Reading a Class

A quarter of my grade 7 students are at a beginning reading level. None are on grade level for reading. Can you help me help them?
— K., Alaska

Unfortunately, this is not uncommon. To answer your question, I consulted with a colleague, Rita MacDonald, co-leader of the NSTA-WIDA program. Making Science Multilingual. She says:

“Students who are not yet able to read and who will take a long time before they can read still have a need and a right to learn science. So, we need to:

      • Reduce the reliance on text as a way of conveying important information… [by sharing it] through a variety of ways—not just [text].
      • Immerse them in hands-on activit[ies] to experience science concepts.
      • Surround activity with oral language, supported by writing key words and phrases on the board. Most meaning comes from immersion in an activity, to which we later attach language (spoken or written), so shared activity and conversation about it is a powerful way of conveying information.
      • Set up student working groups to talk about ideas, so your non-readers hear the ideas without textbooks.
      • Use video to convey info, and later use a short, simplified reading to reinforce the idea

A test that depends on reading will never give an accurate portrayal of what non-reading or non-English-fluent students know.”

Talk with these students’ English Language Arts teachers or school resource teachers and perhaps check out their school records for insights and ideas to help you. Don’t be dismayed. Just do your best to improve their reading; you won’t likely get them to grade level in one year but any improvement is great.

Hope this helps!

Image by Luisella Planeta Leoni from Pixabay

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Making Sense of Science and Religion

In the science classroom, the rigorous discussion of certain scientific concepts may challenge the religious beliefs of students as well as educators. Navigating these discussions in ways that respect diverse viewpoints, backgrounds, and experiences can be difficult, but a new NSTA resource can help. 

Making Sense of Science and Religion: Strategies for the Classroom and Beyond by Joseph W. Shane, Lee Meadows, Ronald S. Hermann, and Ian C. Binns (NSTA Press), is designed for teachers at all grade levels. The book will help educators to anticipate and respond to students’ questions, as well as help students reconcile their religious beliefs even as the class delves into topics such as evolution, geochronology, genetics, the origin of the universe, and climate change.

Addressing science and religion is, the authors write, part of the educators’ collective job, and it is an inevitable part of teaching science in 21st-century America.  

“Like many people, our students will sometimes come to us with religiously based understandings of the natural world and their roles in it. Other students may be antagonistic toward these perspectives. Others still will wonder what all the fuss is about and would just as soon stick to science. As usual, our job is to convey and model science in the midst of all of our students’ complex preconceptions, misconceptions, beliefs, values, joys, and social anxieties,” the authors state in the opening chapter. 

Making Sense of Science and Religion explains the historical and cultural context of the intersections of science and religion in the classroom, plus it gives a framework for addressing science-religion issues in a legal, constitutional manner. It offers practical suggestions to help teachers develop lessons that align with the Next Generation Science Standards, and provides strategies for implementing effective questioning and designing assessments. For college faculty, Making Sense of Science and Religion gives an analysis of recent research findings and anecdotes related to navigating religion in the college science classroom. 

To assist with carrying the discussion beyond the classroom, Making Sense of Science and Religion provides insight from professionals engaged in facilitating these types of complex and thoughtful dialogues with the general public in spaces that include churches, school board meetings, community events, or town halls, for example. 

The authors themselves represent K–12 teachers, college professors, and experts from organizations such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, who bring a mix of different backgrounds and beliefs and share the goal of creating respectful, insightful educational experiences that will inspire students to grapple with challenging and important scientific topics. 

Learn more about Making Sense of Science and Religion and check out the free chapter “Science and Religion in Middle School and High School Classrooms.” 

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History and Social Studies Integration with STEM

This blog post was authored by Judy Boyle.

NGSS, STEM, STEAM, and Common Core all speak of the importance of the integration of science with ELA, math, and art. However, we are missing one more layer needed to achieve the goal of total integration. We should also look at the integration of social studies and history with science.

