Legislative Update: Committee Approves DeVos Nomination, Senate Vote Expected Next Week

On January 31, the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee voted to approve the nomination of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education by a party-line vote of 12 to 11.

After the committee’s vote two key Republicans–Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska–said they would vote against DeVos’ confirmation on the Senate floor. All Democrats have unified against the DeVos nomination and the nomination vote count now stands at 50 to 50. The Republicans 52- seat majority in the Senate means a “no” vote from one more Republican senator could derail DeVos’ nomination since Vice President Pence would cast the tie-breaking vote. 

The full Senate will begin debating the DeVos nomination and a final Senate floor vote is expected on Monday or Tuesday.

As reported in a previous issue of the NSTA Legislative Update there was a great deal of opposition to the DeVos nomination.   Thousands are calling their Senators to oppose her nomination. The NEA reports that over one million people used an online form during the past three weeks to email their senators to urge opposition to DeVos.

Prior to the committee vote, DeVos submitted written answers follow-up questions submitted by HELP Senators. Many of these questions/answers focused on STEM, CTE, standards, and more (if you are interested in reviewing her answers about science/STEM, email me at jpeterson@nsta.org)

NSTA and Leading Scientific Groups Urge Trump to Rescind Immigration Order

NSTA joined 164 scientific, engineering and academic organizations on a letter to President Trump asking him to rescind the executive order on immigration and visas issued on January 27, declaring it “damaging to scientific progress, innovation and U.S. science and engineering capacity.” Read more here.

March for Science Set for April 22

The March for Science campaign has scheduled its demonstration in Washington for Earth Day, April 22.  Read more here.

Stay tuned, and watch for more updates in future issues of NSTA Express.

Jodi Peterson is Assistant Executive Director of Communication, Legislative & Public Affairs for the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and Chair of the STEM Education Coalition. Reach her via e-mail at jpeterson@nsta.org or via Twitter at @stemedadvocate.

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

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Let’s Help Every Student Succeed with STEM

NSTA, in collaboration with 100kin10 and other key STEM leaders, has developed a new campaign designed to ensure that STEM and science/STEM teachers are a focus of the new federal education law at the state and local levels.

The goal of the Every Student Succeeds with STEM campaign is to support members of the STEM community with information, tools, and resources to catalyze action and support the kind of engagement with education leaders, policymakers, parents, STEM professionals, and others to ensure that STEM is a priority in new state plans submitted to the U.S. Department of Education as required under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). We also want to ensure this priority is reflected in the policy and funding guidance state education agencies (state departments of education) will provide to local education agencies (districts).

ESSA—which became law in late 2015 as the replacement to the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB)—puts greater emphasis on ensuring a well-rounded education and equity, two issues that are critical to STEM learning.

ESSA provides states with flexibility to set new policy and funding priorities, and they can do that to support STEM learning. Every state is now developing a new plan, which includes new accountability measures, they will submit to the U.S. Department of Education detailing how they will implement ESSA. States must submit plans for approval on either April 3, 2017 or on September 18, 2017.

These plans will have an impact on the science/STEM education in your state for years. Continue reading …

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Big Data, Small Devices: Investigating the Natural World Using Real-Time Data

Big Data, Small DevicesMany students nowadays are dependent on electronic devices. In fact, it’s sometimes hard to separate them from their smartphones and tablets. As Donna Governor, Michael Bowen, and Eric Brunsell—the authors of Big Data, Small Devicespoint out, “Today’s students see technology as an integral part of their world and find technology solutions for almost every need.”

It seems like a natural fit, then, to use these same devices for meaningful instruction. But it’s not always easy to turn digital devices into valuable learning tools. That’s why Big Data, Small Devices is such a helpful resource for science teachers who want to use smartphone and tablet apps that provide “real-time” data to explore Earth and environmental science concepts.

The authors point to several sites that provide real-time data (stream quality, groundwater levels, toxic waste amounts, sunrise and sunset times, earthquakes, and so on) collected by various government agencies. The data are free of cost and available as a public service. The book provides sample activities that use smartphones and tables for more than two dozen investigations using the real-time data. Each activity has a student handout, technology notes that provide appropriate websites and apps, and analysis and reflection questions.

As you can see from this sample chapter, each activity also provides teacher notes that include information on learning goals, disciplinary core ideas, science and engineering practices, crosscutting concepts, and background information. Investigations are organized into groups that focus on using real-time atmosphere data, geosphere data, biosphere data, hydrosphere data, and celestial sphere data.

In addition to providing specific activities, the book offers an excellent overview for how real-time data can be used for Earth and environmental science investigations. The authors do a great job at providing tips and tricks for accessing the technology and for how real-time data can be used to help students develop a deeper understanding of scientific concepts.

