New Book: Perspectives on Science Education

What is the purpose of science education? As science educators it’s important to take time to analyze and discuss the reasons why we teach science to children.

How does science affect our daily lives, how can it inspire and motivate us, how can it help to change the way we see the world? What solutions can we create? It’s essential to wrestle with these questions so that we can engage students in similar debates.

Perspectives on Science Education: A Leadership Seminar, the new NSTA Press book by Rodger Bybee and Stephen Pruitt, originated through a series of ongoing discussions begun a decade ago. These discussions have evolved as policies and practices have also evolved. This unique book is designed to have the feel of a seminar, where participants share different perspectives. It will appeal to education leaders at the national, state, district, and school levels who make decisions affecting education policies and curricula.

“This book is not so much about answers; it is more about questions. It is not about persuading you of the need to reform; it is more about developing your understanding of science education and recognizing the challenges and opportunities of leadership,” Bybee and Pruitt state in the preface.

Perspectives on Science Education addresses topics such as the purposes and goals of science education, national and state policies, and changes in classroom practices for science teaching.

The goal is to provide educators and education leaders with a clear and informed history of varying perspectives. “Looking at the science education community, there is a clear and – we think – compelling need to develop a new generation of leaders who understand science education and are willing to confront the challenges of reform. This book is our response to those ready to face the challenges and provide leadership for education reform,” Bybee and Pruitt state.

For example, in Chapter 3, “Science Education in America,” the authors examine several historical models of curricula programs and associated instructional practices. Tracing science education from the colonial period to today, the authors explore the central questions that have historically guided different models of science instruction and shaped how teachers, administrators, and curriculum developers have determined what information students will learn and how they will learn it. They also look at how social pressures and industrialization both affected science education and discuss how curriculum changes have been made in response to the larger social demands of the time.

Read the sample chapter “National Standards and Science Education: Historical Perspectives” to learn more about the discussions that have served to inform our national policies over time and to understand better how we arrived at the current Next Generation Science Standards.  

The book intends to foster an important discussion. Get your copy of Perspectives on Science Education here and join the conversation. This book is also available as an e-book.

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Pollinator Week June 19-25, 2017

Butterfly on a child's sleeve.Unexpectedly a butterfly flew around a group of preschoolers, repeatedly landing on one and then another. We had been outside on a hot day last week and were sweating underneath our sun screen lotion. What did the butterfly taste as it touched its proboscis to our skin? Hopefully nothing toxic! One child was extremely nervous about a close encounter with any insect but so proud of herself after she let it move from my arm onto her hand. Amazingly every child got a chance to have it on their hand as we gently encouraged the butterfly to move from one arm to the next hand to the next. The school has planted a pollinator garden with annual flowers and some native perennials such as the local variety of milkweed. This chance occurrence is the perfect opportunity to continue learning about pollinators and to celebrate Pollinator Week, June 19-25.

Yes, butterflies and many other animals can pollinate flowering plants. See if you can guess all the kinds of animals that pollinate plants in addition to insects (see the answer in an illustration by Paul Mirocha on the Forest Service Pollinators webpage). 

I attended a discussion at the National Museum of Natural History  where I learned about projects that are benefiting both people and pollinators in urban environments, including the Pollinator Partnership and the City of St. Louis’s Butterfly Project, “Milkweeds for Monarchs.” Pollinator Week was initiated by the Pollinator Partnership  and it has now grown into “an international celebration of the valuable ecosystem services provided by bees, birds, butterflies, bats and beetles.” Governors often issue proclamations declaring the importance of pollinators to agriculture and economic development. 

Monarch Fueling Planting Guide Map.The Pollinator Partnership has information fact sheets about pollination for farmers, gardeners, and educators. The activities such as “How to Build a Pollinator Garden” include ideas to implement, such as, “A bowl with mud in the garden gives butterflies a place to drink and obtain minerals. (They need the mud in order to drink water, which they do through a process called “wicking”).” The website has a free Monarch Fueling Planting Guide for four East Coast regions.