Let’s step back for a moment and take a look at science and our world. We’ll begin this perspective at the altitude of 10,000 feet above sea level. Our world and our lives are controlled by science. Take away astronomy, chemistry, biology, botany, meteorology, geology, physics, and others, and there is no planet Earth. Take away engineering and technology, and we have no advancement. Looking through the lens of history, we can see the planet’s natural history is driven by science and humanity’s history is driven by science, technology, engineering, and math.

This idea is clearly reflected in our performing and visual arts, and documented through the writing of playwrights, poets, authors, and scientists of our various time periods. Examples of this are exposed in the art and oral stories of our indigenous people, the evolution of technology and architecture of the Egyptians, the advancement of medicine during the Renaissance period, and links science application and engineering which catapulted countries into the Industrial Revolution. We see it in the notebooks of our scientists and engineers in which they have documented their thoughts and ideas, and we can demonstrate to our students the impact these scientists, engineers, and pioneers have had on our history and our lives. One of my favorite books to share with my students is Notable Notebooks: Scientists and Their Writings by Jessica Fries-Gaithersburg. The book highlights scientists and their notebooks with actual photographs of pages from these notebooks. Through the integration of history with science, students can learn how our tools and technology have evolved, how our understanding of the human body has advanced medicine, how our quest for the moon has brought us beyond what we thought possible. Most importantly, our students can gain a clear understanding that success is achieved through mistakes and perseverance. To teach STEM in conjunction with history allows our students to understand the webbing of science, technology, engineering, and math at a much higher level. For, through the integration of STEM, our students will be able to visualize the application of science, and gain the understandings needed to solve a problem or meet a need through engineering. Let’s look at the topic of plastics. We found a need and solved it. However, we now realize the ramifications of this invention. Through this lens, students have the ability to reflect on the future human impact of engineering design.

Integrating history and social studies with STEM is very impactful when it is presented on a local level. My students perform water quality testing on our local river. Teaching them the local history of our area, allows them to see the impact of mining gold, forestry, and agriculture on the river, and we discuss the future of the river and its needs in preserving it from future impact. Our river supplies a city twenty-three miles from our small, rural town with about sixty-five percent of its water. The diversion dam is located in our town. Its was built in 1899 and needed to be reconstructed. My students performed a human impact study on the reconstruction of the dam. We studied the history of the town and the dam including a major flooding incident. We were given a tour of the pump house which was also built in 1899 and was in its original state. The pump house still housed all of the pumps from 1899 to the present. The students were amazed at the advancement of the mechanics and the decrease in the sizes of the pumps.

Through social studies, we are able to study people by looking at the natural resources they use. We study their climate and weather, vegetation, renewable and non-renewable resources, customs and traditions, and their stories. In other words, we are studying the geology, meteorology, biology, hydrology, agriculture, and numerous other sciences to obtain a better understanding of our world and theirs.

Many elementary students have a love for dinosaurs and this history can link your students to a career path as a paleontologist or as an archaeologist studying the peoples of the past linking engineering, technology, and science. Studying space and space travel can also link your students to STEM and many inventions and discoveries.

Below are just a few of the NGSS that can be used for integrating history and social studies with STEM.  Whenever you look at the Disciplinary Core Ideas, reflect on how you can integrate history and social studies with them. There are many other standards that can be used opening many possibilities!

How have you the integrated history and social studies with science in your classroom? I’d love for you to share!

K-2-ETS1-1 Ask questions, make observations, and gather information about a situation people want to change to define a simple problem that can be solved through the development of a new or improved object or tool.

K-ESS3-1 Use a model to represent the relationship between the needs of different plants and animals (including humans) and the places they live.

K-ESS3-3 Communicate solutions that will reduce the impact of humans on the land, water, air and/or other living things in the local environment.

3-3ESS3-1 Make a claim about the merit of a design solution that reduces the impacts of weather-related hazard.

4-ESS3-1 Obtain and combine information to describe that energy and fuels are derived from natural resources and their uses affect the environment.

4-ESS3-2 Generate and compare multiple solutions to reduce the impacts of natural Earth processes on humans.

5-ESS3-1 Obtain and combine information about ways individual communities use science ideas to protect the Earth’s resources and environment.

