STEM Nights Bring Families and Experts Together to Learn about Science

Just like children don’t stop learning when the final bell rings, great teaching doesn’t stop at the end of the school day. Across the country, teachers, parents, and community members are coming together more and more frequently to host STEM nights to get families thinking about science, technology, engineering and math through interactive, hands-on, engaging activities.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is proud to support many dedicated teachers who plan and lead STEM nights at their schools. Michelle Estrada, a kindergarten teacher at Desert Hills Elementary in Las Cruses, N.M. has been hosting STEM nights in her community for seven years.

She is a recipient of the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST), the nation’s highest honors for K-12 STEM teachers, which NSF administers on behalf of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

As a Presidential Awardee in 2010, Michelle was invited to Washington, D.C., to take part in the National Recognition Events, received a signed certificate from the President and left with a $10,000 award from the National Science Foundation. When she returned to New Mexico, her experience as an awardee motivated her to continue to improve her teaching, seek out new resources for her students, and engage her local community in more collaborative and effective ways than ever before.

Sensational Science Night

In 2009, Michelle applied for the Toyota Tapestry grant,  a partnership between Toyota and the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) that provided annual grants to science teachers across the United States. Her proposal focused on the Rio Grande, which cuts right through Las Cruces, less than ten miles away from Desert Hills Elementary. She planned a collaborative and immersive series of events for her kindergarten class composed of field experiences, hands-on activities, demonstrations by local scientists and community educators, inquiry-based experiments, and a variety of cross-curricular studies. She was awarded $10,000 to fund her project, and Sensational Science Night was born.

At the first Sensational Science Night, 30 expert-volunteers from the community came to share their knowledge and inspire students and parents to be more curious about science. Since then, the event has more than tripled in size: in 2016, 30 organizations were represented by over 100 expert-volunteers, and more than 400 participants flooded the halls of Desert Hills Elementary. They all spent their evening exploring, designing, and thinking critically with one another.

STEM Nights are unparalleled opportunities to engage the community with the local—or even national—scientific community, and let students know what it looks like to be a scientist in practice. At Michelle’s event, students were able to interact with pharmaceutical students from the University of New Mexico, chemical engineering students from New Mexico State University, local museum curators with displays from their traveling collections, local firefighters teaching fire safety and fire science, and a local Astronomy organization which provided telescopes for student use.

The National Honor Society chapter of a local high school took over an entire wing of the school and facilitated hands-on activities, launching paper rockets, creating bouncy balls and making ice cream in a bag. Michelle didn’t stop at inviting the local science community—she invited local food trucks which offered dinner options on the school grounds, donating a percentage of their sales to fund scholarships for Camp Invention, a STEM summer program at Desert Hills Elementary.

Over the years, Michelle says the name of the event has changed to keep up with its popularity. Once Sensational Science Night, the moniker shifted to Sensational STEM Night, and this year morphed again into Magnificent Sensational STEAM Night (reflecting her decision to include the arts). We’re excited to see what it will be called in 2018.

To learn about how you can honor great teachers in your community with a PAEMST nomination, please visit our website at paemst.org. Nominations for K-6 grade STEM teachers are currently open.

For resources on how to host a STEM night at your school, check out National PTA’s new STEM + Families webpage.

Dr. Nafeesa H. Owens is a Program Director of Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching Program Lead at the National Science Foundation.

It Takes a Village: Lessons on Developing the Whole Child

I know you’ve got a lot more on your plate than your next work deadline. You have to pick your kids up from swim practice; you are worried about that cough your dad had over the holidays; you are daydreaming about writing that novel. The same is true of your children—they also have more to worry about, and way more to contribute, than taking the next test.

As adults, we are able (most of the time) to strive for balance in our lives. But our children don’t have enough experience to be able to do that yet. In order for them to be successful, we have to be able to show them how to manage the stress that daily life brings.

That’s where social, emotional and academic development comes in. The Aspen Institute’s National Commission on Social, Emotional and Academic Development is spending two years talking to parents, teachers and students to explore how schools can develop the whole child. And on a site visit to Tacoma, Wash., last month, commissioners got some powerful answers.

I was there as a parent advisor to the Commission. Here are three strategies we saw in Tacoma that hold exciting potential for communities across the country:

  1. Leverage the Power of the Community

Schools have a pretty single-minded focus: educate our kids. But what leaders in Tacoma realized is that you don’t have to bend other organizations to your priorities in order to build a community effort around supporting students—you just have to let everyone play to their strengths.

