Three-Dimensional Grand Slam: Featured Strand at NSTA’s 2019 National Conference on Science Education in St. Louis, MO, April 11–14

Explorers Lewis and Clark began their westward trip from the St. Louis area in 1804, trying to find a better way to the west coast; as they made their way to the Pacific Ocean, they mapped the area and cataloged its natural resources. If you’re feeling like an explorer making your way through unchartered territory as you navigate three-dimensional teaching or the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), join us this April to get your own road map.

The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) will feature a special strand “Three-Dimensional Grand Slam” at our 2019 National Conference on Science Education, in St. Louis, April 11–14. Our conference organizers really understand that shifting science educators’ focus from simply teaching science ideas to helping students figure out solutions is exciting. But it’s not just about changing the way you teach; in their learning, students must use all three dimensions of the NGSS or NRC Framework in an integrated fashion in order to make sense of phenomena or design solutions to problems. This strand will focus on implementing three-dimensional learning to increase student understanding and will be targeted by level: novice, intermediate, or advanced attendees.

Sessions organized around this strand include a featured presentation on Friday, April 12, 11:00 AM–12 Noon (“Unlocking the Power of the NGSS”) by Paul Andersen (Educational Consultant and Creator of the wildly popular YouTube channel, Bozeman Science). Not familiar with Andersen? Check out one of his most popular videos, below, explainig CRISPR.

And there will be hundreds more sessions in St. Louis to help teachers explore 3-D teaching and the NGSS; below is a small sampling so you see what’s in store:

  • Case Studies: Compelling and Engaging 3-D Instructional Tools
  • Using Energy, Engineering, and Explanations in Elementary ML-PBL Science Classrooms
  • Implementing Three-Dimensional Assessment Practices in High School Science
  • Merging Three-Dimensional Assessments with Standards-Based Grading
  • SC-4: Developing and Using Models for Better Conceptual Understanding (ticket required)
  • Formative Processes in the NGSS Classroom
  • Where Does Our Clean Water Come From and Where Does It Go After We Make It Dirty? A Grade 5 NGSS Storyline
  • Transforming Elementary Classrooms with Engineering Challenges: Three-Dimensional Planning Tools for Teachers
  • Student Drivers: Driving Question Boards Empower Students to Figure Out What They Really Need to Know and How They Will Get There
  • States of Matter…Where Did They Go? Transforming Existing Elementary and Middle Grades Lessons to Meet NGSS Matter and Its Interactions
  • SC-8: Designing and Using Three-Dimensional Assessments in Your Classroom (ticket required)
  • Engaging Students in Scientific Arguments from Evidence
  • What About the Crosscutting Concepts? How to Make Them Explicit in Your Science Lessons
  • Developing Models Through Peer Critique and Feedback
  • Cultivating the Scientific Practice of Asking Questions: Tools for Teachers and Students
  • Engaging Students: Using Crosscutting Concepts to Prompt Student Sensemaking of Phenomena
  • Integrating Content in a 3-D World
  • The Trifecta: Driving Question Boards, Anchor Models, Anchor Charts
  • Writing Three-Dimensional Storylines
  • Assessing 3-D Learning: You Can Do It!
  • When the Performance Expectations Aren’t Enough: Unpacking the NGSS Evidence Statements to Plan for Three-Dimensional Science Instruction
  • Raising the Bar: Developing Effective Three-Dimensional Lessons

Not enough? Take a really deep dive and attend these:

  • The NGSS@NSTA Forum | Friday, April 12 | 226, America’s Center
    This year’s NGSS@NSTA Forum focuses on instructional materials. The opening session describes tools you can use to evaluate resources and then five additional sessions highlight instructional units designed to address three-dimensional standards. Click here for a list of the sessions.

  • NGSS@NSTA Share-a-Thon | Saturday, April 13 | 9:30–10:30 AM | Hall 1, America’s Center
    At the NGSS@NSTA Share-a-Thon, meet education experts from around the country, and get tips and tools to help implement three-dimensional instruction. Leave with plenty of handouts and ideas you can use in your classroom right away.

Pro Tips

Check out more sessions and other events with the St. Louis Session Browser. Follow all our conference tweets using #NSTA19, and if you tweet, please feel free to tag us @NSTA so we see it!

