Thank You, Science Teachers

During Teacher Appreciation Week and every week, we are thankful to science teachers for their dedication and commitment to helping students explore, question, and learn more about the world. This month’s issue of Book Beat is our small gesture of thanks for all that you do!

Download a Free e-Book With Fresh Teaching Ideas From NSTA Press

We’ve collected lessons and teaching strategies featured in NSTA Press’s latest books into an e-book for science teachers to express our thanks to you. From Uncovering Student Ideas in Engineering and Technology to Integrating STEM Teaching and Learning Into the K–2 Classroom, Novel Engineering K–8, and Discovery Engineering in Biology, 6–12, you’re sure to find a lesson or strategy right for your classroom. For additional resources, visit our updated page of hundreds of sample lessons and activities you can download. The resources are organized by grade level across subject areas in life sciences, physical science, and Earth and space science.

Shipping’s on Us This Month When You Purchase NSTA Press Books

We’re celebrating spring by offering special savings. Between now and May 31, 2020, receive free shipping on orders of $75 or more of NSTA Press books by entering promo code SHIP20 at checkout in the online Science Store. Browse the newest books and bestsellers in our NSTA Recommends Spring 2020 catalog, and you might just find your next must-have NSTA Press book.

Posted in NSTA Press Books, NSTA's Book Beat, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Harboring Hazardous Chemicals and Disposing of Them

1. Harboring Hazardous Chemicals

Middle and high school science labs and chemical storerooms have been known to harbor large amounts of hazardous chemicals for years. Given the unknowns about school budgets, teachers try to purchase as many chemicals as they can afford in a given year. This in part is because the next year’s budget may or may not meet their needs with budget cuts and budget freezes. In this way, some chemicals are stockpiled, almost never used and at times, forgotten. This might be especially the case during the current pandemic with hazardous chemicals not being used during 3 to 4 months of school closings. This could even potentially be extended into next fall in some locations.

In this way, when purchasing chemicals, consideration needs to be given to the hazardous chemical nature vs its educational utility. For example, when considering peroxide forming chemicals like diethyl ether, will they be stored or infrequently used carrying them well beyond their required disposal date once open and exposed to air. Are there safer alternatives to this potential time bomb in the chemical store room or lab cabinet?

2. The Hazardous Chemical Inventory

Conducting a chemical inventory assessment is critical to making sure all chemicals are accounted for and making sure the expired ones are disposed of timely and appropriately. There can always be many surprises in this process such as:
• chemicals you never thought you had
• chemicals in damaged containers
• chemicals in poorly labeled containers
• chemicals in containers without labels
• hazardous chemicals/ unstable chemicals
• chemicals that are toxic
• chemicals in need of special handling
• chemicals that are never used
• chemicals that are seldom used
• chemicals in excessive quantities
• chemicals in large containers*
(*NSTA Safety Advisory Board safety paper –“Managing Your Inventory Part 1” – http://static.nsta.org/pdfs/ManagingYourChemicalInventoryPart1.pdf
Finally, is the chemical inventory process on going and accurate?

3. A Chemical Purchasing Procedure

Science teachers need to first have an established chemical purchasing procedure which addresses the criteria upon which chemicals should be selected for purchase. The NSTA Safety Portal has a safety paper which in part addresses this issue. The paper titled – “Managing Your Chemical Inventory – Part 2” (http://static.nsta.org/pdfs/ManagingYourChemicalInventoryPart2.pdf) states the following relative to chemical selection under the “Processing Chemical Requests” section:
“1. Chemicals on the “Acceptable Chemical List” are the only chemicals that can
be purchased. (All school districts should develop an “Acceptable Chemical
List”). One resource for this are the better professional practices noted in Rehab the Lab –
http://www.lni.wa.gov/safety/rules/chapter/828/WAC296-828.PDF

4. Resources for Selection of Chemical Disposal Candidates

The following are several resources to help teacher decide on which chemicals are definitive disposal candidates:

a. “Chemical Management Resource Guide for School Administrators” by EPA” – This is a useful resource for managing hazardous chemicals in science labs and other locations in the school facility. It will help determine which chemicals are disposal candidates and also what not to purchase!
https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2017-01/documents/chemical_management_resource_guide_school_administrators_508.pdf

b. “School Chemistry Laboratory Safety Guide” by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Appendix C. “Substances With Greater Hazardous Nature Than Educational Utility”
https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2007-107/pdfs/2007-107.pdf.

This is a great resource and as the title notes – hazardous nature vs educational utility. For example – it shows the following at the beginning of this list:
Chemical CAS Number Hazard
Bromine 7726–95–6 – Oxidizer, corrosive, may be fatal if inhaled or ingested
Cadmium and cadmium compounds -N/A Known human carcinogen
Chromic acid 7738–94–5 Oxidizer, known human Carcinogen

c. Rehab the Lab – This site includes information on hazardous chemicals which should be banned in elementary, middle and high schools and also disposal methods (https://www.hazwastehelp.org/educators/chemlist.aspx). It also has a section on least-toxic chemistry lab (https://www.hazwastehelp.org/educators/chemlabs.aspx).

d. Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) – All hazardous chemicals have SDSs with information about hazards, storage, and disposal.

