NSTA's Science Matters Newsletter

August 2014

Here are your science education resources and announcements for August 2014 provided by the Science Matters Network. Please forward them on to other science educators in your school and/or school district.

Table of Contents

New Poll Finds Support for Common Core Slipping Among Teachers

Results of a poll released earlier this week show solid public support for the idea of shared academic standards, but weaker support for the Common Core State Standards that have been put in place by 43 states and the District of Columbia.

The poll of 5,000 adults—conducted this past spring by Education Next—show that more than two-thirds of adults support the idea of shared academic standards. But when they were asked about the “common core” specifically, support dropped by 15 percentage points.

Other important findings include:

  • Americans give good grades to about half the teaching force in their local district, but they hand out an unsatisfactory grade (D or F) to nearly one-fifth of the teachers. This may help explain why a majority of the public opposes teacher tenure. However, a majority of teachers favor tenure and, in general, teachers give their colleagues a higher grade than the public does. Yet they still give about one-tenth of teachers one of the two low grades.
  • In a quarter of households with school-age children, a child is attending or has attended a school other than the traditional public school.
  • Members of the public are less inclined to favor using additional funds for class-size reduction if they know its cost relative to the cost of teacher pay and the purchase of new books and technologies.

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ACT Report Says More Science and Math Courses Not Enough to Improve Student Learning

ACT, the organization that produces one of the two major college entrance exams in the U.S., released a report earlier this month that found that taking more math and science courses has little or no effect on student achieve in those subjects. In the report, “Missing the Mark: Students Gain Little from Mandating Extra Math and Science Courses,” the authors, Richard Buddin and Michelle Croft,studied the graduating classes of 2005 through 2013 in Illinois, not including Chicago, affected by a state law mandating a minimum of three years of math and two years of science in order to graduate.

Before the law took effect, about 23 percent of Illinois school districts required three years of math, and about 75 percent required two years of science. Researchers compared the districts to each other.

By 2013, Buddin and Croft found that the law narrowed the science course-taking gap by 50 percent. But it had little effect on trends in math course-taking. And the requirements also had little impact across the board for student achievement on ACT exams for both mathematics and science. While students in the bottom half of their classes took more science instruction, it did not increase their college enrollment.

Read the full report here.

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U.S. to Rejoin International Math and Science Test After 20-Year Break

After 20-year hiatus, the U.S. Department of Education is planning for U.S. participation next year in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study’s (TIMSS) Advanced global exam on high-level math and physics, according to a notice published in the Federal Register.

"Because of the current strong policy interest in preparedness for college and for careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, the U.S. plans to participate in TIMSS Advanced in 2015," the Education Department stated on the move.

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2014–2015 NSTA Teacher Awards Program Kicks Off

Every year more than 50 extraordinary K–12 teachers, principals, professors, and other science education professionals—committed to making a difference in science, technology, engineering, and math teaching and learning—are recognized and rewarded for their exceptional contributions to the STEM education community. This year, NSTA is offering 20 different award programs that are administered by the Association and funded by various corporations and organizations. Many of the awards recognize teachers for their development and implementation of unique science programs and curricula, while others honor individuals who show outstanding leadership and dedication to the profession. The NSTA awards offer recognition and a multitude of prizes for educators. Prizes include cash awards and grants, school supplies and materials, and trips to our national conferences. For more information about the NSTA Teacher Awards Program or to download an application, click here. The submission deadline for most of the awards is November 30, 2014.

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Teacher Education, Professional Development, and Grant and Award Opportunities

James Bryant Conant Award in High School Chemistry Teaching

The award recognizes, encourages, and stimulates 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, a certificate, and up to $2,500 for travel expenses to the meeting. A certificate will also be provided to the recipient's institution for display. Click here for more information.

N-Visioning a Brighter Future Grant Program

Sponsored by Westinghouse, the program awards grants to U.S. K–12 schools that want their students to learn more about science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) through a hands-on project. Three schools will be awarded grants of $3,000—$1,000 to complete their projects and $2,000 for the schools’ science department needs—for any creative project dealing with STEM. Preference will go to projects that involve students directly, incorporate community resources, or use interdisciplinary or team-teaching strategies. Click here for more information about the program.

