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

Elementary and middle school teachers have a real gold mine this month – both journals have the theme of Energy.

Food for thought at any grade level–Commentary: Proactive Leadership in The Science Teacher describes what leadership should look like for teachers, departments, and administrators.

The Science Teacher — Bringing Research Into the Classroom

This issue goes beyond talking about research results to describe students actually doing authentic research—planning and carrying out investigations, generating and evaluating data, and developing explanations or designing solutions. The lessons described in the articles include connections with the NGSS.

  • Core Values includes several lessons in which students analyze and summarize data from an expedition in Siberia. The purpose is to see how scientists can reconstruct past climate records historically without having direct measurements.
  • Measuring CO2 illustrates an investigation in which students study greenhouse gas production from thawing permafrost.
  • In the interdisciplinary investigation, Turning Into Ice, students explore the concepts and processes of biological ice nucleation.
  • Modeling Chromosomes focuses on a 5E lesson in which students create models using strips of paper to demonstrate their understanding of genetic concepts.
  • Science 2.0: Developing the Knowledge Constructor describes four indicators showing that students can synthesize information from a variety of sources and resources into a representation of their knowledge.
  • Focus on Physics: How E = mc2 Helps Us Understand Nuclear Fission and Fusion describes how Einstein’s familiar equation relates to the reductions in mass and enormous releases of energy that occur in the processes of nuclear fission and fusion.
  • Students may be surprised at the added sugars in foods as noted in Health Wise: Keeping Track of Sugar.

For more on the content that provides a context for these projects and strategies see the SciLinks topics Carbon Cycle, ChromosomesClimates of the World, Fission, Fusion, Genes, Genome , Greenhouse Gases, Ice Ages, Nutrients, Respiration, Water Cycle

Keep reading for Science Scope and Science & Children

Continue reading …

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Seeing the Real Me: Using Loose Parts from Nature to Create Self Portraits


Authors Stacey Francois and Hannah Goble present their poster session Guest bloggers Stacey Francois MS, and Hannah Goble presented a poster session at the national conference of the National Association for the Education of Young Children. I was delighted to be able to talk with them about their work and am pleased to share it here. Welcome Stacey and Hannah!

Stacey Francois MS, and Hannah Goble are Professional Development Specialists for the Early Learning Coalition of Hillsborough County in Tampa, Florida. Through the Early Learning Coalition’s curriculum coaching project, Stacey and Hannah work with early childhood programs and professionals, providing coaching, training, and extensive support on curriculum implementation. A special thanks to Alphabet Learning Center, and Ms. Abelkis (Abby) Soriano who partnered with us to facilitate this mini-study on self-portraits and loose parts found in nature.

Child examining face in mirrorSelf-portraits provide children with a sense of identity, awareness of who they are in the world, and how they change over time. The activity of creating an image of oneself prompts the realization of self-concept, “self-concept refers to cognitive activity: children’s awareness of their own characteristics and of likenesses and differences between themselves and others.” (Marsh, Craven, & Debus, 1998) For children to define and appreciate the traits that make others unique, they must first have the ability to define their own. We chose to connect self-portraits with nature exploration to give children an opportunity to investigate nature in a personal way and diversify their outdoor play experiences.

Outdoor play in childcare settings may focus on gross motor and physical play, but lack exploration and discovery that take place in the natural world. Early experiences with the natural world have been positively linked with the development of imagination and the sense of wonder. (Cobb, 1977; Louv, 1991) Hands-on creative nature experiences help children develop strong connections to the environment and can foster a love for nature in later years. When children play in natural environments, their play is more diverse with imagination and creativity that fosters language and collaborative skills. (Moore & Wong 1997) Continue reading …

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Legislative Update: Looking Ahead to 2017


Congress left town last week after the Senate averted a government shutdown and approved a continuing resolution (CR) that will fund the government at FY17 funding levels through April 28.

The Trump Administration will propose funding for the remainder of FY2017, which ends on Sept 30 2017, while also working to develop a FY2018 budget.

