Baraboo (Wisconsin) Elementary Students Engage With Hands-on Science

It took about five years to develop and implement a new elementary science curriculum, but now Baraboo’s youngest students are making observations and actively seeking information themselves.

Developed largely by retired Baraboo teacher and now education consultant Karen Mesmer, the curriculum focuses on hands-on activities that are meant to allow children to explore rather than simply being told lessons.

“Kids love it,” said first-grade teacher Emily Culbertson. “We’re doing kazoos, and I had one student just running around the room, way over-excited, screaming ‘I love science’ at the top of his lungs. It was just absolutely precious.”

Sometimes the lessons get noisy and look chaotic, but “you know in that moment, you’re doing something right — even though it’s too loud — because you’ve got kids actually engaged and thinking and excited about what they’re doing,” Culbertson said.

The curriculum is based on the Next Generation Science Standards, which the Baraboo School District adopted in 2015. But Mesmer said she had started working on it in the 2013-14 school year, implementing changes “bit by bit” with help from other teachers. By last year, all of the elementary units were in place across the district.

Click here to read the full story in the Baraboo News Republic (February 1, 2019)

Paid Professional Development Key to Teaching STEM Effectively

It was the type of moment every educator lives for. As I walked around the room, the genuine fascination and the sparking of ideas were almost palpable. My pupils were in the thick of extracting DNA from a strawberry, and I heard one say that her mind was being blown by the day’s activity. As a professor of engineering, I always thrill to the sounds of my students’ excitement over the concepts we’re learning in class — but this particular satisfaction ran deeper.

After all, the subjects of my instruction that day were not undergraduates or any younger; they were all science teachers themselves. The techniques and activities we were teaching to the group soon could be igniting similar excitement in the minds of hundreds of middle-schoolers.

The Next Generation Science Standards were published in 2013 after a multi-state effort to define the skills K-12 students need to master before graduating so they can thrive in today’s in-demand jobs in science, technology, engineering and math (which together comprise STEM).

In Louisiana, where I live and teach, this is the first school year in which K-12 students will be tested according to our state’s new science standards (largely modeled on the NGSS). This represents Louisiana’s first update to the standards in 20 years, and necessitates some major changes to science classrooms. Rather than encouraging students to memorize a host of facts, the new standards prioritize firsthand data-gathering, critical thinking, investigation and collaboration. As science classrooms shift to mimic something more like mini-laboratories, science teachers need to do some shifting of their own.

The new standards are, without a doubt, a significant improvement upon those they replace. But it’s also true that they present a real problem for many of the teachers expected to teach to them: They demand a transformation in classroom culture, require the purchase of new classroom materials and the development of new lesson plans, and ask teachers to sharply revise how they conceive of their own roles in the classroom. What’s more, a significant proportion of teachers have been left to navigate this choppy transition with minimal support, leaving many of them feeling frustrated and overwhelmed.

There’s one message we’ve received loud and clear since we began inviting teachers to campus for our STEM workshops: This type of professional development should be considered an expected — and therefore compensated — part of an educator’s job.

Click here to read the full story in The Hill (January 19, 2019)

 

PA Educators Want Science Standards to do More Than Teach Students to Win on Jeopardy!

Soon after students settled into their seats, Jeff Remington directed them to begin downloading an application on their school-issued iPads that would teach them about the language – called coding – that tells computers what to do.

Then he flipped on an 8-minute video explaining why coding is something the Palmyra Middle School students should know: Tech companies anticipate the need for a million more coders over the next decade.

Remington interrupted the video to make sure students took note of the playground-like atmosphere that tech companies, like the one in the video, offer in hopes that playing video games and riding scooters down hallways will entice prospective employees.

“You don’t even need a college degree for some of these jobs. You saw the life that you lead by working for these companies,” Remington told the class.

“This is where we got to be moving.”

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

Specifically, educators like Remington are calling on the state to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) or a state-developed set of learning expectations adapted to them. They say the new standards would deliver science education more consistently and effectively across Pennsylvania’s schools.

Click here to read the full story in PA Penn Live (January 14, 2019)

NSTA Note: Jeff Remington is a 2017 NSTA STEM Teacher Ambassador. Click here to learn more about Jeff and the other Ambassadors.

These 5 Trends Will Dominate STEM + Education in 2019

100Kin10 released its annual Trends Report, a synthesis of thousands of data points that predict trends and “look-aheads” that will define STEM and education in 2019. Second on the list was the hunger by many teacher for more high-quality NGSS resources.

“In the nearly 20 states where the Next Generation Science Standards have been adopted, teachers and districts are facing the formidable task of bringing the new and more demanding standards to life. NGSS is meant to transform science education, but teachers tell us the transformation is slow in coming. 100Kin10’s Teacher Forum members continuously share frustrations with the lack of NGSS-aligned resources. Teachers don’t know where to look to find high-quality materials or examples of high-quality NGSS-aligned teaching. Fortunately, a number of 100Kin10 partners are working to fill this gap.