Nominate an Educator for the National Teachers Hall of Fame

Located in Emporia, Kansas, the National Teachers Hall of Fame (NTHF) has brought attention to the profession through an annual recognition program that honors five of the nation’s most outstanding teachers. Nominees must have a minimum of 20 years of full-time preK–12 teaching experience.

Ceremonies take place in June of each year. All expenses are paid by the NTHF. Following the induction, members continue in their current endeavors and serve students and the field of education by becoming lifelong ambassadors. Being an ambassador of the NTHF includes participating in webinars, workshops, and in a speaker’s bureau, as well as representing and marketing the NTHF through public appearances and educational endeavors. For more information, click here.

Vernier Engineering Contest

Vernier Software & Technology is accepting applications for its Engineering Contest, which recognizes STEM educators for introducing students to engineering concepts and practices through innovative uses of Vernier sensors. Each award will consist of $1,000 in cash, $3,000 in Vernier technology, and $1,500 toward expenses to attend either the 2015 NSTA STEM conference or the 2015 ASEE conference. Three awards will be given: one for middle school, one for high school, and one for college.

Educators who apply must submit a video showcasing the use of Vernier sensors in a project or experiment. The sensors may be used in conjunction with Vernier’s Logger Pro software, NI LabVIEW software, LEGO NXT or EV3, VEX, or any other system incorporating Vernier sensors. Applications will be judged on innovation, engineering objectives, and the ease by which others can replicate the project. Middle school and high school applicants are asked to specifically explain how the project addresses the engineering practices called for in the Next Generation Science Standards. More information about the competition can be found here.

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Teacher Resources

Investigating Evidence Curriculum

Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Investigating Evidence curriculum helps turn students into scientists. Through this unit, students learn by doing…from question to conclusion. This download includes lesson plans, journal pages, and online resources that will encourage students to ask scientific questions, craft and test hypotheses, collect and organize data, and draw meaningful conclusions.


From measurement to fluids to modern and atomic physics, these interactive online experiments let you drop balls, incline planes, chase a magnetic current, and do a world of other physical science activities to progress through a carefully plotted journey toward mastery of physics concepts. The 69 experiments are presented sequentially to build solid physics understandings; most simulations require the Shockwave plug-in or Java to run.


Stellarium is a free open source planetarium for your computer. It shows a realistic sky in 3D, just like what you see with the naked eye, binoculars, or a telescope. This GPL software renders realistic skies in real time with OpenGL. Stellarium is also used in real planetariums.

What’s your STEM-Q?

Challenge students in your classroom with the USA Science and Engineering Festival's "What's your STEM-Q?" puzzles. The puzzles are fun and interactive, with a range of difficulty varying from intermediate to advanced. Students also can test friends, siblings, or parents.

It’s Elemental

This interactive periodic table from the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) science series NOVA explores in-depth nature’s building blocks, the elements. Most appropriate for the high school level, the site allows students to discover which elements are the most abundant in the Earth, Sun, universe, and other environments, and which elements are the most extreme (i.e., have the highest or lowest melting point, boiling point, or density). The site also has links to games and quizzes that test students’ element knowledge and to a television special, Hunting the Elements, which highlights chemistry extremes.

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Student Competitions and Grant Opportunities

You Be The Chemist Challenge
Get your students excited about chemistry with the You Be The Chemist Challenge®—a free, national academic competition for grade 5-8 students. The Challenge was created by the Chemical Educational Foundation® (CEF), a non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing science and chemistry education. The Challenge tests students’ knowledge of chemistry concepts, scientific theories, and laboratory safety in an engaging, interactive format. Local and state competitions occur in the spring and the top student from each state (together with one educator!) receives an expenses-paid trip to the national competition in Philadelphia, June 22, 2015.

To find out how your school can get involved, please complete our inquiry form, e-mail challenge@chemed.org, or call 703-527-6223.

Captain Planet Foundation Grants

The Captain Planet Foundation funds and supports hands-on environmental projects for students. Its objective is to encourage innovative programs that empower studnets around the world to work individually and collectively to solve environmental problems in their local communities. Grant amounts range from $250 to $2,500. Deadlines for submitting grant applications are September 30 and January 31. For more information, click 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.

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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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