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Freebies for Science Teachers, September 14, 2021

By Debra Shapiro

Freebies for Science Teachers, September 14, 2021

Grades PreK–College

Smithsonian Educator’s Day  

PreK–12 educators nationwide are invited to participate in this day-long virtual event on September 17. During sessions, teachers and museum educators will explore innovative interdisciplinary lesson design, have opportunities to cultivate skill development across content areas (including science and science, technology, engineering, and math [STEM]), and share insights into how the Smithsonian tools and resources can enhance learning. Participants will go behind-the-scenes to talk directly with experts, get a preview of upcoming exhibitions, and learn about current research initiatives at the Smithsonian. Plenary speakers include Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie G. Bunch III and 2021 National Teacher of the Year Juliana Urtubey. Advance registration is required.

Integrating Culturally Based Instructional Practices in STEM Classrooms

On October 2 (10 a.m.–5 p.m. Eastern Time [ET]) and October 9 (10 a.m.–2:30 p.m. ET), the Smithsonian Science Education Center will host this virtual professional development designed to help educators understand the evolution of culturally based instructional practices and explore how they overlap with principles of universal design for learning (UDL). The sessions also aim to prepare educators to develop goals that demonstrate culturally relevant, responsive, and sustaining teaching, as well as consideration of all students regardless of ability, to ensure all learners have stimulating and meaningful STEM learning experiences. (Registration deadline September 30)


AInspire is a three-day curriculum to gently introduce K–12 audiences to artificial intelligence (AI). Developed by the Girl Scouts of America and Discovery Education, the curriculum uses a combination of videos, activities, worksheets, and discussions to help students learn to define, apply, and create AI themselves. The curriculum materials support the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and include a PowerPoint presentation explaining AI, with suggestions on how to present each slide to students; student worksheets and graphic organizers used throughout the curriculum activities; Teacher’s Notes for each day of the curriculum; and pre- and post-tests to assess students’ knowledge of AI before and after the learning activities. (Note: E-mail registration is required.)

Data Literacy Resources
Looking for data-focused activities to provide opportunities for K–college students to work with authentic data sets and improve their data literacy skills? Oceans of Data Institute (ODI) has compiled a list of data-themed resources sorted by grade level, from elementary to postsecondary and teacher reference. The list includes resources developed by ODI and collaborators, as well as lessons and activities developed by other science and education data literacy stakeholders. 

Highlights from the elementary and middle level resources include the Real World, Real Science Curriculum modules (grades 5–6), which use authentic NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) data to study the effects of Earth’s changing climate on the animals and plants of Maine’s diverse habitats; and Discover Data, a joint initiative of Discovery Education and National AfterSchool Association, offering activities and online interactives to introduce secondary students to dynamic careers involving data use. Data Basic, a suite of web tools that teaches users the basic concepts of data analysis and storytelling, provides high school and college students myriad ways—and practice—in communicating information through data. Lastly, teachers interested in enhancing their own data literacy skills can participate in Amplifying Statistics and Data Science in Classrooms, a self-paced, free online course offered by North Carolina State University. This two-module, 10-unit course combines expert advice with peer collaboration to give participants a deeper understanding of data science and help them build a library of resources on the topic. 

Lab Safety: New Teacher Academy

To support safety best practices in the classroom and lab, Flinn Scientific has launched Lab Safety: New Teacher Academy for science teachers who have been teaching three years or less. Academy participants will attend three 90-minute safety webinars and receive a hands-on kit featuring relevant lab safety materials. The webinars will be held on three consecutive Wednesdays, September 15 through September 29, and will address major areas of science safety, including handling protocols, chemical and specimen storage, student safety guidance, first aid, Personal Protective Equipment use, and regulatory compliance. 

After attending the webinars, teachers will receive Professional Development New Science Teacher Certification and a New Teacher Lab Safety Starter Pack, which includes a chemical storage pattern poster, safety poster, periodic table poster, a WhiteBox Learning glider, a Flinn catalog with safety reference guide, and a $25 coupon for first-time Flinn purchasers. Participating teachers will also have on-call access to Flinn safety experts throughout the school year. 

CDC’s STEM Resources for K–12 Students

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention offer public health–related STEM activities for students interested in learning to make healthy lifestyle choices, prevent hearing loss, fight infectious disease, or address another health-related issue. Highlights from the CDC’s game-based resources include the app Dining Decisions (grades 4–8), which teaches students about foods that provide more energy and powerful muscles and foods that are better to eat occasionally, and Solve the Outbreak, a web-based game that challenges students in grades 6–12 to become disease detectives and determine the best steps for containing an outbreak, such whether to quarantine the town, send for more lab results, or alert the media. 