5. In the End

As the CDC and NIOSH publication state – your chemical inventory for hazardous chemicals comes down to the “greater hazardous nature vs educational utility!” Before ordering chemicals, know their hazards and can an alternative be found which is safer and worthy of educational utility! These decisions will make it safer for all and cost less for chemical disposal activities!

Submit questions regarding safety to Ken Roy at safersci@gmail.com or leave him a comment below.

Follow Ken Roy on Twitter: @drroysafersci.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Too Soon?

     The COVID-19 pandemic has derailed our country’s financial and educational institutions seemingly overnight. Its impact varies across the nation. Some people are losing their lives, while others are recovering from the virus; some are losing jobs, while the jobs of essential workers have increased in value; and while the stock market has dropped, stimulus checks from the government have been deposited electronically into bank accounts across the country. With these extremes in mind, we must balance the social and emotional learning (SEL) components that should be considered during the design of a lesson with factors to help engage students with online learning, the platform for the continuation of education for students around the world.

     According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), “SEL is how children and adults learn to understand and manage emotions, set goals, show empathy for others, establish positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.” (See https://casel.org/.) Creating a lesson about the coronavirus may not seem appropriate considering the social and emotional impact COVID-19 is having on our society, but failure to help students understand the need for us to stay home may lead to misconceptions and irresponsible social behavior.

     Daily briefings from the White House create opportunities to develop a student’s skill to defend an argument (argumentation) and/or analyze claims using the Claim-Evidence-Reasoning framework (see https://nise.institute/micro-certification.php). Focusing on enhancing these skills through discussions about COVID-19 may ease students’ concerns about the virus. Informative websites such as https://www.coronavirus.gov/ offer guidance to help reduce the spread of the virus, and hopefully comfort both students and their families.

Posted in Ask a Mentor | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

NSTA Legislative Update: $13.2B in Emergency Money for K–12 Schools Now Available by Jodi Peterson

On April 23 Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced that more than $13.2 billion in emergency relief funds are now available to states and districts to support K–12 students whose educations have been disrupted by the coronavirus.

The money is part of the $31 billion education stabilization fund under the $2 trillion CARES Act economic relief package (H.R. 748) signed into law on March 27.

Schools and districts can use funds from the Elementary and Secondary School Education Relief Fund (ESSER Fund) for tools and resources for distance education, ensuring student health and safety, and developing and implementing plans for the next school year. To see how much your state will receive under the ESSER Fund, click here.

State education agencies (SEAs) must allocate 90 percent of their ESSER funds to districts, including public charter schools, in proportion to the amount of FY 2019 funds the district received under ESSA Title I. Up to 10 percent of the SEA’s award may be retained for the state department of education to address needs related to responding to coronavirus. Local leaders have the flexibility to determine how to use their ESSER funds, as long as they are in compliance with applicable federal education laws. See more on how Title II and Title IV are used here.

States have until July 1 to apply for the funds, and ED says it will process each submitted form within three business days of receipt.

As reported in earlier Legislative Updates, in response to the pandemic the Department of Education has already allowed states to cancel federally mandated standardized testing and has developed a streamlined process for providing states with funding flexibilities to repurpose existing K–12 education funds.  The Department of Education has also announced $3 billion in emergency block grants that governors to use at their discretion to support schools and colleges and $12.5 billion for higher education.

A joint press release from the FCC and Department of Education states that funding “provides more than $13 billion in grants that elementary and secondary schools can use for purposes that include remote learning.  More specifically, the CARES Act states that local educational agencies (LEAs) may use the funding for “[p]urchasing educational technology (including hardware, software, and connectivity).”  The application for such funds provides that, “The SEA (state education agency) must assure that, when applicable, it will provide technical assistance to LEAs on the use of ESSER funds for remote learning . . . .” It also indicates the U.S. Secretary of Education’s interest in reporting on the use of funds to address “the digital divide, including securing access to home-based connectivity and remote-use devices . . . .”

ED Rolls out Stimulus Grant to “Rethink” Education

On April 27, Secretary DeVos announced that  more than $300 million in discretionary grant funds  will be available for states hardest hit by the coronavirus  to create “adaptable, innovative learning opportunities for K–12 and postsecondary learners in response to the COVID-19 national emergency.”

The Department will divide the stimulus grant funding between two competitions: $180 million for the Rethink K-12 Education Models Grant and $127.5 million for the Reimagining Workforce Preparation Grant.  

State education agencies can apply for funds to the Rethink K–12 Education Models for

  • Microgrants for families, so that states can ensure they have access to the technology and educational services they need to advance their learning
  • Statewide virtual learning and course access programs, so that students will always be able to access a full range of subjects, even those not taught in the traditional or assigned setting
  • New, field-initiated models for providing remote education not yet imagined, to ensure that every child is learning and preparing for successful careers and lives

Critics were quick to point out that this discretionary grant was largely a voucher program designed to thwart money away from public education. In a press statement Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said  “DeVos is using what little discretionary money was provided for education in the CARES Act to move full-steam ahead with turning our public schools into online cash cows for her corporate friends and offering families vouchers that divert resources away from the schools that need those resources.”

