September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

2017 Award Winners Announced!

Posted: Saturday, August 5th, 2017

by Lisa Hegdahl

Each year, the California Science Teacher Association’s Awards Committee has the honor of selecting the year’s Award winners from a slate of talented candidates. CSTA’s awards program solicits award nominations from the CSTA membership and the Board of Directors. CSTA is committed to recognizing and encouraging excellence in science teaching through the presentation of awards to science educators who have made outstanding contributions in science education in the state and who are poised to continue the momentum of providing high quality, relevant science education into the future.

2017 Award Winners:

  • 2017 Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award:  Dennis Mitchell, Evergreen Middle School, Cottonwood, CA
    The Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award honors an individual who has made a significant contribution to science education in the state and who, through years of leadership and service, has truly made a positive impact on the quality of science teaching. 
Dennis Mitchell Recipient, 2017 Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award

Dennis Mitchell
Recipient, 2017 Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award

Dennis Mitchell has lived a life dedicated to science education. When a career spans more than 42 years all of the specific examples of service, leadership, and commitment to science education become too long list. Several highlights in his career are notable and do illustrate the depth of his commitment to his students and his profession. In the 1990’s Dennis and his colleagues at Evergreen Middle School hosted teachers from across the North State region to see what integrated thematic instruction looked like. In the early 2000’s Dennis joined the content team of a 4-year CPEC project named ARISE that focused on making connections for rural science teachers to rich science and place-based resources both for their own content knowledge growth and to empower them to bring those resources back to the students they served. He was also a leader in teacher professional learning through a CA-MSP serving multiple northern counties and the CA Science Project. Each of those project resulted in teachers expanding their abilities and in turn becoming site content leads, leaders in other professional learning projects or replication of the professional resources back at their sites.While serving in these roles Dennis was always learning himself. When the CPEC Mars analog project introduced him to NASA’s imaging and mapping of Mars with THEMIS Dennis signed up his classes over several years to be part of the team searching for recognizable geologic features that could inform human understanding about the natural history of another planet. Dennis has never stopped being an educator. His contagious curiosity and enthusiasm for his own learning have inspired generations of students and teachers to do the same. He is more than deserving of this nomination and being recognized with the Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award.

  • 2017 CSTA Future Science Teacher Award:  Ayah Qutob, CSU Fresno & Kristell Yap, CSU Long Beach
    The CSTA Future Science Teacher Award recognizes college students who demonstrate an interest in and commitment to science education through volunteer, teaching, and professional organization activities and who show promise to become outstanding science educators.
Ayah Qutob Recipient, 2017 Future Science Teacher Award

Ayah Qutob
Recipient, 2017 Future Science Teacher Award

Ayah Qutob is a graduate of the credential program at Fresno State University. In his letter of recommendation Assistant Professor of Science Education at CSU Fresno and former CSTA board member Fred Nelson wrote: “Ms. Qutob’s commitment to her students emerges from her belief in the significance of learning science for success in life. ln service of this commitment, her knowledge of science is exceptional, and she is able to make relevant connections of natural phenomena to meaningful learning experiences. I have observed firsthand her content expertise in her student teaching placement, including an appropriate understanding of the Next Generation Science Standards. She has volunteered extensively with local science fairs and the Stellar Science and Circuit Science outreach programs. Ms. Qutob brings an enhanced sense of dedication to her future as a science teacher. I would be pleased to have my own grandchildren in her classroom, and confident of their success as learners as Ms. Qutob’s students.” Ms. Qutob is a current member of CSTA.

Kristell Yap Recipient, 2017 Future Science Teacher Award

Kristell Yap
Recipient, 2017 Future Science Teacher Award

Kristell Yap earned her single subject science credential in biology and chemistry from CSU, Long Beach. Her master teacher Leslie Appel had this to say about Ms. Yap: “Kristell is an extremely strong student teacher who constantly puts the students needs first. She gets along well with the students and is able to encourage the students to achieve their best. She understands the NGSS and incorporates these into her daily lessons. Kristell spends time after her assigned classes each day to make sure her lessons are ready for the next day. She seems to always strive to give her students the best education possible.” Ms. Yap has attended twice and even presented once at the California Science Education Conference and is an active member of CSTA.

