May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

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

Posted: Friday, October 1st, 2010

by Rick Pomeroy, with Sara and Ellen

In our last issue, you were introduced to Sara and Ellen, two first-year teachers, one in northern California and the other in southern California, both of whom are teaching chemistry.  In the first edition, we learned a little bit about their anticipation for their first days of school.  This month, we get a short glimpse into how their years began.  Sara started school in early August and Ellen two weeks later.  Please feel free to send comments or questions to Sara and Ellen at

Rick: How did your first official day of teaching go?  Were there any surprises?

Sara: Because we are on alternating block schedule, I actually had two first days of school.  The first day was with my natural science classes, where I did a lot of “getting to know you” exercises.  Many of the students in these classes are not-quite-college-bound students and often have behavior issues, so I thought it would be best to just spend the first day forming a solid relationship with them and give them a chance to get to know me.  It seemed to go really well, but I could tell right away that one of my classes in particular would give me a bit of trouble.  My chemistry classes were absolutely wonderful.  They were very concerned about the difficulty of the class, but seemed relieved when I told them that I wanted them to succeed in my class and that, while chemistry is a very difficult subject, I was there to help them.  I did a demonstration for them, and, instead of just saying “Wow, that’s cool,” they were asking me questions about what was going on and trying to analyze it.  I thought that was great, and it got me even more excited to be teaching them.

Ellen: I found the first day of school to be pretty chaotic and fun overall.  We are on a block schedule, so there are four 90-minute periods each day.  I teach two chemistry courses and one Project Lead The Way Principles of Biomedicine course.  For the chemistry classes, I introduced myself by using a PowerPoint, had the students introduce themselves, and I also performed a few demonstrations for the students.  We then had a class discussion about what science and chemistry are, etc.  Both classes were a lot of fun and full of students who participated.  For the biomed course, I did the same introduction as chemistry, and then we watched a video I made for the beginning of the curriculum.  It was a great way to start because students used collaborative groups to assess the situation they were shown.

The chaotic or surprising part of the day had to do with all of the schedule changes.  My rosters showed between 32-36 students for each class; however, about 40 students showed up for each of my classes, so right from the beginning I needed extra desks andchairs and a brand new seating chart for each class.  That being said, the students were amazing about it and helped me find seats for everyone.

Rick: Now that the first weeks of school have passed, what do you wish you had known before the first week of school?

Sara: Due to budget cuts, there was only one day of before-school meetings, and that only lasted about three hours.  I was given so much information that I forgot half of it and couldn’t even think of other questions to ask because I was so overloaded.  Now that a couple weeks have passed, I am just now getting a lot of the information that I should have known before school started.  Much of it, though, were things that I would never have thought to ask until it actually came up.  I wish I had known all the punishment policies of the school, such as tardies and giving detentions, so that I could integrate them with my own policies.  I also wish I would have known exactly what equipment my classroom should have.  I was missing remotes to the TV and the projector, and I didn’t have a filing cabinet or chair.  I wasn’t sure what I was responsible for getting or what my classroom should have.  Thankfully, I found an extremely helpful custodian that supplied me with a chair and filing cabinet, and, eventually, I was given replacement remotes for the electronics.

Ellen: Well, my situation was a little different because I was a student teacher and a long-term sub all year last year at this school.  So, fortunately, I knew a lot of the policies from the previous year.  The only policy change I wish I had been aware of was how to deal with an IT issue.  By the time I found the form to fill out to get some of the computers fixed, every other teacher had already turned theirs in; needless to say, I am still waiting.  Otherwise, my school did a great job at the meetings of notifying teachers of school policies.

Rick: What would you like to ask other first-year teachers?  (First-year teachers, please send your replies to

Sara: I have had somewhat of an interesting transition into this department.  The chemistry department in particular (there are four other chem teachers) is extremely established.  During my student teaching year, I felt very much at home with much of the department, which operated like a family, and everyone would eat lunch together.  Here, teachers eat lunch in their own classrooms, so there isn’t much interaction, and the other teachers operate similarly with just a few differences.  I am used to more collaboration, but it is hard when the other teachers are so established already.  I don’t feel like I am being left out or anything; everyone is very nice and helpful, and they always check up on me to make sure I don’t need anything.  But I guess I was just expecting something more like my student-teaching experience.  Is any other new teacher going through an awkward transition like this, either good or bad?

Ellen: The teachers I work with are absolutely fabulous people.  They are always willing to help me with everything, but our teaching styles are very, very different.  Some teachers say not to smile for the first week, and others do labs or demonstrations to engage students from day one.  I want to know how other teachers schedule their first days of school.  It seems that there are many ways to go about introducing students to the new topics, and I am interested in trying some new strategies.

Rick: Thank you, Sara and Ellen, for giving us a short glimpse of some of the feelings that many of us have forgotten.  It is great to hear your stories and your enthusiasm for teaching.  Next month, we will provide some of the answers to Sara’s and Ellen’s questions and hear about  some of their early successes.

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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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Participate in Chemistry Education Research Study, Earn $500-800 Dollars!