Judy Boyle is the K-8 teacher at Divide School in Divide, Montana. She is the president of the Montana Science Teachers Association and serves on the NSTA Board of Directors as the Preschool/Elementary Division DIrector. She is an MPRES/NESSP Teacher Trainer providing professional learning on the NGSS and its Framework to teachers in Montana. She is Montana’s 2016 Presidential Awards of Excellence in Math and Science Teaching (PAEMST) awardee for science, and a 2018 Montana Teacher of the Year finalist. Find her on Twitter @sagemountaintr2

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Play—outdoor, in-door recess, and science

Children move eagerly to get their winter wear gear, stream out the door, across the street and onto the playground. This 45 minute period, the second of the day, is a time for children’s gross motor activity on a new complex playground but also when their play, unscripted by adults, erupts. While children climb and slide, become “dragons” and chase each other, whisper in spaces under the playground equipment, take turns pushing groups of children on the large “saucer” swing, and jump off the low wall, all five essential elements to play can be seen (Nell and Drew).

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What Makes a Good STEM Trade Book? by Carrie Launius & Christine Anne Royce

This is a question a lot of people are asking.

Since 2016 NSTA has published the Best STEM Books a companion piece to the Outstanding Science Trade Books list.

While many groups have recommended STEM trade books for children, there has been no real consensus of the criteria necessary in a STEM trade book. Many STEM books are comprised of good science or math or engineering or technology books and are billed as “STEM.”  But is it really STEM?

To truly define the criteria needed for a STEM book, we need to first agree loosely on a definition of STEM. One of the most repeated definitions of STEM is STEM education is an interdisciplinary approach to learning where rigorous academic concepts are coupled with real-world lessons as students apply science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in contexts that make connections between school, community, work, and the global enterprise enabling the development of STEM literacy and with it the ability to compete in the new economy.” [1].

Generating a List of Characteristics

Determining what IS a STEM book might require us to begin with defining what a STEM book IS NOT. STEM Books do not:

  • simply present facts or information;
  • focus only on a single subject;
  • present topics that exist in a vacuum; and
  • fail to create connections to the real world.

Therefore, if we know what a STEM book is not, we can draw conclusions about what they are.  STEM Books should:

  • engage students in thinking about and using problem solving;
  • integrate two or more of the STEM fields;
  • present relevant and interconnected topics;
  • make connections to the real world; and
  • help students connect both content and practices or habits of mind used by STEM fields.

 If we begin to generate a list of habits of mind and practices, we begin to see that many books identified as STEM books ask students to engage in creating knowledge from their experiences ranging from asking questions and gathering information to analyzing data.

We also begin to see that STEM books incorporate the habits of mind that emerge when engaging in a STEM field; teach resilience, grit, and determination; and assist students in understanding that failure may be part of the real-world STEM process.  (For examples of books that meet these criteria, please see the table below.)

Ruzzi and Eckhoff incorporate two focus questions to evaluate children’s literature for STEM which relate to content that is technically sound and appropriate and can help to determine if the book effectively assists students in the development of both inquiry and content [2]. Recommendations and narrative descriptions of books that Ruzzi and Eckhoff use– most of which align with the science and engineering practices in the Next Generation Science Standards—include phrases such as “hypothesizing through close inspection;” “experimenting with;” “a true story about ingenuity, creativity, and persistence in the face of severe adversity;” and “design their own tools to measure height and distance;” The criteria utilized by the National Science Teaching Association Committee for Best STEM Books includes “modeling real-world innovation, illustrating teamwork, diverse skills, creativity, and cooperation, inviting divergent thinking and doing” (p. 93) among others. [3]

Ramirez asserts that “[c]reativity is the secret sauce to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). It is a STEM virtue” (para 3). [4] Therefore, one could argue that STEM trade books need to describe creativity or develop creativity in students. According to the guidelines presented by the Children’s Book Council and the National Science Teaching Association, “STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) is an integrated and creative approach to discovering and applying knowledge about our world to solve problems that utilizes one or more of the content areas. Trade books that deliver background and model the practices of STEM provide context and inspiration to readers.” (Science & Children, 2018, p. 93).[3]