The Reimagining Workforce Preparation Grants are designed to expand short-term postsecondary programs and work-based learning programs in order to get Americans back to work.  More information on this grant will be forthcoming.

Read more here.

DeVos Seeks New Funding Priority to Provide Professional Development Vouchers to Teachers

Secretary DeVos is proposing a new funding priority that would give teachers vouchers or stipends to choose their own professional development courses. Under her proposal, educators would receive vouchers to pay for their own individual professional development opportunities rather than rely on those selected or approved by state or local leaders. DeVos is seeking to use existing funds under the Education Innovation and Research (EIR) program by making PD vouchers a funding priority. The department is seeking comments from educators and the public about this proposal until May 13. More here.

SEED and EIR Grant Applications Now Available

The U.S. Department of Education has released their Notices Inviting Applications (NIAs) for the 2020 Supporting Effective Educator Development Program (SEED) and Education Innovation and Research Program (EIR) grant competitions. Code.org has put together high-level summaries of each program here: 2020 Dept of Education: SEED Grant Program Highlights  and 2020 Dept of Education: EIR Grant Program Highlights. Stay tuned, and watch for more updates in future issues of NSTA Express.


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

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

Posted in Legislative Update | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Reflecting on This Week’s Daily Do

Introduction

Our last weekend in April. Many of you have been providing opportunities for students to do science through distance and home learning for as many as four weeks. Before reading further, pause for just a moment to reflect on one win you experienced this week (whether you credit yourself or serendipity) that excites and inspires you to do it again next week. 

We’ve shared an elementary and secondary vignette in which students-as-scientists engaged in science and engineering practices to make sense of intriguing natural phenomena (observable events that occur in the universe and that we can use our science knowledge to explain or predict). This week, we’re going to focus on one of the eight science and engineering practices: Developing and Using Models. 

[Models] serve the purpose of being a tool for thinking with, making predictions and making sense of experience. (A Framework for K-12 Science Education, p 56)

Let’s look at the practice of Developing and Using Models in the context of Why is water sphere-shaped in space? In the lesson this task is adapted from (designed prior to the NGSS), students over-fill a cup with water, drop by drop, and do the same with a penny. They notice the surface of the water is dome-shaped and “piled” higher than the rim of the cup/penny. Students are then provided the explanation. Now compare this to students sensemaking in the Why is water sphere-shaped in space? task. Students experience a puzzling phenomenon on the International Space Station (ISS) – water squeezed from a pouch forms a sphere that can hold candy on the surface. They make and share observations and then are asked to create an initial model that explains (a how or why account of) the phenomenon. 

Imagine the prior knowledge and experience students might bring to their models:  

I’ve seen water form big drops on our windshield. We put something on it that repels water.

I spilled water lots of times and it doesn’t make drops, but we dropped water on wax paper at school and pushed it around.

I’ve seen water striders walk on water and when they move the water sort of bounces back.

I know it’s called surface tension. 

Some raindrops get really big, sometimes you can see they’re big but sometimes you can just feel it. 

Students use their prior knowledge, experience and observations to try to explain the phenomenon using words, pictures, and symbols (models serve the purpose of being a tool to think with). 

Imagine, next, that the blank piece of paper is daunting and students don’t know how to begin or are fearful of making a mistake. Although there are specific knowledge and skills that make up the practice of Developing and Using Models at each grade band – called elements (bulleted points listed under each grade band) – all students’ models independent of grade band need to include:

  • Components (relative parts)
  • Interactions (how the components are related or interact)

To support struggling students, you might ask, “What absolutely has to be included (components) in a model that explains why the water formed a sphere that can hold candy on the surface?” Students would likely say water and candy. Some students might add water molecules, air, and gravity (or lack of gravity). Once students have represented their components on paper, you could ask, “How do these components (point to two components) interact? What moves? What changes?”

Models serve the purpose of making sense of experiences. In creating their models, students realize they have gaps in their knowledge. (“You know, I don’t know why the water is a sphere.”) Students’ have questions they are motivated to answer. The teacher uses these questions to navigate students to the next investigation, “Many of us are wondering if this could happen on Earth, does it make sense to start there?” The next day, students conduct an investigation using the dropper, cup and penny to make sense of the cohesive property of water. (Students return to their models later in the task, but for time and space we’ll leave the story here.)

What resonates with you as you compare the role of students in the original lesson with the sensemaking task? Who has access to the science ideas in each scenario? Why? Which scenario leads to ownership of science ideas? Why?

Before we meet next week, consider reading the vignette in the (free) “Developing and Using Models” chapter (pp 109-110) from Helping Students Make Sense of the World Using Science and Engineering Practices. In this vignette, fifth-grade students are creating models to explain how and why evaporation occurs – a piece of the puzzle needed to figure out how solar stills work to clean dirty water. Students are revising their models at the midpoint of the unit. (Of course, you are welcome to read the entire chapter!) 