  • 2017 CSTA Distinguished Contributions Award: Achieve & National Center for Science Education
    The CSTA Distinguished Contributions Award honors an organization, institution or foundation which has made a sustained, significant impact to science education in the state and which, through years of leadership and service, has truly made a positive impact on the quality of science teaching and learning. No more than two CSTA Distinguished Contributions Awards will be given in any year. National Center for Science Education

National Center for Science Education


The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) programs support teachers, engage scientists and organize local communities to ensure that evolution and climate change are taught without compromise. They are vigilant in monitoring for anti-science legislation, inaccurate textbooks, and compromised science standards, and effectively organize local responses whenever problems arise. Here in California, NCSE has consistently been responsive to needs of science educators in the state and have a long track record of supporting CSTA and its members. Employees of the NCSE have served as CSTA board members, authored articles for California Classroom Science, and presented at the California Science Education Conference.Most recently, the NCSE has taken an active role in CA NGSS. One such example is supporting the California Science Framework review process by providing public input. In addition, they supported writers of the CA NGSS Roll Out 4 Grades 6-8 Integrated Learning Sequence by helping to track down data that could be used to strengthen incorporation of Analysis of Data and Mathematics and Computational Thinking in the sequence. They also supplied information and raffle items to each of the Roll Out 4 host sites so educators would know a support mechanism for the teaching of evolution and climate change existed. Most recently, with climate propaganda being sent directly to teachers across the state, they have been immediately responsive to teachers who needed guidance on messaging around such tactics. They are an important and valuable resource to our membership. NCSE exemplifies the vision of the Distinguished Contributions Award for their leadership, service, and positive impact.



Created in 1996 by a bipartisan group of governors and business leaders, Achieve is a nonprofit education organization that has spent two decades leading the effort to help states make college and career readiness a priority for all students. Achieve is also well-known for their work in facilitating the development of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Throughout the NGSS review and adoption process in California, Achieve was very active in supporting the work of the Science Expert Panel, State Board of Education, and California Department of Education. Once NGSS was adopted, Achieve spent a great deal of time and energy helping CSTA and other stakeholders understand NGSS. California, as a Lead State, was invited to several Achieve sponsored events around NGSS and they always made it possible for us to have a contingent of people attend. Achieve staff was present throughout the development of the California Curriculum Framework process. They provided support to the committee and testified at State Board of Education meetings.

Achieve has been a partner and contributor to our conferences. Their former vice president Stephen Pruitt has been a keynote speaker several times, and other Achieve staff have attended and supported the CSTA Fostering Leadership Event and presented workshops. CSTA partnered with Achieve to provide NGSS communication training to teachers and science education leaders. Having Achieve be a regular and strong presence in California to support our work around NGSS transition and implementation has been a critical component of the implementation process. Their work supports CSTA’s efforts to promote high-quality education for California’s students.

  • 2017 Christine Bertrand Advocacy Award: Stephen Blake, Children Now
    The Christine Bertrand Advocacy Award is named for CSTA’s former executive director Christine Bertrand. Christine served as CSTA’s executive director 1996-2011. Under her leadership, CSTA achieved many advocacy victories for science education. In 2015, the CSTA Board of Directors established the Christine Bertrand Advocacy Award to honor her service to science education. The award honors an individual(s) who demonstrate a commitment to quality science education in California, going beyond expected levels of involvement. The award recognizes outstanding advocacy and championing of quality science education. Nominated and bestowed by the Board of Directors, no more than two awards will be given per year.

Stephen Blake has been a friend of CSTA’s for more than four years. In his capacity as Senior Advisor at Children Now, Stephen has been a strong advocate for many of the same policy issues that are of priority to CSTA, including but not limited to, the adoption of NGSS, science curriculum framework development, and science assessment and inclusion in of this assessment in our state’s accountability system. In addition, Stephen has used his years of experience and connections in California’s education system to help CSTA become more effective and efficient advocates as well as add volume to our voice. Stephen Blake has been involved in public education and governmental reform in California for twenty-five years. In addition to his role at Children Now, Stephen is the principal of Stephen G. Blake and Associates, which provides policy, fiscal, and development consultation to non-profit, governmental, and private entities, including Pivot Learning Partners, Fuse Corps, and New America Foundation. Previously, Stephen served as Executive Director of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Governor’s Committee on Education Excellence, whose recommendations have served as the foundation for efforts to enhance financial flexibility, promote equity, strengthen teacher effectiveness, expand early education, and improve our data and accountability systems; and as Chief Consultant to the Legislature’s Joint Committee to Develop a Master Plan for Education, which produced a first-in-the-nation blueprint for all levels of education. He preceded those efforts with eleven years of advocacy and system policy development for the California State University, the Superintendent of Public Instruction, and the State Board of Education, and he was a member of the leadership team for the California Education Summit conducted by Assembly Speaker Willie L. Brown, Jr. Stephen earned his baccalaureate degree in philosophy from Princeton University in 1986.

