By Debra Shapiro
Tips for Rethinking STEM in Your District
With in-person learning beginning across the United States and Canada, many district and school leaders are rethinking what success and innovation looks like, starting with their district science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs. Unruly Splats.com, a company dedicated to engaging learners in STEM programs and products by combining coding and active play, has produced an online guide—Four Helpful Tips for Rethinking STEM in Your District—to help K–12 teachers and district leaders make STEM more successful in the school year ahead. The guide describes some challenges of creating a successful STEM program (e.g., lack of time, unequal access to STEM resources) and provides research-based recommendations to enhance STEM instruction in any learning environment. The recommendations include creating cross-curricular learning teams in districts/schools to sustain STEM momentum; taking a playful approach to STEM instruction; and providing ongoing, “bite-sized” professional development opportunities on STEM-related topics.
Zero Barriers in STEM Education Workbook
Zero Barriers in STEM Education Accessibility and Inclusion Workbook, from the Smithsonian Science Education Center, is designed to empower teachers to structure lessons to address the needs of all students, including those with disabilities. The book presents strategies to integrate inclusive/Universal Design for Learning practices into K–12 STEM classrooms. It features strategies for using digital tools (e.g., video conferencing, simulation programs); encouraging student choice and engaging multisensory functions (e.g., station-based learning); reinforcing literacy and language skills in STEM (e.g., student-created dictionaries); and creating a classroom culture of inclusion and accessibility (e.g., cooperative groups, peer support). Each highlighted strategy includes a detailed description of the strategy, along with intended target audience, standards information, and classroom implementation tips. The publication is designed to be accessible for all users, including screen readers, so it has many useful features for that audience (e.g., bookmarks; proper tagging, including headings, paragraph text, lists, and tables; and figures with alt-text).
Marine Debris STEAMSS Curriculum
Looking for project-based resources to engage students in environmental stewardship? Check out the Marine Debris Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math, and Social Studies (STEAMSS) curriculum, developed by Oregon Sea Grant with support from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Debris Program. Versioned for grades 4–5, 6–8, and 9–12, the curriculum guides educators through in-depth, project-based learning units relevant to their local community. The units span subject disciplines and involve students in classroom and field experiences exploring the impacts of marine debris on many fronts. Through various activities, students will collect and analyze data to identify characteristics of marine debris; model the path of marine debris traveling to the ocean; investigate how marine debris affects wildlife, ecosystems, and humans; use technology and art to convey important stewardship messages; and contribute to marine debris cleanup efforts in the community.
Use these experiments and other resources from the Optical Society to engage K–12 audiences in the study of optics, a branch of physics describing how light behaves and interacts with matter. Optics4Kids, the society’s website for educators, has dozens of kid-friendly experiments to explore the physics of light in the classroom or at home. Elementary activities (ages five and older) include making a Homemade Kaleidoscope to learn about light behavior and exploring diffraction with a Rainbow Snowflake. At the middle level (ages 10 and older), students explore fluorescence by making Glow in the Dark Jell-O, and experiment with water and a transparent box to figure out an answer to the question, Why Is the Sky Blue? Students ages 15 and older can investigate the effects of polarization on lenses by making a Homemade Polariscope, or learn how light moves as a wave by building a Wave Machine model from tape, toothpicks, cups, and miniature marshmallows.
A What Is Optics? section provides background information for teachers, explaining the science behind concepts such as reflection, refraction, and scattering.
Science Differentiation in Action
Developed by educators from Cork (Ireland) Education Support Centre’s Special Education Support Service, this publication contains differentiated lesson plans and other resources (worksheets, activities, toolkit, experiments) to stimulate your creativity as a teacher and meet the diverse needs of learners of different styles and ability levels in the science classroom. Adaptable for all levels, the lessons are presented as exemplars and are intended for use with an existing curriculum. The publication also includes several scaffolded templates for Experiment Writeups and a Lesson Template Form, which can be useful for teachers designing their own differentiated lessons.
NAAEE Anti-Racism and Representation Resources
North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE) has compiled a list of education resources to support educators of all ages and levels in establishing an equity-centered learning environment. Accessible through NAAEE’s Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion website, the list presents descriptions and links to a collection of books, articles, websites, curriculum, and other tools from NAAEE and others designed to ensure representation and an anti-racism attitude in the curriculum. List highlights include A Guide to Gender Identity Terms, a glossary of terms from National Public Radio and GLAAD to clarify gender identity language and help educators communicate accurately and respectfully with one another, and Instructor Bias Assessment, a self-assessment tool developed by NAAEE to guide educators in checking assumptions, mitigating biases, and ensuring all learners are reached. The list will be updated frequently, so check it often for new resources.
