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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Posted in NSTA Membership | Tagged , , | 4 Responses

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.

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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.


Photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ielesvinyes/6725332973

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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.

Photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/lalunablanca/24455707/


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Explore the Power of Investigating

Power of InvestigatingHow can a teacher build and maintain a learning environment that will help students investigate meaningful questions? That’s the central question of The Power of Investigating: Guiding Authentic Assessments by Julie V. McGough and Lisa M. Nyberg.

The pedagogical picture book for K–5 teachers provides practical advice for building investigations that integrate both STEM and literacy skills. It’s the second book in the NSTA Press Powerful Practices series.

Investigations serve to enrich the curriculum and make it real for students. “Hands-on, meaningful investigations give life to learning, inspire questions, and engage students and teachers in thinking,” McGough and Nyberg explain in Part 1.  From words and images on a page to active engagement, investigations transform learning experiences from being two-dimensional to being three-dimensional.

The book focuses on how teachers can use investigations to support a curriculum aligned with the science and engineering practices, disciplinary core ideas, and crosscutting concepts that are outlined in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

“The Powerful Practices instructional model provides a canvas to integrate the questions, investigations, and assessments that help teachers and students make sense of the content. Integration of those three components offers a means to engage students and teachers in the dynamic experience of life and learning,” the authors write.

The Power of Investigating offers valuable insights, including practical strategies for helping young scientists investigate meaningful questions and communicate their findings, ideas for finding the resources you need to undertake investigations in your classroom, models of five types of investigations that can help to improve your students’ literacy skills, and tips for maximizing instructional time by integrating the NGSS, Common Core State Standards, your state’s science standards, and best practices in STEM education.

The book mixes text, lesson ideas, photos, and activities with video clips that you can access using a QR code. For example, in Part 1, students learn about worms. In their science journals students can record their initial observations. They can make closer observations using a microscope to study the features of the worm, noticing the worm’s rings, the texture of its skin. Students can draw pictures of their observations and read a nonfiction text that introduces concepts and vocabulary. Then, in a class discussion students can share their observations and ask questions, like “What are the lines on a worm for?” or “How do worms move without feet?”  Also, the bonus video explains how three-dimensional learning experiences can help to build literacy skills.

The worm investigation allows students to learn while getting their hands dirty. It’s fun and engaging and guaranteed to be more memorable than just skimming a page in a textbook.

Learn more by reading the sample chapter, “How Do I Integrate Investigations?”

This book is also available as an e-book.

Save Now on Book Purchases!

Between now and May 31, 2017, save $15 off your order of $75 or more of NSTA Press books or e-books by entering promo code BOOK17 at checkout in the online Science Store. Offer valid only on orders placed of NSTA Press books or e-books on the web and may not be combined with any other offer.


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Ed News: Idaho Releases Revamped Science Standards Proposal

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This week in education news, Idaho releases revamped science standards proposal; two University of Florida professors explain how the taunting of minority students in a robotics competition are part of a cultural idea that minority students don’t belong in STEM classes; new 3-minute videos highlight new research in STEM education; next-generation science tests slowly take shape; and according to the Center on Education Policy, students spend an average of 10 days out of the school year taking district-mandated tests and nine days taking state-required tests.

Idaho Releases Revamped Science Standards Proposal

A state committee has made another attempt to break a deadlock over addressing climate change in Idaho classrooms. But the last word in this controversy belongs to Idaho lawmakers — who removed references to climate change from state science standards earlier this year. The State Department of Education unveiled five new climate change standards with wording designed to address lawmakers’ concerns. Click here to read the article featured in Idaho Ed News.

Keeping Up With STEM In The Classroom

Job readiness and transferable skills are things you don’t typically associate with elementary students. Yet to pursue careers as mechanical engineers or computer scientists as adults, children need to develop their interests in and aptitudes for such fields at an early age. The pressure that schools and teachers face to increase STEM education is real. Starting in 2019, elementary and secondary teachers in Washington state will have to document professional development in STEM in order to renew their teaching certificates. Click here to read the article featured in The Seattle Times.