Schools that have large areas of grass to mow (not including playing fields) might implement some of the modifications to maintenance recommended for roadsides to reduce costs while expanding habitat for pollinators—and providing an area for young scientists to observe pollinators in action. The modifications include planting or seeding native plants and reducing mowing. 

Bumblebee on a flower.I’m going to bring magnifiers out to the play area so children can look closely at the flowering plants to see what pollinators are landing on when they visit. If we see the somewhat slow moving bumblebees, we may even get to watch them work. 

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Ed News: Climate Science Meets A Stubborn Obstacle, Students

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This week in education news, what President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris accord means for teachers; aquariums and zoos stepping up to try and make climate change easier to teach; the Nebraska Dept. of Education wants the public’s input to revise the state science standards; new survey shows room for STEM education improvement; senators call out phony science materials sent to teachers; and exploration is the gateway to magically transforming circle time into toddlers learning science.

Climate Science Meets A Stubborn Obstacle, Students

To Gwen Beatty, a junior at the high school in this proud, struggling, Trump-supporting town, the new science teacher’s lessons on climate change seemed explicitly designed to provoke her. So she provoked him back. Click here to read the article featured in The New York Times.

What Trump’s Decision To Withdraw From The Climate Accord Means For Teachers

President Donald Trump announced that the United States would withdraw from the Paris climate accord, the landmark pact that nearly 200 nations signed two years ago in an effort to curb global warming. When the Paris agreement was forged, that event caused at least some teachers to reconsider how they had been approaching climate change in the classroom. Noah Zeichner, a Seattle social studies teacher, wrote on the Center for Teaching Quality blog that he had previously “felt some pressure … to present the other side. … But facilitating a debate about the causes of climate change was probably the wrong move.” And it seems teachers are already now grappling with how to present the recent overhaul in the federal government’s stance on environmental issues. Click here to read the article featured in Education Week.

Continue reading …

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STEM Sims: Dronopter

Stem Sims: Dronopter


STEM Sims provides over 100 simulations of laboratory experiments and engineering design products for application in the STEM classroom. One particular simulation found on this site, Dronopter, challenges students to build a drone in the form of a quadcopter (helicopter with four motors). Subsequently, students design, build, and fly their very own quadcopter in order to complete the simulation. This simulation’s mission is to challenge students to build the most efficient drone possible and fly it through a course of obstacles to reach its destination. In doing so, students can incorporate and develop STEM competencies in mathematics, science, and mechanical knowledge to complete this simulation. Dronopter is aligned with national (NGSS) standards  and is compatible with state standards as well:

  • MS-PS2.B – Types of Interactions
  • MS-PS3.C. – Relationship Between Energy and Forces
  • MS-ETS1.B – Developing Possible Solutions

The simulation provides students with a brochure (see link below) with a pre-assessment quiz as well as introductory information about the uses of drones as well as basic concepts related to flight. Dronopter engages students who have a variety of learning styles by having them build and test their design. Moreover, students who struggle with science concepts but have interest in mechanical or mathematical areas will have a chance to contribute to the experiment. Students will utilize metacognitive strategies to determine why any given test failed and choose new strategies to try in future attempts.



Sample Assessment

STEM Sims provides a lesson plan for this simulation (see link below); once again providing an excellent learning opportunity for students while minimizing the planning needed by teachers.



Dronopter is an excellent learning opportunity for students that is challenges students to design a drone capable of flying through a difficult course. Students will learn about STEM concepts in a manner that brings enjoyment to learning concepts that are meaningful and relevant. Please consider taking the opportunity for a free trial to evaluate this simulation for your classroom to determine where this simulation fits into your classroom’s instruction.