Need help requesting funding or time off from your principal or supervisor? Download a letter of support and bring it with you.

And don’t forget, NSTA members save up to $90 off the price of registration. Not a member? Join here.

Future NSTA Conferences

2019 National Conference
St. Louis, April 11–14

2019 STEM Forum & Expo
San Francisco, July 24–26

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

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Flying the PowerUp X FPV


The PowerUp X FPV allows users to view a video as their paper airplane flies. Subsequently, the PowerUp X FPV is designed for users in middle grades to high school and can offer opportunities to go outside to test the airplane. Moreover, students can use their cellular phone to view images of the flight at it is compatible with both Android and Apple products. Hence, a free “app” allows users to control their airplane’s flight from their cell phone. Moreover, the “app” contains tips for getting started with a pre-flight tutorial video and a pre-flight checklist to better prepare for the flight. Within the “app,” there is also an alarm users can sound to locate their plane if the flight goes into an area where it is hard to find.

Image 1: PoweUP X
PowerUp X

Before flying the plane, to get the most out of the experience, make sure the battery is fully charged. To charge the battery, a USB cord is needed and will take about 90 minutes. Next, users can follow the simple folding instructions on the PowerUp X FPV website to construct their plane. The instructions can be found under the “How to Fold” section of the PowerUp website. The instructions were easy to follow and can be found at Finally, when the battery is fully charged (as indicated by a green charging light) users can “convert from paper plane to paper drone.” This can be done by following the diagram included in the instructions for connecting the paper plane to the PowerUp FPV Module.

When it is time to fly the plane, users must connect to the PowerUp WiFi network and then launch the PowerUp FPV App. Users must then go through the pre-flight checklist to ensure that their plane is ready for takeoff. Once the pre-flight checklist is complete, users are ready for takeoff. To begin the takeoff, users need to double-tap in the region indicated on the screen of their cell phone to unlock the throttle. Once this is done, an automated voice will say, “You are cleared for takeoff.” Image 2 shows the area that must be double tapped and is circled in yellow.

Users must then move the sliding bar on the left side of their screen to turn the throttle up (the throttle can be turned up anywhere from 0-100%). Moving the sliding bar is what allows the motors to activate the propellers to move the plane. Image 3 shows the sliding bar which controls the throttle and is circled in yellow. Thus, to fly the place, the user simply releases the plane into the wind and the plane will take off! A nice feature is that the plane is equipped with crash detection. Therefore, when the plane lands or crashes, an alarm sounds from the plane to help users locate their plane.

Image 2: The area users must tap to unlock is circled in yellow.

Power UPX

Image 3: The throttle bar is circled in yellow.

Power UpX

What’s Included:
-4 sheets of paper with lines to guide students in folding their paper airplanes
-1 PowerUp FPV Module
-2 extra blades
-1 instruction manual
-1 battery

What Needs Purchased Separately:
-Micro USB cord for charging
-Micro SD card- If you want to save your flight videos

Classroom Uses:

The PowerUp website provides an assortment of resources for teachers to select kits their classrooms. As you will find, ther are a variety of different models for teachers to choose from, and classroom sets can be purchased at reasonable prices with academic discounts available. In addition, the website provides a free “Teacher Guide” in PDF format with lesson plan ideas for teachers. From what we found, the lesson plans are good and aligned with primary, middle, and high school NGSS standards. The lessons are focused on aeronautic related concepts and are will suited to the physical sciences. The following is a link to the free Teacher Guide PDF

Tips for Getting Started:

To begin, take a look at the PowerUp website and review the resources, guides, and answers to frequently asked questions. Once there, you will find video tutorials to help get you started can be found at From our experience, the PowerUp X offers students a meaningful learning experience that is motivating and enjoyable!