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Using the Crosscutting Concepts to Scaffold Student Thinking

At the recent NSTA National Conference in Los Angeles, three-dimensional learning was, of course, a major topic of discussion. When those discussions focus on classroom instruction, though, the crosscutting concepts are often the forgotten dimension. Some educators argue that the crosscutting concepts should develop in students’ minds organically, and that it’s enough for a teacher to simply guide students to reflect on a learning experience to find connections to those concepts. Other educators see the value in making the crosscutting concepts more explicit for students, but they find it difficult to do so. We fell into this second camp. 

We realized the crosscutting concepts are valuable tools for helping students develop, understand, and connect disciplinary core ideas and practices across learning experiences.  However, we wondered how we could help students make these connections in effective ways.  We started to see the answer to that question after reviewing the plant growth and gas exchange unit developed at Michigan State University (MSU). The matter and energy process tool used in that unit provides explicit scaffolding for students as they apply the Energy and Matter crosscutting concept to phenomena ranging from a drying sponge to a growing tree. This scaffold helps students see the structure of the crosscutting concept, and it forces them to connect general, abstract ideas about matter and energy with specific, concrete phenomena. Once we considered this tool, we envisioned ways to help students develop their ability to apply the crosscutting concepts when analyzing phenomena.

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Posted in Next Generation Science Standards | 6 Responses

Digging Deeper: Modeling

At the core of a Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) classroom is the sequence of exposing students to an interesting natural phenomenon, having students generate questions about the phenomenon, investigating student questions, then creating a scientific model to explain the phenomenon. Regardless of the practice defined in the performance expectation, this triad of phenomenon, questioning, and modeling should be incorporated into most NGSS lesson sequences.

One of the fifth-grade performance expectations (5-ESS1-1) is about supporting an argument concerning the apparent brightness of stars with respect to the stars’ distance from Earth. Before students can support an argument, they need to explore the nature of light and determine what happens to light as it travels through the universe. Students begin by viewing photographs of the night sky and generating questions. The following are examples of student-generated questions:

  • Why do some stars twinkle?
  • Why are some of the stars in groups and some spread out?
  • How far away are the stars? Are some nearer to Earth and some farther away?
  • Why do some stars appear bluish, some yellowish, and some reddish?
  • Why do some stars look big and other stars appear little?
  • When a star is really bright, is it closer to Earth?

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Introducing Crosscutting Concepts in the Elementary Grades

Four years ago, I moved from teaching middle school science to teaching grades 2–5 STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics) labs. One of the biggest challenges I faced was limited lab time in our elementary school. Because we shared instructional time with social studies, I was only able to meet with students for two 40-minute periods a week for half the year.

I had many other challenges as well. I had to adjust my planning for younger students, and learn to work effectively with co-teachers whose main focus was English language arts (ELA) and mathematics. Elementary science had been taught from dog-eared textbooks that were older than the students we were teaching, and teachers had relied heavily on worksheets and recall assessments. I knew three-dimensional instruction—as promoted in A Framework for K–12 Science Education (Framework) and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)—presented a daunting paradigm shift for teachers, but I was confident the new standards would yield significant benefits for student engagement and learning.

I think that using the three dimensions helps me maximize student learning. I plan lab investigations, problem-based learning projects, and engineering design challenges to help students apply and extend their classroom learning as they engage in science and engineering practices to solve problems. Crosscutting concepts, in particular, provide an essential, highly useful schema for intentional three-dimensional planning because they offer a big-picture perspective that helps me plan instruction with recurring themes as students’ progress through elementary science. According to the Framework, “Explicit reference to the concepts, as well as their emergence in multiple disciplinary contexts, can help students develop a cumulative, coherent, and usable understanding of science and engineering.”

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Posted in Next Generation Science Standards | 5 Responses