Below you’ll find descriptions of every Daily Do published this week. As you visit each Daily Do or reflect on one you taught during the week, can you identify the science and engineering practice(s) students engage with to make sense of the phenomenon (or science ideas)? Can you identify the element(s) of the science and engineering practice? 

Monday, April 20, 2020Why Does Some Food Disappear?

In today’s Daily Do, Why does some food disappear?, students engage in science and engineering practices and use patterns as a thinking tool to make sense of the phenomenon of digesting a graham cracker. Students have an opportunity to apply physical science ideas about chemical reactions and physical changes to develop life science ideas about digestion (the beginning of the science idea the body is a system of multiple interacting systems). This task has been modified from its design to be used by students, families, and teachers in distance learning. While students could complete this task independently, we encourage students to work virtually with peers or in the home with family members.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020How Do We Know What Isopods Do?

Did you ever wonder about the roly-polies (also known as sow bugs and pill bugs) you find outside when you turn over a rock over or rake away damp leaves? Maybe you’ve even seen a few in your garage or house. In turns out these roly-polies are terrestrial isopodswhich are related to shrimp and lobsters! Although, maybe you’re not too surprised based on their looks.
 
In today’s task, How do we know what isopods do?, students and their families engage in science and engineering practices to begin to make sense of the science idea animals have external structures that serve various functions in growth, survival and behavior while becoming more familiar (and hopefully less fearful) of terrestrial isopods.
 
Today’s task is based on activities by Dr. Ron Wagler published in the NSTA Blog “What Are These Bugs Under the Log? Home-Based Science With Terrestrial Isopods.” 
 

Wednesday, April 22, 2020How Are They Similar and Different?

Even if plants and animals are the same kind, can they still be distinguished from each other? Today’s task is inspired by the NSTA eBook Are They the Same? The story follows the journey of Speck, a red-spotted newt, who encounters many different kinds plants and animals on his search for a new pond to become his winter home. How didn’t he notice before how different individual plants and animals can be even when they’re the same kind of plant and animal?!
 
In this task, How are they similar and different?, students and their families read the NSTA eBook Are They the Same? and engage in analyzing and interpreting data (science and engineering practice) and use the thinking tool of patterns (crosscutting concept) to make sense of a big idea in science – individuals of the same kind of plant or animal are recognizable as similar but can also vary in many ways.
 

Thursday, April 23, 2020Why Is Water Sphere-Shaped In Space?

 

NASA logoDid you know humans have been living in space for the last 20 years? NASA is currently celebrating the Year of Recognition, highlighting the anniversary of 20 years of continuous human presence aboard the International Space Station on November 2nd, 2020. 

Fluids – gasses and liquids – are everywhere in our lives. The Earth, known as “the water planet,” is able to support life in part because of the presence of water. Understanding the basic principles of fluid motion such as with water, is important for all walks of life. The behavior of water on the International Space Station (ISS) is not only mesmerizing and beautiful to observe (see picture below), researchers are using these observations to figure out why fluids behave differently in micro-gravity than they do on Earth. The near-weightless conditions aboard the station allow researchers to observe and control a wide variety of fluids in ways that are not possible on Earth. Understanding how fluids react in these conditions could lead to improved designs for space travel, as well as back on Earth.

In today’s task, Why is Water Sphere-Shaped in Space?, students and their families engage in science and engineering practices to make sense of the phenomenon of liquid water forming a perfect sphere-shape in space. Students see how the science ideas that explain water’s sphere-shape in space are applied to the design of the Space Coffee Cup and then brainstorm solutions to other problems astronauts encounter that will help people live in space! While students could complete this task independently, we encourage students to work virtually with peers or in the home with family members.

Friday, April 24, 2020Why Are Flowers So Different?

When we look around we can see many different types of flowers. Have you ever wondered why? In today’s task, Why are flowers so different?, students and their families engage in science and engineering practices and use the thinking tool of structure and function (crosscutting concept) to make sense of the science ideas that some plants depend on animals for pollination and have specialized features for reproduction.

This activity is adapted for online learning from the California Academy of Sciences lesson: Flowers Seeking Pollinators curated by NGSS@NSTA Connection.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Celebrating 50 Years of Earth Day!

What can I do with my students during Earth Day on April 22, 2020, as this pandemic continues?
-T., MN

This year, 2020, marks 50 years of the Earth Day (https://www.earthday.org/) movement. It is important for students to understand why we recognize this day, so teachers can give students a historical perspective of this annual event.

Earth Day was founded 50 years ago by Senator Gaylord Nelson. A year prior, the senator was intrigued by the information shared by peace activist John McConnell at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) conference. McConnell spoke about society’s lack of environmental awareness. People drove gas-guzzling cars using lead gas; oil spills had occurred; smog was prevalent; and rivers were so polluted that they literally caught fire. No one considered recycling or any actions that could be taken for a cleaner Earth. Senator McConnell led the charge to help the government understand that our planet was on a rapid downward spiral.

