NSTA's Science Matters Newsletter September 2010

Here are your science education resources and announcements for September provided by the Science Matters Network. Please forward them on to other science educators in your school and/or school district.

Table of Contents

Presidential Advisors Release Plan to Improve K–12 STEM Education

A new report by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) that will go directly to President Obama makes specific recommendations to better prepare America’s K–12 students in STEM subjects and how to better inspire all students to challenge themselves with STEM classes, engage in STEM activities outside the school classroom, and consider pursuing careers in those fields.

Among the recommendations in the report, Prepare and Inspire: K–12 Education in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) for America’s Future, are that the Federal government should:

  • Recruit and train 100,000 great STEM teachers over the next decade who are able to prepare and inspire students;
  • Recognize and reward the top 5 percent of the Nation’s STEM teachers, by creating a STEM master teachers corps;
  • Create 1,000 new STEM-focused schools over the next decade;
  • Use technology to drive innovation, in part by creating an advanced research projects agency—modeled on the famously innovative Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)—for education;
  • Create opportunities for inspiration through individual and group experiences outside the classroom;
  • Support the current state-led movement for shared standards in math and science.

PCAST is comprised of 20 of the Nation’s leading scientists and engineers appointed by the President to provide advice on a range of topics.

Read the executive summary (18 pages) or full report (108 pages) of Report to the President, Prepare and Inspire: K–12 Education in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) for America’s Future.

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United States Making Mixed Progress in Improving Teacher Learning

The U.S. is making some progress in providing increased support and mentoring for new teachers, according to a new report recently released that analyzes the status of professional learning in the U.S. However, the nation is moving backward in providing the vast majority of teachers with the kind of ongoing, intensive professional learning that research shows has a substantial impact on student learning.

The National Staff Development Council’s (NSDC) new report, Professional Development in the United States: Trends and Challenges (PDF), examined 2000, 2004, and 2008 data from the federal government’s Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS) and other sources. It is the second of a three-part research study on professional development.

The new data reveal patterns similar to those discovered in the 2009 report (PDF), with some improvements, but also some losses. The percentage of beginning teachers (those with 5 or fewer years teaching) who reported participation in an induction program during their first year of teaching has steadily increased, with 74 percent reporting participation in an induction program in 2008 (a nearly 6 percentage point increase from 2004). Similar increases were also seen in the percentage of beginning teachers that reported working with a master/mentor teacher, participating in seminars or classes for beginning teachers, and having common planning time.

Overall, the percentage of all teachers who reported participating in professional development on the content of the subjects taught, the uses of computers for instruction, reading instruction, and student discipline and classroom management increased slightly from 2004 to 2008.However, the intensity of the professional development has declined in most of these areas. The report found significant increases in the percentage of teachers who report having received short-term professional development (8 hours or less) across key areas and decreases in those reporting longer-term professional development.

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Women Lead In Earning Doctoral Degrees Awarded in the U.S., New Report Finds

According to a new report (PDF) released by the Council of Graduate Schools, women for the first time earned the majority (50.4 percent) of doctorates awarded in the U.S. during the 2008–09 academic year. Although slight, the shift has been steadily increasing. In 2000 women were earning only 44 percent of doctorial degrees.

The majority for women in doctoral degrees is not seen in all disciplines however. Only 22 percent of engineering doctorates in 2008–09 were awarded to women, and only 33 percent in physical and earth sciences. A mere 27 percent of mathematics and computer science doctorates were awarded to women during the 2008–09 academic year. The fields in which women now make up a majority go well beyond arts and humanities, and include health sciences (70 percent) and the biological and agricultural sciences (51 percent).

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Teacher Education, Professional Development, and Grant and Award Opportunities

New Competition for High School Science Educators Announced

Explore Mars, in partnership with NSTA and The Planetary Society, announced this week the nationwide launch of the Mars Education Challenge, a new competition that calls on high school science educators to develop new and innovative curricula that focus on Mars science and exploration.

The Challenge will recognize six winning curricula entries with five regional awards and one national award. Regional winners will receive $2,500 grants and the national winner will receive a $5,000 grant. Additionally, all of the winners will have an opportunity to do field research with well-known planetary scientists. The national winner will receive an expense paid trip to NSTA’s 2011 National Conference on Science Education in San Francisco where he or she will be recognized at a special awards ceremony. Winning lesson plans will be shared with classrooms nationwide.