In addition to budget issues, it is anticipated that next January when the new Congress is sworn into office, House and Senate Republicans will work to overturn specific regulations issued by the Obama Administration.

According to this document by the Senate Republican Policy Committee (RPC), “Republicans have the opportunity to enact the most significant regulatory reform since President Reagan.” The House and Senate will have until early May to use the Congressional Review Act on regulations issued in the last half year of the Obama administration. Two education-related regulations likely to be overturned deal with teacher preparation and the ESSA state and education accountability. Language below is from the Senate RPC:

Teacher Preparation: On October 12, the Education Department released its final rule for teacher preparation programs. The rule requires federal standards for evaluating these programs, based significantly on student test scores. This conflicts with the flexibility Congress provided in the recent reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. It also runs afoul of prohibitions in the law on federally mandated teacher evaluations.

State and Local Education Accountability: On November 29, the Department of Education issued its final regulations modifying the accountability measures for K-12 schools. Under last year’s Every Student Succeeds Act, states must have an accountability system, which they choose for themselves. The intent was to provide maximum flexibility to states. The department’s final rules are too prescriptive, conflict with congressional intent, and violate explicit prohibitions on the secretary’s authority to regulate.

Read more about the Teacher Preparation regulation here and the ESSA Rule on Accountability here. Continue reading …

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folder icon  Safety

The Harmful Particles in 3-D Printers

As three-dimensional printers are starting to become more common in science, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), and Fab labs, recent research indicates that 3-D printers pose serious health and safety concerns.

The research shows that commercial 3-D printers were producing hazardous levels of ultrafine particles (UFPs) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) when plastic materials were melted through the printer (Love and Roy 2016). When inhaled, UFPs (particles less than 100 nanometers in diameter), can enter the brain or blood system in less than one minute. Organs such as the liver and spleen can be vulnerable. Diseases associated with the absorption of UFPs include asthma, bronchitis, cancer, and tracheitis.

When using 3-D printers, science teachers and their students can keep out of harm’s way by following these five strategies (Love and Roy 2016).

1. Science teachers should share this blog post with their school’s chemical hygiene officer, facilities director, department head, and administrators. Teachers should request an air-quality analysis of the lab space while a 3-D printer is operating. The results should be able to determine whether the current air filtration system meets the federal, state, or locally mandated air changes per hour (ACH) rate. The ACH is the air volume of the instructional space divided by the volume of the space. An increased ACH rate is needed when a lab is exposed to carcinogens and other hazardous chemicals or particles.

2. When operating 3-D printers, make sure ventilation properly filters gas and particles.

3. To avoid exposure to hazardous UFPs and VOCs, operate 3-D printers in fume hoods or spray booths. Note: The National Fire Protection Association’s 45 standard requires annual inspection of fume hoods to ensure they are working properly.

4. Whenever possible, use PLAs (polylactic acid) plastics instead of ABSs (acrylonitrile vutadiene styrene) when using your 3-D printer. Research has shown that PLAs generate UFP concentrations that are 3 to 30 times lower than those generated by ABS plastics (Merlo and Mazzoni 2015). This is because ABS plastics are oil based and have a much higher melting point than biodegradable PLAs. Both of these factors contribute to the higher UFP concentrations.

5. Follow the latest research on UFPs and 3-D printing through internet searches. Also be sure to keep stakeholders, such as administrators and chemical hygiene officers, in the loop.

In the end

If inhaled, UFPs carry the same detrimental effects of smoking. Make sure you and your students have appropriate ventilation to reduce or eliminate exposures to these hazardous UFPs.

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

Love, T., and K. Roy. 2016. 3D printing: What’s the harm? Technology and Engineering Teacher 76 (1): 36–37.
Merlo, F., and S. Mazzoni. 2015. Gas evolution during FDM 3D printing and health impact. 3D Safety.