If this historical reflection does not interest your students, consider a relatable personality who has been recognized as a global environmental activist: Greta Thunberg, whose climate advocacy earned her acclaim as TIME Magazine’s 2019 Person of the Year. Other youth who have worked to save our planet are noted in this Project Learning Tree article: https://www.plt.org/story/young-environmentalists-examples.
Efforts to reduce, reuse, and recycle have led to federal mandates to help clean up our planet. These efforts continue to effect change, and have inspired this year’s Earth Day theme, “Climate Action.” The Earth has endured enormous damage. We have to ensure that our youth are aware of this and take actions to make our planet sustainable for generations to come.

Image credit:  https://bit.ly/2wA67Fz

Posted in Ask a Mentor | Tagged | Leave a comment

NSTA Legislative Update: Education Funding under the CARES Act by Jodi Peterson

Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act

As has been widely reported, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act will provide about $30.750 billion for an Education Stabilization Fund for states, school districts and institutions of higher education for costs related to coronavirus.

For elementary and secondary education, $13.5 billion is available for formula-grants to States, which will then distribute 90 percent of funds to local educational agencies (based on Title I eligibility) to use for coronavirus-response activities, such as planning for and coordinating during long-term school closures; purchasing educational technology to support online learning for all students served by the local educational agency; and additional activities authorized by federal elementary and secondary education laws including ESEA, IDEA, McKinney-Vento, Adult Education and Family Literacy Act, and Perkins CTE.

Congress allocated $14.250 billion for higher education emergency relief for institutions of higher education to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus. Funds may be used to defray expenses for institutions of higher education, such as lost revenue, technology costs associated with a transition to distance education, and grants to students for food, housing, course materials, technology, health care, and child care.

Governors in each state will also receive a share of $3 billion to allocate at their discretion for emergency support grants to local educational agencies that the State educational agency deems have been most significantly impacted by coronavirus. These funds will support the ability of such local educational agencies to continue to provide educational services to their students and to support the on-going operations of the local educational agency; and provide emergency support through grants to institutions of higher education serving students within the State.

Waivers, Testing and Accountability

On March 31 the U.S. Department of Education granted waivers to all 50 states to bypass federal requirement to test all of their students this year due to the ongoing national emergency, providing relief from federally mandated testing requirements for this school year.

The Department also unveiled a new streamlined process for providing states funding flexibilities during this national emergency. Schools can seek to repurpose existing K-12 education funds for technology infrastructure and teacher training on distance learning, among other flexibilities, to move resources to areas of highest need.

In response to lawmakers’ requests for information on the ongoing challenges schools face and recommendations to meet those challenges, NSTA and the STEM Education Coalition put together this letter with recommendations directed at Congress as it structures aid legislation to federal agencies as they organize to deal with this crisis.

When Will Schools Reopen?

Under the three-phase coronavirus recovery strategy floated last week by the White House, schools would stay closed during the first phase of recovery under the guidelines.  Schools and organized youth activities could reopen when states enter a re-opening’s second phase after states proved there was no rebound in cases and specific protocols were met.

No timelines were set for these steps to start,  leaving the responsibility to governors to schedule when their states’ residents can return to restaurants, gyms and offices. Many governors are forming multi-state councils that are working to coordinate openings in their states, including schools.

Federal Resources for COVID-19

The Department has established a dedicated Coronavirus webpage, which includes information for families and communities including at-home activities for students and parents; information on the CARES Act, information on federal student aid, and more.

New National Science Foundation Acting Director

The President has named Dr. Kelvin Droegemeier, Director of The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and Presidential Science Advisor, to serve as Acting Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF), effective March 31, 2020. Droegemeier has been involved with NSF for more than three decades and served on the National Science Board for 12 years, the last four as Vice Chair. Dr. Droegemeier, who will continue his duties as OSTP Director, will serve as Acting Director as the U.S. Senate considers the nomination of Dr. Sethuraman Panchanathan, who was nominated to lead NSF by the President on December 19, 2019.

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


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

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

Posted in Legislative Update | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Reflecting on this week’s Daily Do

Another Friday brings another chance to catch your breath (hopefully!) and reflect on the opportunities we provided students-as-scientists and -as-engineers to make sense of natural phenomena (observable events that occur in the universe and that we can use our science knowledge to explain or predict) using science and engineering practices

Last week, we shared a vignette in which young students and their families analyze and interpret data (science and engineering practice) to make sense of how wind moves big and small leaves around and why big and small leaves move differently (phenomenon). Today’s vignette is based on Thursday’s Daily Do, Why does the ice melt faster?, which motivates students to engage in science and engineering practices to figure out why an ice cube melts faster on one surface than another when both surfaces are the same temperature! (Maybe you’re motivated to do the same?) This vignette assumes middle school students have received packets with instructions for the task and have access to a cell phone that allows them to take and share pictures.