Take Tacoma’s Science and Math Institute (SAMI) for example. This high school, set in the middle of Point Defiance Park, uses its working relationship with the city Parks Department to foster experiences that are truly hands on, and sometimes unexpected. My student tour guide at SAMI told me about a calculus test she recently took while seated by the aquarium’s shark tank. She said the dimness and serenity helped her focus. Students manage ongoing research projects, train to be docents at the zoo, and can work on internships that allow them to apply their learning in real-world settings.

  1. Listen to Students and Teachers

We all know teachers wear many hats. That’s why it’s critical to understand that focusing on students’ social, emotional and academic development doesn’t have to be burdensome. In fact, Tacoma teachers say the Whole Child Initiative has made them feel more supported and free to do their jobs. The initiative has slashed tardy arrivals and absences, boosted test scores and reduced discipline referrals across the district. During my visits to Tacoma’s public schools, I witnessed how teachers are valued as front-line experts and are given opportunities for leadership.

Tacoma also actively includes student voices. At each school I visited, it was clear that not only do students feel listened to, they feel empowered: empowered to resolve their own conflicts, to speak with authority and pride about their schools, and be active participants in shaping their schools’ cultures. For example, students at Jason Lee Middle School advise educators on improvements that can be made and are an active part of the rule-making process. The PTA motto of “every child, one voice” was truly on display in Tacoma.

  1. Don’t Be Afraid to Get Creative

Each child, classroom, school and district is different. What’s unique about your community? You may not have Point Defiance Park, but what about a creative partnership with that homeless shelter down the road?

Tacoma’s schools are flourishing under the Whole Child Initiative, but to replicate that success will mean stepping outside of our comfort zones of fall festivals and fun runs. It will mean focusing on how we, as parents and community members, can do that extra little bit to establish meaningful relationships with the world outside of the school walls.

Our children are complex. Let’s help make sure their educations develop all their potential.

Van Overton is the executive director of SpreadLoveABQ (an organization committed to developing creative fundraising solutions for child advocacy groups); the co-founder of Duke City Dream Lab (an organization that works to make the arts accessible to all children); a three-year member of the New Mexico PTA Board of Directors; and an active volunteer in Albuquerque schools. Van is a member of the National Commission’s Parent Advisory Panel.

Celebrate Take Your Family to School Week All Week Long

Take Your Family to School Week (Feb. 11-17) is more than just a one-night event, it is a weeklong celebration of family engagement and the great work PTAs have done to support the school community.

This year we came up with an easy way for every family to participate in celebrating PTA—Daily themes!

Maker Monday: Celebrate the arts in your school community.

  • Showcase the artwork of your 2018 Reflections participants by creating a display in the school entryway. Share pictures of students, teachers and parents enjoying the display using #PTAProud.

Try-It Tuesday: Help create healthy eating habits by encouraging families to try a new food or recipe.

  • Pick a fruit or vegetable to be an honored guest! Set-up tasting stations throughout the cafeteria where students can try your featured ingredient prepared in different ways. Share the recipes that you used with your school community.

Writer Crush Wednesday: Share your love of reading!

  • Set up an area before or after school for students to read classic love poems and to write their own. There is no better valentine then one that comes directly from the heart! Check out this list for some school appropriate poems.

Techie Thursday: Use this day to highlight the “T” in Stem

  • Share an interview with the school technology administrator or robotics coach and ask them what things they wish the greater school community new about the technology opportunities within your school. Even better, set-up an online chat where parents or families can ask the questions live!

Family Celebration Friday: Celebrate all the families in your school community!

  • Use this day to take the time to thank everyone for celebrating with us this year!

With these themes every PTA member and school can participate in Take Your Family to School Week. We cannot wait to celebrate the founding of National PTA with you all week long! Remember to use #PTAProud to show how you are celebrating Take Your Family to School Week on social media! And, Make sure to share your events with us!

Alyssa Montchal is a Programs & Partnerships Program Manager at National PTA.

4 Reasons to Attend the 2018 Legislative Conference

At our core, National PTA is an advocacy association working to improve the lives of children and families. Attending the National PTA Legislative Conference (LegCon) March 13-15 is a great way to enhance your advocacy skills to be more effective in your community. I have attended LegCon before, and each year I still find myself learning something new, or hearing a perspective I never would have encountered otherwise.

This year’s theme is “Get in the Game” to celebrate the Olympic spirit. We are excited to showcase how you can incorporate the spirit of sports, teamwork and sense of accomplishment into your advocacy work during this year’s conference.

