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Welcome to the Science Teacher Update! Here, you will find ideas to inspire your Next Generation Science Standards implementation for the classroom. We will also showcase student events happening in the Keystone area and, of course, professional development opportunities!


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Science Update for January 2024


Reforming Science Practices - Developing and Using Models in Science

The phrase “science model” likely brings a variety of things to mind as a science educator.  You may imagine a model of our solar system, a model of a plant or animal cell, or maybe even a model of the inner structure of the Earth or a drawing of an atom. 

We’ve all experienced different models as part of our science education, but whether or not we’ve experienced the practice of developing and using models is an entirely different thing.  In Helping Students Students Make Sense of the World Using Next Generation Science and Engineering Practices, two major ideas are called out about the practice of Developing and Using Models:

  1. Models are defined by how they are used.

Models should be a part of the sensemaking process for students.  If models are not helping to describe some kind of “how or why” mechanism behind a phenomenon they’re probably not the kinds of models we want to focus on. That’s not to say physical models don’t have a place in science education, they just are not the focus of this practice.

  1. Models are distinct from the representational forms they take.

 Models can be drawings, equations, diagrams, words, etc - as long as the model focuses on describing how the components of the system interact.  They need to be more than just representations of a “thing” to fully encompass what is meant by this practice.

Ideally, we should see three “big rocks” in every scientific model students develop.  These main pieces should include components (relevant parts), interactions (how the components interact), and mechanisms (why/how the phenomenon is happening - connections to big science ideas, processes, theories, or laws).  If you’re curious about what this might look like, you can see some examples here.

Developing and using models in science is an extremely important skill and something that students will need multiple and varied experiences with throughout their K-12 science education.  If you’re interested in trying a few things or digging even deeper into helping students work on this practice in your classroom, take a look at the links below:

If you would like to have students develop and use models in your classroom and are looking for a thought partner for how to start, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at and plan a way in which we can collaborate!

Media Connections - Vernier Data Collection in Life Science

In an earlier teacher update, we focused on how Vernier Probeware could be used to support student sensemaking in physical science classrooms, but that was just the beginning.  While motion sensors and force probes may be some of the first things that come to mind when we consider digital data collection, there are numerous possibilities in the life science realm as well.

Here’s an example.  Sometimes in the process of studying photosynthesis, students develop the idea that plant cells only engage in a “one-way process” - converting carbon dioxide and water into oxygen and glucose. So, looking at the following data collected from a container with spinach leaves probably just confirms what they already know.

They can forget about, or maybe don’t yet realize, that plant cells have their own needs that aren’t met by this process.  What if you collected the following data (carbon dioxide on top) and oxygen on the bottom) data from that same container of fresh spinach leaves, now wrapped in aluminum foil…

Wait - plant cells are producing carbon dioxide and using oxygen?  What is going on here?  Maybe something like this could even be used as an initial lesson-level phenomenon to get students asking questions about what is happening (and lead us to a reason to dig into what is really happening inside those leaves when they are in the dark vs. exposed to light).

Check out this video that gives a full description about using the Vernier Oxygen and Carbon Dioxide sensors to measure the changes in these gasses when leaves are exposed to light or read more here.

There are plenty of other sensors in our collection as well.  You can see all the available probes and get a description of what they do by visiting Keystone’s Media Catalog.  Navigate to the Keystone Media Catalog Search Page for all the options available (PRO TIP:  In the search, type “Vernier” If you unclick the “All Options” checkbox and click the “Kits” checkbox before searching you’ll just see the order numbers for the probes).  The materials are packaged in classroom sets of 8, allowing you to have lab groups of 3 in a 24-student classroom.

If you would like to learn more about how to use these probes (or any of the others), please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at and plan a time to do some basic training and planning on how to best integrate these technology resources into your current curriculum.


Science Safety - Living Specimens and Dissections

Living specimens and dissections play an important role in science classrooms.  Engaging with organisms in the classroom allows students to develop skills of observation and comparison, discover the shared and unique structures and processes of specific organisms, and develop a greater appreciation for the complexity of life (NSTA Position Statement Responsible Use of Live Animals and Dissection in the Science Classroom).  When working with animals in the classroom teachers should:

  • Provide proper direction for handling animals – minimally and gently. Demonstrate the appropriate techniques for students.