-Video: Swivel wide angle VGA camera
-Video latency: 80-120ms
-Video frame rate: 30 fps
-Camera lens: 100×130 wide angle
-Battery size: Hot swap 550 mAh Lithium polymer
-Battery life: 10 Minutes flight per charge
-High Intensity Buzzer- perfect for finding a lost drone
-Charging time- 90 minutes
-Max speed: 20 mph/32 km/h/ 9m per second (depending on the airplane design)
-Airplane gross weight: 2.8 oz/ 80 grams/ 3 ounces

Video 1: Auto Pilot Test


About the Authors:

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

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Ed News: Paid Professional Development Key to Teaching STEM Effectively

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This week in education news, more state governments should take necessary steps to ensure they can provide public support for paid professional development for teachers of STEM subjects; new study finds programs with strong organization structures are the key to effective early-childhood education; L.A. public school teachers reach a deal to end weeklong strike; elementary schools are introducing their students to engineering principles, hoping to inspire a life-long interest in STEM fields; DonorsChoose analysis shows that demand for STEM education continues to rise; 2019 National Teacher of the Year finalists announced; and programs that focus on content creation and extended classroom accessibility will help K–12 teachers get the most out of their AR and VR investments.

Paid Professional Development Key to Teaching STEM Effectively

The foundation upon which science teachers base their curricula is shifting in many states, but in too many districts across the country, this shifting ground has not been accompanied by practical — and paid — opportunities for teachers to catch themselves up to where science instruction is headed. Read the article posted in The Hill.

New Gene-Editing Kit Puts the Power of Frog Growth into Citizen Scientists’ Hands

Since founding his company, The Odin, in 2006, Josiah Zayner and his team have been striving to give the public the education and tools to safely edit organisms’ genes. So far, they have sold thousands of gene-editing kits and brought in around $500,000 in revenue just last year. With these inexpensive devices, individuals can practice feats of science once contained to a lab, such as making glow-in-the-dark yeast and precise gene mutations in bacteria. Read the article featured in the Mercury News.

Continue reading …

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Books Your Young Readers Will Want to Open and Explore

Engaging students in crosscutting STEM concepts is made so much easier when talented storytellers and gifted illustrators produce the kinds of books that young readers immediately want to open up and explore.

The Beaks of Birds

In Richard Konicek-Moran’s and Kathleen Konicek-Moran’s latest NSTA Kids’ book, The Beaks of Birds, readers are encouraged to accompany Mr. and Mrs. Hernandez on a journey, one that takes them from the back yard, into the park, past a pond, and through the pages of a photo album, to understand how birds use their beaks to find and capture their food, survive, and even defend themselves.

This book will surely help encourage a whole new generation of birders and future biologists as readers are introduced to nearly 20 different birds from house finches, to Eastern wood pewees, black skimmers, glossy ibises and roseate spoonbills, just to name a few. The Hernandezes make this learning fun by issuing the following challenge to readers: Figure out what each bird eats by the shape of its beak, which is also a great way to introduce students to the crosscutting concept of structure and function.

Eight kid-friendly activities as well as lots of fascinating background information are included at the end of the book to supplement learning, both in the classroom and at home. Students are encouraged to do things like examine the shape of a kitchen tool to understand how it helps it do the job for which it was intended; put up a backyard bird feeder and keep track of the different types of birds that frequent it throughout the year and what they like to eat; research an organization that helps protect birds and determine what they can do to help; and draw a picture of a tool they would like to have that would help them do something they want to do.

Exemplary Evidence: Scientists and Their Data

Jessica Fries-Gaither uses rhymes in her latest NSTA Kids book, Exemplary Evidence: Scientists and Their Data, to get her young readers to think of science as puzzles to be solved. Illustrator Linda Olliver’s wonderful drawings help bring Fries-Gaither’s whimsical rhymes to life as well as help introduce readers to the work of a diverse group of scientists spanning history to present day. Students learn about the work of Maria Sibylla Merian, Carlos Juan Finlay, and Russell Stands-Over Bull, for example. They are also encouraged to extend their learning beyond the pages of this book by understanding how to collect their own data/find their own answers to how the world works using four easily understood steps.

Exemplary Evidence makes the collecting, organizing, comparing, sharing, interpreting, visualizing, analyzing, and mapping of data fun! In the words of Fries-Gaither:

“The importance of data is shown rather well
by the work of scientists—too many to tell!
Throughout all of history, data’s been key
In the making of every great discovery.”

Learn more about the NSTA Kids series, which are trade books dedicated to nurturing the wonder and curiosity inherent in young minds.

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Cheater, cheater…

I consistently see a variety of forms of plagiarism occurring in the classroom. How can I combat this?
– O., Ohio

In real life, group projects do not require individual final products from each team member. So, you could deter cheating on group projects by accepting one work product from each group. Employ a jigsaw approach and require different members complete different sections of the project or lab report.

Try to determine if the cheaters are bullying coercing other students into giving up the answers. This situation requires involvement of the teacher and perhaps administration. Students can easily copy fill-in-the-blank, matching, and multiple-choice assignments. Use them for review or have students complete reflection slips to promote individual thinking. If you have only one or two students cheat on an assignment, you could give them a second chance with different, perhaps more difficult, worksheets.

No matter what strategies you use, make sure to inform your students what the consequences for plagiarizing and other forms of cheating will be. When you receive plagiarized work, you could:

  • Return the copied assignments to be done again and designate different questions on returned assignments for each student to elaborate on.
  • Call the students’ parents or guardians.
  • Record a zero grade for the assignment.
  • Select one member out of a group who cheated to receive a grade on the work and mark the others as incomplete. If you select the one who didn’t do the work, the author will likely howl in protest.
  • Grade one submission, deduct a 20% “cheating penalty,” and then divide the result evenly among the group.

Keep sharing the message that plagiarism is serious and not tolerated.

Hope this helps!

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The Vernier Go Direct SpectroVis Plus Spectrophotometer: A picture is worth 570 wavelengths (Part 1)

Of all the cool things invented by the universe, light is one of the most amazing. It solves all kinds of problems, can travel great distances with little effort, and its very existence has become possibly the greatest metaphor ever. And on the science education side, light is a critical feature of wave science yet has properties of a particle. And its use is instrumental in the study of just about everything else.

One of the surprising educational contradictions about light is that although we use it to measure, to photograph, to communicate, and of course to see, understanding light requires a disproportionate amount of imagination. One tool that can make the transition from imagination to conceptualization to concrete application is the spectrometer. And I won’t ignore the irony that using a sensor to measure aspects of light that in turn transmits that data with light (Bluetooth radio) to a screen that emits light. A wired USB connection is also possible. And for those students who don’t know what a wire is, there is a fascinating history of the wire on Wikipedia. After reading it, I look at the humble wire with renewed appreciation across time and technology.

SpectroViz_Plus in hand
The Vernier Go Direct SpectroVis Plus Spectrophotometer is a tabletop solution for measuring wavelength spectrum in absorbance, percent transmission and intensity. While contemplating the various features of the Vernier Go Direct SpectroVis Plus Spectrophotometer, consider the mental gymnastics to have a graphical display of the wavelength absorbance of a material like spinach leaves. Essentially absorbance is what doesn’t reach the sensor in the Spectrophotometer. You can do the math.

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Ed News: Early An Overlooked Solution for Diversifying STEM

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This week in education news, educators want Pennsylvania to adopt science standards that help students recognize that science is part of everyday life; low-income students are much less likely than high-income students to complete four years of high school science; new proposed Florida bill would allow school districts to adopt their own academic standards, as long as they are more “rigorous” than the state minimum standards; a bill proposal in Connecticut would mandate instruction on climate change in public schools statewide, beginning in elementary school; today’s mentoring programs in teacher professional development go beyond the basics of helping educators acclimate to the classroom; carefully planned and executed adventures outdoors can give students a positive perspective on learning outside; and new report takes a critical view of fully online courses and competency-based education.

Pa. Educators Want Science Standards to do More Than Teach Students to Win on Jeopardy

Jeff Remington and other educators want students across Pennsylvania to see science as a way to fulfill their dreams. Educators said the state needs to adopt a new set of science standards that helps public school students recognize that science is part of everyday life. Read the article featured on

An Overlooked Solution for Diversifying STEM

Colleges can dramatically improve success rates of low-income, first-generation students by working across units, argue Adrianna Kezar and Elizabeth Holcombe. Read the article featured in Inside Higher Ed.

Easing Test Anxiety Boosts Low-Income Students’ Biology Grades

Psychological interventions that improve grades could ultimately help keep more low-income students in the sciences, says Christopher Rozek, a psychologist at Stanford University and lead author of the study, which appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Read the article featured in Science News.

