I like to infuse humour into my classroom. What is your opinion on teachers and students joking around? — T., Utah

I, too, am a jokester and like to have fun with my students. I attribute a large part of this to my own teachers who were funny and made their classrooms enjoyable.

Never make jests directed at an individual. I went too far early in my career: a teary-eyed boy came up to me after class to tell me that I had hurt him by repeatedly referring to a past incident. The next class I made a public apology to him.

There is a line at which you must stop students and yourself. Insults or “roasting” should never be permitted, even in jest. Stop the telling any dirty jokes immediately. While almost all students know that racist jokes should never be told, I worry that sexism may be overlooked. Stop any teasing, even between close friends. An innocuous tease may be picked up by someone outside their circle and repeated.

Be aware that some students may encourage you to tell jokes to sidetrack you. It can be hard to resist, so be wary of this tactic. I resorted to Joke of the Week on Fridays: I had a list of science-related jokes that I would pick from for a quick laugh at the end of the week usually told just before dismissing the class. I enjoyed sending the students off for the weekend with a “groaner!”

Hope this helps!


Image by Stefan Schweihofer from Pixabay 

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Ideas and inspiration from NSTA’s April 2019 K-12 journals

Regardless of what grade level or subject you teach, check out all three K-12 journals. As you skim through titles and descriptions of the articles, you may find ideas for lessons that would be interesting for your students, the inspiration to adapt a lesson to your grade level or subject, or the challenge to create/share your own lessons and ideas. Click on the links to read or add to your library.

The lessons described in the articles include a chart showing connections with the NGSS. The graphics are especially helpful in understanding the activities and in providing ideas for your own investigations.

NSTA members have access to the articles in all journals, including the Journal of College Science Teaching.

The Science Teacher – Science for All

Every year TST has an issue with this theme. Even if you teach elementary or middle school, you can find ideas and strategies that could be adapted to your students. Continue reading …

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Ed News: Here’s The Math That Proves Teachers Are Underpaid

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This week in education news, math that proves teachers are underpaid; how 29 year old Katie Bouman helped to capture the image of a black hole; and how STEM may help you to win next year’s March Madness bracket.

That Image Of A Black Hole You Saw Everywhere? Thank This Grad Student for Making It Possible

Three years ago, Katie Bouman led the creation of an algorithm that eventually helped capture this first-of-its-kind image: a supermassive black hole and its shadow at the center of a galaxy known as M87. She was then a graduate student in computer science and artificial intelligence at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Read the article featured on

We Cheer On Women in the Sciences, But Recruiting and Retaining Them Is Still a Different Story

It’s a great time for celebrating women in science. Unfortunately, research shows that women in STEM fields face persistent challenges and biases that limit their influence and growth, and may dissuade other women from pursuing STEM professions despite clear cultural encouragement at large. Read the article featured on

Continue reading …

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Sad State of Affairs

I have observed a lack of emphasis on science concepts in the elementary classroom. Does this seem to be common practice in other schools? Any suggestions on how to incorporate multiple subjects within a science lesson to help alleviate this?
– K., Tennessee

The sad fact is that science, like many disciplines, takes a back seat to the big subjects: Language Arts (LA) and Math.

The tendency to treat all subjects as separate entities instead of incorporating them into many elementary learning activities only makes the disparity worse. When LA and math are emphasized on assessments, it is easy to justify reducing time spent on other subjects to make sure students understand and, hopefully, perform better. Other factors limiting science education include elementary teachers who have very little background in science and may fear teaching it; limited budgets for science supplies and resources; and limited professional development (PD) funding which is frequently earmarked for LA and math conferences which in turn leads to teachers who may not be confident in attempting exciting, hands-on activities.

Many natural phenomena can be used as thematic launch pads for wonderful learning experiences in all subjects. Millions of monarch butterflies descend on specific, isolated valleys in Mexico, but they were born all over North America. They are the grandchildren of the monarchs that hatched in Mexico! Imagine the geography, art, language, math and science that can all be taught diving into this story.

Check out NSTA’s NGSS Hub ( on how you can do this.

Hope this helps!


