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From the Field: Freebies and Opportunities for Science and STEM Teachers, June 28, 2022

By Debra Shapiro

From the Field: Freebies and Opportunities for Science and STEM Teachers, June 28, 2022

Freebies for Science and STEM Teachers: Grades K–College

Celebrating the Chemistry of Insects

K–12 students can discover the many ways insects in nature can help us (such as promoting biodiversity, pollinating fruits and vegetables, producing honey and silk) or harm us (giving us itchy bites, spreading disease) with resources from the American Chemical Society’s 2022 Chemists Celebrate Earth Week program. With the theme “The Buzz About Bugs: Insect Chemistry,” the resources include activities, articles, and videos (available in English and Spanish) highlighting chemistry’s role in the lives of insects. Check out the Nature of Dye, an outreach activity for all ages in which students make multi-hued bookmarks using colorful dye they’ve made themselves from crushed cochineal bugs and water. Another engaging resource (for elementary and middle levels) is the online game Bugs on the Run, in which students are challenged to feed a hungry chameleon. Students use their computer mouse to feed the chameleon, modeling the movement of atoms and molecules (heating molecules makes them move faster, while cooling molecules make them move more slowly) at each level of the game. Eating With Your Eyes: The Chemistry of Food Colorings, an article and activity for high school students, teaches students about the chemistry of various food colorings, then tasks students to be chemists who must artificially recreate the natural caramel color in most commercially manufactured colas (which comes from caramelized sugar). 


This collaborative learning platform developed by Harvard University and Amgen Foundation features thousands of digital science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) resources from leading universities, educational organizations, museums, government agencies, and other content creators. Targeting K–college students, educators, and science enthusiasts, the resources include videos, simulations, interactives, at-home activities, and other materials designed to spark science understanding and investigation. Many resources can be used immediately as classroom lessons, but teachers can also adapt the resources to create (and share) new learning materials from the available content. The platform’s Explore section highlights featured resources on a particular theme, while its Library section enables users to search the database for materials by subject matter (Biological Sciences, Chemistry, Global Health, Health Science, Science and Society, Scientific Processes, Prepare for College, Prepare for Graduate School, Prepare for Careers, and Professional Development) and further refine their search by content type, background knowledge level, video duration, and other parameters.

Freebies for Science and STEM Teachers: Elementary

Follow Nebula’s Solar System Mission

Engage K–4 students in learning about the solar system and beyond with Nebula, an animated character and mascot of NASA Kids’ Club website. Follow along with Nebula to see where he’s been, learn facts about the solar system, and laugh at Nebula’s jokes and riddles. For example, Nebula visited Mars to take a selfie with the Perseverance rover and learn about its mission and the Ingenuity helicopter. The website includes links with more information, coloring pages, and classroom activities to extend space learning in the classroom. 

Simulating Sutures Modeling Activity

Future surgeons in the classroom? Pique elementary students’ (ages 7–11) curiosity about the medical field with a hands-on Simulating Sutures activity developed collaboratively by the Smithsonian Science Education Center and Johnson and Johnson. In the engineering-based activity, students learn about different suture materials and types of stitches used by doctors and veterinarians, then create models of the various stitch types using yarn, plastic lacing, and pipe cleaners. Students also read question-and-answer interviews with “suture scientists” Toykea Jones and Vivian Lang, who describe their work and how they got started in their careers and explain why different materials are used in sutures engineering. The activity guide—available in PDF format on the SSEC website—includes background information for teachers, interviews with the suture scientists, activity conversation starters, step-by-instructions with photographs, a vocabulary list, and a student handout. 

Freebies for Science and STEM Teachers: Middle Level and High School

Climate Science and Solutions Online Courses 

Introduce a study of climate change in middle and high school science classrooms with short online courses from the Center for Behavior and Climate. The courses, which support the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), combine engaging videos on climate science and solutions with interactive online modules and a lesson plan for teachers. The courses explore climate science topics from energy to oceans to the Arctic to food and are designed to be completed in one 35- to 45-minute period. The courses’ flexible design and online components make them suitable for synchronous, asynchronous, or hybrid learning environments. Course titles include Making Climate Solutions Happen, Great Ocean Conveyor, Energy, Regenerative Agriculture, Arctic Disintegration, Blue Carbon (Standard Course), and Blue Carbon (Advanced Course). (Note—free registration is required for full access to the materials.)

Freebies for Science and STEM Teachers: High School

The Soil-Air Connection
Help high school students understand the relationship between soil and the Earth’s atmosphere by using this resource developed by KidsGardening. With the Soil-Air Connection, a multifaceted lesson plan exploring the role of soil in the carbon cycle, students investigate the connections among soil, the carbon cycle, and climate change. The lesson plan begins with the presentation of a video, The Soil Story, which discusses how the amount of carbon on our planet does not change, but it can be stored in different locations, including the atmosphere, oceans, biosphere, soil, and fossils. With more carbon being released into the atmosphere due to human activities, however, the balance in the carbon storage locations has changed, negatively impacting our environment (e.g., climate change). The video presents moving more carbon back into the soil as a possible solution to help solve the problem of climate change. 