Click here to read the article featured in Forbes.

What Utah Kids Learn About Science, Including Climate Change and Evolution, is up for Debate With New Draft Standards

The Utah Board of Education voted to unveil science classroom guidelines for a 90-day public review after months of debate among members who disagreed over whether the new standards — based largely on what’s accepted nationwide — go too far in talking about human impact on the climate, rely “too much on theory and not fact,” or promote too secular a view of the world.

Utah science educators largely drove the board to make the latest updates, pleading to members for more than a year, saying that their classroom learning goals were outdated and sometimes based on since-disproven material.

“It didn’t really prepare kids for what science is, to discover and learn,” said Ricky Scott, a science specialist with the Utah Office of Education. “We really want to build thinkers and students who can reason through what’s happening in the world today.”

The writing committee that drafted the standards, made up of more than 80 teachers in every grade level and university professors from around the state, also included a large focus on engineering for the first time in elementary and high schools.

The instructional guidelines for all grades were drafted by looking at other states and the Next Generation of Science Standards, a series of education benchmarks developed by a consortium of national experts. The writing committee spent March to late October pulling together the new standards for Utah.

The board voted Thursday without much debate to release the draft guidelines to move the process forward — but still with time to revise — with the 90-day review period running through April 11. There will be six public hearings starting in January and going through March where parents and teachers can talk about changes they’d like to see, as well. They can also express any concerns in a survey at www.surveymonkey.com/r/UTSEEd90DayReview.

Click here to read the full story in The Salt Lake Tribune (January 11, 2019)

Adoption of More Rigorous Standards May Help Explain Dip in Nebraska’s Science Scores

About 68 percent of Nebraska public school students tested as proficient in science last spring, down 2 percentage points from 2016-17 and 4 percentage points from 2015-16, the Omaha World-Herald reported . The scores were taken from fifth, eighth and 11th grades. Nebraska is moving to a new science test to reflect changing standards that come with the Nebraska Student-Centered Assessment System. The current test is measuring students’ proficiency against old standards set in 2010, not the new standards the state Board of Education approved last year.

Read news stories filed by the Omaha World-Herald (Dec. 23, 2018; registration required) and the Associated Press  (December 29, 2018)

Meeting New Science Standards Requires Greater Emphasis on Teacher Practice

As states implement the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), a new study finds that simply focusing on building teachers’ content knowledge in science isn’t sufficient to help students reach higher expectations. “These science learning goals pose a challenge for educators,” the authors write. “Typical K-12 science teaching practice does not come close to matching the kind of teaching needed to support such learning.”

Click here to read the full brief in Education DIVE.

 

New Science Standards, Strategic Plan Promote STEM Learning in Guam

The Guam Education Board has approved a new set of science standards and STEM strategic plan for public schools on island, the Guam Department of Education stated in a release Wednesday.

During a recent meeting, the education board adopted the GDOE Next Generation Science Standards and the Science Technology Engineering and Math, or STEM, Strategic Plan. According to GDOE, the new standards and strategic plan will support and encourage STEM education from kindergarten through 12th grade.

NGSS is a new set of science standards that identify essential ideas in science that all public school students should master in order to prepare for college or careers, the release stated. The STEM Strategic Plan will map out the department’s approach to integrate STEM curriculum throughout the district.

Click here to read the full story in the Guam Daily Post (December 13, 2018)

Teachers Back New MN Climate Education Standards, But Topic’s Still Hot

Kay Nowell is a veteran science teacher in the St. Michael-Albertville public schools. Still, she feels the need to tread lightly when the topic of climate change comes up in her classroom. Despite the facts, teaching climate change can bring a political backlash from parents and others who doubt the science.

“That’s always in the back of my mind,” she said, “because I want to teach kids, but I don’t want to push that envelope where I’m going to get a parent phone call.”

It’s one reason why Nowell and teachers across the state are welcoming proposed science education standards that would, for the first time in Minnesota, teach that humans are the primary cause of climate change.

While some educators already teach about humans’ impact on the climate, they say writing it into state standards would be added muscle if they face pushback from students or parents. And it would help ensure the topic gets taught.

“The more we can get it to be the norm, the easier my job would be because then it’s like, well I’m teaching what is required here because it’s been proven,” said Nowell, a high school teacher. “I’m not on my own.”

The Minnesota science education standards get an update every 10 years. A committee of K-12 educators, higher education representatives and community members create and revise the standards during a monthslong review and approval process.

Once they’re in place, teachers’ coursework must align with statewide standards, although individual educators and districts still have final say in how they present concepts to students.

Members of the public have opportunities to comment before the final standards take effect. So far, there has been a mix of reactions to the new climate change standards, said Josh Collins, the Minnesota Department of Education’s director of communications. No staff from the department sit on the committee writing the standards.

Click here to read the transcript of the piece that ran on Minnesota Public Radio (December 11, 2018)