NSTA resources and safety issue papers
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Posted in Safety | 18 Responses

Busy vs. Engaged

After a recent observation, my supervisor commented that the students did not seem engaged in the activity. I was surprised because the students were busy working. How can you tell if students are really “engaged”? —P., Oklahoma

Ask your supervisor what he or she saw (or did not see). What indicators would have determined “engagement” in your class? How does this differ from your observation of being busy?

In the meantime, here’s some food for thought. I asked at a workshop: Can you be visibly busy but not intellectually engaged in a task? The attendees generally responded yes, with examples of chores such as housecleaning.

The follow-up question required more thought: Can you be intellectually engaged without being visibly busy? We had a great discussion on creativity, reflecting, and thinking about a topic but appearing to others as daydreaming or not paying attention (i.e., not busy).

I found it was easy to keep students visibly busy with low-level tasks (filling in a worksheet, following directions in a cookbook lab activity). They usually complied with my instructions.

But students had a motivation beyond compliance during other activities—especially those that involved student choices, challenges, creativity, or other higher level thinking. I noticed several indicators of this in my middle school classes, including:

  • Electricity and excitement in the classroom (unquantifiable, but you’ll know it when it happens);
  • Conversations such as “What if we try this”, “I wonder…”;
  • “Bums” in the air— during cooperative activities, students pushed the desks together and some were kneeling on the chairs or bending over the tables to get their heads closer to their partners
  • Fewer requests for the restrooms or water fountains

And best of all – “Is class over already? Can we finish this tomorrow?”



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Noticing natural phenomena

This week friends who live on opposite sides of the country messaged me to go look at the Moon and a bright “star” in the southern skies, the planet Venus. The Geminid meteor shower is also happening but the urban light pollution in my area plus the full Moon makes seeing a meteor unlikely. Still I will spend some time watching the sky tonight before bedtime (thanks Bob King!).

Water drops on a leafIt’s nice to have friends who share my interests—science and beauty. Children especially want to have an adult acknowledge their discoveries, stories and significant moments. When one child points out the special features of his shoes (“new,” “sparkly,” “lace-up”), the rest quickly chime in with observations about their shoes. After listening to a classmate telling about the bird she saw, others will share their stories of birds spotted. Outdoors children make discoveries and observations that are new to them. Adults may not be interested in that slug or the way water drops hang at the edges of a leaf but these are powerful moments to show you care about the child, demonstrate how to ask questions, share your own experience, suggest a source of information or a direction for further exploration.

As authors Amy Laura Dombro, Judy R. Jablon, and Charlotte Stetson note, “What you say and do matters.” In their book, Powerful Interactions: How to Connect with Children to Extend Their Learning, they describe forming relationships and how to “use your relationship to stretch knowledge, skills and understanding together.”

How can we make opportunities to observe natural phenomena such as the Moon available to all children?

Moon visible in daytime

“When can you see a daytime moon?” By Deborah Byrd, EarthSky

♦Taking a short nature walk at the beginning or end of recess is one way to incorporate more time to interact with nature. The Moon is sometimes visible during the day—an event that can be noted on the class calendar or documented with drawings. We can ask children to talk about whatever they have noticed while outside on school grounds and later take the class outside to see or experience it for themselves.

♦Making brief daily weather observation discussions part of a circle time or morning meeting adds scientific data collection to the day. As one teacher noted in the NSTA Learning Center Early Childhood Forum, children will begin to notice patterns if the daily observations are graphed. The question, “What are some ways or activities to teach kindergartners about weather patterns?” was posted in the Early Childhood Forum under “Weather and Elementary.” One educator responded, “Each week, a new student is picked as “weather reporter” and the weather for each day is observed, discussed, and graphed. The students really seem to understand the difference between kinds of weather and are able to identify all types. I have found the weather graph and the weather discussion during our calendar time to be very beneficial to the students…When children are aware of what is happening, they begin to notice patterns. It is interesting to compare graphs from week to week and month to month. We say, ‘Climate is what you expect, weather is what you get.’”

