Sub Plans for Physics

This is my first year of teaching physics and I can’t think of generic substitute plans for this class. Can you suggest some generic/emergency plans that could help me? 
– E., Michigan

One of the hardest things is to wake up knowing you can’t make it to work and you’re now scrambling to provide something for your substitute. Mary Bigelow recently posted an excellent blog post ( on preparing for substitutes. Since your question is specific to physics, I can add a little to her advice.

  • I advise against generic activities to “just keep students busy.” Concentrate on moving your lessons ahead.
  • The Physics Classroom ( has free downloadable worksheets along with online tutorials and quizzes that can address almost anything you’re teaching in physics (although I find them a little short on magnetism).
  • The National Science Digital Library has a searchable library of lessons, activities, simulations and more.
  • The National Science Foundation (NSF) has an incredible number of videos on all subjects:
    – Multimedia library:
    – NSF YouTube Channel:
    Science 360 videos:

When showing videos, the students shouldn’t see them as a break from learning, particularly when there is a substitute teacher. You should always have some form of follow up or active component. An online search for graphic organizers to respond to videos will give you lots to choose from. Keep these on file.

Hope this helps.

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Ed News: Are Science Fairs Worth All That Trouble?

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This week in education news, a team of researchers is now analyzing whether science fairs help to improve student achievement or interest in science; Best Buy pledges $30 million to dramatically expand its Teen Tech Centers; K-12 students in 30 Long Island school districts are learning to code; teachers would lose $250 deduction for classroom material under new proposed tax bill; a new study finds teachers who are good at raising test scores are worse at making students happy and engaged in school; and OK governor sets goal to increase the number of paid internships and apprenticeships in the state to 20,000 each year by 2020.

Are Science Fairs Worth All That Trouble? Study Seeks Some Answers

It’s something of a rite of passage for middle school students (and parents) to struggle with musical water glasses, baking soda volcanoes, sprouting yams, and red cabbage indicators in the science fair. Surprisingly, we don’t actually know a ton about how (or whether) the fairs help to improve student achievement or interest in science. But thanks to a National Science Foundation grant, a team of researchers is now analyzing a national survey and case studies of more than a dozen schools for clues about how the fairs might help pay dividends for students. Read the article featured in Education Week.

A Corporate Funder Finds a Way to Get Teens Jazzed About STEM and Scales It Up in a Big Way

Best Buy recently pledged $30 million to dramatically expand its 11 Teen Tech Centers to more than 60 in the next three years. The philanthropic arm of the consumer electronics store also plans to extend its internship and professional mentorship opportunities. The expansion is a part of its goal to reach 1 million kids a year by 2020. Read the article featured in Inside Philanthropy.
Continue reading …

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Ideas and inspiration from NSTA’s November 2017 K-12 journals

Looking for lessons that align with NGSS? Teaching NGSS-Aligned Lessons in Science Classrooms has several examples that illustrate three-dimensional learning.

Science & Children – Vocabulary in Context

Editor’s Note: Making Sense of Science Terms: “Making sense of science terms requires selection of appropriate words, identification of strategies that help children connect with the words, and repetitive experiences over time to develop complete word knowledge. How is that accomplished? Through intervention by a teacher who uses a variety of strategies…” such as those in this month’s featured articles.

The lessons described in the articles have a chart showing connections with the NGSS, and many include classroom materials and illustrations of student work.

These monthly columns continue to provide background knowledge and classroom ideas:

For more on the content that provides a context for projects and strategies described in this issue, see the SciLinks topics Adaptations of Animals, Amphibians, Chemical Reactions, Dinosaurs, Food Chains, Magnetic Poles, Magnetism, Pendulums, Plant Growth, Plants as Food, Static Electricity

Continue for The Science Teacher and Science Scope
Continue reading …

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Teach Students to Design Innovation

What if you could challenge your third grade students to design the train of the future? The exciting new book Transportation in the Future, Grade 3: STEM Road Map for Elementary School shows students how to do just that.

Through interdisciplinary lessons that combine science, social studies, English language arts, and mathematics, Transportation in the Future encourages students to think, question, and design in a hands-on learning environment.

Students will learn about U.S. geography and explore the role that trains have played in the development of the U.S. They will learn how trains work, and discuss the questions train engineers must address. They will also learn about magnetic levitation (maglev) trains and apply their new knowledge in the Maglevacation Train Challenge, where they will work collaboratively using engineering design processes to create prototype trains that could safely carry passengers.

