/shared implementation resources. It’s wonderful that so many groups around the country are sharing ideas and resources already from which we can build.

Kevin Anderson

Visit the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction to view the science standards.

A former middle school science teacher and education researcher, Kevin J. B. Anderson, PhD, NBCT, is the Science Education Consultant at the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.



Visit NSTA’s NGSS@NSTA Hub for hundreds of vetted classroom resourcesprofessional learning opportunities, publicationsebooks and more; connect with your teacher colleagues on the NGSS listservs (members can sign up here); and join us for discussions around NGSS at an upcoming conference.

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

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Ideas and inspiration from NSTA’s December 2017 K-12 journals

Are you updating your approach to modeling? Aligning lessons between 5E and NGSS? Incorporating digital resources? Regardless of the grade level you teach, this month’s journals have ideas that can be used or adapted.

Science Scope – Modeling

From the Editor’s Desk: No Glue Required “Models can include diagrams, drawings, physical replicas, mathematical representations, analogies, and computer simulations (NSTA 2014). Regardless of the model used, the key is to engage students in making explanations and predictions—vastly different activities from one in which students merely submit a Styrofoam ball that has been converted into a replica of a cell.”

Articles in this issue that describe lessons include a helpful sidebar (“At a Glance”) documenting the big idea, essential pre-knowledge, time, and cost; many follow a 5E format. The lessons also include connections with the NGSS, and many include examples of student work and classroom materials.

These monthly columns continue to provide background knowledge and classroom ideas:

For more on the content that provides a context for projects and strategies described in this issue, see the SciLinks topics Analemma, Buoyancy, Carbon Dating, Cell Structures, Cellular Respiration, Chemical Reactions, Circulatory System, Density, Earthquakes, Fire Extinguisher. Fire Triangle, Fossils, Grand Canyon, Half-Life of Radioactive Isotopes, Identifying Rocks and Minerals, Law of Superposition, Mendelian Genetics, Organelle, Photosynthesis, Relative Dating, Rocks, Solar System, Sound, Spectrum, Stars, Systems.

Continue reading …

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Ed News: How One CA School District is Leading the Way on New Science Standards

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This week in education news, one California school district is leading the way on new science standards; a study looks to find the best tactics for flipped instruction; Virginia adopts computer science standards for K-12; new study suggests schools could help uncover the next generation of inventors; a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine on undergraduate STEM education; Taos, NM, students wowed Jimmy Fallon with their science invention; NSTA releases best 2018 STEM books; it’s not how long you spend in PD, it’s how much you grow; and narrowing the achievement gap in K12 is not enough.


How One California School District is Leading the Way on New Science Standards

As schools nationwide take on the most comprehensive overhaul of science standards in 20 years, a school district in a quiet suburb of Los Angeles has become a pace-setter.  Without relying on outside funding, or major grant money, Torrance Unified has trained more than 500 teachers and has unveiled the new standards to all 24,000 students in the district. By devoting thousands of hours to teacher training, the district has shown teachers from kindergarten through 12th grade how to explain scientific phenomenon in a new way to their students — by letting the students discover the answers on their own, instead of memorizing facts from a textbook. Read the story featured in Ed News.

Does Flipped Instruction Work? New Study Looks to Find the Best Tactics  

More and more teachers are “flipping” their instruction—but what does that really mean? And does it work? A University of Missouri team of researchers has received $450,000 from the National Science Foundation to study these questions over a three-year period. They’re going to be observing 40 Missouri algebra classrooms—20 that will be using some sort of flipped instructional tactic more than 50 percent of the time, and 20 that will be using the traditional classroom format. Read the blog featured in Education Week.

Continue reading …

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Conferences as professional development

Presenters discuss with participants as they examine beetle larvae.Professional development—learning that will develop our professionalism, make us better teachers, and expand our content knowledge—aims to be delivered at just the right moment with an insight that changes you forever. Attending PD sessions builds up our store of such learning that we can draw on in challenging moments, those times when we wish a more knowledgeable colleague would step in and show us how. The reality in early childhood is that often PD is fit in during nap time, on half of teacher work days, in a burst at the beginning of the school year, or online alone after work. If we can’t have that knowledgeable mentor to work with on a weekly basis, consider attending a conference to broaden your professional development. Being immersed in thinking and talking about early childhood science education with others in the profession for an entire day, or several, is a transformative experience. Conferences provide those immersive experiences where keynote speakers inspire us to fully participate in our work—at the conference and back at school, and colleagues with more experience share their research, knowledge, and situation or lesson specific tips. The statistics about who attends such conferences helps the profession see who is interested and financially able to attend conferences.  Continue reading …

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