March/April 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 6

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 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.

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California Science Curriculum Framework Now Available

Posted: Tuesday, March 14th, 2017

The pre-publication version of the new California Science Curriculum Framework is now available for download. This publication incorporates all the edits that were approved by the State Board of Education in November 2016 and was many months in the making. Our sincere thanks to the dozens of CSTA members were involved in its development. Our appreciation is also extended to the California Department of Education, the State Board of Education, the Instructional Quality Commission, and the Science Curriculum Framework and Evaluation Criteria Committee and their staff for their hard work and dedication to produce this document and for their commitment to the public input process. To the many writers and contributors to the Framework CSTA thanks you for your many hours of work to produce a world-class document.

For tips on how to approach this document see our article from December 2016: California Has Adopted a New Science Curriculum Framework – Now What …? If you would like to learn more about the Framework, consider participating in one of the Framework Launch events (a.k.a. Rollout #4) scheduled throughout 2017.

The final publication version (formatted for printing) will be available in July 2017. This document will not be available in printed format, only electronically.

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.

Call for CSTA Awards Nominations

Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017

The 2017 Award Season is now open! One of the benefits of being a CSTA member is your eligibility for awards as well as your eligibility to nominate someone for an award. CSTA offers several awards and members may nominate individuals and organizations for the Future Science Teacher Award, the prestigious Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, and the CSTA Distinguished Contributions Award (organizational award). May 9, 2017 is the deadline for nominations for these awards. CSTA believes that the importance of science education cannot be overstated. Given the essential presence of the sciences in understanding the past and planning for the future, science education remains, and will increasingly be one of the most important disciplines in education. CSTA is committed to recognizing and encouraging excellence in science teaching through the presentation of awards to science educators and organizations who have made outstanding contributions in science education in the state and who are poised to continue the momentum of providing high quality, relevant science education 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.

Call for Volunteers – CSTA Committees

Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017


CSTA is now accepting applications from regular, preservice, and retired members to serve on our volunteer committees! CSTA’s all-volunteer board of directors invites you to consider maximizing your member experience by volunteering for CSTA. CSTA committee service offers you the opportunity to share your expertise, learn a new skill, or do something you love to do but never have the opportunity to do in your regular day. CSTA committee volunteers do some pretty amazing things: 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.

A Friend in CA Science Education Now at CSTA Region 1 Science Center

Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017

by Marian Murphy-Shaw

If you attended an NGSS Rollout phase 1-3 or CDE workshops at CSTA’s annual conference you may recall hearing from Chris Breazeale when he was working with the CDE. Chris has relocated professionally, with his passion for science education, and is now the Executive Director at the Explorit Science Center, a hands-on exploration museum featuring interactive STEM exhibits located at the beautiful Mace Ranch, 3141 5th St. in Davis, CA. Visitors can “think it, try it, and explorit” with a variety of displays that allow visitors to “do science.” To preview the museum, or schedule a classroom visit, see Learn More…

Written by Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw is the student services director at Siskiyou County Office of Education and is CSTA’s Region 1 Director and chair of CSTA’s Policy Committee.

Learning to Teach in 3D

Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017

by Joseph Calmer

Probably like you, NGSS has been at the forefront of many department meetings, lunch conversations, and solitary lesson planning sessions. Despite reading the original NRC Framework, the Ca Draft Frameworks, and many CSTA writings, I am still left with the question: “what does it actually mean for my classroom?”

I had an eye-opening experience that helped me with that question. It came out of a conversation that I had with a student teacher. It turns out that I’ve found the secret to learning how to teach with NGSS: I need to engage in dialogue about teaching with novice teachers. I’ve had the pleasure of teaching science in some capacity for 12 years. During that time pedagogy and student learning become sort of a “hidden curriculum.” It is difficult to plan a lesson for the hidden curriculum; the best way is to just have two or more professionals talk and see what emerges. I was surprised it took me so long to realize this epiphany. 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: