NSTA's Science Matters Newsletter

September 2012

Here are your science education resources and announcements for September 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

Business Coalition Releases Collection of State-By-State Reports on STEM Learning

Earlier this month, Change the Equation released Vital Signs 2012, a new set of reports that provide state and national information on the demand for STEM skills and knowledge, student achievement in STEM, academic standards and expectations, and specific recommendations for each state to improve STEM teaching and learning. The report provides a wealth of data that teachers, administrators, and others can use to advocate and support the teaching and learning of science/STEM in their schools, districts and states.

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Gender Disparity Persists in the Sciences at the University Level According to New Study

According to a new study, science professors of both sexes were found to rate male applicants as “significantly more competent and hireable” than equally qualified female applicants. The study was conducted by Yale University researchers and published online by Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers also found that faculty members who participated not only rated male applicants higher, but offered them more mentoring opportunities and a higher starting salary. According to the report, “preexisting subtle bias against women” played a role in the findings. The results, it says, “suggest that interventions addressing faculty gender bias might advance the goal of increasing the participation of women in science.”

To learn more, click here.

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Study Unveils U.S. Lagging in Preschool Enrollment

According to a study released earlier this month by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the U.S. trails behind most of the world’s principal economies when it comes to providing early-childhood education opportunities to children despite improvements in recent years.

The report, “Education at a Glance 2012,” reveals that the U.S. ranks 28th out of 38 countries for the share of 4-year-olds enrolled in pre-primary education programs, at 69 percent. France, the Netherlands, Spain, and Mexico have enrollment rates of more than 95 percent. Ireland, Poland, Finland, and Brazil are among the countries that trail the U.S.

The U.S. also invests significantly less public money in early-childhood programs than its counterparts in the Group of Twenty, which includes 19 countries and the European Union.

Other key findings include:

  • The U.S. ranks 14th in the world in the percentage of 25-to-34-year-olds who have earned a postsecondary degree;
  • American students rely more heavily on private sources to pay for higher education than their peers in other OECD countries; and
  • Teachers in the U.S. are paid less and spend more time teaching—between 1,050 and 1,100 hours per year—compared with their peers in most other OECD countries.

To read more about the results, click here.

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NSTA Announcements

SciStarter Partners with NSTA on Citizen Science Projects

NSTA and SciStarter are partnering to connect teachers and their students to collaborative opportunities with scientists on cutting-edge research projects and informal science activities. Selected SciStarter citizen science projects now appear on the NSTA website each day connecting teachers with opportunities—ranging from analyzing distant galaxies to monitoring frog, firefly, or whale populations to detecting home and body microbiomes—so they and their students may communicate with researchers and learn about, participate in, and contribute to science in fun and engaging ways.

Look for the SciStarter widget in each of the NSTA grade band tabs—elementary, middle, high school, and college—and click through to see what citizen science is all about.

Change the World and Compete for More Than $300,000 in Prizes

The Siemens We Can Change the World Challenge, the premier national environmental sustainability competition for grades K–12, is now accepting applications for the 2012–2013 program. Through project-based learning, students learn about science and conservation while gaining 21st-century skills. Educators can access a wealth of free digital tools to help integrate the Challenge into their curriculum. At stake is more than $300,000 in prizes, including scholarships, savings bonds, school grants, adventure trips, school assemblies, and more.

The deadline for all entries is March 5, 2013. Finalists and winners will then be announced in April 2013. For more information on the Siemens We Can Change the World Challenge, visit www.wecanchange.com or www.facebook.com/wecanchange.

Toshiba/NSTA ExploraVision Launches 2013 Program, Announces Changes to Align More Closely with NRC Framework for K–12 Science Education

Applications for Year 21 of the Toshiba/NSTA ExploraVision program—the world’s largest K–12 student science competition—are now available online at exploravision.org. The deadline for all projects is January 31, 2013.

The ExploraVision program, sponsored by Toshiba and administered by NSTA, was created to help motivate young students to excel in science and technology. Working in teams of 2–4 to design innovative technologies that could exist in 20 years, students have the opportunity to win a $10,000 U.S. Savings Bond, valued at maturity. Canadian winners receive Canada bonds purchased for the equivalent issue price in Canadian dollars. The program is also offering great prize packages for the teachers and the school with the largest number of qualified teams.