Education Bills Continue to Mount as Florida Legislative Session Nears

Every year, Florida lawmakers create their legislative wish list of things they’d like to see happening in the state’s public schools. Most never get passed. But it doesn’t stop them from trying. (An effort to require a financial literacy graduation requirement, for instance, is on its sixth go-round.) And this year appears no exception. With committee meetings already under way, several senators and representatives have filed their bills seeking to do anything from increase the minimum teacher salary to $50,000 (SB 152), to require public schools to offer elective Bible courses (HB 195). Read the article featured in the Tampa Bay Times.

Is It Time to Kill Annual Testing?

Ask anyone from a school accountability expert to a parent of a school-age child, and you will get near universal agreement that we have a dysfunctional standardized-testing system in the United States. Educators do not like the annual statewide tests: They inform school penalties, not learning, because the results come so late in the school year. They fail to match any specific curriculum, and generally don’t deeply measure students’ analytical capabilities or the dispositions employers and colleges value. Read the article featured in Education Week.

Teach Kids About Climate Change? This State Might Require It

A legislative proposal in Connecticut would mandate instruction on climate change in public schools statewide, beginning in elementary school. Connecticut already has adopted science standards that call for teaching of climate change, but if the bill passes it is believed that it would be the country’s first to write such a requirement into law. Read the article by the Associated Press.

Why Are You a Teacher?’ Your Answer Should Change Over Time

It’s not uncommon for teachers to find themselves in professional-development sessions being asked: ”What is your philosophy of education?” or ”Why are you a teacher?” We often shrug off this question and give generic run-of-the-mill answers like “I want students to learn” or “To inspire the youth.” But reflecting on your philosophy of education is an essential piece of becoming an effective educator. Read the article featured in Education Week.

Coach Approach to K12 Teacher Professional Development

Today’s mentoring programs in teacher professional development go beyond the basics of helping educators acclimate to the classroom. Mentors must differentiate coaching based on a mentee’s needs, such as help with lesson planning, instructional strategies or classroom management. New teachers credit the programs for boosting morale, while the veterans benefit when programs result in their growth as well. Read the article featured in District Administration.

Outdoor Adventures With Students

For teachers who love nature, hiking a trail, canoeing a local lake, or birdwatching in the woods are peaceful and rejuvenating ways to escape civilization. As a teacher, I want to share my passion for the outdoors with my students. Many students (and the parents or guardians who sign the permission slips) have reservations about experiences outdoors. While students spend time outside at ball fields, playgrounds, and backyards, many have little experience in more natural settings, and this inexperience can create fear. Carefully planned and executed adventures outdoors can give students a positive perspective on learning outside. Read the article featured in edutopia.

Report: Online Learning Should ‘Supplement’ – Not Replace – Face-to-Face Instruction

A new report takes a critical view of fully online courses and competency-based education (CBE) as regulators and stakeholders discuss the topics during the negotiated rulemaking session that kicked off this week. Critics of the report said its outcomes were colored by data from when the for-profit sector was much larger, meaning newer online learning success stories weren’t given enough weight. Read the article featured in Education DIVE.

Stay tuned for next week’s top education news stories.

The Communication, Legislative & Public Affairs (CLPA) team strives to keep NSTA members, teachers, science education leaders, and the general public informed about NSTA programs, products, and services and key science education issues and legislation. In the association’s role as the national voice for science education, its CLPA team actively promotes NSTA’s positions on science education issues and communicates key NSTA messages to essential audiences.

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

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Barring Reception

I am struggling with the students being on their cell phones. I was hoping that I could get some advice or tips to handle the situation. – E., Ohio

In my 27-year career, the worst incident I ever had with a student was over a phone.

I didn’t confiscate or park phones like some teachers due to concerns about damage and theft. If you do have such a system make sure that the parents and administration are aware.

Instead, I employed a three-strike rule:

On the first occurrence, quietly tell the student to put away the phone.

For the second transgression, tell the student firmly and clearly to put away the phone and that the student was now on strike two. Strikes remained for the rest of the term, not just that class.