“[The book] highlights two major aspects of engineering design—problem scoping and solution generation—and six specific components of working toward a design: define the problem, learn about the problem, plan a solution, try the solution, test the solution, decide whether the solution is good enough,” the authors state.

Students will learn how to read a map and distinguish features such as rivers, mountains, and oceans, as well as locate a destination and calculate distances. They will further use their mathematic skills to calculate train speeds and time intervals.

The lesson plans include essential questions, content standards, key vocabulary, reading texts, links to videos and online resources, and maps. Through the in-depth and interdisciplinary modules, students will learn to use their enthusiasm, creativity, and imagination while engaging in rigorous STEM instruction that feels real.

“One of the most important factors in determining whether humans will have a positive future is innovation. Innovation is the driving force behind progress, which helps create possibilities that did not exist before,” the authors state in the opening chapter. “Students should consider how their innovation might affect progress and use their STEM thinking to change current human burdens to benefits.”

Transportation in the Future is part of the STEM Road Map Curriculum Series. The series aligns with the Next Generation Science Standards, the Common Core State Standards, and the Framework for 21st Century Learning. The series was developed by a team of STEM educators from across the U.S., who desired to infuse real-world learning contexts and authentic problem-solving pedagogy into K-12 classrooms.

How interesting would your students find the idea of creating solutions that can actually help people in the real world? Would it make school more fun? If you think so, then check out Transportation in the Future, Grade 3: STEM Road Map for Elementary School edited by Carla C. Johnson, Janet B. Walton, and Erin Peters-Burton in the NSTA Store.

This book is also available as an e-book.

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A Tree is Nice—Exploring seasonal changes WHEN the season changes

Children compare leaves.In regions where trees drop their leaves in fall, this big change draws children’s attention to the existence of seasonal changes. More subtle changes and incremental changes, such as more or less rain and slowly dropping or rising air temperatures may not be noticed unless we support children’s awareness by having them make and record weather measurements. In some education programs, if it is October, it is time to teach a unit about fall changes to the environment even if no noticeable change has happened, and in January, snow precipitation may be celebrated with books and crafts, even if the thermometer reads 65ºF.

A fallen maple leaf in red fall color.

“Can I get a ‘like’?”

Seasonal changes and weather measurement can be part of learning about patterns, one of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) Crosscutting Concepts and an important math concept. Crosscutting concepts can help students better understand core ideas in science and engineering. 

  1. Patterns. Observed patterns of forms and events guide organization and classification, and they prompt questions about relationships and the factors that influence them.

In NGSS Appendix G-Crosscutting Concepts, it is noted that it makes sense to begin developing an understanding of a natural phenomenon by observing and characterizing the phenomenon in terms of patterns (page 2).  Continue reading …

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Cool/Hot Tech

I have been thinking about getting a thermal imaging camera. Specifically, an attachment for an iPhone that allows it to do thermal imaging. If you had one in your classroom, what would you use it for?  – R., Alaska

This is a great idea! Having a hands-on device to explore phenomena beyond our senses is an excellent tool for a science class. When I think of using thermal imaging technology (and I would include infrared thermometers) the following comes to mind:

Convection/Conduction: Set up an ambient temperature aquarium and turn on the heater. Track the convection over time through photos or time-lapse video. Heat or cool different materials and rank them in terms of conduction. Experiment with surface area, fans, colors, and their effects on heating and cooling.

Homeotherms vs. Poikilotherms: compare the body temperatures of “hot-blooded” and “cold-blooded” animals at different ambient temperatures.

Temperature gradients: Many students don’t really grasp what a gradient is. Have them graph temperature vs. distance for a variety of radiant heat sources.

Heat of vaporization: Students will discover that the temperature of boiling water is constant. This is where an infrared thermometer is excellent to use. Point it at a beaker of boiling water. The glass (measured from the side) will register 400+ °C while the water (measured from the top) will be at 100°C.

Hypo- and hyperthermia (within reason!). Have students over- and underdress for outside and map their temperature patterns and changes. Compare this to a dog. Most mammals handle hypothermia and hyperthermia differently than humans.

Engineering: Have students design insulated containers that keep a beverage warm for the longest possible time. Thermal images will allow them to assess and modify their creations.

Hope this helps!


