Companies demonstrated products built around the Next Generation Science Standards and designed to engage students in science activities
Integrating the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) into instruction, teaching science in the elementary grades, and getting students interested in science were key themes to emerge during the annual conference of the National Science Teachers Association  (NSTA) April 3-6.
Nearly 10,000 science teachers and curriculum specialists gathered in Boston earlier this month for the organization’s National Conference on Science Education. In conference sessions and the exhibit hall, much of the talk focused on the NGSS and how to integrate these successfully into teaching.
Created by a group of 26 states in an effort supported by NSTA, the National Research Council, and Achieve Inc., the voluntary standards identify important scientific ideas and practices that all students should learn by the time they graduate high school. As of press time, 11 states and the District of Columbia have formally adopted the standards.
NSTA has created a new website, NGSS@NSTA , which it calls a “hub” for science teachers to find NSTA-approved resources to help them implement the standards. Many conference exhibitors touted new science curriculum products geared toward the standards as well.
For instance, LEGO Education  introduced an activity pack with 14 physical science experiments for middle school students. The experiments—which cover topics such as energy, heat, force and motion, and light—require the LEGO MINDSTORMS Education EV3 system, a Renewable Energy Set, and a temperature sensor, and they’re designed to fit into a single class period, said Marketing Director Abigail Fern.
Sangari Active Science , which publishes hands-on, inquiry-based elementary and middle school science curriculum, demonstrated its new IQWST Tablet Edition. This interactive science curriculum for students in grades 6-8 is available as a browser-based program that works with any platform, as well as a native app for iPads.
IQWST stands for “Investigating and Questioning our World through Science and Technology,” and its units are organized around questions that are relevant to students’ lives. Students learn by following the processes spelled out in the NGSS: They ask questions, analyze and interpret data, and argue their hypotheses based on the evidence they’ve collected.
National Geographic Learning  demonstrated its brand-new “Exploring Science” program, a K-5 science curriculum built from the ground up to address the NGSS.
Available in print or digital format, Exploring Science “challenges kids to think like a scientist,” said Vincent Grosso, senior vice president of sales and marketing. Students learn “not just how to know science, but how to do science.”
(Next page: More products to help elementary teachers include science in their curriculum—and products designed to engage students’ interest)
Emphasizing science in the early grades
One of the hallmarks of the NGSS is the integration of science lessons into the early grades, which can be a challenge for many schools.
Some elementary school teachers don’t think of themselves as subject-matter experts in science, while others feel so much pressure to make sure their students are proficient in the high-stakes subjects of reading and math that science can take a back seat to these topics.
To address these challenges, a number of NSTA conference exhibitors showed products aimed at making it easy to integrate science into the elementary grades.
Carolina Biological Supply Company demonstrated a product called Tigtag , a collection of more than 600 short science videos for young students. Teachers can use the videos for whole class or individual instruction, and students can watch the videos from home as well, said Bruce Wilcox, director of educational technology for the company.
The videos include lesson plans and ideas for extending these concepts with fun, practical classroom activities. They’re simple to integrate into teaching, and a yearly license costs $30 for individual teachers or $195 for a whole building. A similar product, Twig , includes more than 1,000 videos and lessons for teaching middle school science.
Ward’s Science highlighted a new line of durable, easy-to-use elementary science probes  that can send data wirelessly to students’ digital devices or a machine connected to a projector—making it simple for young students to collect data like real scientists.
A base unit comes with a built-in temperature sensor for $176. Teachers can choose from as many as nine additional sensors, measuring characteristics such as light, sound, voltage, pressure, and motion; each additional sensor costs $100 and plugs into the top of the base unit. Wireless connectivity is available through an optional, $157 Wi-Fi module that plugs into the bottom—and free, standards-aligned activities are included with every sensor.
Engaging kids in science
Getting students interested in science was another key theme among conference exhibitors—and toward that end, Texas Instruments highlighted its “STEM Behind Hollywood ” curriculum.