Curricula submissions are due January 5, 2011. More information, including entry details, curricula requirements, and detailed prizing information for the Mars Education Challenge, can be found at www.exploremars.org.

NEA Foundation Student Achievement Grants

The foundation provides grants to increase the academic achievement of students in U.S. public schools and public higher education institutions in any subject area. The proposed work should engage students in critical thinking and problem solving that deepen their knowledge of standards-based subject matter. The work should also improve students’ habits of inquiry, self-directed learning, and critical reflection.

Proposals for work resulting in low-income and minority student success with honors, advanced placement, or other challenging curricula are particularly encouraged. Practicing U.S. public school teachers, public school education support professionals, and faculty and staff members at public institutions of higher education may apply. The maximum grant amount is $5,000. Deadlines are February 1, June 1, and October 15 each year. For more information, visit the NEA Foundation website.

NOAA Teacher at Sea Program

Have you ever thought about shipping out to sea? This National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) program will begin accepting applications for the 2011 field season October 1, 2010. The program provides a unique environment for learning and teaching by sending kindergarten through college teachers to sea aboard NOAA research and survey ships to work under the tutelage of scientists and crew. Then, armed with new understanding and experience, teachers bring this knowledge back to their classrooms. The deadline for applications is November 30, 2010. For more information about the program or to learn how to apply, visit the Teacher at Sea website.

The Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship Program

K–12 teachers with a strong background in science, technology, math, or engineering education are encouraged to apply to the Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship Program. Those selected will participate in a 10-month paid fellowship in Washington, D.C., working either in a Congressional office or in a federal agency. Einstein Fellows have the unique opportunity to provide those agencies with their insights and perspectives on education programs and policies.

Fellows receive a monthly stipend of $6,000 along with a $1,000 monthly cost-of-living allowance. In addition, there is a moving/relocation allowance as well as a professional travel allowance. For more information, go to the Triangle Coalition for Science and Technology Education website.

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Student Competitions

Disney's Planet Challenge

This week, Disney announced the launch of the second annual Disney’s Planet Challenge, a free project-based environmental and science competition for classrooms nationwide. Formerly open to 4th through 6th grade classrooms, Disney’s Planet Challenge is being expanded to include two tracks: one for elementary schools grades 3–5, and another for middle schools grades 6–8. The middle school curriculum will offer an increased focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education.

Developed in collaboration with NSTA and the K–12 Alliance, the Challenge offers students the chance to use their imagination and creativity to help the planet while giving educators a fresh new way to motivate students with the help of an educationally sound curriculum that meets national and state guideline requirements.

The national grand prize winning elementary school class will enjoy a celebration at Disneyland® Resort while middle school national winners will earn a $20,000 grant for their school. Both grand prize–winning classrooms will be illustrated and appear within a Marvel comic book. Winning teachers will receive a one year NSTA membership. The grand-prize winning educators will also receive an expense-paid trip to the national 2012 NSTA conference where they will be recognized at the NSTA awards banquet.

For more information or to enroll in the program, visit www.Disney.com/planetchallenge. Enrollment is open through December 17, 2010.

NASA's DIME and WING Student Team Competitions

NASA is hosting two national science competitions that challenge student teams to develop and prepare a microgravity experiment. Dropping in a Microgravity Environment (DIME) and What If No Gravity (WING) are components of a NSTA competition program that allows student teams to design and build a science experiment, which will then be operated in a NASA microgravity drop tower facility. This program is a project-oriented activity that lasts one school year for the selected teams. A DIME team will be comprised of high-school-aged students while a WING team will be comprised of students in grades 6–9.

Teams interested in competing will develop an experiment concept, write a proposal for an experiment, and submit the proposal to NASA .

A panel of NASA scientists and engineers will evaluate and select the top-ranked proposals by Dec. 1. The winning teams then will design and build the experiments that will be conducted in the 2.2-Second Drop Tower at NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. When an experiment is “dropped” into the 79-foot tower, it experiences weightlessness, or microgravity, for 2.2 seconds. Researchers from around the world use this tower to study the effects of microgravity on physical phenomena such as combustion and fluid dynamics, and to develop new technology for future space missions.