Photo credit:  Public Domain via Pixabay

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 The Elementary (& PreK) Extravaganza, at NSTA19 St. Louis

Presenters wearing sea life hats at the Elementary Extravaganza 2017.Plan your strategy for getting the most out the 2 hours you have to access the 100+ presenters, each at their own table, in the Elementary Extravaganza (EE) at the NSTA annual conferences. Have you seen the loooong list of presenters!!!? Each will have their own table for materials. This year the EE will take place on Friday April 12, 2019 from 10 am-12 noon.

The EE has several organizations joining in the session, each with their presenter tables grouped together. 

Science and Children, NSTA’s elementary (and PreK) school journal, brings authors and columnists together to talk to you about activities and approaches they have written about in the previous year. Get a more detailed  description and try the hands-on materials as you discuss with the authors.

The Early Childhood Science Interest Forum (ECSIF) of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) will be at the EE for the first time as a contributing organization, representing the work of educators of children ages birth to 8, the early childhood years. (Because my happy place is where the worlds of science education and early childhood education overlap I had to make a difficult choice this year and I’ll be with this group presenting about my November 2018 Early Years column, How big is it really? The importance of teaching media literacy in early childhood programs.)

Perhaps you have to make a difficult choice between two sessions—check the presenters’ link and see if they will also be at the EE, a chance to chat with them personally, and then attend the other session. If you can’t participate in my Saturday session, “Using Natural Materials to Explore, Mess About, Investigate, Experiment, and Inquire in Early Childhood Science” (11-12, Room Landmark 3 at the Marriott), connect with me at the EE. Or meet me at the NSTA Bookstore in the Exhibit Hall on Saturday 1-1:30 pm to talk with me about my book, Science Learning in the Early Years: Activities for PreK-2.

Presenters and participants building ramps and talking physics at the Elementary Extravaganza 2016.

Presenter talking about her table materials and early childhood science. 2018

Other presenters at the Elementary Extravaganza are members of the Association of Presidential Awardees in Science Teaching (APAST), Council for Elementary Science International (CESI), NSTA Preschool Elementary Committee Science & Children authors and reviewers, and  Society of Elementary Presidential Awardees

Gather resources for use in your classroom immediately. Engaging hands-on activities, strategies to excite and encourage your students, a preview of the best trade books available, information about award opportunities, contacts with elementary science organizations, sharing with colleagues, door prizes…”

See you there!

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Ed News: The Evolution of U.S. Teacher Salaries in the 21st Century

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This week in education news, a look at the variation in teacher pay between the states, a new Lego set for middle schoolers that incorporates coding, and challenges ahead with the California test based on new science standards.

The Evolution of U.S. Teacher Salaries in the 21st Century

The average teacher salary in the United States is approximately $60,000 today but there’s tremendous variation in pay among states. This infographic from Forbes provides an overview of the evolution of U.S. teacher salaries and the massive growth disparity among different states. Read the article featured in Forbes magazine.

Kenyan Science Teacher Wins $1 Million International Education Prize

Peter Tabichi, a math and science teacher in Kenya’s Rift Valley, was announced as the winner of a $1 million international teaching prize Sunday in a star-studded ceremony in Dubai. Read the article featured in Education Week.

LEGO SPIKE Prime Set Combines LEGO and Computer Science Education

The LEGO Education SPIKE Prime set, aimed at middle school students, combines LEGO bricks, coding language based on Scratch, and a programmable multi-port Hub to help every learner become a confident learner.  Using hands on lessons, students will be equipped to not only create working machinery in LEGO, but also program its functions and features. Read more

Continue reading …

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Ersatz Kitchen Table

I recently discovered a Facebook post in which a parent expressed disagreement over how I graded her son’s assignment. This unleashed a torrent of hateful, profanity-laced comments including one person saying I should be fired. I’m afraid something like this could ruin my good reputation at school. Any thoughts on how to handle this?
— J., Nebraska


If this parent posted hateful or slanderous comments then I think the very first thing you should do is talk to your administrator. Did this parent ever talk to or contact you about this? If not, then I think a face-to-face meeting with the principal present should be arranged. People can be brave online where they can fire off vindictive statements without having to look anyone in the eye. She may have legitimate concerns, but she has raised them in the wrong way. My guess is that she will not be as nasty in the same room as you and your principal.