♦Early childhood educators can let their students’ families know about books at the public library that feature topics related to current topics of conversation and learning at school.

The Early Years column Collards and Caterpillars♦Gardening at school can involve children in experiencing natural phenomena such as soil structure, pattern of sunlight and shade, relationships between insects and plants, and life cycles of plants. My butterfly garden always includes collards because they are a preferred larval food for the caterpillars of Cabbage White butterflies. Cabbage whites are the seasonally early and late butterflies in my region, making them ideal for observing more than once during a school year. You can read the April 2007 Early Years column, “Collards and Caterpillars,” on the NSTA Learning Center—it’s free to non-members too!


Sources for information about the night and day sky

Astro Bob: Celestial happenings you can see from your own backyard.

Astronomy magazine

EarthSky blog

Sky and Telescope magazine

Posted in Early Years | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Responses

Science 2.0: Developing the Knowledge Constructor

Our past two columns focused on the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Empowered Learner standard and Digital Citizen standard, respectively. This month, we discuss the ISTE’s Knowledge Constructor standard.

When students become a Knowledge Constructor, they should be able to synthesize science information from a variety of resources into a representation of their understanding. Students must meet four performance indicators to achieve this skill.

Meeting the performance indicators
First, students need to “plan and employ effective research strategies to locate information and other resources for their intellectual or creative pursuits” (ISTE 2016) (italics added). Students must be able to find relevant information to a topic or their unit of study, especially as the amount of information on the internet will grow exponentially over time. Google operators can generate specific search results and can help students develop effective research strategies. It is also important for students to cite their resources. Students can use online bookmarking tools such as Diigo and learn how to employ Add-Ons in Google Docs to easily create bibliographies.

Directly related to the prior indicator is the ability to “evaluate the accuracy, perspective, credibility, and relevance of information, media, data, or other resources” (ISTE 2016). Good classroom resources are available to teach students how to evaluate online information. One activity leads students to complete a science project that aims to save a fictional endangered species, known as the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus. Scientifically, this creature seems ridiculous. Yet the activity teaches students to filter online information while finding resources to support or refute the validity of the information. Most students quickly realize that the creature is fictional. Some students, however, create an activity comprised of irrelevant facts that seem to support the existence of such an animal. We must reinforce the importance of corroboration. Continue reading …

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What’s so Special about Disciplinary Core Ideas?

text-based blog header

I still remember the day Helen Quinn asked if she could visit me at the University of Michigan where I was a professor to discuss the Framework for K–12 Science Education (Framework) and possible roles I might play in its development. I was honored that I was being considered to lead the team on coming up with the big ideas (now called disciplinary core ideas, or DCIs) for physical science. What a privilege and huge responsibility to be part of team to decide the key, big ideas that all students need to know and use to make sense of the world (explain and predict phenomena and find solutions to problems). Not only would our work provide the substance for the Framework, it also would provide the foundation for the development of new K-12 science standards—the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)—released in 2013. The physical science team was one of four; Life Science, Earth and Space Science, and Engineering, Technology, and Applications of Science were the other three disciplinary areas. It was a daunting task, particularly because each discipline could pick no more than four big ideas! How could chemistry be boiled down to four big ideas, let alone chemistry and physics? Of course, the core ideas are broken down into component ideas, but it is the disciplinary core ideas that provide the structure and coherence. 