Posted: Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

WestEd, a non-profit educational research agency, has been funded by the US Department of Education to test a new molecular modeling kit, Happy Atoms. Happy Atoms is an interactive chemistry learning experience that consists of a set of physical atoms that connect magnetically to form molecules, and an app that uses image recognition to identify the molecules that you create with the set. WestEd is conducting a study around the effectiveness of using Happy Atoms in the classroom, and we are looking for high school chemistry teachers in California to participate.

As part of the study, teachers will be randomly assigned to either the treatment group (who uses Happy Atoms) or the control group (who uses Happy Atoms at a later date). Teachers in the treatment group will be asked to use the Happy Atoms set in their classrooms for 5 lessons over the course of the fall 2017 semester. Students will complete pre- and post-assessments and surveys around their chemistry content knowledge and beliefs about learning chemistry. WestEd will provide access to all teacher materials, teacher training, and student materials needed to participate.

Participating teachers will receive a stipend of $500-800. You can read more information about the study here:

Please contact Rosanne Luu at or 650.381.6432 if you are interested in participating in this opportunity, or if you have any questions!

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.

2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption Reviewer Application

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

The California Department of Education and State Board of Education are now accepting applications for reviewers for the 2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption. The application deadline is 3:00 pm, July 21, 2017. The application is comprehensive, so don’t wait until the last minute to apply.

On Tuesday, May 9, 2017, State Superintendent Tom Torlakson forwarded this recruitment letter to county and district superintendents and charter school administrators.

Review panel members will evaluate instructional materials for use in kindergarten through grade eight, inclusive, that are aligned with the California Next Generation Science Content Standards for California Public Schools (CA NGSS). 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.

Lessons Learned from the NGSS Early Implementer Districts

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

On March 31, 2017, Achieve released two documents examining some lessons learned from the California K-8 Early Implementation Initiative. The initiative began in August 2014 and was developed by the K-12 Alliance at WestEd, with close collaborative input on its design and objectives from the State Board of Education, the California Department of Education, and Achieve.

Eight (8) traditional school districts and two (2) charter management organizations were selected to participate in the initiative, becoming the first districts in California to implement the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Those districts included Galt Joint Union Elementary, Kings Canyon Joint Unified, Lakeside Union, Oakland Unified, Palm Springs Unified, San Diego Unified, Tracy Joint Unified, Vista Unified, Aspire, and High Tech High.

To more closely examine some of the early successes and challenges experienced by the Early Implementer LEAs, Achieve interviewed nine of the ten participating districts and compiled that information into two resources, focusing primarily on professional learning and instructional materials. 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.

Using Online Simulations to Support the NGSS in Middle School Classrooms

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

by Lesley Gates, Loren Nikkel, and Kambria Eastham

Middle school teachers in Kings Canyon Unified School District (KCUSD), a CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative district, have been diligently working on transitioning to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) integrated model for middle school. This year, the teachers focused on building their own knowledge of the Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs). They have been gathering and sharing ideas at monthly collaborative meetings as to how to make sure their students are not just learning about science but that they are actually doing science in their classrooms. Students should be planning and carrying out investigations to gather data for analysis in order to construct explanations. This is best done through hands-on lab experiments. Experimental work is such an important part of the learning of science and education research shows that students learn better and retain more when they are active through inquiry, investigation, and application. A Framework for K-12 Science Education (2011) notes, “…learning about science and engineering involves integration of the knowledge of scientific explanations (i.e., content knowledge) and the practices needed to engage in scientific inquiry and engineering design. Thus the framework seeks to illustrate how knowledge and practice must be intertwined in designing learning experiences in K-12 Science Education” (pg. 11).

Many middle school teachers in KCUSD are facing challenges as they begin implementing these student-driven, inquiry-based NGSS science experiences in their classrooms. First, many of the middle school classrooms at our K-8 school sites are not designed as science labs. Learn More…

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Written by NGSS Early Implementer

NGSS Early Implementer

In 2015 CSTA began to publish a series of articles written by teachers participating in the NGSS Early Implementation Initiative. This article was written by an educator(s) participating in the initiative. CSTA thanks them for their contributions and for sharing their experience with the science teaching community.

Celestial Highlights: May – July 2017

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

May Through July 2017 with Web Resources for the Solar Eclipse of August 21, 2017

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graphs of planet rising and setting times by Jeffrey L. Hunt.

In spring and summer 2017, Jupiter is the most prominent “star” in the evening sky, and Venus, even brighter, rules the morning. By mid-June, Saturn rises at a convenient evening hour, allowing both giant planets to be viewed well in early evening until Jupiter sinks low in late September. The Moon is always a crescent in its monthly encounters with Venus, but is full whenever it appears near Jupiter or Saturn in the eastern evening sky opposite the Sun. (In 2017, Full Moon is near Jupiter in April, Saturn in June.) At intervals of 27-28 days thereafter, the Moon appears at a progressively earlier phase at each pairing with the outer planet until its final conjunction, with Moon a thin crescent, low in the west at dusk. You’ll see many beautiful events by just following the Moon’s wanderings at dusk and dawn in the three months leading up to the solar eclipse. 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.