Other resources of note include comics and graphic novels on various health science themes. For example, the Ask a Scientist comic series (grades 4–8) addresses key topics such as How Does My Body Fight Disease?, How Do People Become Infected With Germs?, and How Loud Is Too Loud? Students in grades 6–12 can learn more about preventing the spread of infectious disease by reading the graphic novel Junior Disease Detectives: Operation Outbreak. 

Climate Literacy Resources

Whether you’re a science teacher, naturalist, community organizer, or activist, the North America Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE) has resources to enhance your and your students’ climate literacy. K–college educators can access a range of materials addressing all aspects of climate literacy, from climate justice and health to legislative efforts to improve climate literacy to research into effective education strategies and more. The curated resource list (select Resource Roundup) includes annotated descriptions and links to more than three dozen climate-focused groups or programs, organized by scope (e.g., state or national and global) or resource type/topic area (e.g., research, reports and publications, and climate change and justice). Interested educators can also join eePro, a global network of environmental educators and professionals that allows participants to share information, conversation, and resources to improve climate change education on a large scale. 

Life and Death of Stars

NASA’s Universe of Learning program has compiled these educational resources about stars for all ages, from children to adult. The collection contains informative materials to increase your background knowledge about how stars form and die; hands-on and computer-based activities to help students learn more about stars; explanatory videos and science visualizations highlighting notable stars; downloadable infographics and posters about various stellar processes; and presentations and talks by leading astronomers on star-related topics. Of particular interest is the Touching the Stars Tactile/Braille Kit, featuring downloadable 3-D printing files and instructions to create three-dimensional models of stars identified by data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, Hubble Space Telescope, Spitzer Space Telescope, and other telescopes. Elementary and middle-level students will appreciate the Ask an Astronomer video series, short videos answering essential questions—such as How do stars live and die? and Do the stars really move?—in an age-appropriate manner. 


Hive Jobs Coloring Sheet

The Bee Conservancy’s Hive Jobs is a downloadable color-and-cut activity explaining the various roles of honeybees involved in maintaining the hive. The cartoon-style coloring sheet features a queen bee, forager bee, nurse bee, and builder bee and with brief descriptions of each honeybee role. After coloring the honeybees, students can cut out the bees and use them in roleplays to learn more about life in a honeybee colony.

Be 'Cool' With Popsicle Engineering 

This hands-on activity for grades K–2 was developed by at the University of Colorado Boulder. The activity introduces students to the engineering design process and explores the roles of scientists and engineering. After comparing and contrasting the similarities and differences between scientists and engineers, students are challenged to produce a set of purple popsicles of their own design using various materials and following a specific set of criteria. Students work through the seven steps of the engineering design process (ask, research, imagine, plan, create, test, improve) following an “I do, we do, you do” model of guided instruction. The activity’s lesson plan includes links to worksheets such as a downloadable recording sheet, Venn diagram, rubric, and assessment reflection sheet. The lesson plan also includes ideas to extend learning and tips for scaling the experience for older students. 

Healthy Habits and Hygiene Resources

Looking to encourage healthy habits among students as they return to school buildings? Check out’s library of online health and hygiene-focused resources, including posters, activities, and lesson plans to foster healthy habits in the classroom and beyond. Targeted for K–5 audiences, the resources address topics such as proper techniques for handwashing and mask-wearing; understanding germs and how they spread; teaching children about nutrition labels; and the appropriate level of exercise and fitness to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Elementary and Middle Level

Navigating the New Normal in Schools With the Smithsonian Science Education Center

The Smithsonian Science Education Center (SSEC) will hold a series of webinars in September and October that will focus on the Smithsonian Science for Global Goals guides for grades 3–8: COVID-19! How Can I Protect Myself and Others? and Vaccines! How Can We Use Science to Help Our Community Make Decisions About Vaccines? The September programs are

  • September 16 at 6:30 p.m. ET—Discover—Understand—Act: A Deep Dive Into the Smithsonian Science for Global Goals Learning Framework. This session will explore the Smithsonian Science for Global Goals learning framework, using the Vaccines! guide as a model.
  • September 28 at 6 p.m. ET—Exploring COVID-19! How Can I Protect Myself and Others? With an NGSS Lens Through the NGSS Teacher Companion Guide. In collaboration with NSTA, the SSEC is releasing an NGSS Teacher Companion Guide to aid educators in using the Smithsonian Science for Global Goals COVID-19! How Can I Protect Myself and Others? community response guide in their classrooms. This webinar can help educators teach about the underlying science of COVID-19 in an NGSS-aligned way.