For a free trial, visit

Recommended System Qualifications:

  • Operating system: Windows XP or Mac OS X 10.7
  • Browser: Chrome 40, Firefox 35, Internet Explorer 11, or Safari 7
  • Java 7, Flash Player 13

Single classroom subscription: $169 for a 365-day subscription and includes access for 30 students and 100 simulations.

Product Site:

Edwin P. Christmann is a professor and chairman of the secondary education department and graduate coordinator of the mathematics and science teaching program at Slippery Rock University in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania. Anthony Balos is a graduate student and a research assistant in the secondary education program at Slippery Rock University in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania

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#NSTA17 Meet Me In The Middle Day Re-Cap

There was excitement in the air as the conference attendees started pouring into the conference center in Los Angeles. Standing at the foot of the escalators, in bright green t shirts, were members of the National Middle Level Science Teacher Association (NMLSTA) and the NSTA Middle Level Committee handing out postcards inviting middle school teachers to attend the annual Meet Me in the Middle Day and introducing them to this fabulous organization. Founded in 1989 by a group of educators dedicated to represent the unique needs of middle school teachers, NMLSTA and the NSTA Middle Level Committee sponsors this day full of resources, professional networking, sharing of stories and winning great prizes for the classroom.

Friday morning the balloons went up, the posters went out and the people started coming! Over 400 middle school science teachers crowded in 24 roundtables, 15 workshops and visited over 75 share-a-thon presenters. Topics ranged from NGSS, safety, special education to earworms, photosynthesis and engineering. My room was packed! What a thrill to present to these energetic and enthusiastic teachers from around the country.

At the end of the day, I was tired. Board meetings, set up, several presentations were over. My bright green shirt was a little wrinkled, my feet were pretty sore and I thought about a comment a colleague had said to me before I left. He’d asked, “Do you get paid for this?”. Nope. My school had paid for the conference registration, but the airfare,hotels, food, etc., well, that was all mine. “Why then”, he had asked, “Do you do it? Why would you spend all that time preparing presentations and spend all that money and get nothing for it?”.

That was actually a difficult question. Oh, not because I don’t know why I go to these meetings (four national, one regional and four state meetings in four years), but because I cannot imagine why anyone WOULDN’T attend.

Quite simply, attending professional meetings gives me a chance to grow. I am THE Science teacher in our little junior high and I do not have in school science colleagues to share with, plan with or learn from. Attending meetings, presenting, serving on the board, gives me a chance to validate that what I am doing is right. I get to share my experiences and hear about how others teach the same topics. I get to compare – class sizes, budgets (or lack of budgets), debate block vs regular schedules or whether or not to have a science fair. I get to help make decisions. I learn about professional development opportunities, grant funding and career options. All this-in a city other than my own that I can also explore through field trips, dining with friends and touring on my own.

So why do I do it? Well, I must admit to liking the bright green shirt, but even more, I like what it allows me to become – a better science teacher.


Get more involved with NSTA! 

Join today and receive Science Scope, the peer-reviewed journal just for middle school teachers; connect on the middle level science teaching list (members can sign up on the list server).

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

Future NSTA Conferences

2017 STEM Forum & Expo
Kissimmee/Orlando, July 12–14

2017 Area Conferences

Baltimore, October 5–7
Milwaukee, November 9–11
New Orleans, Nov. 30–Dec. 2

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NSTA Retiring President Mary Gromko Thanks Retiring Committee Members

Thank You note

As Retiring President of the National Science Teachers Association, I have witnessed an outpouring of dedication and energy from thousands of science educators across this nation. It is a number based on observations and participation. I would like to take this opportunity to share a BIG THANK YOU to them all. And I’d like to start by calling attention to those volunteers who took on the responsibility of hosting and coordinating a regional science conference, a national science conference, and/or a state science conference. Collaboration and team work was vital and that was so exemplary with the outstanding success demonstrating the collegial participation at all those events.

