Rock On!

I am planning to teach a lesson on rocks with a third grade class in the fall, but I am unaware as of where to find inexpensive rock/mineral kits. How did you teach the lesson in a way that engaged the students?
– A., Pennsylvania

Studying rocks is such a great, hands-on unit and is a natural subject for kids to immerse themselves into!

In almost every state and province there are mineral and mining organizations and government agencies that have kits/resources available. Do a quick search in your region to find where you can order inexpensive sample kits.

A few good resource sites:
American Geosciences Institute: A huge repository of educational resource links
Mineralogical Society of America
Mining Matters (Canada)

Once you get some kits students can go through several of the properties: hardness, streak (use the back of sample subway tiles), lustre, color, maybe even fluorescence (you can use inexpensive “black light” pens but make sure to review safety procedures).

It is easy to combine other subjects into this topic! Resource maps identifying the locations of significant mineral deposits in your region not only bridge to social studies but can lead to discussions on where communities arose, conservation issues, pros and cons of mining, and so on. Finding out where we use solid minerals in our homes and consumer products connects what students are learning to their everyday lives. Research projects and presentations on specific minerals are great language arts activities. Incorporate engineering practices by designing mines that have the least environmental impact.

Hope this helps!

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Robert E. Yager Exemplary Teaching Award—2019 winners

The Robert E. Yager Exemplary Teaching Award recognizes six full-time K–12 teachers of science who successfully use innovation and excellence in their classroom.

District III

Yager Awardee Katherine Owens

Katherine Owens
STEM Teacher
Washington Episcopal School
Bethesda, Maryland

After almost a decade in the consumer product industry as the Vice President of Business Development, Katherine Owens felt a calling to give back to others and to become a teacher. She wanted to join the growing movement of educators interested in exploring and developing new approaches and weaving innovation into the classroom. At her first teaching position Owens developed and taught an in-school pilot STEM program. The class was a great success, and she has been teaching the expanded program to grades 1–5 ever since. This program takes an interdisciplinary approach to exploring STEM concepts, their application, and STEM’s relation to invention; invention STEM challenges; and the role of STEM in business and global, social and environmental responsibility. Owens firmly believes that collaboration, creativity, and innovative thinking in STEM education will greatly benefit students for their future success. It is her mission as a STEM educator to promote excellence and innovation in science teaching to as many people as she can touch through her passion and wonderment of science. Nate Dennison, Elementary Grades Director at Washington Episcopal School, says, “It is once in a lifetime to have the privilege of working with and learning alongside a modern day renaissance woman such as Katherine Owens. … Katherine is someone who sees the big picture of schooling and understands the relationship of thinking and learning, questioning and innovating.”

View Katherine Owens’s PowerPoint presentation

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Working with a dream team, learning about engineering habits of mind

Taking a chance, I asked two colleagues if they would work with me on a webinar about supporting young children’s early engineering problem-solving. They each said “Yes!” and in the process I have been learning much from Carrie Lynne Draper, MEd, and Beth Van Meeteren, PhD. In the webinar we’ll discuss helping children learn to use materials and their surroundings to build and solve problems as part of early childhood education. The children’s engineering we’ve observed included seeking to build a stable tower, using a stick as a tool, and planning a process to take turns. 

Adults and children design solutions to everyday problems such as feeling too hot from being in direct sunlight. Engineering Design K-2-ETS1-1, a “by the end of grade 2” performance expectation in the Next Generation Science Standards, states that children should, “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.”

While designing sunshades adults and children both may “Plan and conduct investigations to determine the effect of placing objects made with different materials in the path of a beam of light” (NGSS 1-PS4-3) and “Analyze data obtained from testing different materials to determine which materials have the properties that are best suited for an intended purpose” (NGSS 2-PS1-2).  

I hope you’ll join us for the live webinar through Early Childhood Investigations, “Supporting Young Children’s Creative Thinking Using Problems They Care About: Engineering Design In ECE,” on Wednesday June 5, 2 PM Eastern time, or view the archived version.

Asking questions and sharing your experiences develops the early childhood education community’s ability to support children’s learning so I look forward to hearing from you!