Educational technology expert Gwen Solomon shares tips and strategies for writing effective grant applications to help “land” hard-to-come-by grant funding in her article, “Education Grants: Five Guidelines to Win One.” The article, which appeared in a recent issue of the digital publication and website Tech and Learning, highlights helpful strategies such as aligning needs and ideas to the grant funder and correlating needs and ideas to the school’s future plans. The article also includes links to resources describing other key elements of the grant-getting process, such as “Seven Steps to Getting a Grant Proposal” and “What Grant Judges Look For in an Application.”
Science With Sesame Street
Show young learners (ages 2–6) that science is exciting (and everywhere!) with the simple activities and resources from the Sesame Street in Communities program. Featuring printables, videos, interactives, and articles, the resources highlight big ideas in science and can spark students’ curiosity and exploration. Download a copy of Creature Camouflage (a printable) to search for hidden animals outdoors or online; watch STEM and Levers (a video) to learn how simple machines make a job easier; read Loose Parts (an article) to discover how a collection of everyday objects builds children’s creativity and flexible-thinking skills; and play Sink or Float (an interactive game) to find out what floats and what doesn’t. Resources include simple directions, estimated time for completing the activity, and questions to inspire further inquiry.
Green Bronx Machine
Join educator Stephen Ritz (Mister Ritz) and his entertaining cast of character friends as they explore the world of healthy living, learning, and wellness in the educational television series, The Green Bronx Machine. Produced as a segment of the PBS program Let’s Learn NYC!, and available on YouTube, each approximately 20- to 25-minute episode introduces viewers in grades K–5 to a different science- or environment-related topic. Students will learn about topics such as vertical farming, dinosaurs, North American mammals, ocean ecosystems, and forest ecosystems. The episodes and a downloadable coloring page for each episode are available on the main website.
Reducing Our Footprint With Chemistry
On Earth Day 2021, the American Chemical Society (ACS) hosted a virtual event to excite students in grades 3–8 about chemistry. The event focused on how the chemistry of plastics can help reduce our environmental footprint and featured three hands-on activities presented by STEM advocates in the field: Reduce Your Footprint With Shrinky Dinks (Greglynn Gibbs, Chemical Research Technologist, Penn State Berks); Cleaning Up Oil Spills With Chemistry (Dyani Melgarejo, chemistry student, San Diego State College); and Choose and Reuse Compostable Plastics (T. Greg Tucker, Intellectual Property Technical Specialist, Skysong Innovations, Arizona State University). A video recording of the event and accompanying lesson plans are available on the ACS Kid Zone website. The materials are available in three languages: English, Spanish, and Chinese. The video (recorded in English) is closed-captioned in Spanish and Chinese, and the materials lists and activity writeups are offered in all three languages.
Paper Helicopters Activity
In this activity for grades 3–8 from NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate, students build two paper helicopter models with blades of different sizes to explore how blade size affects the helicopter’s flight. Students then use what they observe from their own experimentation to reflect on how the size of the rotor blades on the Mars helicopter Ingenuity might affect the copter’s ability to fly in Mars’ thin atmosphere. The activity lesson plan includes step-by-step instructions with photographs, two helicopter templates, and a link to a NASA Mars website with more information about the Ingenuity spacecraft.
AgLab: Science for a Growing Mind
Welcome to AgLab, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture Research Service’s (ARS) website exploring the intersection where food and science meet. Targeted for elementary and middle levels, the website highlights the impact of agricultural research on daily activities. Students and teachers can learn about agricultural research projects in their hometown; find fun experiments to try at home or at school; watch videos on natural phenomena; and learn about dynamic careers in agricultural science.
The video-based experiments are easy to do and use readily available materials. For example, in Black Light Experiment, students investigate fluorescence in food and plants at home using a black light created from flashlight, tape, and blue and purple pens, while in the Clean Hands vs. Dirty Hands Challenge, students compare what happens over time to bread slices brushed on dirty surfaces (hands, phones, door handles) versus bread slices handled with clean hands or not at all (control). The site also offers opportunities for students to engage with ARS scientists on social media platforms, such as through Q & A sessions with young scientists, contests, and in agricultural science discussion forums.
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