As President last year, I also witnessed dynamic volunteer participation from just about the best elected/appointed Board, Council, District Directors, Committee, and Advisory Board members that any leader could possibly dream about. I would like to share another BIG THANK YOU to these members who have the knowledge of what to do and how to do it, the dedication to science education for ALL, and the energy to get the job done. The most important criteria for this phenomenal group is PASSION. These science educators must have a great passion for science and science education at all levels, a passion for bringing divergent groups of people together based on common themes on scientific literacy, and a passion for developing a synergy of best practices.

But to achieve the goals for NSTA in stimulating, improving, and coordinating science teaching at all levels of instruction and to achieve the mission of promoting excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning, we need to have the “glue’ that joins these parts into a common whole. I would like to share a most enthusiastic BIG THANK YOU to the staff at NSTA. These are the staff personnel who plan and coordinate vibrant science education activities and answer every and all questions for information that is sought by the membership; who help build the foundations for coordinating the presentations and science exhibitors for all the conferences; who coordinate the research based professional development for the membership; who foster communication using print and other digital resources; who advocate for best scientific practices with the legislature; who develop programs that foster leadership with and among other science organizations; who publish the highest quality science/science education resources; who engage teachers through the Learning Center with courses, on-line e books, and other resources that bring science to life; who work with outside agencies to develop competitive programs in science and engineering for our science students across the country; who work with outside agencies to celebrate the outstanding achievement of science teachers,

The National Research Council, in a recent report, has explained that deeper learning is gained through facilitating opportunities. NSTA does just that. We are the world’s leader is facilitating opportunities for students and for science educators. My presidential theme for last year was to Connect, Collaborate, Celebrate. Teachers Are The Key. Our NSTA members have made that a reality. So finally, I say a BIG THANK YOU to the members of our organization who made my year as President most rewarding.

Below, we especially recognize the Retiring Committee, Advisory Board, and Review Panel Members below for their service to NSTA for the time period of June 1, 2016 to May 31, 2017.

College: Richard Jones, Krassi Lazarova, Keith Prokopp

Coordination: James Blake, Jeffrey Patterson, Mary Poarch

High School: Emily Meyer, Christopher Nilsen, Eric Wilson

Informal: Alex Dzurick, Karen Hays, Sharon Morrell

Middle Level: Zoe Evans, Elizabeth Orlandi, Mary Patterson

Multicultural: Olukayode Banmeke, Deena Gould, Carol Suppes

Preschool-Elementary: Patti Born-Selly, Anne Durrance, Rebecca Kurson

Preservice: Patricia Bricker, Jeanelle Day, Sumi Hagiwara, Elizabeth Lewis, Elaine Scarvey

NSTA Teacher Accreditation: Jeanelle Day, Joseph Zawicki, Eric Pyle

Professional Development: Aoko Hope, Nancy Movall, Brian Terry

Research: Kathy Malone, James McDonald, Brian Plankis

Audit: Susan German

Awards: Olga Hunt, Ann Lopez, Diana Wiig

Budget: Christine Royce

Nominations: Michelle Daml, Elsa Bailey, Janice Koch, Barbara Morrow, Emily Schmitt Lavin

Advisory Board, Aerospace: Barbara Gosney, Paul Nordhaus, Katrina Lynn Robinson

Conference: Ana Appel

Development: Alan McCormack

NSTA members who would like to serve on the board or council can apply here. In the fall, we will open applications for our committees, advisory boards, and review panels, and information about them can be found here.

The mission of NSTA is to promote excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all. Learn more about NSTA Membership.Mary Gromko Mary Gromko is the retiring president of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA). She began serving her one-year term on June 1, 2017. Gromko is currently a retired science educator in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

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Ed News: A Glimpse Into A Next Generation Science Classroom

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This week in education news, a preview of what the science standards look like in the classroom; California students go online in record numbers to take standardized tests aligned with the Common Core; computational thinking brings extensive learning benefits; virtual reality offers real rewards in education; President Trump’s school choice plan could stall; Idaho lawmaker praises new proposed standards; and DeVos releases statement supporting President Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement.

