NSTA's Science Matters Newsletter

September 2011

Here are your science education resources and announcements for September 2011 provided by the Science Matters Network. Please forward them on to other science educators in your school and/or school district.

Table of Contents

Carnegie and IAS Release Two-Year Update on the 2009 Opportunity Equation

This week, Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) released a new report, Growing Opportunity, a two-year update on the 2009 report entitled The Opportunity Equation. The update reviews some of the major developments in each of the four areas emphasized in The Opportunity Equation report: equity and excellence, standards and assessments, teaching and leadership, and school and system design. It concludes by looking back at the Commission’s original recommendations, noting signs of change, and highlighting questions and priorities for the future.

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20 States to Lead Effort in Development of Next Generation Science Standards

A group of 20 states has been selected to lead an important effort to improve science education for all students. The 20 states will lead the development of Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), a state-led effort that will clearly define the content and practices all students will need to learn from kindergarten through high school graduation. The NGSS process is being managed by Achieve, a nonpartisan education nonprofit.

"The Lead State Partners will provide important leadership and guidance throughout the development of the Next Generation Science Standards and are to be congratulated for making a strong commitment to science education," said Michael Cohen, president of Achieve. "This will be a collaborative process that will lead to a set of standards that provides America's students a strong foundation in science for the 21st century and supports college and career readiness for all."

The Lead State Partners are Arizona, California, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia. For more information, visit the Next Generation Science Standards website.

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New Surveys among College Students and Parents of K–12 Students Provide Implications for Fostering Interest in STEM Careers

Earlier this month, Microsoft Corp. announced the results of two national surveys of college students pursuing STEM degrees and of parents of K–12 students. Below are some of the key findings of the surveys, conducted online by Harris Interactive.

Parent Perceptions

  • Although most parents of K–12 students (93 percent) believe that STEM education should be a priority in the U.S., only have (49 percent) agreed that it actually is a top priority for this country.
  • Even though many parents (50 percent) would like to see their children pursue a STEM career, only 24 percent are extremely willing to spend extra money helping their children by successful in their math and science classes.

Student Perception

Importance of K–12 Education:

  • Nearly four in five STEM college students said they decided to study STEM in high school or earlier (78 percent). One in five (21 percent) decided in middle school or earlier
  • More than half (57 percent) of STEM college students said that before going to college, a teacher or class got them interested in STEM (20 percent).


  • Only one in five STEM college students felt that their K–12 education prepared them extremely well for their college courses in STEM.
  • Females in STEM were more likely than males to say they were extremely/very or well-prepared (64 percent versus 49 percent) by their K–12 education, and females were slightly more likely than their male counterparts to say that preparing students for STEM should be a top priority in K–12 schools (92 percent vs. 84 percent).


  • Based on the college student survey findings, the motivation to pursue STEM studies did not originate from their parents telling them to select that subject area or even because they know the U.S. is in need of STEM graduates.
  • Students who select a STEM path indicated they do so to secure their own futures. 68 percent said they want a good salary and 66 percent said it’s the job potential.

Gender Differences:

  • Male students were more likely to pursue STEM because they have always enjoyed playing with games and toys, reading books, and participating in clubs focused on their chosen subject areas (51 percent versus 35 percent of females).
  • Female students were more likely to say they chose STEM to make a difference (49 percent versus 34 percent of males).

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NSTA Competitions Announcements

Toshiba/NSTA ExploraVision Now Accepting Applications for the 2011–2012 Program

Applications are now being accepted for the Toshiba/NSTA ExploraVision program, the world’s largest K–12 science and technology competition. Now in its 20 th year, the ExploraVision program, sponsored by Toshiba and administered by NSTA, challenges teams of 2–4 students to research scientific principles and current technologies as the basis for designing innovative technologies that could exist in 20 years.

Students on the four first-place ExploraVision winning teams will each receive a $10,000 U.S. Series EE Savings Bond valued at maturity. Students on second-place teams will each receive a $5,000 bond valued at maturity. Canadian winners receive Canada bonds purchased for the equivalent issue price in Canadian dollars. The eight teams will also receive an expenses-paid trip with their families, mentor and coach to Washington, D.C., for a gala awards weekend in June 2012.

In an ExploraVision first, the teacher who submits the largest number of qualified student projects this year will receive a Toshiba tablet PC. For more information, visit the competition website or e-mail exploravision@nsta.org.

You Have the Power to Shape Your Future through the Siemens We Can Change the World Challenge

The nation's premier environmental sustainability Challenge is back! The Siemens We Can Change the World Challenge is the only challenge of its kind that empowers grades K–12 students to create solutions to environmental problems in their schools, community and beyond. At stake is more than $300,000 in prizes including scholarships, savings bonds, once-in-a-lifetime adventure trips, assemblies with Discovery Channel personalities and much more! It’s the opportunity to make a difference and win great prizes that celebrate innovation and impact. Are you ready to join your students in helping to shape your future? Visit the website for more information or to register for the competition.

Is Your School Lab in Need of a Makeover?

If so, middle and high school science teachers are invited to apply for a chance to win a $20,000 science lab makeover support package. The Shell Science Lab Challenge, a program of NSTA, invites teachers (grades 6–12) who have found innovative ways to deliver quality science lab instruction utilizing limited laboratory resources and equipment, to share their approaches. Teachers submitting top entries will receive rich professional development opportunities and additional laboratory tools and resources for their schools. $93,000 in prizes will be awarded this year. Viable strategies submitted to the Challenge will be published in an online NSTA repository of science lab activities that can be delivered utilizing limited resources. We encourage applications from schools across the United States and in Canada, as well as urban schools and those with underserved populations.