Awards will be presented during the Award’s Luncheon at the California Science Education Conference in Sacramento, October 13-15, 2017. Congratulations to all of the Award Winners! (For additional information about the awards visit


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Written by Lisa Hegdahl

Lisa Hegdahl

Lisa Hegdahl is an 8th-grade science teacher at McCaffrey Middle School in Galt, CA and is Past-President of CSTA.

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CSTA Is Now Accepting Nominations for Board Members

Posted: Friday, November 17th, 2017

Current, incoming, and outgoing CSTA Board of Directors at June 3, 2017 meeting.

Updated 7:25 pm, Nov. 17, 2017

It’s that time of year when CSTA is looking for dedicated and qualified persons to fill the upcoming vacancies on its Board of Directors. This opportunity allows you to help shape the policy and determine the path that the Board will take in the new year. There are time and energy commitments, but that is far outweighed by the personal satisfaction of knowing that you are an integral part of an outstanding professional educational organization, dedicated to the support and guidance of California’s science teachers. You will also have the opportunity to help CSTA review and support legislation that benefits good science teaching and teachers.

Right now is an exciting time to be involved at the state level in the California Science Teachers Association. The CSTA Board of Directors is currently involved in implementing the Next Generations Science Standards and its strategic plan. If you are interested in serving on the CSTA Board of Directors, now is the time to submit your name for consideration. Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Announces 2017 Finalists for Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching

Posted: Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today nominated eight exceptional secondary mathematics and science teachers as California finalists for the 2017 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST).

“These teachers are dedicated and accomplished individuals whose innovative teaching styles prepare our students for 21st century careers and college and develop them into the designers and inventors of the future,” Torlakson said. “They rank among the finest in their profession and also serve as wonderful mentors and role models.”

The California Department of Education (CDE) partners annually with the California Science Teachers Association and the California Mathematics Council to recruit and select nominees for the PAEMST program—the highest recognition in the nation for a mathematics or science teacher. The Science Finalists will be recognized at the CSTA Awards Luncheon on Saturday, October 14, 2017. Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Thriving in a Time of Change

Posted: Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

by Jill Grace

By the time this message is posted online, most schools across California will have been in session for at least a month (if not longer, and hat tip to that bunch!). Long enough to get a good sense of who the kids in your classroom are and to get into that groove and momentum of the daily flow of teaching. It’s also very likely that for many of you who weren’t a part of a large grant initiative or in a district that set wheels in motion sooner, this is the first year you will really try to shift instruction to align to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). I’m not going to lie to you, it’s a challenging year – change is hard. Change is even harder when there’s not a playbook to go by.  But as someone who has had the very great privilege of walking alongside teachers going through that change for the past two years and being able to glimpse at what this looks like for different demographics across that state, there are three things I hope you will hold on to. These are things I have come to learn will overshadow the challenge: a growth mindset will get you far, one is a very powerful number, and it’s about the kids. Learn More…

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Written by Jill Grace

Jill Grace

Jill Grace is a Regional Director for the K-12 Alliance and is President of CSTA.

If You Are Not Teaching Science Then You Are Not Teaching Common Core

Posted: Thursday, August 31st, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn 

“Science and Social Studies can be taught for the last half hour of the day on Fridays”

– Elementary school principal

Anyone concerned with the teaching of science in elementary school is keenly aware of the problem of time. Kids need to learn to read, and learning to read takes time, nobody disputes that. So Common Core ELA can seem like the enemy of science. This was a big concern to me as I started looking at the curriculum that my district had adopted for Common Core ELA. I’ve been through those years where teachers are learning a new curriculum, and know first-hand how a new curriculum can become the focus of attention- sucking all the air out of the room. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Tools for Creating NGSS Standards Based Lessons

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Elizabeth Cooke

Think back on your own experiences with learning science in school. Were you required to memorize disjointed facts without understanding the concepts?

Science Education Background

In the past, science education focused on rote memorization and learning disjointed ideas. Elementary and secondary students in today’s science classes are fortunate now that science instruction has shifted from students demonstrating what they know to students demonstrating how they are able to apply their knowledge. Science education that reflects the Next Generation Science Standards challenges students to conduct investigations. As students explore phenomena and discrepant events they engage in academic discourse guided by focus questions from their teachers or student generated questions of that arise from analyzing data and creating and revising models that explain natural phenomena. Learn More…

Written by Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke teaches TK-5 science at Markham Elementary in the Oakland Unified School District, is an NGSS Early Implementer, and is CSTA’s Secretary.