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Circle of Life 2.0

I am student teaching in a first grade classroom and we are going to start covering life cycles. What are some good ideas I can do in my engage section?
— G., Oklahoma

I just answered a similar question about teaching plant life cycles to Kindergarten students. Please refer to Circle of Life 1.0 . I will continue that article here by addressing animal life cycles in early years.

Animal reproduction takes more time than you may have during your practicum. However, there are a few hands-on activities that you may want to use. Obtain some mealworms from a pet store and ask if they can include some pupae and adults. (They might donate them if you tell them it’s for elementary students!) House these in lidless, clear plastic food containers with oatmeal. Mealworms are the grubs (larvae) of darkling beetles and they follow a life cycle like butterflies. Eggs of these beetles are almost impossible to find, but you can ask the students to conjecture how the larvae came about. Students can observe and journal the different life stages. Use magnifiers for real close ups!

If you have a budget and time, consider butterflies (purchased from science suppliers) or lady beetle larvae (available from some garden centers).

I don’t recommend raising mantids – they follow an incomplete metamorphosis cycle (no distinct change between young and adults and no pupal stage). They are predators and extremely cannibalistic. Stick insects also follow incomplete metamorphosis and may not be allowed in all regions, but their eggs are easy to find and they are very easy to feed.

Hope this helps!

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Ed News: How Can We Get More Highly Effective Teachers to Serve as Mentors?

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This week in education news, state school board committee approved new science standards for Utah public school students; states are beginning to integrate CTE and STEM-related courses into high school graduation requirements; despite evidence suggesting that high-quality instructional materials increase student new science curriculum; researchers argue that policymakers should be willing to invest roughly 15 times more to encourage effective teachers to become mentors; and Harvard economist says we’re losing Einsteins every day.

Proposed Science Standards Head to State School Board

A State School Board committee approved new science standards for Utah public school students in grades K through five and nine through 12, but not before some pushback on the teaching of evolution and climate change. Except for some slight tweaks, the proposed standards were approved by the Standards and Assessment Committee and will be considered for adoption at an upcoming State School Board meeting. Read the article featured in the Deseret News.

Diploma Requirements Still Out of Step with Higher Ed Eligibility in Most States

States are beginning to integrate career and technical education (CTE) and STEM-related courses into high school graduation requirements, and some are also revising diploma pathways to link coursework to postsecondary goals, but the updates fall short of ensuring credits earned make students eligible for admission to colleges and universities, according to a new paper from the Center for American Progress (CAP). Read the article featured in Education DIVE.

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Get a KLEW(S)! Collaboration is Key for Translating Contemporary Research into Teaching, Learning Science by Kate Soriano

I first encountered the KLEWS teaching strategy in an article in Science and Children (NSTA 2015), “KLEWS to Explanation-Building in Science.” I shared the article and modeled the strategy with teachers who wanted to support their K–5 students in the science practice of constructing explanations. I really liked the KLEWS chart. About a month ago, I had the opportunity to collaborate with other educators (read as: I needed help) while developing a first-grade lesson about sound. I discovered how KLEWS charts honor students’ ideas about phenomena, support students in developing explanations and models, and help teachers and students connect today with yesterday, and decide where to go next (coherence). Now I L-O-V-E the K-L-E-W-S chart!

The KLEWS chart is a revamped version of the KWL chart (What do we know? What do we wonder? What did we learn?) for science. Columns were added for evidence and science ideas and words (Hershberger and Zembal-Saul 2015).

But I’ll return to the KLEWS chart in a minute.

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Ed News: How U.S. STEM Practices Compare Internationally

This week in education news, new research finds that the level of level of teacher experience is positively associated with levels of student achievement, particularly for black and Latino students; City of Chicago asking school board to approve $135 million in contracts to four vendors with experience creating curriculum; teachers are presented with new strategies and not given the time and support to unlearn their old practices; study finds integrating the arts into science lessons helps the lowest-performing students retain more content; high school and college STEM students build electric cars for kids with disabilities; experts recommend when children engage with immersive media in their near and distant future, their experiences should be positive, productive and safe; and educators looking to engage students more deeply in STEM subjects may want to consider including humor and outside-the-box projects.

How U.S. STEM Practices Compare Internationally

The OECD recently issued its new book-length report, “Measuring Innovation in Education 2019.” The authors offer some fascinating peeks at how the OECD nations compare when it comes to K-12 policy and practice. Today, I’ll flag five big questions that they help to answer in the case of STEM. (Note: All of the following results were calculated using TIMSS data.) Read the article featured in Education Week.

