September 2016 – Vol. 29 No. 1

President’s Message

Posted: Thursday, September 1st, 2011

by Rick Pomeroy

It is the beginning of September and classroom teachers around the state are preparing for the start of a new school year. As you begin this annual rite of passage, I encourage you to think about ways that you can incorporate critical thinking and problem solving into your classes. If you are teaching in an elementary school where classroom science minutes have been reduced or eliminated, I encourage you to think about how you could incorporate your students’ curiosity of the natural world into your otherwise scripted curriculum, if you are in a middle school with pacing guides and school wide assessments, think about how you can tap the energy and curiosity of your young adolescents. Finally, if you teach high school and beyond, consider how you can focus on the processes of science, scientific thinking, and applying knowledge of science to novel situations. In short, it is time to commit to a year of “Thinking Science.”

For many teachers, this time of year begins with reports of past test scores, renewed dialog on how to raise those elusive API or AYP scores, and new strategies for organizing the school day to enhance learning in the classroom. If this sounds like a replay of past opening day speeches, it probably is. Granted, some schools have seen appreciable increases in their test scores, some which can even be attributed to one of the above strategies, but many are faced with another year, another mandate, and another strategy. Unfortunately, the thing that is often left out of many of these approaches is the sheer joy and curiosity that is the science that we love. It is time to look for ways to engage our students, whether they be kindergartners looking at insects with hand lenses or physics students investigating ways to use lasers to detect changes in the density of liquids and gases.

As you plan your year, look for those places where a real, hands-on, interaction with the natural world will give a better experience than reading about it. Focus on asking students to ponder what they see, to categorize and organize their observations, to draw conclusions from real data and to propose ways to investigate what they are seeing further. Don’t be afraid to ask questions before telling answers.

Many of us, who have been teaching for a number of years, remember the “Wait Time” admonitions of Mary Budd Rowe. Unfortunately, we have lost the courage to endure those endless seconds of silence that are so valuable in helping students to generate thoughtful responses. We are tempted to move the discussions along by responding too quickly when a student takes a breath in the middle of their answer. In short, we have been driven by the artificial pace of an all too packed curriculum at the expense of the luxury of thinking deeply about a question or a problem.

As you begin (or finish) planning for the coming year, please think about how you can reintroduce your students to thinking about the natural world. Yes, we will continue to be measured by the results of the STAR Tests but we don’t have to let those tests rob us of the joy in a student’s eyes when they have solved a difficult problem for themselves, when they have drawn a conclusion that is based on evidence or proposed an experiment to test an hypothesis. The ability to do these higher-order thinking tasks is not automatic. Just like the star volleyball player or the lead clarinet in the band, this is a learned skill. To do it well, we have to practice. We have to devote as much time and effort as we can to helping our students develop the ability to think for themselves. For the children’s sake, find that little sliver of time when you can set aside the script and delve into their curiosity.

I am looking forward to the coming year. As I have said in previous columns, these can be exciting times for science education in California. If and when the opportunity to move forward with systemic change comes, we want to be ready to embrace it. We don’t want to have to start thinking about thinking at the same time we are developing new curriculum. We want thinking and curiosity to be the tools that propel us into a new and more vibrant tomorrow.

I welcome comments about this or any articles that I have written or, if the mood strikes you, comments about how CSTA can support your efforts to provide the highest quality science education for all children in California. I can be reached at

Rick Pomeroy is science education lecturer/supervisor in the School of Education, University of California, Davis and is CSTA’s president.


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Written by Rick Pomeroy

Rick Pomeroy

Rick Pomeroy is science education lecturer/supervisor in the School of Education, University of California Davis.

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California Science Assessment Update

Posted: Wednesday, October 12th, 2016

by Jessica Sawko

In June 2016 California submitted a waiver application to discontinue using the old CST (based on 1998 standards) and conduct two years of pilot and field tests (in spring 2017 and 2018, respectively) of the new science assessment designed to support our state’s current science standards (California Next Generation Science Standards (CA-NGSS) adopted in 2013). The waiver was requested because no student scores will be provided as a part of the pilot and field tests. The CDE received a response from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) on September 30, 2016, which provides the CDE the opportunity to resubmit a revised waiver request within 60 days. The CDE will be revising the waiver request and resubmitting as ED suggested.

