• Literacy Doesn’t Just Mean Reading

    Posted by Patricia Marohn on Friday, May 22, 2015 ( 0 )
    When I took on the challenge to integrate literacy into new SSEC products, I immediately started thinking about how we would develop reading materials for young learners. That seemed logical…literacy equals reading. As I began researching strategies and best practices for integrating literacy into science curriculum, I realized I was barely scratching the surface of literacy connections by concentrating on reading. Looking at the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts provided even more insight. Literacy is not just reading. The chief components of literacy are reading, writing, language, speaking, and listening. As educators, we need to be thinking about what students are reading, writing, and talking about.

  • SSEC Hosted Educators from Japan

    Posted by Claudia Campbell on Tuesday, May 19, 2015 ( 0 )
    On April 29, 2015, the Smithsonian Science Education Center (SSEC) had the honor and pleasure to host 14 visiting educators from Japan as part of the 2015 Japan-U.S. Teacher Exchange Program for Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). The program, sponsored by Fulbright Japan, is an exchange between Japanese and U.S. K–12 teachers aimed at strengthening ESD curricula in both countries. Now in its sixth year, the program sponsors 14 educators from Japan to travel to the United States in late April and 14 educators from the U.S. to travel to Japan in June. At the end of the program in each country, all 28 educators gather for a few days of joint collaboration to improve education for sustainable development, “a vision of education that seeks to balance human and economic well-being with cultural traditions and respect for the earth’s natural resources,” according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

  • The Art of Scientific Books

    Posted by Katya Vines on Wednesday, April 29, 2015 ( 0 )
    You may know that the Smithsonian Natural History Museum contains the Hope Diamond. You may not be aware of one of the museum’s other gems, the Cullman Library. The Cullman library is part of Smithsonian Libraries network and contains a collection of 15,000 natural history books published prior to 1840. One of the strengths of the collection is the several hundred rare botany books, many of which contain beautiful hand-colored illustrations. However, these books are not just works of art. They are important scientific documents that allow Smithsonian researchers and other scientists to identify plants they find in the field.

  • Smithsonian Science Education Center Launches Weather Lab

    Posted by Karen McDonald on Tuesday, April 21, 2015 ( 0 )
    Visualizing Weather Formed by Ocean Currents and Air Masses Have you ever wondered how weather forms? You can see the effects of weather when it’s snowing or a storm rolls through, but it’s difficult to visualize on a continental scale. SSEC educators designed the new Weather Lab app, with help from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), to help students and teachers visualize the complex interactions of ocean currents and air masses that create weather over North America. In the Weather Lab, students take on the role of meteorologists by predicting spring weather and how people should dress for it in particular regions of the United States. Students base their predictions on the interactions generated by the ocean current and air masses they choose.

  • Preview of the First-Ever National Math Festival

    Posted by David Eisenbud on Tuesday, April 14, 2015 ( 0 )
    There’s just under one week until the first-ever National Math Festival comes to Washington, D.C. on April 18! The country’s first national festival dedicated to discovering the delight and power of mathematics will take place in several Smithsonian museums, including the National Museum of Natural History, National Air and Space Museum, National Museum of African Art, Freer and Sackler Galleries, Enid A. Haupt Garden, and S. Dillon Ripley Center. From hands-on magic and Houdini-like getaways to lectures with some of the most influential mathematicians of our time, the National Math Festival will feature more than 70 interactive activities for every age. Courtesy of the National Museum of Mathematics

  • National Math Festival Policy Day: Building the Profession of Math Teachers in America

    Posted by David Eisenbud on Tuesday, April 14, 2015 ( 0 )
    On April 18, the National Math Festival comes to Washington, D.C., inspiring people of all ages with activities that demonstrate the beauty, fun, and importance of math. Two days before the fun starts—on April 16—educators and policymakers will gather on Capitol Hill for the National Math Festival’s Policy Day, which includes timely conversations about what it takes to build a world-class corps of math teachers in America. Courtesy of Math for America

  • What Makes an Effective Science Video?

    Posted by Nate Fedrizzi on Wednesday, April 01, 2015 ( 0 )
    The ubiquity of digital technology has revolutionized the ways in which we communicate and consume scientific content. Perhaps most importantly, the Internet has enabled easier and more democratic access to knowledge that was once available only though exclusive and often costly academic programs. Answers to some of the most complex questions in science are now available at the click of a mouse, through web videos created by a diverse and highly popular set of so-called “science explainer” outlets, which have proliferated in recent years. Other projects, such as Salman Khan’s Khan Academy have assembled digital libraries that empower people all over the world to engage with vast collections of educational content through free and endlessly-replayable instructional videos. The Academy has already had a substantial impact on formal education, as its library of videos, which have been translated into 24 different languages, is accessed by roughly six million unique students around the globe each month (Noer, 2012). As valuable and groundbreaking as this type of resource is, however, critics assert that a flaw of “content explainer” videos is that they essentially repackage traditional education and deliver it in a new way. Prensky (2011) argues that in addition to disseminating traditional lecture-based knowledge, digital technologies have the potential to provide new ways of reaching learners through games and multi-media tools that foster experiential education. Such resources may be particularly useful to students who have struggled in traditional educational contexts, as these tools may allow them to approach the same content in novel ways (Prensky, 2011).