From the start of this effort the disciplinary core ideas were going to be different than the science ideas presented in previous standards documents. Don’t get me wrong, the Framework built on important documents such as the Benchmarks for Science Literacy (AAAS, 1993) and the National Science Education Standards (NRC, 1996). These documents have an important place in the development of science education; they helped guide our nation in science education for two decades and still have a powerful influence on what happens in science classrooms. But the vision of Framework, based on what we know about how students learn, was to help learners develop conceptual knowledge of important ideas that could be used throughout life and get richer and deeper with time. The core ideas serve as a conceptual framework that can be further developed, allowing learners to understand critical ideas about the world in which they live. For example, PS 1 Matter and Its Interactions, supports all learners in understanding the structure, properties, and interactions of matter so they can explain important phenomena, such as how there is such diversity of different types of matter (substances) in the world despite there being relatively few types of building blocks (atoms). Of course, a full understanding of this question and explanation of these phenomena also overlap with PS 2: Motion and Stability: Forces and Interactions and PS 3:  Energy.  Another example is the Life Science Core Idea LS 1, From Molecules to Organisms: Structure and Process, that provides students with the knowledge to explore questions related to how organisms live, grow, respond to their environment, and reproduce. A deep conceptual understanding of this core idea and its components, allows learners to understand where the energy and matter come from to help us grow. A full understanding of the phenomena, however, also requires understanding of PS 1: Matter and Its Interactions and PS 3: Energy.

This blog and those that follow will provide some reflections about the DCIs, but before I go further I have to acknowledge the important role of all three dimensions in making sense of phenomena. Yes, DCIs are critical, but to make sense of phenomena and find solutions to problems, all three dimensions play a critical role.  Science and engineering practices (SEPs), disciplinary core ideas, and crosscutting concepts (CCCs) work together to support students in making sense of phenomena or designing solutions. You cannot learn the ideas of science in isolation from the doing and you cannot learn the practices of science in isolation from the content of science. To develop deep, usable understanding of the DCIs, it is necessary for a learner to use SEPs and CCCs. The basic premise of the Framework is that one cannot learn one without learning the other. The three dimensions work together to help students make sense of phenomena or design solutions to problems, and as students make sense of phenomena they develop deeper, more usable understanding of the dimensions. It basically boils down to “doing science,” or “doing engineering.” Convincing evidence exists that understanding DCIs will only result when core ideas are integrated with SEPs and CCCs, and understanding SEPs will only result when integrated with DCIs and CCCs (NRC, 2007). 

In this blog series, I’m going to explore the DCIs in more depth, including the ideas that DCIs serve as conceptual tools, that they provide explanations for phenomena, and that they develop across time. The first of these follows below and the other two ideas will follow in my next two blogs.

Disciplinary Core Ideas Serve as Conceptual Tools

I’m frequently asked how DCIs differ from science concepts. Energy is energy? Evolution is evolution? Is there a difference in how the Framework presents them and how they were treated in the past? I’ve already mentioned how the DCIs form a conceptual framework; now let’s dig a bit deeper into that idea.

By their very structure, core ideas are different than how standards were previously structured. Each core idea is a conceptual whole that can guide student thinking, but they also link to other core ideas to form even deeper and more meaningful understandings that students can use to make sense of the world.

DCIs support a new vision for science education that moves classroom teaching away from focusing on numerous disconnected science concepts that students memorize, to learning environments where students develop connected understanding of a few powerful ideas that they can use along with SEPs and CCCs to make sense of real-world phenomena or design solutions to problems. The Framework focuses on a limited number of DCIs that students can use to describe and predict phenomena that they experience in their lives. In all, there are 13 DCIs:  4 from Physical Science, 4 from Life Science, 3 from Earth and Space Science, and 2 from Engineering, Technology, and Applications of Science.  The list of DCI’s follows. Click here to explore subcomponents.

LS: Life Science

LS1: From Molecules to Organisms: Structures and Processes

LS2: Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics

LS3: Heredity: Inheritance and Variation of Traits

LS4: Biological Evolution: Unity and Diversity

ESS: Earth and Space Science

ESS1: Earth’s Place in the Universe

ESS2: Earth’s Systems

ESS3: Earth and Human Activity


PS: Physical Science

PS1: Matter and Its Interactions

PS2: Motion and Stability: Forces and Interactions

PS3: Energy

PS4: Waves and Their Applications in Technologies for Information Transfer


ETS: Engineering, Technology and the Application of Science

ETS1: Engineering Design


I like to think of disciplinary core ideas as conceptual tools that learners can use to make sense of phenomena or solve problems. They are conceptual tools because learners can access them when needed to make sense of a situation. Moreover, they are conceptual tools because as a learner uses them to explore and explain phenomena and solve problems throughout their lives, they learn more about these core ideas and they become more deeply connected to other ideas. 