Criteria for Books Example Book
  • engage students in thinking about and using problem solving about a topic
  • Doll-3 1.0
  • integrate two or more of the STEM fields
  • Cao Chong Weighs an Elephant
  • present relevant and interconnected topics
  • Spring After Spring
  • make connections to the real world and models real-world innovation
  • Curiosity: The Story of a Mars Rover
  • help students make connections between content and the practices or habits of mind used by STEM fields
  • Doctor with an Eye for an Eye
  • help students ask questions, gather and analyze information
  • Solving the Puzzle Under the Sea: Marie Tharp Maps the Ocean Floor
  • incorporate habits of mind related to resilience, grit, and determination, and assist students in understanding that failure may be part of the real-world STEM
  • The Most Magnificent Thing
  • illustrate teamwork, diverse skills, and cooperation
  • Instructions Not Included: How a Team of Women Coded the Future
  • invite divergent thinking and doing
  • Tick Toc Banneker’s Clock
  • describe creativity or develops creativity in students
  • The Crayon Man


    [1]. Tsupros, N., Kohler, R., & Hallinen, J. (2009). STEM education: A project to identify the missing components, Intermediate Unit 1 and Carnegie Mellon, Pennsylvania.

    [2]. Ruzzi,B. L., & Eckhoff, A. (2017). Growing in STEM: STEM resources and materials for engaging learning experiences. Young Children 72(1). Retrieved from

    [3]. National Science Teachers Association. (2018). Best STEM books. Science and Children, 55(7), 87-94.

    [4]. Ramirez, A. (2013). Creativity is the secret sauce in STEM. Retrieved from

    Carrie Launius is Science Curriculum Specialist for St. Louis Public Schools in St. Louis, Missouri. She previously was the NSTA District XI Director and president of Science Teachers of Missouri (STOM). She believes using trade books to support science learning is essential for students. She was instrumental in developing and implementing the Best STEM Book Award for NSTA-Children’s Book Council. Her passion is supporting teachers and helping them grow professionally. She resides in St. Louis near her two grown children and with her son and four dogs.

    Christine Anne Royce is the author of the Teaching Through Trade Books column in Science and Children which integrates children’s literature and science content lessons for grades K-5. She is also the coauthor of Teaching Science Through Trade Books and the Investigate and Connect Series. She is a professor of science/STEM education at Shippensburg University (PA) where she teaches both undergrad and graduate level methods classes.  She is currently the retiring president for the National Science Teaching Association. Follow her @caroyce.

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


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    Tackling Tall Tales

    I am looking for some opinions how handle situations where there are misconceptions on the material. I was wondering how to know the amount of time that is needed to clear up a misconception and when to move on to other material?
    — R., New Jersey

    My answer is, “It depends!”

    As you progress in your career you will likely amass a library of common and not-so-common misconceptions. My biggest advice is to always address them or they may spread among your students. There are many ways to handle misconceptions as you teach science. I caution against scoffing or ridiculing some outlandish claims. It might be better to say, “I haven’t heard of that. Shall we find out more?”

    Addressing misconceptions can and should become an integral part of teaching and offers excellent learning opportunities! One way is to pre-empt them by discussing the more common ones in your general instruction. A better way is to gauge your class’s prior knowledge when you introduce a topic or ask them to supply you with three questions on an exit slip. In your follow-up discussions you can directly address common misconceptions that arise or turn them back to the students as small research activities.

    The most powerful way to handle misconceptions, particularly egregious ones, is to build entire lessons as “Fact or Fiction” or in the Mythbusters style. Have the students research, explain, demonstrate, and set the record straight for themselves. Students also learn about the nature of science and how we handle discrepancies in our knowledge.

    Hope this helps!

    Image by Stefan Keller from Pixabay

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    Teach about science in the news in 2020

    What do wildfires, drought, and extreme weather have in common? All these events in the news can be doorways to exploring weather, climate, and more with your students. NSTA’s Book Beat issue this month features lessons by NSTA Press authors that will help you teach timely topics your students may have on their minds at the start of this new year.