Applications are now available at www.nsta.org/shellsciencelab and are due October 21, 2011 . For more information about the Challenge or to download an application, visit the program website.

Register Now for Disney’s Planet Challenge

Registration for the third annual Disney’s Planet Challenge, a free project-based environmental and science competition for classrooms nationwide, is now open. Third through 8th grade classrooms are encouraged to participate for a chance to win a trip to Disneyland, classroom grants, Disney DVDs, student eco-friendly prize packs and much more.

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.

New this year, teachers who submit a hands-on project request for up to $500 in materials focused on benefiting the environment (water conservation and watershed protection, recycling, composting, restoring/creating community gardens, etc.) are eligible to receive full funding.

For more information about the competition or to register, visit the competition website.

Apply Now for the Mars Education Challenge

The Mars Education Challenge is now accepting entries for the 2011–2012 program. Science teachers (grades 7–12) located throughout the country, who have developed or are interested in creating new and innovative curricula support materials that focus on Mars science and exploration, are encouraged to apply. The grand prize winner will receive $5000, a trip to the NSTA National Conference on Science Education in Indianapolis, and a chance to do field research with a well-known NASA scientist. Other exciting prizes will also be awarded. Visit the Explore Mars website for complete Challenge detail

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Teacher Education, Professional Development, and Grant and Award Opportunities

George C. Pimentel Award in Chemical Education

The George C. Pimentel Award in Chemical Education, sponsored by Cengage Publishing and the American Chemical Society Division of Chemical Education, recognizes outstanding contributions to chemical education. The award consists of $5,000 and a certificate. A nominee must have made outstanding contributions to chemical education considered in its broadest meaning, including the training of professional chemists; the dissemination of reliable information about chemistry to prospective chemists, members of the profession, students in other fields, and the general public; and the integration of chemistry into our educational system. For more information, click here.

The Green Thumb Challenge

The Green Thumb Challenge aims to connect children with nature and the healthy benefits of gardening as part of a nationwide movement to get kids growing. The Green Education Foundation’s (GEF) "turn-key" garden plan provides participants with beginner-friendly resources to plant gardens of any size, as well as fun activities and standards-based lessons linking the classroom to the garden. All participants have the opportunity to be awarded a $5,000 grant in recognition of their garden project. Register for the Green Thumb Challenge by visiting the program website.

NEA Foundation-Nickelodeon Big Help Grants

The NEA Foundation-Nickelodeon Big Help Grants are available in the form of student achievement grants to K-8 public school educators. The program is dedicated to the development and implementation of ideas, techniques, and approaches for addressing four key concerns: environmental awareness, health and wellness, students’ right to a quality public education, and active community involvement.

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-Nickelodeon Big Help Grants website.

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Teacher Resources

Interactive Earth Science Animations

The Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS) is a consortium of universities dedicated to operating science facilities for the acquisition, management, and distribution of seismological data. IRIS offers resources for educators, including a series of interactive graphics, animations, and videos on Earth Science fundamentals. Topics at their website include hazards, plate tectonics, Earth structure, earthquakes, and volcanoes.

Fueling the Car of Tomorrow

Introducing a high school science curriculum that explores the future of the automobile through the eyes of scientists and engineers. Covering the fields of engineering, chemistry, and biology, the activities span a wide range of experiences including laboratory experiments, simulations, and group research projects. Lessons can stand alone or be used together as an entire pre-engineering course. Selected titles include The Chemistry of Combustion, Making and Testing Biodiesel, and Fundamentals of Hybrid Technology.

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Student Opportunities and Resources

Engineers Week Future City Student Competition

The program asks sixth, seventh, and eighth graders from around the nation to team with engineer-volunteer mentors to create—first on a computer and then in large, three-dimensional models—their visions of the city of tomorrow. The competition is an example of problem-based learning with computer simulation. It is an integrated, multidisciplinary, holistic approach to relevant issues and is a strong example of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education that addresses national and state academic content standards. This year's theme is “Fuel Your Future: Imagine new ways to meet our energy needs and maintain a healthy planet.” As students address alternative energy solutions, they will consider the safety, cost, efficiency, and appearance of their ideas. Pre-register your school on the website, which also has samples of past winning entries and models from students.

“Letters to Lucy” Student Essay Competition: What Makes Us Human and Why?

The Institute of Human Origins (IHO) at Arizona State University is celebrating its 30 th anniversary with events including “Letters to Lucy” Student Essay Competition. The 3.18 million-year-old fossil bones of Australopithecus afarensis, popularly known as “Lucy,” were discovered by famed paleoanthropologist and the institute’s founding director, Donald C. Johanson, in 1974. The competition is open to three categories: U.S. middle school students, U.S. high school students, and Arizona elementary school students in grades 3-5.

First-prize winners in each category will receive a visit to their school by Professor Johanson for a talk about human origins and Lucy, and for teachers, teaching the science of human evolution. Official competition rules are available at the institute’s website BecomingHuman.org. The top 10 students in each category and their essays will be featured on the website.

Winners will be chosen in time for Johanson to visit the schools in April or May of 2012. Questions can be directed to IHO@asu.edu.

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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 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. Email us your suggestions and feedback at sciencematters@nsta.org. We look forward to hearing from you!

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