    Posted by Cathy Wang on Thursday, March 19, 2015 ( 0 )
    After graduating from Duke University cum laude in May 2014, Cathy Wang took a summer internship with the SSEC’s Professional Services Division. During her time at Duke, Cathy became interested in the pedagogy behind STEM education In K-8 classrooms while volunteering at Durham Public Schools with the American Red Cross. What follows is the first installment in a blog series detailing Cathy’s experiences at the 2014 International K-12 Science Education Institute for Leadership Development and Strategic Planning (SPI). As the summer heat fizzles off and we begin to pine for autumn, the Smithsonian Science Education Center’s (SSEC) Professional Services division has been hard at work to host their final event of the summer: the 2014 International K-12 Science Education Institute for Leadership Development and Strategic Planning (visit our website for more information). It only seems appropriate that the summer programming conclude with the flagship strategic planning institute – a long-standing event that the SSEC hosts to aid K-12 science educators and their partners in developing strategic plans and bringing about systemic change to uphold the highest standards in professional development and best practices in education. This week-long event began on a sunny and breezy Friday morning at the Westin in Alexandria, VA with a two-day faculty planning meeting designed to hash out the finer details of hosting an event for 30+ educators, supervisors, and community members. During this time, old and new faculty members got a chance to evaluate each person’s respective expertise and assess the team’s profile as a whole.

  • Supporting Teachers Through Formative Assessment: A LASER Alum Reflects

    Posted by Ron DeFronzo on Tuesday, March 10, 2015 ( 0 )
    Ron DeFronzo has served as a science specialist to elementary and middle school teachers through the East Bay Educational Collaborative in Rhode Island since 1991. Prior to that, Ron taught high school physics for 17 years. As a member of Rhode Island’s first team to participate in a National Science Resources Center (now the Smithsonian Science Education Center) Strategic Planning Institute (SPI), I was among a fortunate group of individuals. Through sheer timing and positioning we received a 5-year NSF grant to bring together all of the elements of the SSEC’s LASER model. Evidence of our success is a present-day, robust K-8 science program that has sustained itself for 24 years and counting. Leaders at the SPI taught us to address the five elements of the LASER model together—just like the pillars of a building that support it. When one of them is missing, it renders the structure unstable. Therefore, we pursued plans for community and administrative support, material resources, standards-based science curriculum, and professional development (PD). We could check these things off our to-do list. We had our materials resource center filled with exemplary science curriculum materials and supported by the districts we served. We had an adequate professional development program too. The fifth pillar—Assessment—seemed far more elusive, given that the teachers we were working with were only gradually coming around to the adoption of our plan. At the SPI, we learned that in order for a new program to succeed, it is critical to address the concerns of the people charged with implementing it. To that end, our PD focused on orientation to the new program. Teachers would undergo a period of mechanical use ultimately leading to routine use of the materials where they get comfortable using the materials with few changes from year to year. Not being one who is satisfied with mechanical or even routine use, I sought to move beyond these levels to even greater heights. Doing so proved difficult. We wanted teachers to refine the use of the materials through practices such as formative assessment where teachers could modify their instruction based on specific information they gather from students. My answer to moving past basic routine usage came when a staff member of the institute, Wendy, recommended that I read Inside the Black Box (Wiliam and Black, 1998). This research report on formative assessment invites the reader to think of a typical classroom as a scientific “black box.” To paraphrase, no one outside the black box has any idea what goes on inside the black box—no one. That includes me and probably everyone who is reading this. The best we can do is to send in probes and wait to see what comes out, much as scientists did when formulating the model of the atom. When I read the paper, it transformed my thinking about my work with teachers. Only the teacher really knows what goes on when the doors are closed.

  • Hydraulic Crabs and Energy Bikes: SSEATs Transforms the Classroom

    Posted by Scott Harrison on Thursday, February 19, 2015 ( 0 )
    Scott Harrison, a 6th grade teacher at Freeland Elementary School in Michigan, attended the 2014 Smithsonian Science Education Academies for Teachers on Biodiversity in Washington, DC. The year prior, Scott attended the “Energy: Past, Present and Future” SSEAT. Scott’s experiences at these Academies have empowered him to develop new and exciting units for his classroom and pursue funding to put even more ideas into action. Congratulations to Scott and Freeland Elementary for their latest win in the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow contest! Attending the Smithsonian Science Education Academies for Teachers has proven to be, hands down, the most beneficial training I have ever received. The academies motivated me to offer opportunities to my students that would not otherwise be possible. After learning about so many awesome hands-on and STEM-related activities, I feel better equipped to offer similar activities to my students. Thanks to the academies, I have worked to obtain multiple grants to secure funding for large STEM-based projects in my classroom. Most recently, I have taken the concept of biomimicry from the Biodiversity Academy and incorporated it into my classroom. I received a grant that will allow me to teach a full unit on biomimicry with my classes in the spring. Students will create a fully functioning hydraulic arm that mimics how a blue crab functions.

STEMVisions highlights ideas, best practices, research and successes in science education.