    Wildfires and drought

    Cover image of NSTA Press book "Big Data, Small Devices"
    Big Data, Small Devices, by Donna Governor, Michael Bowen, and Eric Brunsell

    News coverage of the bushfires in Australia raises questions about why and how wildfires spread and what might be done to combat them. Download the lesson “Wildfires” from Big Data, Small Devices: Investigating the Natural World Using Real-Time Data to help grade 3-12 students determine whether there is a correlation between drought and wildfires using data from online databases. Along the way, students explore the role of water in Earth’s surface processes and natural hazards while analyzing and interpreting data. For additional lessons related to climate change and data analysis, check out Understanding Climate Change, Grades 7–12.

    Climate and location

    Book cover of "Argument-Driven Inquiry in Third-Grade Science"
    Argument-Driven Inquiry in Third-Grade Science, by Victor Sampson and Ashley Murphy

    Elementary students can learn about weather patterns and climate as well as how latitude affects climate during the lesson “Climate and Location: How Does the Climate Change as One Moves From the Equator Toward the Poles?” from Argument-Driven Inquiry in Third-Grade Science: Three-Dimensional Investigations.This lesson gives students the opportunity to describe and predict the patterns in the seasons of the year and then use their developing understanding of patterns to help them figure out how latitude affects climate. For more lessons like this related to Earth science, biology, and physical science, visit the Argument-Driven Inquiry series page to download sample lessons.

    Understanding environmental impacts on species

    Discovery Engineering in Biology, by Rebecca Hite and coauthors

    Climate change threatens the survival of many species, especially those that overheat in higher temperatures. Help your students explore this current issue through “Triumph of the Pika: Understanding Environmental Impacts on Species,”  a lesson about pikas (an animal related to rabbits) from the newly released book Discovery Engineering in Biology: Case Studies for Grades 6–12. This case-study lesson begins with a surprise discovery by scientists that a pika population survived a wildfire that destroyed an entire forest. Through examining this case, students will learn how we obtained valuable information about the pika’s survival, information that may help us protect wildlife in the face of climate change. Be sure to also check out the other book in this series, Discovery Engineering in Physical Science: Case Studies for Grades 6–12.

    Celebrate the new year with 20 percent off these 20 new NSTA Press books

    NSTA Press is offering 20% off our 20 newest books and e-books through January 31, 2020. Use promotion code NEW20 when ordering and visit our page that lists the eligible books you can choose from. Offer is valid on purchases made through the online Science Store and shipped to U.S. addresses and may not be combined with other offers. Find your next science-teaching resource and save.

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    STEM For All Multiplex Launches by Joni Falk

    This new, interactive video platform will enable researchers, educators, and parents to access federally funded innovative programs aimed at improving STEM teaching and learning.

    TERC is pleased to announce the launch of the STEM for All Multiplex, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSTA is a partner with The Multiplex).

    This online, interactive platform features over 850 videos that showcase federally funded research and development projects aimed at transforming science, technology, engineering, mathematics and computer science education. These videos, first presented by researchers and developers at annual week-long STEM for All Video Showcase events, have now been aggregated in the Multiplex so that visitors can view, discuss, and share with colleagues year-round.

    The Multiplex is an innovative, multimodal platform which shares cutting-edge research and development projects aimed at enhancing STEM education with multiple audiences around the globe. It disseminates NSF and other federally funded research, publicizes promising findings, stimulates discussion, and broadens participation in STEM. Researchers, educators, policy makers and parents can learn about cutting-edge efforts to improve STEM education. Videos span multiple disciplines and reflect efforts in pre-k through graduate education. They explore community initiatives, games and apps, and learning in formal and informal environments.

    Through short 3-minute videos and related online discussions, the Multiplex will provide researchers, educators, policy makers, and the public with access to current curricula development efforts, innovative programs, and technical innovations aimed at improving STEM education. It provides a virtual meeting place for researchers and practitioners to share their perspectives.