Careers for Engineers Quiz

Inspire K–8 students to view themselves as engineers and computer scientists with the Museum of Science, Boston’s Careers for Engineers, a fun personality-style quiz that matches students’ natural interests with engineering careers. After taking the quiz, which is available in both English and Spanish, students are presented with colorful infographics highlighting key facts about their engineer career match. Students are matched with one of five types of engineers: computer scientist, aerospace engineer, biomedical engineer, agricultural engineer, and acoustical engineer. 

Middle Level and High School

IRIS Lessons for Teaching About Recent Earthquakes

The Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS) offers resources to help STEM educators teach about recent earthquake events, such as the 7.0 magnitude earthquake in Mexico on September 8 and the 7.2 magnitude earthquake in Haiti on August 14. IRIS’s Teachable Moments contain an explanation of the science of why the earthquake occurred, and often include Associated Press photos, animations, and other resources to help educators link the NGSS to earthquake phenomena. Each Teachable Moment lesson consists of a downloadable and editable PowerPoint presentation, available in both Spanish and English and pertaining to a specific earthquake. The lessons include interpreted U.S. Geological Survey earthquake information, plate tectonic and regional tectonic maps and summaries, concept animations, seismograms, damage photos, and other event-specific information and hazards. 

In addition, the lessons contain data generated within hours of each event. The presentations are prepared by seismologists and educators, are classroom-ready, and can be customized to fit students’ needs. IRIS also provides suggested questions that teachers can ask students who are using the lessons during distance learning.

High School

Brave New Planet Podcast and Lesson Plans

Hosted by scientist Eric Lander, founder of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Brave New Planet is a series of podcasts and accompanying lesson plans exploring new science technologies such as gene drives, predictive algorithms, robots, and self-driving cars and their ethical implications. The lesson plans provide opportunities for students to address some of the science and civics issues raised in the podcasts. For example, after listening to the podcast Reshaping Nature Through Gene Drives, students conduct science activities to further develop their understanding of CRISPR and gene drives, then apply that knowledge to take a stance on the specific use of gene drives to prevent the spread of malaria. Similarly, after listening to the podcast A Radical Approach to Climate Change, students learn about climate change and systems thinking, perform a volcano experiment to better understand climate intervention technology, and form their own opinions on interventions. 

National Historical Chemical Landmarks Program

The American Chemical Society’s National Historic Chemical Landmarks program celebrates how chemists and chemistry are transforming modern life. The program highlights pioneering achievements in the history of the chemical sciences, such as the discovery of penicillin, the first African-American Ph.D. in chemistry, the development of Scotch tape, and the deciphering of the genetic code, by designating the achievements as historical chemical landmarks. Students can explore stories behind these key achievements on the program’s website, which features a timeline, historical images, and descriptive text about each designated chemical landmark. Accompanying lessons plans include a teacher’s guide, reading materials, videos, and activities to help students connect real-life discoveries to concepts they’re learning in chemistry class. 

Of particular interest are the landmark descriptions that have been fully translated into Spanish, three of which have accompanying lesson plans in English. There are Spanish translations for landmarks describing how research in Mexico contributed to the development of oral contraceptives, the importance of the ozone layer, the development of penicillin, the discovery of oxygen, the establishment of chemistry as the central science, and how a bacterium in a soil sample was responsible for saving countless lives. These materials and their accompanying lessons provide Spanish-speaking English language learners enrich their understanding as they read about a chemical landmark in Spanish, then participate in the distillation of knowledge in English. 

High School and College

Broad Classroom Discovery Guides

A series of biology-based curriculum guides for high school and introductory college biology classrooms can help students understand how new developments in science and medicine have evolved since the human genome was first sequenced. The eight curriculum guides support the NGSS and address research developments in genetics, cancer, infectious disease, psychiatric disease, sequencing and data science, and other fields. The guides were developed to support a series of talks on developments in biomedicine presented by researchers at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. Each guide features a link to the scientist’s talk, along with content summaries, key vocabulary and concepts, and discussion questions aligned to specific sections of the recorded talk. The guides also include links to the relevant educational standards and to related resources and activities developed by other organizations. 

Using UbD in a Chemistry Lesson

High school and introductory college physical science teachers can reinvigorate their curriculum unit design process using the paper Using Understanding by Design (UbD) to Make the NGSS Come Alive, written by education researchers and authors Jay McTighe and Pat Brown and posted on Brown’s blog for educators. The paper gives readers an example of how the UbD curriculum unit design process and explore-before-explain instructional sequence blend naturally in a high school chemistry lesson. The blog post also includes general information about the UbD curriculum unit design process and why the explore-before-explain instructional sequence works well with the model.

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