If there was a third occurrence, ask student to wait outside the door until you can have a conversation about using phones. Sending the student to the office is an alternative. In general, the third strike should fix things. After that there is no warning – send them out of class and call home. This is also when you should involve the office if you hadn’t done so earlier.

Be firm about this and never back down. Like an umpire.

Hope this helps!

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Rolling from Inquiry into Engineering Design

Headshot of blogger Jill JensenGuest blogger Jill Jensen began her 24th year as a science educator this fall. For the past twelve years she has been an Inquiry, Design, Engineering, Art & Science (IDEAS) Coach at Glacier Hills Elementary School of Arts and Science in Eagan, MN. Her current role allows her to partner with classroom teachers to extend and enrich their learning using inquiry, design, engineering, art and science. In this investigation she supports kindergarten students in pursuing an interest in objects rolling down ramps and extends it into an engineering design project improving an objects’ ability to roll.

Follow her on Twitter @GHSTEAMchic and read more about her work on her blog, Jensen’s Jots, at 

What is it about watching objects roll that inspires cheers? As a K-5 science specialist, I’ve helped organize our annual Family Science Night since 2009. I try to have a balance of new stations and previous favorites. One station that remains every year is ‘Ramp Race’: two metal ramps placed side by side with the same number of blocks under each one and positioned about a meter from the wall. Families choose objects from a bin of miscellaneous items to place on the ramp and see which one hits the wall first. As simple as this sounds, it’s consistently one of the favorite stations and typically elicits oohs, ahhs and exclamations. 

A Science Inquiry Cycle used by the author and her students.It was witnessing this excitement that led me to consider how to build on that enthusiasm. From this informal learning opportunity, I developed a four day mini-unit for kindergarten students that I’m excited to share. At Glacier Hills Elementary, we use an inquiry cycle shown in the picture above to guide our investigations. Our first step is to observe. For this experience, small groups of students are given the following objects: D battery, AA battery, crayon, vial, giant pom pom ball, ping pong ball, golf ball, a wooden circle (similar to wooden pattern blocks), a roll of masking tape and the inside circle from a used roll of scotch tape. The objects are carefully selected to represent a range of sizes, colors, weights and textures. This lesson takes place after teachers introduced three dimensional shapes in math. 

For this particular lesson, on the first day, we emphasize the shapes of cylinder, sphere and circle. Groups of students sort the objects by a category of their choice (size, shape, color, weight or texture). Students can also play a ‘guess my rule’ game with their group. To play this game, a student chooses a category, but does not share what they have chosen to their group. The student puts out objects that fit their mystery category and asks their group to guess what category they are showing. After spending so much time observing and describing these objects we move to “I Wonder…”. Some questions include: where did these objects come from, how much do they weigh, how big are they,… and usually someone asks about rolling them. This is the question we explore the following day. This lesson is wrapped up by having students document a category for sorting in their science notebooks with writing and drawing. 

We start day two by reviewing the sorting (color, size, shape, texture, weight). We also review our “I Wonder…” question, “I wonder if we can roll these objects?” I prepare the room with eight stations, each with a metal ramp and three wooden blocks. I usually have students work in groups of three or four. Students start by exploring on their own, trying any combinations, arrangements and trials they wish. We come back together for students to share what they noticed. At some point, students mention that some things were good rollers and some things didn’t work very well. This leads to our investigation: to decide as a class which objects are ‘good’ rollers and ‘bad’ rollers. First students have to decide some rules and standards. I propose the following: to be a ‘good roller’ the object has to roll down the ramp and roll one meter on the floor. Standard testing is explained, meaning all the ramps need to be set up the same way (three blocks under one end of the ramp) and that we all need to test the same way (start behind the starting line, no pushing/helping or stopping). 

A "no" tub and a "yes" tub for sorting objects.Students are given a meter stick and an additional block to put at the end of the meter stick to serve as a finish line. I also give students two containers, one labeled YES and one NO. If the object hits the block (reaches the finish line) it goes in the YES bucket. If it doesn’t, it goes in the NO bucket. Once students have tested their items, we come back together to share results. Frequently an object has mixed results, some groups get a YES and others NO. This leads to an opportunity to discuss argumentation in science. Having different results doesn’t mean that one person is right or wrong, it just means different results. However, we do need a class consensus. In this situation I do a do over and we use the results I get from the demonstration. We also discuss that if an object only works some of the time, it’s not really a ‘good roller’ Now what we have our final criteria and results, we share our findings by documenting our results with pictures and words in our science notebooks. 