Student 1 and Student 2 are one the phone together. They have the directions for the task in front of them.

Student 1: OK, I picked aluminum foil from Group A and wax paper from Group B. 

Student 2: I’m using a pot and a piece of cardboard. The pot definitely feels colder than the cardboard. 

Student 1: So, group B objects are going to melt the ice cube faster. 

Student 2: Right.

Students 1 and 2 take two ice cubes from their freezer, place one ice cube on each surface and wait. They both notice the ice cube on the Group A object is melting faster than the ice cube on the Group B object. Each of them calls a family member in to look – they’re surprised that the ice cube is melting fastest on the object that felt cold. Student 1’s adult family member looks at the directions and asks them both if they measured the temperature of the objects before they started. (They did not.) They start again.

Student 1 measures the temperature of new pieces of aluminum foil and wax paper. Both students are really surprised the temperatures are the same. Student 1 asks the adult family member to measure the temperature and they confirm the temperatures are the same. Both students are puzzled. With Student 2 still on the phone, Student 1 repeats the investigation and once again the ice melts faster on the aluminum foil. Student 1 measures the temperature of the objects again and finds the aluminum foil is now slightly colder than the wax paper. 

Student 2: It has to be something with the metal. All of the objects in Group A are metal. 

Student 1: The aluminum foil got colder so the ice cube made it colder when it melted.

Student 2: How?

Student 1: I don’t know but we’re supposed to make a model to explain why the ice melted faster on metal objects – well, it says “Group A” – than the other objects. 

Students 1 and 2 find the model scaffolds in their packets and agree to call each other back in five minutes. They work independently to develop a model to describe unobservable mechanisms. They take pictures and share their models with each other. The students discuss their models using the sentence starters the teacher included in the packet.

Student 1: I think the molecules from the ice transfers its coldness to the pot it was sitting on because it melted. 

Student 2: I heard you say the ice transfers coldness. I disagree because ice needs heat to melt. I think heat came from the aluminum foil because the aluminum foil was a little colder. 

Student 1: I heard you say the heat that melts the ice comes from the aluminum foil. What evidence is that based on

Student 2: Well, the ice cube melted and it needed heat from somewhere. The only thing different was what the ice was sitting on (analyzing and interpreting data to provide evidence for the phenomenon).

Student 1: OK, so I’m going to change the direction my arrow is going on my model to point from the metal to the ice cube. 

Student 2: I’m still not sure how heat is coming from the aluminum, but I know it has to. (Students beginning to develop the science idea energy is transferred out of hotter objects and into colder ones).

Student 1: Let’s just write “heat” next to the arrow for now.

The two students test pictures of their models to their teacher. The teacher texts back (group text to students who have similar models), “I see you have a new question – how is heat coming from the aluminum. Is there another word you could use instead of heat? Think about that in the next investigation.”

Later in the week, these two students are back on the phone to complete the task together.

Below you’ll find descriptions of every Daily Do published this week. As you visit each Daily Do or reflect on one you taught during the week, can you imagine your students virtually (low and high tech) collaborating with classmates to sensemake? How might you provide feedback to students to support their sensemaking? 

Monday, April 13, 2020 – How does a pandemic cause less CO2?

How does a pandemic cause less CO2?

Closed school and non-essential businesses and official stay-at-home mandates have kept millions of people at home and across the globe. Will we be able to return to our once-familiar daily routines after the pandemic is over? Will we still want to? 

In this task, How does a pandemic cause less CO2?students and their families engage in science and engineering practices to make sense of the phenomenon of concentrations of greenhouse gasses decreasing as the world-wide spread of the coronavirus increases. Students then apply the science ideas they build to design an object, system or process to decrease their contribution of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. While students could complete this task independently, we encourage students to work virtually with peers or in the home with family members. 

This task was inspired by the the story, Satellite images show less pollution over the US as coronavirus shuts down public places, published by CNN on March 23, 2020. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2020 – Why are the temperatures changing?

Why are the temperatures changing?

Energy transfer can be a confusing subject for students and adults because of the way we commonly talk about hot and cold “moving” in our daily environments. In today’s task, Why is the temperature changing?, students and their families engage in science and engineering practices to begin to make sense of the science idea energy (motion) is transferred from hotter (faster-moving particles) areas to cooler (slowly-moving particles) areas. By working together, parents, teachers, and students can create a dialogue about energy transfer that is grounded in evidence. 

This task is adapted from Instructional Sequence Matters, Grades 6–8: Structuring Lessons With the NGSS in Mindand Instructional Sequence Matters, Grades 3–5: Explore Before Explain, by Patrick Brown, NSTA Press.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020 – How do we describe matter?

How do we describe matter?

Bobby and Carmen have a problem to solve! They need to design something everyone at Engineering Camp can play with using only the materials they can find around the room. Will Bobby and Carmen succeed in using science and engineering to design a solution to their before lunch?