    While using this tool educators can become aware of federally funded STEM education research, programs, and resources which they can adapt, while also have the opportunity to provide feedback, and input, to researchers across the country.

    The free membership to the Multiplex provides access to all videos as well as the ability to post a query, comment, or to offer feedback to the presenters. Each video presentation has its own interactive discussion and presenters are notified of new comments when they are posted. The discussions provide a way for researchers, educators, and the public at large to interact with each other.

    Each member of the site can also create playlists. These can be playlists of favorites, videos pertaining to a particular theme, or those produced by an organization or University. Video playlists can be saved, edited, and shared with colleagues and friend through email, Twitter, or Facebook.  

    The site will host “Theme of the Month” events that will explore a topic in depth, and show multiple approaches taken by different research projects to address a common challenge. Each theme will include an introductory blog, an expert panel webinar, a curated video playlist, a month-long online asynchronous discussion, and a synthesis document summarizing lessons learned.

    The first “Theme of the Month” will address “Broadening Participation through Community Engagement.”

    All teachers are invited to join the site to learn more about the program, and to register for the expert panel webinar that will be held online on January 13 at 1:30 pm. Dr. Megan Bang, Vice President of the Spencer Foundation will moderate the first expert panel. Panelists will include well known researchers and community organizers who are engaged in creative projects that involve students in authentic problems of the community, create intergenerational learning experiences, and enable students to connect to their roots and community.

    Joni Falk co-directs the Center for School Reform at TERC, a nonprofit research and development institution aimed at improving mathematics and science teaching and learning.  She is the Principal Investigator of the STEM For All Video project.

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    NSTA Legislative Update: Congress Passes Funding for FY20 Federal Programs by Jodi Peterson

    Prior to adjourning for the holidays Congress passed, and the President signed into law, the spending bill that funds the government for the remainder of fiscal 2020.

    The bill largely rejects the Trump administration’s proposal to cut approximately $7 billion in education spending and eliminate 29 programs, including Title IVA and 21st Century Community Learning Centers. Instead it includes $72.8 billion in funding for the Department of Education, an increase of $1.3 billion compared to previous fiscal years.

    Some good news for science and STEM education programs funded through ESSA; the bill provides:

    • $2.1 billion for Title II Supporting Effective Instruction State grants, an increase of $76 million; this program provides much-needed funding for teacher professional learning.
    • $1.2 billion for Title IV Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants, a $40 million increase, which supports a wide range of activities including STEM programs and school safety activities.
    • $1.3 billion for Career and Technical Education Grants, level with FY2019.
    • 25 billion for 21stCentury Community Learning Centers to support academic enrichment activities for students before school, after school, and during the summer, an increase of $28 million.
    • $65 million in dedicated STEM education funding within the Education Innovation and Research program, a $5 million increase, including a specific prioritization on computer science education.

    In addition, the bill provides funding increases across the board for these programs:

    • $16.3 billion for Title I Grants to Local Educational Agencies, an increase of $450 million.
    • $13.6 billion for IDEA/Special Education grants to states, an increase of $410 million, including preschool grants and grants for infants and families.
    • $1.5 billion for Impact Aid, an increase of $40 million.
    • $$440 million for the Charter Schools Program, the same as the FY2019 enacted level, including a $5 million increase for grants to replicate and expand high-quality charter school models and a $5 million increase for charter school facility grants.
    • $105 million for Safe Schools National Activities, an increase of $10 million, which supports evidence-based activities to improve school safety, prevent violence, and improve school climates.

    The maximum Pell Grant award under the bill would be increased by $150, an increase of more than 2 percent from $6,195 to $6,345 for the 2020-21 school year.

    More details on the bill can be found here.

    STEM Bills at the State Level

    Interested in what your state legislature is doing with science and STEM education? Check out this list from our colleagues at the STEM Education Coalition which contains every state-level STEM education bill that has been introduced, considered, or adopted in state legislatures over the past 4 years.

    Education Freedom Scholarships in 2020?

    Also before the holiday break, the White House convened a roundtable discussion to highlight state-based school choice programs and promote the administration’s Education Freedom Scholarships initiative.