Water Filters And Space: A Glimpse Into A Next-Generation Science Classroom

Sometimes showing is easier than telling. That’s certainly the case in trying to capture the Next Generation Science Standards—the K-12 learning benchmarks that 18 states and the District of Columbia have adopted and are now using in classrooms. Unlike some previous science standards that focused on the facts, these standards emphasize action. They ask students to construct models, interpret data, design structures, and make arguments. Click here to read the article featured in Education Week.

CA Students Go Online In Record Numbers To Take Common Core-Aligned Tests

Over the past several weeks, California students in record numbers have been taking once controversial standardized tests aligned with the Common Core. This is the third year that students in the grades 3-8, as well as 11th-graders, have taken the full battery of tests based on new Common Core standards in math and English language arts. The tests can take up to six hours to complete for students in grades 3-5, six-and-a-half hours for students in grades 6-8 and seven-and-a-half hours for 11th-graders. However, there is no time limit on the tests which are part of the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress. The system also includes new pilot tests administered to students in grades 5, 8 and one year of high school based on the Next Generation Science Standards. Click here to read the article featured in EdSource.

Continue reading …

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Cooperative grouping

In science classes, do students work better in random groups or with their friends? I’m a student teacher in middle school. – S., Arizona

Most teachers will tell you there is no best way to set up groups. There are many variables, including the age of the students, the structure of the investigation, the students’ experience levels, and the classroom social climate.

Thoughts from my experience in middle school:

  • Use random assignment for the first few activities. You can observe the students’ interpersonal skills, work habits, and which students do and do not work well together.
  • With student-selected groups, I was concerned about the students who were selected last (or not at all) and that students wouldn’t learn how to work with a variety of people. Sometimes friends would focus more on social aspects.
  • I found heterogeneous grouping by ability worked best for my classes most of the time, and single-gender groups provided more opportunities for equitable student participation.
  • I usually structured the groups, changing them periodically. Sometimes, students with an intense interest on a topic worked together.
  • Although I rotated cooperative roles, I would usually try to keep the groups intact for a unit. This also saved time, because the students knew who their partners were and which lab table was theirs.
  • Check with the teacher of special needs students to determine any accommodations specified in their individual education plans.
  • Regardless of how you structure the groups, you may need to model what cooperative behavior looks like, and work with them on appropriate language.

You have a great opportunity for action research as you try different configurations and note which ones seem to work better for your students.



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Cars and plants: following children’s interests and teaching science

Front of a car

Regardless of the curriculum, it is important to remember that every lesson portrays an image of science to students and conveys information about what science is and how science works.”

-Deborah L. Hanuscin and Eun J. Lee, Perspectives: Helping Students Understand the Nature of Science. March 2009 Science and Children 46(7): 64-65

One of the four-year-old preschoolers I taught could name almost every model and make of car that passed us on our walk to the park and he wasn’t reading the words on the back of the car. He had spent time with his father, learning to classify them by looking at cars, and talking about them and their identifying features. I could not join in his discussion because I was woefully ignorant of what makes a Chevy a Chevy. But I knew many names of plants in the park and their lifecycle and was eager to share that information with the children.  

When children are enthralled with a topic that is not familiar to us, we may seek to direct their interest to a topic we know more about. Sometimes the information is important for getting along with others, such as taking turns at the drinking fountain. Other times, it is a teacher’s favorite topic, like plants are for me. Acknowledging children’s interests meant switching up my plans. Our class didn’t have a safe front door stoop for observing passing traffic, but we did have a collection of mini model cars that also represented a variety of makes and models. These models served to introduce the topic of using models to represent real objects and ideas—one of the NGSS Science and Engineering Practices (NSTA Lead states)—and to introduce the topic of making observations, which is part of the nature of science (NOS). The NOS is usually described as having six to eight aspects, including understanding the difference between observation and inference and that scientific knowledge is both tentative and reliable. (Lederman and Lederman 2004; Quigley 2011).