This year, ExploraVision is unveiling several key changes that align the program more closely with the National Research Council’s (NRC) Framework for K–12 Science Education. Among the changes to the program, is a requirement that as students provide an overview of their project idea for a new technology, they must also define a key challenge or limitation of the present technology upon which their idea is based. Additionally, students must describe a research project that would have to be planned and carried out in order to test their ExploraVision project, including, if possible, the type of data or measurements that would be used in the assessment. For the first time, team members must also create a web page devoted to a depiction of a model or visual representation of the technology that could be used to create a prototype for display.

For more information or an application for 2013, visit the competition website or e-mail exploravision@nsta.org.

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Teacher Education, Professional Development, and Grant and Award Opportunities

Lowe’s Toolbox for Education Grants

Searching for funding for your outdoor classroom, schoolyard garden or school greening project? Lowe's will donate $5 million to public schools and public school parent teacher groups at more than 1,000 different public schools per school year. The Fall 2012 grant cycle opened mid-July and closes October 12, 2012. Learn more here.

N-Visioning a Brighter Future Grant Program

Sponsored by Westinghouse, the program awards grants to U.S. middle and high schools that want their students to learn more about science, technology, or mathematics through a hands-on project. Five schools will be awarded $1,000 each for any creative project dealing with energy, mathematics, science, and technology, but those involving nuclear energy will receive preference. The project must be completed during the 2012–2013 school year. Applications must be received no later than November 16, 2012, to be considered. Click here for more information.

NEA Foundation Student Achievement Grants

The NEA Foundation Student Achievement Grants provide funds to improve the academic achievement of students by engaging in critical thinking and problem-solving that deepens knowledge of standards-based subject matter. The work should also improve students' habits of inquiry, self-directed learning, and critical reflection. Maximum award: $5,000. Practicing U.S. public school teachers, public school education support professionals, or faculty or staff at public higher education institutions are eligible to apply. Application deadlines are February 1, June 1, and October 15. Learn more here.

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Teacher Resources

NAEP Report: Activity-Based Science Assessments

The National Center for Education Statistics has released Science in Action: Hands-On and Interactive Computer Tasks, a report detailing findings about student performance on activity-based tasks administered to students at grades 4, 8, and 12 as part of the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) science assessment. The report revealed that students were successful on parts of investigations that involved limited sets of data and making straightforward observations of that data; students were challenged by parts of investigations that contained more variables to manipulate or involved strategic decision making to collect appropriate data; and the percentage of students who could select correct conclusions from an investigation was higher than for students who could select correct conclusions and explain their answers.

Squishy Circuits

You already know that modeling dough is a great tool for sculpting, designing, and playing, but did you know it is also a safe hands-on tool for exploring circuitry with students of all ages? At Squishy Circuits , educators can access recipes for making a conductive (salt-based) dough and an insulating (sugar-based) dough, along with ideas and video clips showing how the homemade doughs can be used to demonstrate electrical properties by lighting up light-emitting diodes and spinning motors.

Science of Vision Curriculum Guides

Three new curriculum guides from the Museum of Vision teach students ages 10–14 about the eyes and the science of vision. Each guide offers background information and hands-on activities exploring a different vision-related topic. Eye Openers: Optical Illusions discusses the science behind optical illusions; Animal Eyes examines the differences between human and animal vision; and Art and Vision: Seeing in 3D explores vision concepts and the illusion of depth in artwork.

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Student Opportunities and Resources

President’s Environmental Youth Awards

Since 1971, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has annually sponsored the President's Environmental Youth Awards. The awards program recognizes outstanding projects from young individuals, K–12 classrooms, summer camps and youth organizations about the environment and how to sustain it. All applicants receive a signed certificate by the President honoring them for their efforts. Applications for the regional award are due by December 31, 2012. Learn more here.

National Engineers Week Future City Competition

In this national, project-based competition, students in grades 6-8 design and build cities of the future using computer software, research and write solutions to an engineering problem and present their ideas before judges. Educators should register student teams by October 31 to enter the competition. Learn more about the competition here.

Captain Planet Foundation Grants

The Captain Planet Foundation funds and supports hands-on environmental projects for children and youths ages 6–18. Its objective is to encourage innovative programs that empower children and youth around the world to work individually and collectively to solve environmental problems in their neighborhoods and communities. Grant amounts range from $250 to $2,500. Deadlines for submitting grant applications are May 31, September 30, and January 15. Learn more here.

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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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