Report: Teacher Qualifications Best Predictor of Student Success

A new report released by the Learning Policy Institute, “California’s Positive Outliers: Districts Beating the Odds,” indicates students of color — and, indeed, all students — perform better when served by teachers with better qualifications. Further, the research for the report found the proportion of teachers holding substandard credentials is negatively associated with student achievement, and that these teachers are disproportionately assigned to schools in California with higher populations of students of color and low-income students. Read more in the article featured in Education DIVE.

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Finding STEM Success in the Post-Secondary Classroom

The 8th Annual STEM Forum & Expo, hosted by NSTA, this July in San Francisco offers a post-secondary track to help educators create STEM-rich learning environments for students. STEM plays a vital role in post-secondary education, whether it’s in the introductory classroom where students are learning about the value of STEM or upper-level classes where students are preparing for STEM-related careers.

The sessions in the post-secondary track at the STEM Forum & Expo will help educators incorporate the value of STEM in their classrooms. For all of the sessions in the track, and to tailor the conference program for your own needs, browse the sessions online and search by date, conference strand, grade level, and more. 

Here are a few of the post-secondary sessions offered:

Thursday, July 25, 9:30–10:30 a.m., Rm. 3022, Moscone Center West

Preparing Students for Actual Science

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Circle of Life 1.0: Planting seeds

I am working on a lesson plan for the life cycle of a plant for kindergarten. Do you have any activity ideas?
— K., Oregon

If you’re teaching about life cycles of flowering plants you should incorporate all the life stages.

Start by growing plants from seeds—particularly large, easily available seeds like peas or beans. I’m sure you’re aware of the zip-top plastic bag and wet paper towel activity. (Soak the peas or beans overnight.) Students will see where plants come from and you can discuss the different parts of an adult plant. Have students identify the same structures in the plants and trees they see on a nature walk.

Flowering plants create the next generation via their flowers. You can purchase inexpensive, fresh flowers and dissect the different parts. (Ask students about potential allergies.) Make sure to cut open the ovary, a harder, thicker section just below the petals. This contains tiny unfertilized ovules— waiting for pollen to develop into seeds. Use magnifiers to examine the ovules and look closely at the other structures on the flowers.

Buy fresh pea pods, bean pods, and fruit. Open them to see the seeds. Where do the fruit and pods come from? Flowers! Photos of fruit trees in bloom or a nature walk during the blooming season will connect the two. You can have great discussions about the fruit we eat! Consider incorporating a talk about pollinators, particularly bees.

A search of The Learning Center will provide you with ideas, lessons and articles on this subject.

Hope this helps!


Picture Credit:  johndavi from Pixabay 

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Impact of Change by Jessica Holman and Michelle Schuster

If you were to walk into our classroom years ago, you would see students from all walks of life, and with a range of ability levels. All of the students were blended together to learn science and were eager to be engaged. We were teaching units that were not sequenced, and our focus was on memorization and expecting student to regurgitate information to perform well on a state assessment. The pressure to ensure the entire curriculum was covered and high test scores maintained meant that student understanding became secondary.

The NGSS have brought a breath of fresh air into our classroom. We now look at every student differently and expect all of them to learn many science and engineering skills that can help them meet their personal post-secondary goals, regardless of whether they go into the sciences.

Since the NGSS were released in 2013, we started working in our PLCs and planning how we can integrate the science and engineering practices, crosscutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas. We wanted to explore how the notion of phenomena and “figuring out” fit it into what we were already doing. We attended more training and met with peers, and we thought we finally understood, even experiencing our own “aha” moments. But it wasn’t until we experienced a phenomenon as student learners in a training session that we understood how the three dimensions support one other.

It occurred when a peer spoke about the phenomenon of a young man who had died from drinking too much water and wondered if it was possible for water to cause death. She had us use a model to illustrate how the kidneys functioned and experience the same models completed in her class.  By connecting the science idea to the kidneys’ function we were able to look through the lens of the crosscutting concept to explain the science more deeply. This “aha” moment began a  chain of events where we both began to learn how we could transform our classroom to one in which all students feel invested in and connected to their science education.

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