With the help of this book, students can engage in the higher-order thinking that comes with analyzing and interpreting data. And, as the authors state in their book, “Allowing students to conduct investigations using their smartphone in app-based activities allows them to be more engaged in science investigations.”

This book is also available as an e-book.

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Keeping Students Engaged Before a Break

I finished a unit in middle school science two days ahead of our winter holiday break. We went on to the next unit, but my students didn’t seem focused, and I think I’ll have to review or repeat the activities when we come back. My colleagues advised that next time I should do holiday-themed activities, but this is my first year and I need suggestions.  — L., CA

The days before a long break can be challenging. Some students may leave early for the break, and, as you noticed, others mentally leave in anticipation. I agree that jumping in to a new unit may be frustrating. But time is too valuable to spend on a study hall, a busywork activity, or an unrelated video (and students get bored with these, too).

I like ideas that recognize the season but add a science focus. For example, I noticed that my middle schoolers assumed that all evergreens were “pine” trees, so before our winter break we used references to identify a variety of specimens donated by a local nursery, and looked for patterns to identify characteristics for naming them (e.g., pines needles are in packages, spruces are sharp). And the lab smelled wonderful!

Other science/seasonal ideas:

  • The art and physics of snowflakes
  • Reason for the seasons (we can’t review this enough!)
  • Winter storm patterns
  • The heart—Up close and personal
  • The truth about bats
  • Bones of the skeletal system
  • Science of movement (skiing, skating, surfing, soccer, basketball, dance)
  • The science of cooking (but don’t eat in the lab)

These “extra” days are also good for vocabulary games, discussions of current events, design contests (e.g, paper airplanes, towers, egg drops), organizing notebooks, or review activities.

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Legislative Update: Senate Confirmation Vote for DeVos Scheduled for Jan 31

Following a contentious confirmation hearing for Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos that evoked images of guns and grizzlies and showcased a lack of understanding of key education issues, the Senate HELP Committee postponed its planned confirmation vote on her nomination until Tuesday, Jan. 31, at 10 a.m. after Democrats said they didn’t have enough time to examine her financial holdings and that Republicans were moving too fast on her nomination.

If confirmed, DeVos has agreed to divest from a number of companies and investment funds to avoid potential conflicts of interest.

While most pundits anticipate that Republicans will support DeVos’ nomination, Senator Al Franken said in an interview with MSNBC that no Democrats will vote for DeVos, and that they are actively trying to engage Republicans to also vote against her nomination.

Politico is reporting that “Senators’ offices have been flooded with thousands of calls and letters opposing the nomination of Betsy DeVos — with some Democratic offices saying, the opposition to DeVos is stronger than for any other Cabinet nominee.” A petition opposing DeVos’ nomination that was ranked most “popular” last week on change.org had more than 318,000 signatures (as of Friday afternoon).

Science March on Washington

In other political news following the success of the Jan.21 Women’s March on Washington, a group of scientists have organized and are planning a protest march in the nation’s capital as a “starting point to take a stand for science in politics.”

A date has not been set for the event. Read more here, and visit the twitter page here.  

Your How-To Guide on Federal Funding for STEM Education

The U.S. Department of Education issued a letter last week that will help states, districts and other stakeholders to better understand how to use Federal funds under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and other federal programs to support STEM education. This guidance will be critical as states and districts begin to receive funds and implement ESSA. Read it. Continue reading …

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Weather watching and phenology support using evidence to state a claim

Sprouting daffodil leavesNoticing changes in the growth and habit of plants is part of the science of phenology. We do this casually when we comment on the buds swelling on the maple tree (yay! not as many branches are dead as I feared) or the daffodil leaves sprouting above the soil ( yay! they survived the winter). The USA National Phenology Network’s Activity Book for Children can give you some ideas about how children can document such changes. 

Child uses a magnifier to look closely at a maple tree flowerYoung children may notice weather changes more easily than more subtle changes in plant growth but they both can be part of a daily report, a form of collecting data. With a chart full of mostly “cool” days children can see a pattern when the season changes from winter to spring. Or perhaps the seasonal change in your area includes an increase in windy days, or more or less rain. Children can measure the size of sprouting leaves or a tree bud by comparison with a fingernail or finger length, or use a standard such as a cube block or centimeter rule. Making observations using a magnifier and drawing the details of plants is one way to collect data about plants.

The data that children collect is their evidence for any change they see in the weather or plant growth over time. Scientists, including citizen scientists, have collected this information over hundreds of years. Children can make predictions based on their evidence—how many cold, cool or warm days will we have next week?

