Posts Tagged ‘NSTA’

Greetings from the Boston NSTA Conference!

It was so wonderful meeting with many inspiring science educators from the world at this week’s National Science Teachers Convention in Boston, MA!


In addition to attending workshops and scouring the expo floor for ideas and resources, I presented two workshops, one on National Board Certification and another entitled “Full STEAM Ahead” on integrating art into STEM education. Click on the “NSTA WORKSHOPS” header at the top of the page to access the presentations and resource pages from my workshops.


04 2014

Google Glass in Science Class

Trying on Google GlassToday I had the incredible opportunity to go pick up my school’s new pair of Google Glass. As part of the Glass Explorer Program, we’ll have an early edition of the glasses to try out before the glasses go on sale to the public later this year. Being in the Bay Area, my colleague Jenny and I took advantage of the option to trek down to Google’s San Francisco offices where we were able to pick up the glasses with a one-on-one tutorial and set-up session with a Glass expert.

Google Glass Patent DrawingFor those of you who aren’t familiar with the technology, the glasses (officially called “Google Glass”)  consist of a small screen and camera that are contained within a pair of lens-free glass frames. The screen sits about one inch away from your eye, just above your line of sight. Thanks to the screen, a set of sensors, a camera, GPS sensor, and a data connection, Google Glass is able to take pictures and video, respond to user voice commands, and display information related to the user’s location. For a basic example, to take a picture, simply look up to trigger the glasses then say “Ok glass, take a picture.” The device captures the user’s field of view in a picture which is then uploaded to the cloud. Things get more interesting when using glass apps – imagine sitting in a cafe in Paris, looking at a cafe menu while wearing Google Glass. Without hesitation, the menu item you’re looking at appears translated into English on the screen of the glasses.
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01 2014

Takeaways from The NSTA Convention – Part 1

IMG_0260The National Science Teachers Association annual convention is a 4-day exhibition of the latest and greatest in science teaching. From workshops and presentations (the details of which fill a phonebook-sized guide!) to an exhibit hall packed with vendors and exhibitors, I always find the convention to be a wealth of information and ideas. In this series of posts, I’ll be sharing my favorite takeaways from the 2013 event.


At the tinkering and making events I’ve attended over the past several years, I’ve heard countless people share how they’ve used Arduino both in their own projects and in the classroom. Arduino is an open-source micro-controller (think small computer chip with sensors and LEDs) that are programmable with a C++ esque language. At a workshop offered by exhibitor SparkFun Electronics, I had my first opportunity to play in Arduino. Within minutes, I was programming an RGB LED to blink in different colors in response to different light levels detected by a built-in light sensor on the board. I believe the incredible potential for Arduino in the classroom lies in its being easy to get started using while still having incredible potential for advanced projects. As with any computer programming implementation in the classroom, SparkFun and Arduino offer opportunities for students to develop critical thinking and problem solving skills.

10311-01bWhile incredibly easy to pick up, the Arduino programming language may challenging for younger students – I’d readily teach it to my 6th grade students but I am concerned that the syntax might not be accessible to the 3rd and 4th grade students I’ll be teaching in a maker camp this summer. Enter the SparkFun PicoBoard – an external board and set of sensors that interface with Scratch, the visual programming software developed by MIT. Instead of having to write code, programmers drag programming blocks into chains to create and control animated “sprites.” For example, a student might create an animated cat that closes its eyes when lights in the room are too bright or that runs off the screen when it hears a loud sound (light and sound are sensed by the PicoBoard – readings are then used to control the on-screen animation). I’d recommend starting by playing around with the free Scratch software (version 2.0 to be released soon!) and then adding a PicoBoard when you and your are ready for more complicated programming and animating.

More updates from the NSTA Convention to follow. Stay tuned!

Full disclosure: I received a free SparkFun ProtoSnap as an attendee of their NSTA Workshop. I was under no obligation to use or review this product and receive no compensation from SparkFun for this posting or for any of the links included in this blog.”



04 2013

Deep in the heart of SCIENCE!

San Antonio Convention CenterI’ve just wrapped up my second day at the National Science Teachers Convention in San Antonio, TX. The buzz of the conference has been the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), which were just released this week. Developed by scientific education organizations in partnership with 26 states, the standards seed to define 21st century science education.  The NGSS establish learning expectations for students that integrate three important foci—science and engineering practices, disciplinary core ideas, and crosscutting concepts—outlining science and engineering concepts from kindergarten through 12th grade. The new standards are available at

Stay tuned for updates from the conference… from animatronic toy dissections to Arduino boards and sewn circuits to iPad microscopes I have tons to share!


04 2013

Back to School with Discrepant Event Science!

After a restful summer (which included a move to a new school!), classes are finally back in session! I always begin the year with a set of activities that challenge students to practice science process skills (observing, recording data, asking questions, etc.). My approach includes a series of quick “discrepant event” demos that captivate (and baffle) my students. From trying to figure out why two ice cubes melt at dramatically different rates to brainstorming explanations for how a sealed opaque balloon suddenly starts self-inflating, these demos engage students, assess students’ science skills, and emphasize the processes and habits that scientists use to inquire about the world around them.

Asking Questions

My first demo begins with two black plates upon each of which I place an ice-cube. Within seconds, students notice a difference between what is happening to the ice cubes. As a puddle forms around one cube, the other remains solid ice showing now signs of melting. I then ask students to record two questions, the answers to which they think will help them understand the difference between the two ice cubes. Students share their questions (Are the ice cubes both made of the same substance? Is one plate hotter than the other?) and explain why they the answers to their questions will help them more fully understand what’s going on. After a few minutes of sharing (but not answering) questions, one student invariably suggests moving the not melting cube to the other plate. When it begins melting and students exclaim that it must be that the one plate is hotter than the other, I pass around the plate sitting under the rapidly melting cubes. To students surprise, it is not warm but instead ice-cold! We continue the discussion and questioning, eventually discovering that the plates are made of different materials (wood vs. metal) and discussing conduction and relative temperature. In this 20-minute investigation concludes with a discussion of how asking questions helped us (and scientists) understand an unexpected phenomenon.

Ideas & Resources

My discrepant event introductory lessons typically include five different demos, each practicing a different skill (recording observations, asking questions, recording data, making predictions, etc.). Below are some of the materials I use in my classroom and resources on how to bring discrepant event science into your classroom.

Brain-Powered Science 

From NSTA Press:  Author Thomas O’Brien created his Brain-Powered Science series for educators who love to surprise and challenge their students with unanticipated results. Using his inquiry-oriented experiments based on the science of discrepant events—hands-on explorations or demonstrations in which the outcomes are not what students expect—teachers can challenge students’ preconceived ideas and urge them to critically examine empirical evidence, draw logical inferences, and skeptically review their initial explanations with their peers.

Ice Block Demo – As described and pictured above.

Self-Inflating Balloons – A sealed, opaque mylar balloon mysteriously begins to self-inflate

Two-Balloon SurpriseTwo balloons are connected by a valve. When the valve opens, the smaller balloon inflates the larger one.

Happy & Sad Balls – A ball suddenly stops bouncing after being secretly switched for one made of a non-elastic material

UV Detecting Beads – Beads change from colorless to vibrant colors, but only in some types of light.

Sinking & Floating Spheres – Two spheres with identical masses respond differently when placed in a bowl of water

Astro BlasterA red ball mysteriously bounces five times higher than the height from which it was dropped.



09 2011