  • Always wash hands with soap and water after handling or working with animals and have students do the same.

  • Not allow students to bring wild animals into the classroom.

  • Only use sanitized owl pellets for classroom investigations. Check for student allergies to fur and feathers since these are common contents of owl pellets.

  • Take proper precautions when studying chicken bones.  Thoroughly remove all traces of meat and soak the bones in a mild bleach solution for at least three days before allowing students to examine them.

  • Refrain from releasing animals into a non-indigenous environment.

If dissections play a role in your science curriculum, make sure you have established specific and clear learning goals that enable you to plan and supervise the activities appropriately.  Be prepared to present an alternative to dissection to students whose views or beliefs make this activity uncomfortable and difficult for them, and always use prepared specimens purchased from a reputable and reliable scientific supply company.

The tips above are just a few highlights - you can read more details about safety considerations when working with living specimens or engaging in dissections here and feel free to contact me at with any questions.


Upcoming Opportunities

(Professional Learning, Grants, and Student Events)

Professional Learning - Student Engagement in the Science Classroom - Iowa Science Learning Community

Explore how increasing student engagement can help students successfully engage with the Iowa science standards and make sense of the world around them.

Online Sessions

  • Remaining Dates: Jan 23rd, & Feb 13th
  • All sessions 4:00-5:30 PM CT

Registration form

Professional Learning - Helping Students Critique and Communicate in Science - Registration Deadline Extended (with a change of dates)

In this online course, participants will gain a deeper understanding of the Science and Engineering Practices: engaging in argument from evidence and obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information. In order to connect to instructional strategies, participants will practice implementing them through a Plan-Do-Study-Act cycle.

Dates - UPDATED:

  • Feb. 8, 2024
  • March 5, 2024
  • April 11, 2024
  • April 30, 2024
  • May 9, 2024

➡️ All sessions are from 4-5:30 pm CT

📖 Informational flyer

Course #216083

Student Event - Keystone/NICC Science and Engineering Fair 2024

Dates and locations: 

  • March 5, 2024 - Calmar
  • March 7, 2024 - Peosta

Time: 9-3 pm

Learn more about the science fair and requirements for presentations: LINK TO PACKET

Eligibility:  Students in grades 4-8 in the Keystone AEA 1/NICC region are eligible to exhibit at the Science and Engineering Fair in either the 4-5 division or the 6-8 division. Exhibits may only be shown by the individual who performed the work. Both individual and team/group (2 to 3 people) exhibits are permitted.

Registration Deadline: February 29th, 2024 


A follow-up Google Form will be shared with registered educators to register projects. Information will include:

  • Name of school and teacher
  • Title of project
  • Names of project participants and grade level

Questions? Contact Jason Martin-Hiner (


Student Event - Keystone Wind Energy Challenge 2024

Join us for our final student event of the school year, the Keystone Wind Energy Challenge!  Students research the area of wind energy in general as well as the science and engineering behind wind turbines to build and test a wind turbine model they construct. Students then bring these projects to Elkader for display similar to a science fair and to test their working models in a wind tunnel to see how they do under controlled conditions.  The event is open to teams or individual students in grades 4-12th grade where they compete in two different age brackets.  

NGSS/Science Standards connections: Students engage in multiple Science and Engineering practices and understanding the conversion of energy that happens with a wind turbine has multiple standards connections for elementary, middle school, and high school science students.

You can learn more about the challenge in general at the following site: Our event may differ slightly from an official KidWind Wind Challenge Event, but the general process will be the same (more details will be shared with registered teachers).  If this event sounds interesting but you can't participate at this time, make sure to mark your calendars - we host this challenge every year, usually near the end of April.


  • Date: April 26, 2024
  • Time: 9-2 pm
  • Location: Keystone AEA, Elkader
  • Competition age brackets:
    • Grades 4-8
    • Grades 9-12

Registration Deadline: April 12, 2024

A follow-up Google Form will be shared with registered educators to register projects/teams. Information will include:

  • Name of school and teacher
  • Division/grade level of the student(s)
  • Names of the student(s)

Questions? Contact Jason Martin-Hiner (


Iowa Science Bowl

Do you love science or fun competition, or maybe both? The Iowa Regional Science Bowl is an opportunity for students to excel in STEM while experiencing a sense of community with other STEM-focused students. Please join Iowa State as they bring this amazing opportunity to Iowa students! 