Weather symbols for rain, sun, clouds, snowJust as numerals marking the number of days in school are sometimes posted in one long line stretching across walls of the classroom, weather data can be collected and posted all year. Using symbols that both children and scientists recognize children can document the weather. I wrote about collecting weather data in the The Early Years: The Wonders of Weather in the January 2013 issue of Science and Children. I hope the data collection templates will be useful for your children as they make actual weather observations outdoors, describe and document them. Collecting data over the year or at least several months will be more meaningful than “doing” weather for a week. The children’s documented evidence will be a topic of discussion and the basis for developing math skills over time. Arguing for a “claim,” or knowledge statement, based on evidence is described in “Methods and Strategies: Claims and Evidence” by Julie Jackson, Annie Durham, Sabrina Dowell, Jessica Sockel, and Irene Boynton in the December 2016 Science and Children.  With wonderful classroom examples they describe how first through fifth grade children learn to make scientific claims based on their evidence. Instead of asking “Why?” to prompt children to further explain their reasoning, they suggest teachers ask “Because?” because it is less threatening and “It invites the children to tell me more, to elaborate upon ideas, to support claim statements with evidence.” Articles from all National Science Teachers Association journals are free to members but if you aren’t yet a member of NSTA, this article is well worth the $0.99 cost.

Page from the NGSSTo see how argument-based inquiry worked in a fourth grade classroom, read “Methods and Strategies: Using Argument-Based Inquiry Strategies for STEM Infused Science Teaching” by Mason Kuhn and Mark McDermott in the January 2017 Science and Children.

Engaging in argument from evidence is one of the science and engineering practices of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Read more about this and other practices in Appendix F – Science and Engineering Practices in the NGSS and look for ways to have your children use them in their science inquires and other areas of their life.

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Career of the Month: Television Writer

“I aspire to translate complicated ideas in science into consumable stories,” says Katherine Lingenfelter, who writes for TV shows with science or science fiction themes, such as House and Westworld, respectively. “Television is a writer’s medium.” Writers research, develop, and pitch ideas for shows, then assemble and oversee teams of other writers to create the scripts. Writers may also have a final say on casting and set design.

Work overview.

Typically, once filming starts, four episodes are in progress at once: one being “broken” (ideas being developed), one being written, one being filmed, and one being video edited. Each will require your attention. The writers may gather in the writers’ room in the morning. In the afternoons, I go to production meetings, where I might discuss things such as wardrobe, go out on a location scout, or get feedback from network executives on a script draft. I might also go into the editing room to make adjustments. I spend the evening writing.

At the major networks, you work 10.5 months and then get a five-week

Writer Katherine Lingenfelter poses on location for the popular Westworld TV series (for mature audiences) in Fossil Point, Utah. Photo by Matt Belanger.

hiatus. If the show continues, and you’re asked back, you start up again. If not, you look for your next contract. Cable schedules are more varied.

I just finished working as a co-executive producer for HBO’s Westworld, which is about artificial intelligence. I researched topics such as consciousness, biology, and early evolution.

I recently sold a sci-fi pilot idea to the AMC network about a western taking place after climate change. Science fiction writers have the freedom to imagine scientific possibilities, but we also consult with the Science and Entertainment Exchange, a program of the National Academy of Sciences that connects us with scientists and engineers who vet our ideas. I’m also preparing to sell another idea, about cryptozoology, with an environmental bent. A tiny percentage of pitched shows make it all the way to airing on a network. Continue reading …

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folder icon  Safety

A Three-Step Method for Safer Labs


The lab can be an unsafe place. Under NSTA’s Duty of Care, however, the teacher is required to make labs safer (see Resources). One way of doing so is to follow the analysis, assessment, and action (AAA) method. The method requires teachers to perform a hazard analysis before each lab demonstration (Minister 2015), as mandated by Standard 45 of the National Fire Protection Agency, then conduct a hazard assessment, and take the best possible action.


The first step is to analyze the potential hazards. For example, there can be physical impact hazards (labware such as ring stand rod and meter sticks), chemical hazards (corrosives and toxins), and biological hazards (mold and bacteria). The hazards analysis is usually based on the teacher’s previous lab experiences, employer-required safety training, Safety Data Sheets and a Chemical Hygiene Plan from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA [see Resources]), and internet safety information.


Next, assess the risks of potential hazards determined in step one, using the Safety Data Sheets:

• Section 2. Hazards Identification,
• Section 5. Fire-Fighting Measures,
• Section 6. Accidental Release Measures,
• Section 10. Stability and Reactivity, and
• Section 11. Toxicological Information.


Determine the appropriate action based on the types of hazards and risks.
The top three actions to consider, based on the OSHA’s Hazard Prevention and Control (see Resources), include engineering controls, administrative controls, and personal protective equipment (PPE).