LegCon will be bigger than ever this year! There are the top four reasons you should attend:

  1. Workshops that will help you influence education policy

At LegCon, participants will get a chance to learn from PTA leaders and experts who have used advocacy skills to improve public education in their communities, states and at the federal level. Participants will engage in interactive skills-building workshops to improve their own advocacy abilities and will go home with best practices to share within their PTA network.

  1. Discussions and networking to better understand how PTA advocates shape public policy

At last year’s LegCon, I was able to network with a lot of great PTA advocates from around the country from Alaska to Puerto Rico and even some from Europe who work with our military families. It was interesting to hear from them about their challenges in their communities and share ideas on how to improve our kids’ education. This year will be no different. I am excited to join other PTA members and learn how we can advocate more effectively in our school districts and states.

  1. Meetings on Capitol Hill with your Senators and Members of Congress

My favorite part of each LegCon is the opportunity to speak with federal policymakers about issues facing our schools and families during National PTA’s Capitol Hill Day. I was very excited to discuss these issues with members of Congress and their staff and to have them hear from us—America’s parents, teachers and community leaders—about ways to improve education. They want to hear directly from people like you who know their schools and communities best.

  1. Improved Capitol Hill Day Schedule

This year, Capitol Hill Day will be on Wednesday instead of Thursday. This new schedule will allow us to debrief and have follow-up workshops with each other on Thursday morning. The goal is for PTA advocates to walk away with even more skills and understanding on how to impact policies in their communities.

I can’t wait to “Get in the Game” and continue PTA’s legacy of advocating for every child to have the opportunity to reach their full potential. I hope you will join me and hundreds of other PTA advocates and me at this year’s LegCon.

Register here to attend the National PTA Legislative Conference.

Marques Ivey is the Vice President of Advocacy, Chair of the Legislation Committee, and member of the board of directors for the National PTA. He is married to Stacey, an educator for almost 19 years and together have three children.

5 Things You Should Know About March 2 Success

(Sponsored Post)

As parents, we make it a priority to ensure our children receive a quality education, post-secondary opportunities and career fulfillment.  But when it comes to taking the SAT, ACT or other standardized tests, we sometimes don’t know how to best help our kids prepare.  This is where March 2 Success comes in—a free online, interactive program created to enhance ACT and SAT as well as student performance.  From high school science, math and verbal skills to college readiness and planning tips, this online resource has the tools and information students need to succeed in the classroom and beyond.

Here are 5 important facts about March 2 Success

  1. Content is provided by industry leaders in standardized testing and college preparation.

Peterson’s, a leading provider of solutions for the education community for more than 40 years, developed the content for this easy-to-use, self-paced program.  Any student age 13 and older can participate, and there is no obligation.

  1. It’s a user-friendly program designed for convenience.

We know students’ schedules can be chaotic.  From sports and studying to family life, March 2 Success is available 24 hours a day 7 days a week, so students can log on any time that is convenient for them.

  1. It provides a complete guide to college financing and admissions.

We want to take the guesswork out of the college admission and financing process. March 2 Success includes a special emphasis on scholarships and supplies related web links.

In addition, the program’s Student Planning Guide provides a month-by-month plan of important steps involved in the entire college preparation process from freshman to senior year.

  1. Participants receive tailored lesson plans and study materials to help improve competency in the skills after an assessment.

The curriculum begins with a pre-assessment to determine each student’s knowledge and understanding of the subject matter. This includes standard English, math and science sections.

Every individual is unique, so we focus on the importance of individualized and strategic learning that concentrates on achievable goals.

  1. M2S has a video game to raise SAT/ACT scores called, “Zero Hour Threat.”

Zero Hour Threat, created by i.d.e.a.s. at Disney-MGM, is an interactive action game designed to increase standardized test scores, as well as enhance general mathematics and vocabulary skills while having fun studying and reviewing in a game format.  There are two versions of the game with different scenarios.

In addition to students, March 2 Success is a valuable tool for educators, parents and mentors.  One of the many features offered is the ability to monitor student progress, which is a great way to stay involved.

The U.S. Army is fully committed to strengthening the education resources for our Nation’s youth and this program is the first step.  To learn more about U. S. Army educational programs or March 2 Success, visit http://www.armyedspace.com/ and watch this video.

Jose A. “Tony” Castillo is Education Chief for U. S. Army Recruiting Command.  In his role he oversees several outreach initiatives and promotes Army education resources designed to help young people explore various career paths and succeed in their post-secondary future – as professionals and as citizens.