May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

Activity Mania, This Is Not!

Posted: Friday, April 8th, 2016

by Terry Shanahan

In preparation for the summer 2015 Southern California K-8 NGSS Early Implementation Institute in Vista, our grade 2 cadre of science educators from elementary, secondary, and the university, planned a week of science investigations around matter and its interactions. Of course, we began our planning with the question, “What would you expect a second grader to know about matter?” After our quick write, we began our conceptual flow, using post-its for each of our statements. We then checked our conceptual flow against “A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Cross-Cutting Concepts, and Core Ideas”. Had we left out any important concepts? Our biggest idea became: Matter is observable and it is not created or destroyed even as it changes form. Our conceptual flow moved from left to right: concrete to abstract. Our smaller ideas and the concepts we found in the Framework document later became the guiding statement for each day of our institute:

  • Monday: Matter has observable properties;
  • Tuesday: Different properties are suited to different purposes;
  • Wednesday: Properties of matter can be used to identify/classify materials;
  • Thursday: Heating and cooling of substances cause changes that can be observed; and
  • Friday: Objects can be built from smaller parts.

So each day’s lessons would connect to the concept of the day.



Once we had our concepts and our guiding statements for each day, the team met to brainstorm investigations that would lead participants to understand the big ideas of matter and its interactions. As we have been teaching physical science topics for quite a few years now, coming up with investigations was not a problem. We each contributed to the list for each day of the institute. I make it sound simple but we actually had 4 different iterations of the weekly plan before we were happy with the flow of the concepts. Because this institute was for second grade, we wanted to use familiar materials for our matter lessons and decided that metals best fit our need. Metals gave us the phenomena we needed to engage our participants in a discussion of matter and its interactions. Consequently, most of our investigations centered on the properties of metals. Every day of our plan was filled with fun, engaging activities that we were certain our participants would enjoy.

But how could we provide the participants with rich opportunities to learn about matter—to move beyond “activity mania”—doing activities just for the fun of them? What we needed was the Science and Engineering Practices from the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). As we looked at the NGSS Performance Expectations for Structure and Properties of Matter (PS1) in grade 2, we found:

  • Plan and Conduct an Investigation
  • Analyze Data
  • Construct an Evidence Based Account (Construct Explanations)
  • Construct an Argument from Evidence

Our investigation of observing properties of metals started with sorting some samples, looking for patterns followed by using the different properties of metals (color, texture, luster, malleability, and hardness) to classify and sort unknown metal objects. The grade 2 participants analyzed data from investigations of the properties of metals to determine which of the properties made them appropriate for household uses.


One of the metals the participants observed was copper. In observing properties of copper pennies, participants planned and conducted an investigation to observe which common household materials caused a change in the pennies. The cadre team had planned to investigate putting pennies in a salt and vinegar solution to observe a change in the pennies. The participants spontaneously started asking questions about which liquids on the table might cause a change in the pennies. The excitement in the room was contagious as the participants asked questions and shared their ideas with their groups while more and more baggies with pennies and liquids were assembled and observed.

The participants observed a metal ball that fit through a ring but, after being heated, it could no longer fit into the space. When the metal ball cooled and could again fit into the ring, the participants wrote their observations in their science notebooks. They constructed an argument from evidence that the change caused by heating of metals can be reversed.


The participants’ science notebooks became filled with observations and data that they used to construct explanations. After observing the physical and chemical properties of metals, participants observed properties of sugar and salt and explained why heating these produced different results. The participants were engaged in scientific reasoning and communicating their ideas with their group members.

One investigation that spanned several days was related to the property of density. After the participants investigated the density of metals, they were given an engineering challenge to create a cork sinker that would neither float nor sink but “flink” with neutral buoyancy. In their groups, the participants discussed the constraints and criteria posed in the problem to create a solution, using prior knowledge and properties of materials. They brought materials from home or from a nearby store to create their cork flink. When the day arrived for testing their cork design, the participants were excited and nervous. Those groups whose cork sank had to quickly diagnose which property of matter caused the sinking and they redesigned their flink. All groups were eventually successful. During their engineering challenge, they had planned and conducted an investigation, analyzed data, constructed explanations and argued from evidence.


Embedding the Science and Engineering Practices into the institute lessons required some thoughtful planning and purposeful teacher questioning to engage the participants in sense-making. Participants struggled with the concepts while they discussed their ideas with their group members. They took ownership of their learning through the Science and Engineering Practices.