Through observation of real cars and videos, children knew that to make a real car move, a key is needed to start it, and that some cars are designed to go faster than others. They inferred that the models of “fast” cars would go faster on ramps they constructed in the block area based on their prior experience of viewing those cars in videos. They revised their understanding of how those model cars moved during the many days they tested their ideas, rolling the cars down constructed ramps. Through their explorations of the motion of objects on inclined planes they were beginning to understand that their initial understanding of object motion was tentative and could change with additional experience and testing. There were many variables: wheel size, weight of the model car, distribution of mass, and smoothness of the movement of the axles. The preschool children were not conducting controlled experiments, but the testing by different young scientists reliably produced the same results—certain cars always got down the ramps faster than other cars—and the children revised their understanding.

Dandelion plant viewed from aboveAt the park the children also used the NGSS practices of analyzing and interpreting data and using mathematics and computational thinking as they collected dandelion buds in varying states of bloom—unopened buds, full open yellow blooms, and spherical seed heads—learning about a plant life cycle as we explored the park.

Ashbrook, P. 2014. The Early Years: The Nature of Science in Early Childhood. Science and Children. 52(1): 24-25.

Lederman, N.G., and J.S. Lederman. 2004. Revising instruction to teach nature of science. The Science Teacher 71 (9): 36–39.

NGSS Lead States. 2013. Next Generation Science Standards: For states, by states, APPENDIX F – Science and Engineering Practices in the NGSS. Washington, DC: National Academies Press. 

Quigley, C., G. Buck, and V. Akerson. 2011. The nature of science challenge. Science and Children 49 (2): 57–61.

WGBH Educational Foundation, Peep and the BIG Wide World. Explore Ramps. Week 2: Building More Ramps, Day 5—Watch and Discuss: Ramp Rolling

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Engineering activities

Are you interested in enhancing your STEM teaching repertoire? Or in integrating engineering concepts but not sure where to start? There have been some new features added to a free resource which is appropriate for in-school and informal K-12 educators.

The TeachEngineering digital library is an online collection with more than 1,500 engineering curricular materials that were created and tested in classrooms through teacher/faculty partnerships at engineering colleges and funded by the National Science Foundation. The focus of these materials is to support K-12 STEM literacy through the lens of engineering—which involves making real-world connections.

These comprehensive STEM lessons and hands-on activities use engineering to integrate science (life, earth and physical science) and math via hands-on inquiry-based activities that are aligned to NGSS.  TeachEngineering’s curricular materials are presented in five different formats: lessons, hands-on activities, units, “sprinkles,” and maker challenges.

The lessons and hands-on activities provide standard components such as learning objectives, correlations to educational standards, background information, activity prep and procedures, vocabulary, engineering connections, embedded assessment activities, and student worksheets and handouts. Units are groupings of lessons and activities on a common theme or topic.

Some of the most popular activities are also presented as sprinkles–60-minute-or-less “tastes of engineering” that are designed for quick prep by teachers and non-teachers and are appropriate for afterschool clubs and other informal environments (They are also available in Spanish).

Maker Challenges are a new feature providing teacher-prompts for open-ended, self-directed challenges that support the popular maker movement. Through these challenges, students tinker and create as they work through the engineering design process.

It’s easy to explore the collection from the home page for the monthly Editor’s Pick, most popular (elementary, middle, and high school levels), most shared, and recently added. You can use the filtering interface to search and browse the collection by topic, format, grade level, subject area, time required, and/or NGSS.

These resources are complete enough that even if you never studied engineering, you and your students can be involved in interesting problem-solving activities that incorporate real-world applications. Many of the activities and units are in the SciLinks database, too.



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