NSTA's Science Matters Newsletter

August 2012

Here are your science education resources and announcements for August 2012 provided by the Science Matters Network. Please forward them on to other science educators in your school and/or school district.

Table of Contents

Strategic Data Project Provides New Findings on Teacher Placement and Retention Patterns

According to findings released last month by Harvard University’s Strategic Data Project (SDP) at its Center for Education Policy Research, first-year educators tend to be assigned to students who are academically behind their peers, potentially perpetuating achievement gaps by putting students who need the most help into classrooms with the least experienced teachers.

The study looked at four large urban school districts across the U.S. Across all four districts, which together serve more than 465,000 students, the researchers found new elementary teachers were assigned students that were about three to nine months of schooling behind their classmates.

New middle school teachers were given students who had performed as much as 10 months behind, or .35 of a standard deviation on the prior year's math test. These math teachers, who likely still were perfecting how to handle a classroom and develop their lesson plans, also had to cope with students more than a full grade level behind.

Click here to read more about SDP’s findings.

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Department of Education Encourages Districts to Apply for $400 Million Race to the Top Competition

Last week, the U.S. Department of Education announced that it had finalized the application for the 2012 Race to the Top-District competition. The competition will provide approximately $400 million to support school districts in implementing local reforms that will personalize learning, close achievement gaps and take advantage of 21 st century tools that prepare students for college and careers.

The 2012 final program criteria invites applications from districts or groups of districts. Districts will choose to apply for funding to support learning strategies that personalize education in all or a set of schools, within specific grade levels, or select subjects. In addition, districts must demonstrate a commitment to Race to the Top’s four core reform areas, including:

  • Adopting standards and assessments that prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace and to compete in the global economy;
  • Building data systems that measure student growth and success, and inform teachers and principals about how they can improve instruction;
  • Recruiting, developing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers and principals, especially where they are needed most; and
  • Turning around the lowest-achieving schools.

These four-year awards will range from $5 million to $40 million, depending on the population of students served through the plan. The Department is expecting to make 15–25 awards. Grantees will be selected based on their vision and capacity for reform as well as a strong plan that provides educators with resources to accelerate student achievement and prepare students for college and their careers. Plans will focus on transforming the learning environment so that it meets all students’ learning abilities, making equity and access to high-quality education a priority. Teachers will receive real-time feedback that helps them adapt to their students’ needs, allowing them to create opportunities for students to pursue areas of personal academic interest while ensuring that each student is ready for college and their career.

More information, including the finalized application for the Race to the Top-District competition, can be found here.

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NSTA Announcements

NSTA Partners with the U.S. Army to Manage and Support Web-based STEM Competition for Students

NSTA and the United States Army have joined together to promote student achievement in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) through a comprehensive education initiative. Announced earlier this month, NSTA will manage the U.S. Army’s eCYBERMISSION program, an online collaborative learning competition designed to inspire student interest in STEM by encouraging students in grades six through nine to develop solutions to real-world challenges in their local communities. NSTA will also join the consortium of the Youth Science Cooperative Outreach Agreement (YSCOA), under the lead of Virginia Tech.

Through the program, now in its 11th year, teams of three to four students are asked to identify an issue in their community related to one of seven mission challenges. After selecting a mission challenge, teams—under the guidance of a team advisor—apply the scientific method/inquiry or engineering design process to propose a solution. Each team then submits a mission folder, the official write-up of their project. A panel of virtual judges evaluates and scores the mission folders on the basis of several criteria to identify winning teams. Teams have the opportunity to win state, regional and national awards and the students on the four national winning teams can receive up to $8,000 in U.S. EE Savings Bonds.

The eCYBERMISSION competition is part of the Army Educational Outreach Program (AEOP). The AEOP is comprised of Army-sponsored research, education competitions, internships and practical experiences designed to engage and guide students and teachers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.

Registration for the 2012–2013 competition is now open. To learn more about the program and to register, visit www.ecybermission.com or contact eCYBERMISSION Mission Control at 1-866-GO-CYBER (462-9237) or via email at missioncontrol@ecybermission.com.

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Be a Winner in the 2012 Shell Science Lab Challenge

Are you a science teacher succeeding in science lab instruction with minimal equipment? The Shell Science Lab Challenge offers you a chance to compete to win a school science lab makeover, valued at $20,000, by sharing your exemplary approach. Invited to participate are middle and high school science teachers, grades 6–12, in the United States and Canada, with special attention paid to urban and underrepresented groups. Your task will be to illustrate replicable approaches to science lab instruction utilizing limited school and laboratory resources. Teachers and schools submitting top entries will receive additional laboratory tools, resources, and rich professional development opportunities.