Section 8 of the Safety Data Sheet can help determine which PPE (safety glasses or goggles) and engineering controls work best. Also, read the labels on hazardous chemicals before working with them. In some cases where risks are too high, the demonstration or activity should be abandoned and replaced with a safer alternative.

Submit questions regarding safety in K–12 to Ken Roy at safesci@sbcglobal.net, or leave him a comment below. Follow Ken Roy on Twitter: @drroysafersci.


Minister, A. 2015. Unsafe science. NFPA Journal. www.nfpa.org/news-and-research/publications/nfpa-journal/2015/september-october-2015/features/unsafe-science.


NSTA’s Duty of Care—www.nsta.org/docs/DutyOfCare.pdf
Hazard Prevention and Control—www.osha.gov/shpguidelines/hazard-prevention.html
Safety Data Sheets—www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3514.html
Chemical Hygiene Plan—www.osha.gov/Publications/laboratory/OSHAfactsheet-laboratory-safety-chemical-hygiene-plan.pdf

NSTA resources and safety issue papers
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What’s So Special about Disciplinary Core Ideas (Part 2)

DCIs provide explanations for a variety of phenomena

Last month I talked about how disciplinary core ideas (DCIs) form a conceptual framework. Now, I’d like to explore the idea that DCIs provide explanations for a variety of phenomena. Phenomena are reoccurring events that occur in the world. That an object falls to the lower point is a phenomenon. This is an everyday occurrence. Phenomena do not need to be phenomenal but they could be.  Babies are born all the time. Birth is a phenomenon, but it is also phenomenal.

Disciplinary core ideas are central to the disciplines of science, provide explanations of phenomena, and are the building blocks for learning within and across disciplines (Stevens, Sutherland, & Krajcik, 2009). In many respects, DCIs are conceptual tools that empower learners to make sense of the world around them. As students use these conceptual tools, the ideas become more connected. While disciplinary core ideas are essential in explaining phenomena within a discipline, they are also essential in explaining phenomena across disciplines. Take for instance the idea of energy. Students can certainly use the idea of energy transfer to track the energy changes when various objects collide with one another. Yet, the concept of energy transfer is also critical in understanding photosynthesis and respiration. By focusing on a few powerful ideas, students learn the connections between ideas so that they can apply their understanding to explain situations that they have not yet encountered.  I often refer to this type of connected knowledge as integrated understanding (Fortus & Krajcik, 2011). Supporting students in developing integrated understanding is critical as it allows learners to solve real-world problems, make sense of phenomena, and learn more.  Perhaps the idea of learning more is one of most critical aspects—as we use the core ideas (along with practices and crosscutting concepts) the core ideas become richer and more connected. 

Continue reading …

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A love note to education conferences

In my suitcase I have a collapsible jug, tube, funnel, glitter, pebbles, foam hearts, sea shells, and empty plastic bottles—all part of the materials I need for a presentation at the 2017 ECSTEM conference (February 3-4), organized by The Children’s Center at Caltech, in collaboration with THINK Together.

Conference organizers greeting people as they arriveAn education conference is a joyful place where people are seriously planning to help children develop into critical thinkers, future leaders and life-long learners, as well as learn skills and content matter. This kind of professional development connects people who have experience and want discussion around their topic with people who want to learn about it. And it connects education researchers with people who are teachers so their conversation can be mutually beneficial. These connections can extend beyond the conferences and become resources for each of us. Conferences expose us to regional differences in schools, programs and culture, and to the many, many vendors that sell to the education community. Being at a conference as it unfolds gives us new appreciation for our education associations and organizations, for their ability to build a system that can meet many of the needs of a community that is so diverse. I know a conference was time well spent when I feel part of a group that wants a good future for all children; when I’ve learned some new science content; gained insight into how children learn, how adults learn, and how schools can become better at supporting science learning; and have resources and connections to colleagues who I can turn to with questions.

Working together in a session on science and engineering practicesA science education conference is a place for early childhood educators and an early childhood education conference is a place for science educators. We have to show up and contribute to create the conference experience that will benefit our teaching practice and our students. Having a colleague work with me at my first conference presentation (using an overhead projector to share photos of children at work in a science exploration) made this first experience less daunting. Those of us who have been in the profession for longer can partner with newer educators to support their first presentation experience as we learn from them. Any who are able can donate to scholarship programs that pay for conference registrations, housing and travel for those whose programs can’t pay these expenses.

I’m looking forward to the 2017 NSTA national conference in Los Angeles where I’ll participate in the amazing Elementary Extravaganza event and take in as many other sessions as I can! Early bird registration deadline is February 3!

What local, regional, state, or national conference do you recommend?

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