Proposals are due November 1. For more information about entering NASA's DIME and WING student team competitions, visit the NASA website.

Rubber Band Contest for Young Inventors

Are you ready to stretch your imagination? The Akron Global Polymer Academy of The University of Akron is hosting the third annual Rubber Band Contest for Young Inventors to encourage students in grades 5–8 to demonstrate their creativity and ingenuity by creating an invention that incorporates the use of rubber bands.

There will be two separate divisions of competition—Arts & Leisure and Science & Engineering. Four finalists will be brought to Akron, Ohio, where the first place winner and runner-up in each division, will be announced at an awards ceremony on May 14, 2011.

The first place winner in each division will receive a $1,000 savings bond, while the runner-up in each division will receive a $500 savings bond, respectively. The top eight semifinalists who are not chosen as finalists will each receive a $50 gift card. The top four schools with the most entries will each receive a $250 donation. For more information about the contest, visit the website.

Siemens We Can Change the World Challenge

Earlier this month, NSTA, the Siemens Foundation, and Discovery Education announced the kick-off of the third annual Siemens We Can Change the World Challenge, a program that educates, empowers and engages students and teachers nationwide to become “Agents of Change” in identifying and solving environmental problems. The third year of this national sustainability challenge—now expanded to include high school students—encourages all students, from kindergarten through twelfth grade, to team up with their classmates to create replicable solutions to environmental issues in their schools (grades K–5), community (grades 6–8) and world (grades 9–12).

Over 13,000 students competed in the 2010 Challenge across elementary and middle school grades. Projects ranged from reducing lunchtime waste to saving local trees and encouraging eco-friendly gardens. The grand prize team, “No1Idling” from Novi, Michigan, focused on reducing community pollution by raising awareness about the environmental impact of vehicle idling among area drivers.

Student and teacher/mentor prizes, which vary according to grade level, include savings bonds, school grants, exciting trips and much more. The deadline for all entries is March 15, 2011. Finalists and winners will be announced in April 2011 and the national winners will be announced in May 2011. For more information, visit www.wecanchange.com or www.facebook.com/wecanchange.

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Parents' Corner

Lowe's Toolbox for Education Grant Program

Lowe’s Toolbox for Education is a grant program that provides parent groups with financial tools to help improve their children’s schools. Grant awards of up to $5,000 support school improvement projects at public schools nationwide. The deadline for submitting applications for this grant cycle is October 15, 2010. However, if 1500 applications are received before the application deadline, then the application process will close. For more information about how to apply, go to the program's website.

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What Is Science Matters?

Science Matters is an initiative by the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) to bring content, news, and information that supports quality science education to parents and teachers nationwide.

Science Matters builds on the success of the Building a Presence for Science program, first launched in 1997 as an e-networking initiative to assist teachers of science with professional development opportunities. Building a Presence for Science—now Science Matters—reaches readers in 34 states and the District of Columbia.

Why does Science Matter? Science is critical to understanding the world around us. Most Americans feel that they received a good education and that their children will as well. Unfortunately, not many are aware that international tests show that American students are simply not performing well in science when compared to students in other countries. Many students (and their parents!) believe that science is irrelevant to their lives.

Innovation leads to new products and processes that sustain our economy, and this innovation depends on a solid knowledge base in science, math, and engineering. All jobs of the future will require a basic understanding of math and science. The most recent ten year employment projections by the U.S. Labor Department show that of the 20 fastest growing occupations projected for 2014, 15 of them require significant mathematics or science preparation to successfully compete for a job

This is why Science Matters. Quality learning experiences in the sciences—starting at an early age—are critical to science literacy and our future workforce. Feel free to publish this information in school newsletters and bulletins, and share it with other parents, teachers, and administrators.

Visit the Science Matters website.

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We Want to Hear from You

Do have a story idea or announcement that you think we should consider? Do you have a suggestion for how we can make this newsletter better? Let us know what you think. E-mail us your suggestions and feedback at sciencematters@nsta.org. We look forward to hearing from you!

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