In today’s task, How do we describe matter?, students and their families engage in the engineering design process alongside characters in the NSTA eBook Properties Matter. The engineering design process is a series of steps engineers follow to solve a problem. You’ll notice from the image in the upper-right hand corner (click on image to enlarge) that the engineering design process is a cycle – engineers repeat the steps as many times as necessary to create a solution to a problem. (In the eBook, this cycle is presented in list form to fit the space.)

Engineers need science ideas to inform the choices they make as they imagine possible solutions individually and then plan a solution collaboratively with other engineers. Students-as-engineers in today’s taskfirst engage in science and engineering practices to make sense of the science ideas matter can be described by its observable properties and different properties are suited to different purposes.

Thursday, April 16, 2020 – Why does the ice melt faster?

Why does the ice melt faster? 

We’ve probably all experienced the phenomenon of stepping from a carpeted floor to a bare floor and noticing our feet feel colder. (If you haven’t noticed, give it a try!) Did you ever stop to wonder how two floors in the same home (on the same level or story) could feel like they were at two different temperatures? 

Today’s task, Why does the ice melt faster?, provides and opportunity for students and their families notice and wonder about a related phenomenon – ice cubes melting at different rates on two different household objects from the same room in the house. Students engage in science and engineering practices to make sense of science ideas energy is spontaneously transferred out of hotter objects than colder ones and when two objects interact, energy can be transferred from one to the other through collisions (even when those objects are molecules). 

Today’s task builds on science ideas students make sense of in Tuesday’s (April 14) Daily Do, Why are the temperature changing?

Today’s task builds on science ideas students make sense of in Tuesday’s (April 14) Daily Do, Why are the temperature changing?

Friday, April 17, 2020 – Why is our fruit turning brown?

Why is our fruit turning brown?

In today’s Daily Do, Why is our fruit turning brown?, families participate in a Dinner Table Discussion (see below) about the phenomenon of fruit (apples, bananas, etc.) turning brown.This sensemaking discussion has four parts: 

  1. Families raise the question “Why is our fruit turning brown?” by introducing the phenomenon of fruit turning brown. Students and their families observe apples (bananas, pears, and other “fleshy” fruits also work well) before slicing, after slicing, before cooking, after cooking, etc.
  2. Families ask students to explain what they currently understand about why they think fruit turns brown.
  3. Families prompt students to generate questions about why fruit turns brown.
  4. Families read an article together to find some answers to their questions about why fruit turns brown. 
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Solo Situation

I am a middle school science teacher struggling during this “new normal.” How am I supposed to create all of these online lessons when I am the only person in my building teaching certain specific science classes?
M., IA

So how are schools in smaller, rural, and/or lower-income areas handling curriculum development when they do not have extra staff like curriculum coordinators and helping teachers to assist with operational tasks affecting teaching? What comes to mind is the “3 Cs Approach”: Connect, Communicate, and Contribute.

Speak to building, district, and educational service center staff to connect to other teachers in your field. Also, use professional organizations, such as NSTA, because they have online communities with teachers who can collaborate with you.

Once connected, don’t be shy: Reach out to and start communicating with new colleagues. The beauty of communicating with teachers online is that you receive information, resources, and ideas from a global perspective. When we communicate globally, we identify issues of diversity and equity that are not just cultural, but also economic, regional, and opportunistic. Many disparities in student interest in the sciences results from lack of exposure. With so many virtual experiences, the priority of greater student exposure becomes a factor that can help reduce the achievement gap.

Finally, don’t be scared to contribute your ideas. You will never know how a lesson, lab, or activity will develop if you don’t share them with colleagues. During this pandemic, we have learned that helping one another is the only way to survive. We are not designed to work in isolation. The ability to communicate through technology has been our saving grace.

Science education is now more crucial than ever because the fundamentals of science are leading the research to end the pandemic.

Posted in Ask a Mentor | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Reflecting on this week’s Daily Do

Another week has passed. Amidst all of the stressors in our new daily lives, let’s take a deep breath together and reflect on students’ opportunities for sensemaking this week. Sensemaking is about actively trying to figure out how the world works. Phenomena (observable events that occur in the universe that we can use our science knowledge to explain or predict) are what students are trying to figure out and engaging in science and engineering practices is how students are able to do it.

In Monday’s Daily Do, How does air make things move?, students analyze and interpret data (science and engineering practice) to make sense of wind blowing leaves around (phenomenon). The following is a short vignette of what this task might look like in home or distance learning (This vignette assumes families have access to the blowing leaves video through a computer or phone.)

The teacher shares the Daily Do with their students’ families and encourages the family to complete the task together sometime in the next three days. The teacher offers to help families get started providing specific days/time when they are available. 

An adult or older sibling asks their student(s) to notice and wonder with them as they watch the “Leaves Blowing in the Wind” video. After watching the video two or three times, the family member facilitating the task asks, “What did you notice or wonder?”

Student: The leaves were moving. 

Family member: I noticed that some of the leaves stopped and some kept moving.

Student: The big leaves got stuck.

Family member: They dragged on the ground and kind of spun before they got stuck.

Student: But the little leaves didn’t get stuck. Some hit the ground but didn’t get stuck. 