My next blog will explore how DCIs provide explanations for a variety of phenomena.

I would love to hear your ideas, questions, and feedback on this blog. Tweet me at @krajcikjoe or email  If you want to learn more about the disciplinary core ideas take a look at our new book just published by NSTA Press; Disciplinary Core Ideas:  Reshaping Teaching and Learning, edited by myself as well as Ravit Duncan, and Ann Rivet.

text based header

Joe Krajcik

Joe Krajcik ( is a professor of science education at Michigan State University and director of the Institute for Collaborative Research for Education, Assessment, and Teaching Environment for Science, Technology and Engineering and Mathematics (CREATE for STEM). He served as Design Team Lead for both the Framework and the NGSS.

Editor’s note: This blog is the first in a series of three by Joe Krajcik that explore the NGSS disciplinary core ideas. Watch for the second and third installments in the coming weeks.


American Association for the Advancement of Science. 1993. Benchmarks for science literacy. New  York: Oxford University Press.

National Research Council (NRC). 2012. A framework for K – 12 science education: Practices, crosscutting concepts, and core ideas. Washington DC: National Academies Press.

NGSS Lead States. 2013. Next generation science standards: For states, by states. Washington, DC; National Academies Press.

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

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

Future NSTA Conferences

2017 National Conference

STEM Forum & Expo

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Posted in Next Generation Science Standards | 2 Responses

Statistics for younger students

8541889792_4ce283d9e5_mOur math department wants students in all subjects and grade levels to do more with statistics and graphing. I do graphing with my students in elementary science, but are younger students ready for statistics? —G., Pennsylvania

The science and engineering practices in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) include several that incorporate statistics and graphing: Analyzing and Interpreting Data, Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking, and Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information.

I ran your question past a colleague who is data specialist and researcher (and a former elementary teacher). She agreed it’s all in the strategies you use and how you present problems to younger students. Keep it simple to start!

We brainstormed some concepts that younger students could understand and use as part of their science investigations:

  • Determine central tendencies—mean, median, mode—using concrete examples such as the length of their hands or the height of plants they are growing. They could calculate the mean (numerical average), the median (list all values from lowest to highest and determine the midpoint value), and mode (the most common value). How close are these to each other? What is the range of values (highest and lowest)?
  • Fine-tune (or disaggregate) these values by gender, age, type of plant, etc. The questions they ask will determine how they analyze this. (Are boys’ hands larger than girls’?)
  • Doing a scatter plot is a good way to introduce correlation. Do some values increase together (positive correlation)? And emphasize that correlation is not causation!

Many teachers go into panic mode at the beginning of the required statistics class in grad school. But with the apps and websites available today, a lot of the arithmetic is easy. The more important and more interesting challenge continues to be understanding the underlying concepts and choosing the right process.



Statistics: By the Numbers

Using and Handling Data




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We Are Not Forgotten: How One Teacher’s Dedication Brought Rewards for Many

Alicia Conerly blog header

“Mrs. Conerly, you really do care about us!” “Mrs. Conerly why do you do this for us?” “ Mrs. Conerly no one has ever helped us like this before!” In my time at South Pike Senior High School, these were continuous comments from my scholars for five years. I soon began to know why. I was teaching in a low-income, Title I, critical needs school—and it showed. Many of my students were from single parent, female homes, operating solely on the income provided by their mothers. Many of my students were parents to siblings, to their own children, or about to become parents. Some were retainers or could not read past elementary grade level. I realized it was up to me to empower and encourage them. And I wondered how exactly I was supposed to do that with the resources that I had (or lack thereof)? And I answered the challenge, with a big “YES!” It took a little bit of faith and a whole lot of dedication.

Continue reading …

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