September 2016 – Vol. 29 No. 1

Asking the Real Experts in Science Education

Posted: Saturday, January 1st, 2011

by Donna Ross

As a faculty member in the College of Education, I often find myself in a position to make teaching suggestions to preservice and inservice teachers.  Whenever possible, I try to get my ideas from the real experts.  I frequently ask K-12 students for their suggestions.  Recently, I had the opportunity to invite eight urban high school students to participate in a workshop for teachers.  I asked the students to answer two questions for the group:

  1. What is one teaching strategy or style that does NOT help you learn science?
  2. What is one teaching strategy or style that DOES help you learn science?

The only guideline I gave them was to try to avoid repeating answers.  They gave me permission to share their responses here.

NS: It doesn’t work for me when the teacher puts us in groups and each group presents one part of the chapter, but we are all supposed to learn all the parts.  I feel I only learn the part I present because not every group includes enough detail for the test.  It would be better if we were only tested on the part we present.  A style that does work for me is when we do a lab and come together to share our questions and ideas.  Then there is a lecture that clarifies our ideas and what the results mean and how to apply it.

SD: It doesn’t help me when teachers make me write down a long list of vocabulary terms and definitions and never revisit the material, so it feels like a waste of time.  Just because I wrote it down doesn’t mean I automatically learned it.  What does help is when there is repetition to help me remember the concept.  For example, we use the idea in the lab and the lecture and a game and the bellwork.  Also, if we get to figure out our own conclusions, we remember better.

NA: Reading out loud and expecting us to learn the material doesn’t work for me, especially if the teacher has different students doing the reading.  Most of the time we can’t even hear.  Even if the teacher is reading, it is hard to understand the textbook.  It feels like a waste of time.  A style that does work for me is to do the lab and then look at really short parts of the book that explain what we did in the lab.  Then the book makes more sense.

FK: It doesn’t work for me if I know more about the subject than my teacher.  I lose respect for the teacher if he or she hasn’t learned the material first.  Something that does work for me is when the teacher calls on us randomly because it keeps me focused and thinking.

SJ: Teaching the same way all the time doesn’t work for me; teachers should mix it up so we stay busy.  Not everyone learns the same way, so using lots of different styles is best.  It also helps to have a good study guide so tests are not surprises.

MF: It is hard for me to remember all the instructions when a teacher just says them once, so having them written clearly really helps.  During lectures, note-taking guides and foldables are also helpful for me.

TH: PowerPoints are not effective for me because they are usually too boring and have too much information.  Hands-on activities are better for me and anything that allows students to think and figure things out for ourselves.

NH: It is frustrating for me when we do labs where the results are obvious even without doing the lab.  It actually works for me if the teacher does a really good lecture with questions or we do a good lab where we have to figure out the results.


The eight students who participated come from four distinct ethnic and linguistic backgrounds and range in academic achievement, but all share a desire to be successful.  All eight of the students have slightly different preferences, but there is a consistent theme of engagement throughout all of their responses.  The more engaged the students are, the more they perceive the teaching as effective.  This personal wisdom echoes many of the findings from the research literature in science education.  Student engagement, hands-on activities, inquiry approaches, literacy supports, and well-prepared teachers all increase opportunities for meaningful learning in science classrooms.  Just ask the experts!

Donna Ross is associate professor of science education at San Diego State University and is CSTA’s 4-year college director.

Written by Donna Ross

Donna Ross is Associate Professor of Science Education at San Diego State University.

One Response

  1. “It is frustrating for me when we do labs where the results are obvious even without doing the lab.”

    Around 1929, F. W. Westaway addressed this issue in his book, Science Teaching. He termed this sort of lab as a “verification lab” and advised strongly against it. Here’s what he said.

    “Beware of verification methods. ‘Show that ferrous ammonium sulphate contains one-seventh of its own weight of iron.’ This is simply asking for the evidence to be cooked.”

    Must we repeatedly discover and rediscover what has been so well known for a century?

    Westaway goes on to say (please ignore the gender usage common a 100 years ago), “When a boy works an experiment, keep him just enough in the dark as to the probable outcome of the experiment, just enough in the attitude of a discoverer, to leave him unprejudiced in his observations.”

    This is a part of the essence of the education science lab. It doesn’t absolutely have to be hands-on, but it should not be simulated whether hands-on or not.

    Simulations belong to a different part of learning science, one that includes videos, animations, and the like.

    To read more of F. W. Westaway’s comments on teaching science, see I think that you’ll find the ideas to be quite modern.

    Westaway was indeed an expert on the subject having written successful books on scientific method, science teaching, and the history of science. I find his insights to be valuable.

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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.