Finally, we start a conversation about the objects in the NO bucket. I ask if there are things we could do to the ramp that might make the objects be a YES. All ideas that students generate are listed on the board. Once we are out of ideas, I go back through the list and share whether I have the supplies and equipment to try their idea. Sometimes it’s an easy test, like adding more blocks to make the ramp steeper. Sometimes I have to do some searching for equipment, like trying a ramp made out of a different material. Sometimes students want to try a different length of ramp or a ramp without sides, all of which I have now gathered after several years of doing this investigation. Sometimes students come up with unique ideas that I would have never dreamed of and I do my best to make it happen. I’ll never forget one year a student wanted to run water down the ramp with the objects, thinking the water will help push the object and carry it down, which it did and that student was thrilled to see it happen. 

A metal ramp set up to roll objects down a slope.Testing out different ramps takes place the following day, giving me time to gather supplies and equipment. When students return, I have new stations set up around the room using as many of their ideas as I can. I have removed the YES items from the bin of objects to test since we know those already work. I still give the YES and NO buckets for students to document their results. Since there are a variety of different pieces of equipment to test, we rotate to each ramp in stations. At the end of class we compare our results and decide which ramps were most effective. Again our findings are documented in science notebooks. 

An Engineering Design Process used by the author and her students.Our fourth day of investigating is an opportunity to introduce an Engineering Design Process to students. Using the diagram as a jumping off point, I share that engineers start with a problem rather than a question. Our problem is that we have several objects that aren’t good rollers. For the Ideas step, we look back at objects that were good rollers and see if we notice any patterns. To help facilitate our discussion, I’ll hold up the objects we observed the first day and compare them to our NO objects. We particularly pay attention to items that are the same shape. For example, I ask students to consider why the D battery a good roller but the crayon is not? Students are asked to describe how the battery is different from the crayon and how the tape roll is different from the wooden circle. 

Child sitting next to a ramp, rolling a set of 2 lids connected by a pencil between them as an axle.After describing the differences between objects, we conclude together that good rollers tend to be wider or bigger and heavier. Next, we think about how to make the NO objects bigger, wider or heavier. Items available to students include: washers, bolts, bottle caps, plastic lids, paper plates as well as bins of several of the YES items (lots of tape rolls and batteries for example). Masking tape and duct tape are also provided for students to attach things. While we are engineering in this investigation, we still talk about the importance of following our science investigations rules (starting behind the starting line, not pushing or helping and that the object has to reach the finish line). We do this because we want to know if their design worked, not because help was given. We also talk about try, try again. If they tried some washers and it didn’t work, try some more. If that didn’t work, try something else. 

3 children showing the object made of a set of 2 lids connected by a pencil between them as an axle.It only takes about ten minutes before cheers can be heard, telling me success was found. At that point, we’ll do a quick pause so the student that found success can share their design with the class; scientists and engineers don’t hide their designs from others, they shout their success so others can learn! Yes, there are copycat designs that come next, but there are variations that emerge as well. As with previous lessons, ideas and designs tried today are documented in science notebooks. 

This mini unit has come to be one of my favorite experiences for kindergarten students. Students are given opportunities to observe, wonder, investigate, discover, find patterns, draw conclusions, test out their own ideas all while applying math vocabulary and science concepts. 

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Laboratory Evacuation Training for Science Teachers

School science labs need to be evacuated in the event of a fire, chemical spill, gas leak, the release of chemical toxins, or other laboratory incident or building issue. The top priority in an emergency evacuation is to ensure all laboratory occupants make it out alive and safe. This blog post describes emergency evacuation planning and training for science teachers.