I do wonder, why are you looking at parents’ Facebook posts and comments? You can’t control how people talk about you in their homes or with their friends—and social media has become an ersatz kitchen table for many people. And, you will never be everyone’s favorite. The most likely people to post something about you will fall in two camps: those who are angry with you and those who are thrilled with you. You’ll never get a real idea of what most people think. Try not to sweat this too much and remain confident that you are doing the best job possible. You will likely teach thousands of students in your career, and some are likely to have parents who won’t address problems properly. Resist reading other people’s opinions about you.

Hope this helps!


Photo Credit:  Image by rawpixel from Pixabay 

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Be the Successful Wiz Behind the Curtain to Your School’s Family Science Night

We have the ancient Greeks to thank for so much of what we continue to enjoy today. Take, for example, the concept of the community theater. Intergenerational groups would gather, all those years ago, in informal settings to both watch and participate in dramas that explored a range of thought-provoking topics. Families would discuss what they’d seen, ask questions, learn together, and communicate big ideas.

The community theater model is a great analogy for what authors Donna Governor and Denise Webb are trying to achieve in their new book, Staging Family Science Nights, says NSTA Past President Juliana Texley in the book’s forward.

Texley readily acknowledges that planning a Family Science Night will require educators’ time, talent, and even some funding. But she adds that “data document both higher in-school achievement for students who participate with their families and higher support for STEM in communities overall.” Continue reading …

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NSTA Conferences: Professional Learning and So Much More

Editor’s Note:  In this blog series commemorating NSTA’s 75th Anniversary we take a look to the past with an eye to the future.

Can you imagine attending an NSTA convention over Thanksgiving weekend?!

Indeed, that was the timing of NSTA’s first regional meetings (in conjunction with NEA and AAAS), in 1944.     

However, NSTA’s first “independent” National Convention was held in 1953 with a registration of about 620 educators, representing 33 different states and 28 commercial exhibits. 

Sixty-six years later, the NSTA National Conferences boasts a registration of more than 10 times that number.  Attendees come from every state in the nation and from more than 25 different countries.  We now have more than 300 exhibiting companies!

According to many attendees, the conferences continue to provide a valuable source of professional development.  NSTA conferences are THE place to be if you want to:

  • network with like-minded colleagues;
  • obtain professional development that is specific to your grade level/interest or content area;
  • become a mentor or mentee;
  • find someone who understands and has experienced your classroom challenges;
  • hear invited speakers who are relative to what’s happening in STEM education;
  • engage, learn, and/or share best practices; or,
  • get re-energized and be reminded of the positive impact you have on so many students, every day!

Our conferences are packed with opportunities to meet and engage with other educators and administrators and spend time in an exhibit hall filled with up-to-date technology, software, lab equipment, books, and other resources that will enhance your classroom and teaching skills. Continue reading …

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Podcasting in the Science Classroom

Two of Ramona Jolliffe Satre’s sixth graders at Ogden Middle School in Ogden, Iowa, review a podcast they created using an iPad. Photo courtesy of Terri Reutter

“When my students are unable to attend a field trip, I typically create a podcast, so those students can listen to what was learned. Then I post the podcast in Google Classroom, so they can access it,” says Kurtz Miller, who teaches geology, physics, and physical science at Wayne High School in Huber Heights, Ohio. He says podcasts work well “for my upper-level, college-credit geology students because it helps them really digest and consider what was said…It gives them a firsthand account and additional information besides other students’ notes.”

Miller gets permission in advance from the speakers on the field trips to record their talks. He uses a mono digital voice recorder with built-in USB. “It costs just [less than] $50 [and] records in MP3 audio format,” he explains. “It’s an example of something a teacher without a lot of tech savvy could do, a starting point for teachers to try.”

“I first started using student-made podcasts along with a sixth-grade yearlong project about famous scientists,” says Ramona Jolliffe Satre, former fifth- and sixth-grade science teacher and now a K–12 instructional science coach for Ogden Community Schools in Ogden, Iowa. Each month, “chosen students presented orally to their class about a famous scientist in history. This usually involved a slide presentation to guide their talk. This oral presentation also involved the student using a mic to present; another learning experience.” Continue reading …

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