Created with input from scientists and movie producers, these free activities for the TI-Nspire platform ask students to apply science and math to solve problems based on popular movie themes—such as saving the Earth from an approaching meteor or using clues from a decomposing body to identify a murder victim.
Laser Quest , a Canadian company that makes laser tag equipment, discussed its educational programs about lasers, light, and optics. Students play laser tag games and then discuss how concepts such as light reflection and refraction influenced their strategy or the outcome of the games.
And during a live demonstration that generated quite a buzz, Wildlife Acoustics  launched an iOS-powered “bat detector” app.
About the size of a key fob, the company’s Echo Meter Touch is an ultrasonic module that plugs into an iPhone or iPad. When used with the free Echo Meter Touch app, it creates a fully functional spectrogram viewer, allowing students to listen to and record bats in real time.
“Echo Meter Touch has student discovery stamped all over it,” said product manager Sherwood Snyder in a press release. “It’s an innovative way for teachers in one-to-one and flipped learning classroom environments to get students excited about biology.”
The app identifies a bat’s species by capturing ultrasonic sounds, giving students an opportunity to learn more about the bats they’re monitoring. A GPS tracking feature automatically tags all recordings with location information.
(Next page: Nurturing and showcasing top STEM talent—and other new science curriculum products)
Nurturing and showcasing STEM talent
A new company called STEMlete discussed its free online community for students who are serious about STEM careers. The website, www.stemlete.org , gives users a way to connect, share, and collaborate with others who have similar interests around the world.
The site also gives companies a way to track the top STEM talent at high schools and universities, said founder Peter Lierni. “When LeBron James was in high school, everyone knew who he was,” Lierni said. He envisions STEMlete as a means of helping the future stars of STEM-related fields get the same kind of recognition afforded to elite athletes.
STEMlete.org has been in alpha testing until now. When it officially launches April 23, it will include profiles of more than 300 students from 30 countries, Lierni said.
Other new science curriculum products
Exo Labs  demonstrated a camera that attaches to a microscope and plugs into an iPad or iPhone, and an app that lets you stream images from the microscope, annotate them, take time-lapse photos, measure distances with the touch of your finger, and more.
ExploreLearning  showed its iPad app for Gizmos, which are interactive, online simulations for math and science education in grades 3-12. Gizmos help students develop a deep understanding of challenging concepts through inquiry and exploration—and ExploreLearning is working to make these compatible with Chromebooks as well.
It’s About Time , which publishes project-based STEM curricula, has partnered with Kno  to put its curriculum resources on Kno’s interactive eBook platform. The Kno platform includes features such as journaling, social sharing, data analytics, and a personal student dashboard.
Late Nite Labs  demonstrated its online lab simulation software, which it describes as “like a flight simulator for science.” Labs are available for chemistry, biology, microbiology, and physics—and the software lets you conduct experiments with state-of-the-art virtual equipment, with an unlimited supply of materials. Each lab manual includes background information, procedures, and a note-taking section for students.
Ward’s Science  also highlighted a product called Digital Slides, which the company described as “like Google Earth for your microscope slides.” It’s a collection of digitized slides that allows for deeper exploration and analysis; students can zoom in up to 1,000 times, and—as with the Exo Labs camera—they can annotate images, measure structures on the screen, and more. Sets are available for middle and high school life sciences, AP biology, and introductory college biology.
WeatherBug  showcased a new solution for tracking lightning strikes, WeatherBug Total Lightning. The product includes a weather station and high-definition roof camera that let schools track their own weather data and broadcast live footage across their network. It also features a unique lightning detection and alerting system, designed to warn school leaders whenever a lightning strike is likely within 10 miles of the building. The product doubles as an advance warning system and a teaching tool, WeatherBug says.
Follow Editorial Director Dennis Pierce on Twitter: @eSN_Dennis .