At its October 2016 North/South Assessment meetings CDE confirmed that there will be no administration of the old CST in the spring of 2017. (An archive of the meeting is available at 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.

Some ways to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in your classroom

Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

by Carol Peterson

1) To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, Google has put together a collection of virtual tours combining 360-degree video, panoramic photos and expert narration. It’s called “The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks” and is accessible right from the browser. You can choose from one of five different locales, including the Kenai Fjords in Alaska and Bryce Canyon in Utah, and get a guided “tour” from a local park ranger. Each one has a few virtual vistas to explore, with documentary-style voiceovers and extra media hidden behind clickable thumbnails. Ideas are included for use in classrooms. 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.

2016 Award Recipients – Join CSTA in Honoring Their Accomplishments

Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

CSTA is pleased to announce the winners of the 2016 CSTA Awards for Distinguished Contributions, Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, 2014 and 2015 PAEMST-Science recipients from California, and the 2016 California PAEMST Finalists. The following individuals and organizations will be honored during the 2016 California Science Education Conference  on October 21- 23 in Palm Springs. This year’s group of awardees are truly outstanding. Please join us in congratulating them!

Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award

John Keller

John Keller

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. This year’s recipient is John Keller, Ph.D. Dr. Keller is Associate Professor, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Co-Director, Center for Engineering, Science, and Mathematics Education, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. In her letter of recommendation, SDSU science education faculty and former CSTA board member Donna Ross wrote: “He brings people together who share the desire to make a difference in the development and implementation of programs for science teaching. Examples of these projects include the Math and Science Teaching Initiative (MSTI), Noyce Scholars Program, Western Regional Noyce Initiative, and the Science Teacher and Researcher (STAR) program.” Through his work, he has had a dramatic impact on science teacher education, both preservice and in-service, in California, the region, and the country. He developed and implemented the STEM Teacher and Researcher Program which aims to produce excellent K-12 STEM teachers by providing aspiring teachers with opportunities to do authentic research while helping them translate their research experience into classroom practice. SFSU faculty member Larry Horvath said it best in his letter:“John Keller exemplifies the best aspects of a scientist, science educator, and mentor. His contributions to science education in the state of California are varied, significant, and I am sure will continue well into the future.” 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.

NGSS: Making Your Life Easier

Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

by Peter A’hearn

Wait… What?

NGSS is a big shift. Teachers need to learn new content, figure out how this whole engineering thing relates to science, and develop new unit and lesson plans. How could NGSS possibly make life easier?

The idea that NGSS could make our lives easier came to me during the California State NGSS Rollout #1 Classroom Example lesson on chromatography. I have since done this lesson with high school chemistry students and it made me think back to having my own students do chromatography. I spent lots of time preparing to make sure the experiment went well and achieved the “correct” result. I pre-prepared the solutions and organized and prepped the materials. I re-wrote and re-wrote again the procedure so there was no way a kid could get it wrong. I spent 20 minutes before the lab modeling all of the steps in class, so there was no way to do it wrong. Except that it turns out there were many. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the K-12 science specialist in the Palm Springs Unified School District and is Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Celestial Highlights, September 2016

Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graph of evening planet setting times by Dr. Jeffrey L. Hunt 

Our evening twilight chart for September, depicting the sky about 40 minutes after sunset from SoCal, shows brilliant Venus remaining low, creeping from W to WSW and gaining a little altitude as the month progresses. Its close encounter within 2.5° N of Spica on Sept. 18 is best seen with binoculars to catch the star low in bright twilight. The brightest stars in the evening sky are golden Arcturus descending in the west, and blue-white Vega passing just north of overhead. Look for Altair and Deneb completing the Summer Triangle with Vega. The triangle of Mars-Saturn-Antares expands as Mars seems to hold nearly stationary in SSW as the month progresses, while Saturn and Antares slink off to the SW. Learn More…

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Written by Robert Victor

Robert Victor

Robert C. Victor was Staff Astronomer at Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs, CA. Robert is a member of CSTA.