Getting started

At the beginning of the school year, teachers need to review evacuation procedures with students and a conduct an evacuation drill. In preparation of the evacuation, teachers must make sure exits and aisles in the laboratory are not blocked and free and clear of all trip-fall hazards such as a book bag on the floor. The National Fire Protection Association standards require schools to have emergency lighting and signage at all exits indicating the evacuation route. Make sure students know the evacuation routes and the staging area outside of the facility where the class will regroup after they exit the building. Make sure students know the location of emergency fire alarm pull boxes in corridors.

Evacuation procedure

To plan for an evacuation:

• Have access to an active chemical and biological inventory to provide to the emergency responders.

• Keep the names of trained personnel who work in liaison with emergency responders.

• Have a list of actions to be taken in the lab when the fire alarm is activated (e.g., shut off active flames, turn off electrical equipment).

• Be familiar with the location of engineering controls (e.g., fire extinguisher, eyewash station, spill kits, fire blanket).

• Bring several plastic refuse bags for students to deposit personal protective equipment (PPE) to prevent cross-contamination.

• Know two or more evacuation routes from the building in case the one indicated by the exit signs becomes blocked.

• Set up a staging area outside the building for laboratory occupants.

• Do not re-enter the facility until emergency responders or an administration representative provides notification that it is safe to return.

Building evacuation instructions

• When the fire alarm sounds the science teacher should, if possible, shut off ignition sources (e.g., gas), cover hazardous chemical containers, close fume hood sash, close windows, and turn off all electrical equipment before exiting.

• Make sure students exit the building immediately after the fire alarm goes off.

• If someone becomes injured (suffers a cut, burn, or is exposed to toxins), the teacher might need to seek help from the school nurse, security, or administration officials to remove the injured occupant and secure immediate medical assistance.

• The teacher, who should be the last occupant exiting the room, needs to close the laboratory door.

• All laboratory occupants should exit from the same door.

• Always respond to the fire alarm; never assume it is a false alarm.

• Remove PPE, if possible, before exiting. If not, exit the facility with PPE and once at staging area, roll gloves and goggles in a lab apron and then place them in a plastic bag.

• Be prepared to assist students with disabilities. If students are in a wheelchair or on crutches, proceed to the closest “area of refuge” and call in for rescue help. Do not use the elevator. An area of refuge is a designated location within a building (e.g., a stairwell) specially designed to hold people safely during an emergency. The area of refuge is set aside for situations when evacuation may not be possible or is otherwise unsafe for certain occupants (e.g., students with physical disabilities).

• Stay clear of emergency responders entering the site.

• When outside the building, move immediately to the staging area to take attendance.

• Depending on the severity of the emergency, evacuees may need to move even farther away from the building. Follow instructions provided by classroom teacher, evacuation monitor, or when prompted by administration (usually over the PA system).

Procedures for fires in the lab

If a fire originates in the laboratory, take the following actions.

• Determine the level of the fire. Small and manageable fires can be extinguished by removing the source of ignition (e.g., shutting off gas), and using the appropriate type of extinguisher.

• Fire originating in the fume hood can be extinguished by closing the sash.

• Fires determined not to be manageable require evacuation.

• Pull the fire alarm to signal evacuation.

• Evacuate the building by following the “Building Evacuation Instructions” described above.

• Have a laboratory fire safety compliance checklist to help prevent potential lab fires from starting in the first place.

Chemical emergencies

Mount Holyoke College has an effective plan for evacuations caused by chemical emergencies. In part, their manual states:

Possible incidents are classified into two categories: emergency responses or incidental releases. An emergency response is an occurrence that results, or is likely to result, in an uncontrolled release of hazardous materials that requires a response effort by employees outside the release area or other designated responders (e.g., fire department, clean-up contractor). Situations generally resulting in emergency responses include:

• the release requires evacuations of the area

• the release poses, or has the potential to pose, conditions that are immediately dangerous to life and health

• the release poses a serious threat of fire or explosion

• the release requires immediate attention because of imminent danger

• the release may cause high levels of exposure to toxic substances

• there is uncertainty that those working in the area can safety handle the hazard

• the situation is unclear or data is lacking on important factors.

An incidental release of hazardous materials occurs when (1) the substance can be absorbed, neutralized, or otherwise controlled at the time of release by those in the immediate release area or other laboratory personnel, or (2) a release where there is no potential safety or health hazard.

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

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