Visit www.nsta.org/shellsciencelab today and begin working on your application. The deadline for entries is November 12, 2012.

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Teacher Education, Professional Development, and Grant and Award Opportunities

Lawrence Scadden Teacher of the Year Award in Science Education for Students with Disabilities

The Lawrence Scadden Teacher of the Year Award recognizes excellence in science teaching for students with disabilities. The award is open to all current K–12 teachers (general education, special education, or science teachers, public or private) who have taught at least five years. Nominees must have made an outstanding contribution to science students with disabilities. The winner of the Scadden award is expected to attend the NSTA National Conference on Science Education to accept the award. A check for $1,000 is provided to offset travel expenses to the NSTA conference. Click here for more information or to download an application. Applications are due January 20, 2013.

James Bryant Conant Award in High School Chemistry Teaching

The James Bryant Conant Award recognizes outstanding teachers of high school chemistry in the United States, its possessions or territories, at the national level. Any individual, except a member of the award selection committee or currently enrolled student of the nominee, may submit one nomination or support form in any given year. The nominee must be actively engaged in the teaching of chemistry in a high school (grades 9–12).

The award consists of $5,000 and a certificate. Up to $2,500 for travel expenses to the meeting at which the award will be presented will be reimbursed. A certificate will also be provided to the recipient's institution for display.

To learn more about the award, click here.

Maley/FTEE Technology and Engineering Teacher Scholarship

The Foundation for Technology and Engineering Educators is sponsoring the $1,000 Maley/FTEE Technology and Engineering Teacher Scholarship. Its purpose is to support teachers in their preparation to increase the positive outcomes of technology and engineering education. Criteria include:

  • evidence of teaching success;
  • plans for action research;
  • recommendations;
  • plans for professional development; and
  • the applicant's need.

Applicant must be a technology and engineering teacher at any grade level who is beginning or continuing graduate study. For more information, click here.

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Teacher Resources

Teachers Engage

The Teachers Engage section is the main hub for Intel's education community and where you will find general discussions and resources focusing on effective uses of technology in the K–12 classroom. Intel Engage’s monthly “STEM Snacks” discussion is about generating student interest and activity in STEM using imagery. Teachers also should visit the STEM Resources section.

Teacher’s Network

The Teachers Network is an alliance of education professionals dedicated to disseminating best practices. This link leads to a lesson plan database where you can search through a sizeable collection of middle grades lessons submitted by Network teachers and site visitors. Another link lets you see some of the site's most popular lessons and units. While you're visiting, take a few minutes to explore Teacher Network's other offerings, including essays by current teachers, grant information, and "how to" tips for novice educators.

Selene: A Lunar Construction Game

The Center for Educational Technologies® (CET) at Wheeling Jesuit University created Selene: A Lunar Construction Game to teach students about basic geological processes on Earth and in the solar system. Selene also will help educational researchers study how and when people learn through educational video games. Funded by NASA and the National Science Foundation, Selene has won awards, and research has shown that the game aids the learning of lunar geology. Players create their own moon and then pepper it with impact craters and flood it with lava. New for the 2012–2013 school year is a Spanish-language version of the game.

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Student Opportunities and Resources

Zero Robotics

Zero Robotics is a robotics programming competition where the robots are Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites (SPHERES) inside the International Space Station (ISS). The competition starts online, where teams compete to solve an annual challenge guided by mentors. Participants can create, edit, share, save, simulate and submit code, all from a web browser. After several phases of virtual competition, finalists are selected to compete in a live championship aboard the ISS. An astronaut will conduct the championship competition in microgravity with a live broadcast.

There are three types of Zero Robotics tournaments:

  • High School Tournament:
    Geared towards students in grades 9–12, the tournament takes place from September to December each fall. This is a nationwide event open to any teams from the U.S.
  • Middle School Summer Program:
    For younger students, this is a five-week program where students learn to program through a graphical interface. The program will take place at TBD locations (where the SPHERES team has a strong presence). The first open program is expected to start in the summer of 2013.
  • Open Challenges:
    These are open to everyone from around the world, including professionals, educators, university students, etc. You can participate individually or as a team. These competitions usually involve working on complex algorithms that will help future spaceflight missions.

To learn more or to register a team for an active tournament, click here. High school and middle school teams need a primary mentor.

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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, sponsored by the ExxonMobil Foundation and Shell Oil Company, 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 at www.nsta.org/sciencematters.

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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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