The Iowa Regional High School is scheduled for Feb. 3, 2024 and the Middle School Science Bowl is scheduled for March 2, 2024.  Both will be on site and in person on the Iowa State University Campus. Iowa State is seeking volunteers to serve as judges, moderators, timers, scorekeepers, and runners during the competition. Volunteers receive training, an awesome t-shirt, and free lunch the day of the event. 

For more information and to sign up, please visit HERE.


State of Iowa Physics Competition

The 2024 State of Iowa Physics Competition for high school Physics students is scheduled for April 9, 2024 (Tuesday) @ the UNI McLeod Center in Cedar Falls.

For more information visit HERE.


The Iowa Envirothon

The Iowa Envirothon is a competitive environmental science and natural resources conservation problem-solving, team building, and leadership experience for 9th-12th grade students. The Iowa competition is held each spring and managed by the Conservation Districts of Iowa (CDI) organization. The Iowa Conservation Education Coalition (ICEC) is partnering with CDI to help promote this program to more teachers and their students.

The 2024 Iowa Envirothon competition registration is open now through February 23, 2024. Registered teams take an online general knowledge exam in late March over soils and land use, aquatic ecology, forestry, and wildlife. A study guide is published at the conservation Districts of Iowa website ( The teams with the top 15 scores from the exam are then invited to the state competition, to be held April 29, 2024 at Jester Park Nature Center, Granger, Iowa. The state winner represents Iowa at the National Envirothon competition in mid-summer 2024 in the state of New York.

The format of the state competition is in-person and involves hands-on activities using environmental science and conservation equipment. Each team will travel through stations: soils and land use, aquatic ecology, forestry, and wildlife stations. Plus, each team will develop and present an oral presentation on the 2024 topic, “Renewable Energy for A Sustainable Future.”

We hope you will consider becoming involved in the 2024 Iowa Envirothon. For more information, go here: or

Interested, have questions? Please reach out to Carlee at CDI ( or Linette at ICEC ( to get started!


Blank Summer Institute (BSI) 

Do you have 7th- or 8th-grade students who are talented in science and looking for more opportunities?

The Blank Summer Institute for the Arts & Sciences (BSI) is a prestigious one-week residential summer program for 60 of Iowa’s most talented 7th- and 8th-grade students, nominated by their schools. BSI provides exceptionally talented students with an intensive and advanced educational experience designed to enhance their intellectual and social growth. Each student selected for BSI will receive a $1000 Blank Scholarship to cover the majority of the Institute's costs. 

This year, BSI will include classes in both advanced science and engineering.

Important Dates for BSI:

  • December 1, 2023: Teacher nominations open

  • February 1, 2024: Student application materials due

Click here to learn more about BSI

Or click here for a quick guide to nomination!


Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (JSHS) 

Are your high school students conducting research and interested in presenting their work? 

The Heartland Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (Heartland-JSHS) program is the premier high school science competition in Iowa/Nebraska. Students compete for scholarships and recognition by presenting the results of their original research projects before a panel of judges and an audience of their peers. Students will also have the opportunity to visit cutting-edge university research labs, hear from university researchers about their work and career paths, and network with their peers. Not sure if your students are ready to compete? Your school can bring a few students to participate in the symposium without presenting.

Important Dates for JSHS

  • January 10, 2024: Research proposal due

  • January 24, 2024: Notification of proposal acceptance

  • February 26-27, 2024: Heartland-JSHS Symposium

Click here to learn more about JSHS


Secondary Student Training Program (SSTP)

Do you have 10th- or 11th-grade students who want to conduct research in a D-1 research lab?

If you have an advanced high school student in grades 10-11, this highly selective and intensive summer research program may be for them. SSTP offers rare access to opportunities that help realize students' academic and professional goals. They will conduct research under the mentorship of world-class faculty from a research-intensive university. Students will participate in classes and events that will stretch them as a researcher and scholar. Students will explore their interests, enhance their academic skills, and make meaningful friendships with intellectual peers.

Important Dates for SSTO:

  • December 15, 2023: Applications open

  • February 16, 2024: Application deadline

Click here to learn more about SSTP


Keystone Science Contact:

Jason Martin-Hiner

More Posts:


Jason Martin-Hiner

School Improvement Facilitator