    This year the Administration hopes to jump start its proposal for a $5 billion federal tax credit for donations to scholarship-granting organizations to pay for students to attend private schools or expand their public education options. The bills in the House ( H.R. 1434 (116) and the Senate  S. 634 (116) have seen no action and have little support from Democrats. Conservative groups, such as the Heritage Foundation, while praising the theory of school choice believe this type of bill “undermines conservative efforts to streamline the federal tax code.”

    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 or via Twitter at @stemedadvocate.

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

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    School Facility Safety/Security! (Part 1)

    I. Unsecured School Facilities

    School buildings can be a potentially dangerous place for teachers and students if safety and security are ignored. For example, science labs have potential biological, chemical and physical hazards which can be present health and safety risks. Only safety trained employees and students are to be allowed in science labs. Unsupervised occupants can be seriously injured putting the science teacher and school administration in legal jeopardy. Also be aware that given the inventory of hazardous materials, science labs can be the focus of intruders! In fact, Homeland Security has addressed this concern in a great resource titled “K-12 School Security Guide (2nd Edition) and School Security Survey.” It can be found at The resource provides preventive and protective measures to address the threat of violence in schools.

    II. Regulatory Standards

    Employers are charged by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA’s) mission is to ensure that employees work in a safer and healthful environment by setting and enforcing standards. This is fostered by providing training, outreach, education and assistance. Employers must comply with all applicable OSHA standards. They must also comply with the General Duty Clause of the OSH Act, which requires employers to keep their workplace free of serious recognized hazards. ( This includes security issues.

    The science teachers and supervisors/administrators need to work in concert in attempting to provide for a safer and secure teaching/learning environment for students, faculty and administrators.

    III. Raising Security Levels

    A safer and secure science laboratory begins with building or facility security needs which must be addressed. This is the first “line of defense.” These simple recommended procedures will not guarantee a 100% secure workplace. However, they will raise everyone’s level of awareness and help the building become more secure and safer – both physically and psychologically! Important recommended procedures include:

    A. Designated Reception Area – The building should have a designated entrance and receptionist area to control access. All remaining entrance doors should be locked.
    B. Visitors – Once signed in, visitors should be escorted to designated work areas by employees.
    C. Employees – All employees should wear employee photo identification.
    D. Strangers – Employees should challenge any unaccompanied stranger(s) in the workplace.
    E. Mail – Employees should be trained and be provided with personal protective equipment (e.g., latex or vinyl gloves) to sort mail. Protocols should be in place to deal with suspicious items.
    F. Lockdown/Evacuation Procedures – Employers should develop and have posted both lockdown and evacuation procedures for employees and students. All science laboratories, preparation rooms and storerooms should have communication access in cases of emergency. Appropriate drills should be exercised.
    G. Science Laboratory Access – All access doors to laboratories are to remain closed and locked when unoccupied. Only certified science teachers, administrators, and facilities maintainers/custodians should have special keys to laboratories, storerooms and preparation rooms.

    IV. Planning

    Employers should establish effective safety and health management systems and prepare their workers to handle emergencies before they arise. For example, OSHA requires emergency preparedness plans for employees in its 29 CFR Part 1010.30 and 29 CFR Part 1910.165 standards (Available at These standards mandate that employers provide emergency action plans and fire prevention plans. These plans are only an example of proactive preparation.
    OSHA’s Fact Sheet titled “Planning and Responding to Workplace Emergencies” ( provides emergency procedures, including the handling of any toxic chemicals. They should include:

    A. Escape procedures and escape route assignments.
    B. Special procedures for employees who perform or shut down critical plant
    C. Systems to account for all employees after evacuation and for information
    about the plan.
    D. Rescue and medical duties for employees who perform them.
    E. Means for reporting fires and other emergencies.

    Also check with state and local government departments for additional safety/security incident planning procedures.

    V. Final Note

    Remember – “AAA” – Awareness, Assessment and Action are keys to addressing safety and security – be prepared!

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

    NSTA safety blog:

    NSTA resources and safety issue papers:

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