Photo credit: By NASA/IPAC [Public domain]

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Educating Students About Veterinary Science

Oregon State University’s Summer Veterinary Experience informs academically talented high school students from underrepresented populations about diverse career options in veterinary medicine. PHOTO COURTESY OF OSU COLLEGE OF VETERINARY MEDICINE

Veterinary schools at universities around the country are offering programs for students interested in veterinary medicine and informing them about careers in the field. Oregon State University’s (OSU) Summer Veterinary Experience, for example, lets academically talented high school students from underrepresented populations “see the diversity of experiences you can have as a veterinarian; [there are] more options than just private practice,” says Tess Collins, admissions coordinator for OSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine. “Veterinarians are dentists, surgeons, anesthesiologists,” and students participating in the six-day program learn about “the complexity and variety of veterinary research,” she relates. “It’s a more immersive experience than what they have in school, typically.”

The program also provides a way for students to experience “what being a veterinary student [at OSU’s Corvallis campus] would be like,” Collins explains. In its first year, 10 Oregon students participated; last year, 24 students— including several from outside Oregon—were chosen from nearly 100 applicants. “Most students have pretty good grades and are motivated to do well in science courses,” she adds. Continue reading …

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Ed News: Educators Are More Stressed At Work Than Average People, Survey Finds

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This week in education news, California colleges to decrease time to become a math teacher; a new survey finds that educators are feeling more stressed, disrespected and less excited about their jobs; two new RAND Corporation reports emphasize the role of out-of-school time programs in contributing to students’ academic success; NAEP transitions to an online format; and recent studies have made apparent that the greatest number of high-paying STEM jobs are in computing.

In Face Of Shortage, California Colleges To Shrink Time To Become A Math Teacher

To entice more students to become math teachers — and ease a chronic shortage in California classrooms — four state universities will offer preparation programs considerably shortening the time it takes to get a teaching credential.Cal State Los Angeles, San Jose State, San Diego State and Fresno State have each received state grants of approximately $250,000 to create credential programs that allow future math teachers to earn a bachelor’s degree while simultaneously earning a single-subject math teaching credential. Read the article featured in Ed Source.

Educators Are More Stressed At Work Than Average People, Survey Finds

Teachers are feeling especially stressed, disrespected, and less enthusiastic about their jobs, a new survey has found. The survey, released by the American Federation of Teachers and the advocacy group Badass Teachers Association on Monday, included responses from about 5,000 educators. It follows a 2015 survey on educator stress—and finds that stress levels have grown and mental health has declined for this group in the past two years. Read the article featured in Education Week.

Continue reading …

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STEM Certificate: The View from AAPT

For the last several months, the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) has been a partner with NSTA and other professional organizations discussing the implications of a STEM certificate. There are many challenges in this venture–not the least of which is the varying certification requirements across different states–but AAPT believes there are benefits as well.

AAPT recognizes that physics is not necessarily the favorite subject of many teachers–in fact, many science teachers find themselves teaching physics without sufficient preparation to do so. This can mean that the innovative strategies teachers employ in their primary area of STEM certification may not get implemented into physics concepts, with which the teacher is less comfortable. Providing support for teaching physics content and integrated STEM topics that incorporate physics is one of AAPT’s primary reasons for participating in the certificate discussions.

Continue reading …

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Mass Marking

We are incorporating more writing opportunities in our middle school and high school science classes, both “formal” and ”informal” writings. How can one teacher grade more than 180 pieces of writing in a timely fashion with feedback that allows students to learn and grow?  – L., California


Here are some things I have tried when facing a mound of grading:

Take time to prepare students. Share your evaluation scheme beforehand and show some examples, if possible.
Rubrics and checklists are key to speed.
Consider self-evaluations. You may be surprised at their honesty.
Allow students the time to submit drafts for feedback—electronically, if possible.

Don’t think that you can get through everything in one go. Take breaks.
To reduce paper, create a pared-down checklist or Likert-type scale with space for comments. Use class lists with columns representing the categories in your rubric.
Double-check self-evaluations and amend with comments.
For consistency, go through the pile one category at a time. For example, go through and just mark graphics. Take a break and then reverse the pile for the next line in your rubric to avoid always marking the same students first or last. (Not sure which is worse for the kid!)
Take notes on common mistakes.

Adding up marks can take a remarkable amount of time. The students can add up their own work and return the assignment for recording (with judicious oversight!). I don’t recommend students add up classmates’ work.
Review common mistakes with the class.

Hope this helps.

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