September 2016 – Vol. 29 No. 1

A Year in the Life of Two First Year Teachers: Part Six

Posted: Saturday, February 26th, 2011

by Rick Pomeroy, with Sara and Ellen

I decided to change up the format of the Sara and Ellen articles for this edition.  Instead of me asking them questions, I thought it would be interesting to see what questions they might ask of me at this point in their first years of teaching. As you recall, Sara and Ellen were my students last year. Both have stayed in touch with me through these articles as well as through their work on their Masters of Arts projects this year. After reviewing their lists of questions, I have chosen four that I feel are representative of the kinds of questions many first year teachers may have.  If any experienced teachers have additional comments or other ideas, I would encourage you to post them as comments in the new eCCS format or reply to me personally at or to Sara and Ellen directly at

1) Being employed by a school/district that uses (and overuses) common assessments, I have formed a very strong opinion against these assessments. What is your experience with common assessments and how do you feel about them?

Common assessments are yet another way to standardize the educational process under the assumption that if every student is given exactly the same curriculum, under exactly the same condition, they will learn exactly the same content, and therefore should perform equally well on a common assessment. Unfortunately, this is not the case in any classroom I have observed. What I would suggest is that teachers in a science department or teachers within science subject areas meet to identify the key, foundational concepts that are necessary for students to learn and decide what evidence would be required to demonstrate that learning. Based on this list, they would then agree on an array of acceptable ways for students to demonstrate their mastery of that content. These could definitely be aligned with the State Standards, and typical testing formats could be included as one method for demonstrating this understanding but they should not be the only way.

2) Everyone seems to have a first year teaching horror story. What is yours?

As a first year teacher I taught three different subjects in five different rooms. At one point in the year, I was assigned to teach sex education in one of the geography classrooms. At that time, one of the first lessons in the district adopted curriculum, was to write all of the slang terms associated with sex, anatomy, life style, etc. on the board so that the students could learn that slang terminology would not be appropriate for the remainder of the unit. After the class, I erased the board completely, loaded up my travelling teacher cart, and headed to my next room. Unfortunately, the teacher whose room I had just left felt that I should have washed her chalk boards before leaving to eliminate any possibility that her precious students, many of whom were in the class I had just taught and who may have contributed the terms for the board, might see these offensive terms. Soooooo, she called me in my classroom and demanded that I return to her room immediately and wash the boards in front of her class. Needless to say, I was extremely embarrassed by this treatment. The only thing that made it ok was that the next day, the students in my class told me how embarrassed they were for me to be treated that way. In the end, I survived to teach 19 more years in that district and she retired at the end of that year.

3) You have been a teacher and administrator. What were the pros and cons to both? Which did you enjoy more?

Over the years, I have come to realize that I am a classroom junkie. I get my energy and define what I do by thinking about and applying my work to classrooms.  With that said, I must admit that I enjoyed my time as an administrator because it gave me a larger number of classrooms to visit. As the principal, I got to see all of the classes at the small high school where I worked. Instead of just knowing what was happening in the science classes, I got to see math and English and art as well. I did not particularly enjoy dealing with all of the bureaucracy nor did I like having to deal with students who made bad choices. My time as a principal gave me a much richer understanding of not only the breadth of the high school curriculum but of the expectations for the students as well.

4) I have been fortunate to have supportive friends, family, and coworkers, that have prevented me from feeling like I’m drowning, but I know that some beginning teachers don’t have that same support. What do you suggest to beginning teachers that feel like they are drowning?

This is a tough question.  I must say that every year, I enjoy the experience of seeing my student teachers from the previous year at the California Science Education Conference. When I ask them how it is going, the universal response is “I am so tired!”  Teaching, particularly in your first few years, is exhausting. When you get tired, it is easy to feel overwhelmed which can lead to feeling depressed.  None of these feelings are any fun.  What I always suggest first is that you should keep forcing yourself to have some fun. Do the kinds of things you did for fun before you started your student teaching. Second, spend time planning. Make sure you are planned for the next day before you leave each night (and this includes Fridays). Third, get to know the people you teach with. Particularly, any other new teachers at your school even if they teach in a different subject area. Build a new support group. Go out together for dinner or a movie, find some things that you both enjoy and try doing some of them. In the end, you have to balance your emotional health and your professional health. It is very easy to let one get out of whack at the expense of the other. Work hard to keep this in balance. Finally, give up the tyranny of the dream. Come to grips with the idea that every day cannot be a write home to mom, day. There will be good days and there will be bad days. Learn from those days when things don’t go the way you expect and vow to never do the same thing again.

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

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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.