Activity mania, this was not!

Terry Shanahan, EdD, works through UC-Irvine, and can be reached at

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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 California NGSS k-8 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.

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CSTA Annual Conference Early Bird Rates End July 14

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Jessica Sawko

Teachers engaged in workshop activity

Teachers engaging in hands-on learning during a workshop at the 2016 CSTA conference.

Don’t miss your chance to register at the early bird rate for the 2017 CSTA Conference – the early-bird rate closes July 14. Need ideas on how to secure funding for your participation? Visit our website for suggestions, a budget planning tool, and downloadable justification letter to share with your admin. Want to take advantage of the early rate – but know your district will pay eventually? Register online today and CSTA will reimburse you when we receive payment from your district/employer. (For more information on how that works contact Zi Stair in the office for details – 916-979-7004 or

New Information Now Available On-line:

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.

Goodbye Outgoing and Welcome Incoming CSTA Board Members

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

Jill Grace

Jill Grace, CSTA President, 2017-2019

On July 1, 2017 five CSTA members concluded their service and four new board members joined the ranks of the CSTA Board of Directors. CSTA is so grateful for all the volunteer board of directors who contribute hours upon hours of time and energy to advance the work of the association. At the June 3 board meeting, CSTA was able to say goodbye to the outgoing board members and welcome the incoming members.

This new year also brings with it a new president for CSTA. As of July 1, 2017 Jill Grace is the president of the California Science Teachers Association. Jill is a graduate of California State University, Long Beach, a former middle school science teacher, and is currently a Regional Director with the K-12 Alliance @ WestEd where she works with California NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative districts and charter networks in the San Diego area.

Outgoing Board Members

  • Laura Henriques (President-Elect: 2011 – 2013, President: 2013 – 2015, Past President: 2015 – 2017)
  • Valerie Joyner (Region 1 Director: 2009 – 2013, Primary Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Mary Whaley (Informal Science Education Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Sue Campbell (Middle School/Jr. High Director: 2015 – 2017)
  • Marcus Tessier (2-Year College Director: 2015 – 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.

Finding My Student’s Motivation of Learning Through Engineering Tasks

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Huda Ali Gubary and Susheela Nath

It’s 8:02 and the bell rings. My students’ walk in and pick up an entry ticket based on yesterday’s lesson and homework. My countdown starts for students to begin…3, 2, 1. Ten students are on task and diligently completing the work, twenty are off task with behaviors ranging from talking up a storm with their neighbors to silently staring off into space. This was the start of my classes, more often than not. My students rarely showed the enthusiasm for a class that I had eagerly prepared for. I spent so much time searching for ways to get my students excited about the concepts they were learning. I wanted them to feel a connection to the lessons and come into my class motivated about what they were going to learn next. I would ask myself how I could make my class memorable where the kids were in the driver’s seat of learning. Incorporating engineering made this possible. 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 California NGSS k-8 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.

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Unveils Updated Recommended Literature List

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson unveiled an addition of 285 award-winning titles to the Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list.

“The books our students read help broaden their perspectives, enhance their knowledge, and fire their imaginations,” Torlakson said. “The addition of these award-winning titles represents the state’s continued commitment to the interests and engagement of California’s young readers.”

The Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list is a collection of more than 8,000 titles of recommended reading for children and adolescents. Reflecting contemporary and classic titles, including California authors, this online list provides an exciting range of literature that students should be reading at school and for pleasure. Works include fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama to provide for a variety of tastes, interests, and abilities. Learn More…

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy:

Teaching Science in the Time of Alternative Facts – Why NGSS Can Help (somewhat)

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn

The father of one of my students gave me a book: In the Beginning: Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood by Walt Brown, Ph. D. He had heard that I was teaching Plate Tectonics and wanted me to consider another perspective. The book offered the idea that the evidence for plate tectonics could be better understood if we considered the idea that beneath the continent of Pangaea was a huge underground layer of water that suddenly burst forth from a rift between the now continents of Africa and South America. The waters shot up and the continents hydroplaned apart on the water layer to their current positions. The force of the movement pushed up great mountain ranges which are still settling to this day, resulting in earthquakes along the margins of continents. This had happened about 6,000 years ago and created a great worldwide flood. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

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