September 2016 – Vol. 29 No. 1

A Year in the Life of Two First Year Teachers: A Play in 10 parts

Posted: Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

by Rick Pomeroy, with Sara and Ellen

This article is the first in a series of monthly articles following the first year of teaching for Sara and Ellen.  Throughout the year, you will see the challenges each face in their new careers in very different schools, one in northern California and one in southern California. The content of the articles will be a conversation, including their responses to my questions and hopefully your comments to them through email.  If you would like to send them comments, please address those to  Due to space limitations, your comments will be summarized in the following month’s column.

Rick: Sara and Ellen, why did you decide to pursue a career in science teaching?

Sara: Teaching has always been something that I have been interested in.  I was a tutor throughout high school and felt that I was able to explain things more clearly than some of my teachers.  In high school, I found myself loving a subject that many of my peers loathed: chemistry.  I decided to pursue my Bachelor’s degree in chemistry because it was the one subject that I was both interested in and felt that I would enjoy doing on a daily basis.  Going into college, I had my heart set on being a forensic chemist, but I quickly realized that working in a lab all day would not make me happy.  I decided to do a teaching internship in a high school chemistry classroom and found that I really enjoyed helping kids learn about a subject that I fell in love with.  That internship was the final push for me to become a science teacher.

Ellen: I decided to pursue a career in science teaching for a few reasons.  Throughout my life, I have always had a passion for science, so naturally, I excelled in science in college and received a bachelor’s degree in neurobiology, physiology, and behavior.  During my undergraduate years, I worked in a biotechnology lab where we traveled to local schools and directed high school students through different laboratories.  These teaching experiences paired with eight years of teaching dance at local studios to students of all ages led me to my decision of pairing my two loves: science and teaching.

Rick: Please tell me a little bit about the subjects you will be teaching this year and the schools where you are teaching.

Sara: I am teaching at a comprehensive high school in southern California.  The school has over 2,800 enrolled students, with 10 percent English language learners and 35 percent qualifying for free or reduced price lunch.  The school is relatively new, with the upcoming school year being just its fifth academic year.  The bell schedule is an alternating block schedule, where one day the students attend three of their classes for two hours each, then the next day the other three classes.  I will be teaching three sections of natural science, which is designed mainly for sophomores who are not quite ready to take chemistry.  I will also be teaching two sections of general chemistry, designed for sophomores.  The students all take biology or life science as freshmen.

Ellen: I will be teaching at a traditional high school located in northern California.  It has been classified as a Program Improvement school.  This school serves a diverse population, including families with a wide range of educational, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds.  Approximately 1,800 students attend this school, and over thirty languages are spoken on campus.  The two significant languages that are spoken on campus, other than English, are Spanish and Russian.

The school is on a 4×4 block schedule, meaning students attend four 90-minute classes a semester.  Each teacher teaches three of the four classes; the remaining period is a prep-period.  I will be teaching two college-prep chemistry courses and one Principles of Biomedicine course each semester.

Rick: What is your biggest concern about starting your first year of teaching?

Sara: My biggest concern is adjusting to the alternating block schedule.  My high school and the school where I student taught were both on the traditional six classes a day schedule.  I used an entire curriculum that was designed for one-hour classes.  Therefore, I will need to alter many of my lesson plans to make sure that I am able to keep my students engaged and moving forward for the entire two hours of class.

Ellen: I am in a unique position because the school where I am teaching this year is also the school where I did my student teaching assignments, so I believe my concerns are less than that of other new teachers.  That being said, my biggest concern about starting my first year of teaching is incorporating science inquiry-based lessons into a direct instruction system that is in place at this school.  However, most of the science staff are very supportive of this style of teaching, so I hope that the department will all move towards the inquiry-based science lessons.

Author’s Note: Due to the production schedule of eCCS, these articles will be written about a month prior to publication.

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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.

One Response

  1. Hey, very nice article. Can’t wait to hear more.


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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.