NSTA's Science Matters Newsletter

January 2013

Here are your science education resources and announcements for January 2013 provided by the Science Matters Network. Please forward them on to other science educators in your school and/or school district.

Table of Contents

Socioeconomic Inequality Skews U.S. Student Test Scores According to New Global Achievement Study

Rankings that show U.S. students lagging behind their international peers in academic achievement are misleading because they inadequately account for social inequality, according to a new report released this week by the Stanford Graduate School of Education and the Economic Policy Institute.

According to the report, American students would rise to fourth from 14th in reading and to 10th from 25th in math on the most recent international comparison if the U.S. had a social class composition similar to that of top-ranking nations.

“Errors in selecting sample populations of test-takers and arbitrary choices regarding test content contribute to results that appear to show U.S. students lagging,” the report says.

Click here to read the full report, “What Do International Tests Really Show About U.S. Student Performance?"

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New Gallup Survey Finds Students Less Engaged Over Time

The longer students remain in school the less engaged they are, according to the Gallup Student Poll, released last month.

According to the poll, when students were asked if they were engaged with school, the percentage of students who said yes dropped steadily in relation to how far along they were in their academic careers.

The researchers surveyed the attitudes of nearly half a million students from 1,700 schools located in 37 states. The results show that while 76 percent of students said they were engaged with school while in elementary school, only 44 percent of those answering felt the same when in high school. Middle-schoolers fell smack in the center of both extremes with 61 percent engagement.

Download the report here.

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Measures of Effective Teaching Project Releases Final Research Report

The Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) project, a three-year study designed to determine how to best identify and promote great teaching, today released its third and final research report. According to the report—released earlier this month by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation—student feedback, test-score growth calculations, and observations of practice can provide a balanced and accurate picture of teacher performance.

Key findings from the report include:

  • It is possible to develop reliable measures that identify great teaching. In the first year of the study, teaching practice was measured using a combination of student surveys, classroom observations, and student achievement gains. Then, in the second year, teachers were randomly assigned to different classrooms of students. The students’ outcomes were later measured using state tests and supplemental assessments designed to measure students’ conceptual understanding in math and ability to write short answer responses following reading passages. The teachers whose students did better during the first year of the project also had students who performed better following random assignment. Moreover, the magnitude of the achievement gains they generated aligned with the predictions. This is the first large-scale study to demonstrate, using random assignment, that it is possible to identify great teaching.
  • The report describes the trade-offs involved when school systems combine different measures (student achievement gains, classroom observations, and student surveys). However, the report shows that a more balanced approach—which incorporates the student survey data and classroom observations—has two important advantages: ratings are less likely to fluctuate from year to year, and the combination is more likely to identify teachers with better outcomes on assessments other than the state tests.
  • The report provides guidance on the best ways to achieve reliable classroom observations. Many school districts currently require observations by a single school administrator. The report recommends averaging observations from more than one observer, such as another administrator in a school or a peer observer.

Read the report here.

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Teacher Education, Professional Development, and Grant and Award Opportunities

2013 Healthivores Video Game Contest—Simple and Rewarding Approach to Student Game Design

Are you a teacher with zero video game design experience? NO PROBLEM! This year’s Healthivores Video Game Contest has begun and it’s easier than you think. Check out the included lesson plan that will take teachers, even those with zero game design experience, step-by-step through the process of teaching your students to design games. You will have your students completing their video games in less than four weeks. This year we have added technology, science and math focused lesson plan options to the already popular nutrition and fitness lesson plan. Each winning team will receive one laptop for the teacher, one for the school and one for each student on the team (See 2012 Winners here). Deadline for entries is March 31, 2013. Get started now at the Healthivores Video Game Contest homepage!

Living in a Material World Grants

To help K–12 teachers bring the real world of materials science into their classrooms, the ASM Materials Education Foundation awards 10 grants of $500 annually. The purpose of the “Living in a Material World” grants, which recognize teacher creativity, is to enhance awareness of materials science and the role of materials scientists in society. Applicants must submit a two-page proposal describing a curriculum-based, hands-on project involving students' observations, communication, and mathematics and science skills that will increase their awareness of the materials around them. Applications are due May 25. Click here for more information.

LifeChanger of the Year Program

National Life Group's annual LifeChanger of the Year program recognizes and rewards school district employees and educators who make a positive difference in the lives of students. LifeChanger of the Year provides cash awards to the top 10 individual honorees and their schools. Anyone may nominate a K–12 education professional or school employee for the LifeChanger of the Year award. Students are welcome to submit nominations but must have support from a teacher or administrator. Nominees must be full-time educators, teachers, principals, or any member of the school's staff who makes a positive difference in the lives of students . The nomination period runs through January 25, 2013. Winners will be announced in March 2013. Visit the program website for more information.

U.S. National Chemistry Olympiad Seem Mentors

College educators may apply for a position as mentor for the U.S. National Chemistry Olympiad program. Duties during the three-year term include helping to conduct the two-week national study camp for high school students held at the U.S. Air Force Academy located in Colorado in June of 2014, 2015, and 2016. Generally, in their second and third year, mentors accompany four U.S. student competitors to the International Chemistry Olympiad. Successful applicants are expected to have background in one or more of the areas of organic, inorganic, analytical, physical, or biochemistry with classroom experience and should demonstrate involvement with students in special projects or activities. American Chemical Society pays all expenses and travel costs, as well as an honorarium. If you’re interested in mentoring, submit a completed Mentor Application Form no later than January 26, 2013 and three letters of reference by February 9, 2013. Click here for more information.

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Teacher Resources

Museum in a Box

NASA’s Museum in a Box program brings the physical sciences of flight to K–12 students. These standards-based, aeronautics-themed lessons are designed to inspire future scientists, mathematicians, and engineers. In this collection of activities, flight is considered from many angles. Lessons explore the history of flight, parts of an airplane, principles of flight, structures and materials, propulsion, aerospace careers, airspace, and the future of flight. Many lessons have versions adapted for different grade levels. Selected titles from each grade span include First Flyers (preK–4); Bernoulli’s Principle (K–4, 5–8); Future Flight Design Activity (grades 5–8), and Wind Power (grades 9–12).

Time to Invent Club Activities: Grades 5–8

Help middle level students develop their engineering and design skills with activities from the Time to Invent Club, produced by Public Broadcasting Service television station WGBH Boston. This program features 16 student-centered invention challenges, including Trophy Tower, Hit the Target, Pinball Party, and Circuit Board. All activities require teamwork and allow for multiple solutions.

K–12 Sound Resources

Looking to build an effective unit on sound? Check out the education resources page from the American Acoustical Society. The site offers current news stories about acoustics; videos and animations exploring the basics of sound; a poster set with sound activities and career profiles of acousticians; and a gallery of interesting sounds from various animals, insects, the Earth/atmosphere (e.g., Antarctic ice breaking), and musical instruments.

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Student Opportunities and Resources

Register Now for The DuPont Challenge

The DuPont Challenge calls on students from the United States, Canada, and U.S. territories to research, think critically, and write a 700–1,000 word essay that provides innovative ideas on the world’s most pressing challenges, or demonstrates the application of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to our daily lives. Students and sponsoring teacher prizes include savings bonds, teaching grants, exciting trips, and much more. The deadline for submissions is January 31, 2013. For more information, including official rules, entry forms, and details on awards, please visit the Challenge 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, 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, fifteen 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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