Subsequent lesson activities—including analyzing a carbon cycle diagram from the U.S. Department of Energy, examining data on the amount of carbon measured in the atmosphere from NASA’s Global Climate Change website, and reading articles about land management practices to increase the amount of organic carbon in the soil—help students locate evidence to support or refute the validity of the potential solution. The lesson plan includes links to the videos and articles necessary to complete the activities, along with links to worksheets and organizers to help teachers guide students through the readings and facilitate classroom discussions on climate change.   

Opportunities From the Field: Grades PreK–12

Introduction to Phenomena Found in Agriculture

Open to educators nationwide, these free livestream events explore agriculture as a real-world lens for science education. Field experts will discuss anchoring phenomena based on their experiences. The events will offer insight on how educators can help students make connections across disciplines and grade levels through storylines related to the world of agriculture and food production. These professional learning opportunities can help educators become better equipped to navigate the shifts in practice recommended by NGSS.

  • Phenomena and Student Sensemaking, August 4
  • The Relevancy of Agriculture, August 11
  • Phenomena Through the Lens of Agriculture Deep Dive, September 15

Smithsonian K–12 Science Education Action Planning Institute

The institute, taking place virtually during July 25–27, will bring together formal and informal educators, school administrators, and educational researchers to explore three important topics in STEM education:

•    What does innovation look like in K–12 STEM education in 2022?
•    How do we meet the needs of our students and educators by elevating diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion in STEM education?
•    How can STEM Education for Sustainable Development prepare our students for a changing planet?

The Smithsonian Science Education Center will convene experts in each of these areas to explore actionable approaches, backed by research and best practices in STEM education. Participants will engage with the Smithsonian’s action planning process and develop a plan to take action in their own context on one or all of these topics. This institute is designed for educators, parents, community members, and industry stakeholders. Participants can attend as individuals or teams with members of their school, district, or organization.

Smithsonian National Education Summit 

PreK–12 educators, librarians, media specialists, and policymakers nationwide can attend this free event online or in person in Washington, D.C., on July 27–28. This year’s theme is “Together We Thrive: Creating Our Shared Future Through Education.” The summit will offer skill-building workshops for all subject areas. Attendees will hear from museum experts and education practitioners and leave with classroom-ready ideas. The Smithsonian Science Education Center will present the following two sessions: 

  • Convergence Education: A Framework to Help K–12 STEAM Educators Teach About Real-World Transdisciplinary Problems and Phenomena. The Smithsonian joins other federal agencies and two K–12 STEAM educators to share examples of “convergence education.” Driven by complex real-world transdisciplinary problems and phenomena—ranging from climate change to biodiversity—learners apply knowledge and skills in a blended approach integrated across multiple disciplines to create and innovate new solutions.
  • Making Sense of Things in the Real World: Phenomenon and Problem-Driven Weather Curriculum (PreK to K). In this session, educators will explore phenomenon- and problem-driven early childhood science lessons. The presenters will model a sensemaking approach and provide educators with classroom-ready teaching resources that were developed at the Smithsonian Science Education Center in collaboration with the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center.

DREAM BIG With Design: A Showcase of Landscape Architecture and PreK–12 Design Learning

On September 22–23, The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) will host this virtual event to engage students in design-centered strategies that address critical issues such as green infrastructure, equity in design, climate action, transportation for all, and water and stormwater. ASLA’s landscape architects will lead attendees in live, interactive sessions that explore the future of landscape architecture and apply design techniques that can support interdisciplinary curricula. Students will learn about landscape architecture through design activities, competitions, raffles, and more.

Special programming will also be offered to educator communities, including classroom teachers, informal educators, and school counselors. Educators will participate in train-the-trainer sessions and a curriculum showcase featuring lesson plans, learning programs, and innovative models that reinforce landscape architecture and design principles. Register online to receive more information and updates.

Opportunities From the Field: Early Childhood/Preschool

Urban Ecology Center Institute Nature-Based Early Childhood Class

In partnership with Alverno College, the Urban Ecology Center is offering online training for early childhood educators specializing in nature-based education. Participants will be introduced to teaching resources and tools for environmental education and outdoor exploration and will explore the concept of biodiversity and identify age-appropriate natural concepts for children ages six and younger and how those concepts are important for future scientific learning.

The course will be held on Monday evenings, August 1–22. Participants can earn a Digital Badge upon completion of the course.

Opportunities From the Field: Elementary

Math + Nature = Fun! With Cyberchase and Project Learning Tree

Want to strengthen kids’ mathematics and STEM skills through engaging hands-on activities and educational media? In this free webinar, you’ll discover hands-on activities and resources that use the outdoors to create fun, authentic learning experiences for students ages 5–8. This webinar by Cyberchase: Green It Up and Project Learning Tree will explore teaching mathematics and STEM through an urban or rural environmental lens. The webinar will be held twice: on June 29 at 3 p.m Pacific Time (PT)/6 p.m. Eastern Time (ET) and on July 20 at 1 p.m. PT/4 p.m. ET. Advance registration is required.

Biology Careers Chemistry Climate Change Distance Learning Earth & Space Science Engineering English Language Learners Environmental Science Equity General Science Inclusion Instructional Materials Interdisciplinary Lesson Plans Life Science Mathematics News NGSS Phenomena Physical Science Professional Learning Sensemaking STEM Teaching Strategies Middle School Early Childhood Elementary High School Informal Education Postsecondary Preschool

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