Family member: “OK, so big and small leaves are moving, but some big leaves stop moving. Do you think we should investigate why that is happening next?”

Students and their families grab some small objects from around the house like a cotton ball, paper clip, dried bean, and penny. Family members help students make a straw by rolling a small piece of scrap paper into a tube. The family member asks, “What do you think will happen when you use the straw to blow on the things we have on the table? Why do you think so?” The family member listens to their students share their ideas. Students and their family members begin blowing on the objects through the straw, naturally blowing hard and sometimes soft on the different objects. The family member uses the questions provided in the task to help students use firsthand observations to describe pattern and relationships (K-2) in the ways the objects moved using soft blows and hard blows. Using a sentence stem for support, the students figure out, “When I blow softly on something, then it moves but not very far.” In other words, pushes can make objects start moving and can be different strengths (K-PS2.A Forces and Motion). 

In the second investigation, students and their families collect and analyze data they can draw evidence from to support another relationship they likely noticed in the first investigation – heavier objects don’t move as far as lighter objects which is the very, very beginning of the idea the greater the mass of the object, the greater the force needed to achieve the same change in motion (MS-PS2.A).

The family member asks, “How is blowing through the straw like the winding blowing outside?” Student responses might include, wind blows soft and hard, wind moves things, things need wind to move. The family member then asks, “Do you think we can use our observations to explain why the big and little leaves are moving, but sometimes the big leaves stop moving?” Students might respond, “They [leaves] move because the wind is pushing on them. The big leaves stop when they don’t get a big enough push.”

Next week we’ll look at a high school sensemaking task.

Below you’ll find descriptions of every Daily Do published this week. As you visit each Daily Do or reflect on one you taught during the week, can you imagine your own students and their families making sense of phenomenon together using science and engineering practices? What support might families need to get started or to keep them excited to try the next sensemaking task if their experience with the previous task didn’t match what was described? 

Monday, April 6, 2020 – How does air make things move?

How does air make things move?

Today’s task is geared toward younger children and their families (older siblings are encouraged to participate!) uses wind moving objects around as the phenomenon to motivate science learning. Using familiar objects, students conduct investigations (science and engineering practice) and use the thinking tools of patterns and cause-and-effect to make sense of the science ideas pushes can be big or small and can cause changes in motion.

Today’s task is geared toward younger children and their families (older siblings are encouraged to participate!) uses wind moving objects around as the phenomenon to motivate science learning. Using familiar objects, students conduct investigations (science and engineering practice) and use the thinking tools of patterns and cause-and-effect to make sense of the science ideas pushes can be big or small and can cause changes in motion.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020 – What can I observe in the outdoors?

What can I observe in the outdoors?

Exploring Your Environment (the environment around where you live)
Spring is here! The month of April holds two days dedicated to the environment – Earth Day (April 22) and Arbor Day (April 24) – which traditionally encourage students and their families to get outside and become more familiar with their local environment.

In today’s task, What can I observe in the outdoors?, students and their families take a closer look at their local green spaces by describing the rocks, soil, moving water, plants and animals found there. Noticing the parts (components) of these green spaces (systems) using science and engineering practices and the thinking tools of systems and stability and change (crosscutting concepts), is the first step in understanding how these parts interact in an ecosystem.This task is based on “Exploring Your Environment” published in the NSTA Press BookTeaching Science Through Trade Books.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020 – Why does a part’s shape matter?

Why does a part’s shape matter?

What Makes Them Special eBook

No matter where you live, you see plants and animals everywhere. But did you ever stop to wonder What Makes Them Special? Here’s your chance!

In today’s task, Why does a part’s shape matter?, students-as-scientists observe plants and animals through the special lens of structure and function (crosscutting concept) to figure out how the shape of body parts (feet, beaks, shells, thorns, etc.) is related to the ways plants and animals use them to live and survive. Students-as-engineers use these observations to inspire and inform them as they design solutions to everyday problems they and their families experience.

Thursday, April 9, 2020 – How do our noses smell things?

How do our noses smell things?

In today’s Daily Do, How do our noses smell things?, families participate in a Dinner Table Discussion about the sense of smell.This sensemaking discussion has four parts:

  1. Families raise the question “How do our noses smell things?” by introducing the phenomenon of being able to smell what’s for dinner (or any meal when the family is together).
  2. Families ask students to explain what they currently understand about the sense of smell.
  3. Families prompt students to generate questions about the sense of smell.
  4. Families read an article together to find some answers to their questions about the sense of smell.

Friday, April 10, 2020 – Why are the bones still here?

Why are the bones still here?

In today’s task….

Today’s task explores a phenomenon many students and their families have probably seen at some point in time – something that was once alive decomposing. Animals outside in the environment die every day. Why Are The Bones Still Here? engages students in science and engineering practices to figure out what happens to these animals that die outside. 

This task has been modified from its original design in order to be used by students, parents, and teachers in distance and home learning. While students could complete this task independently, we encourage students to work virtually with peers or in the home with family members. 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment