July/August 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 8

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

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. (more…)

Chapter 1 Will Be Re-Written

Monday, March 13th, 2017

by Pete A’Hearn

“With NGSS, every science textbook will have to re-write chapter 1” – Helen Quinn, Professor emeritus Stanford University and Lead scientist on the development of NGSS

(Seriously has anyone EVER used the Deka prefix?)

(Seriously has anyone EVER used the Deka prefix?)

Like most science teachers, I used to start my year with a unit on measurement and a unit on the scientific method. When my students tried to measure things they weren’t very precise and also didn’t really know how the metric system worked. Starting with the scientific method seemed like a good foundation for the rest of the year. Year after year we worked on measurement. We used this fun little metric staircase. I would arrange different sized chairs and step stools so I could walk up and down the ladder! (more…)

Modeling Is Awesome

Monday, November 14th, 2016

by Peter A’Hearn

A few years ago a team of us was teaching an astronomy lesson: “What causes night and day?” Kids watched a  time-lapse of the sky over the course of several days. Then we asked the question. We gave the kids a few moments to discuss with a partner and it was obvious that they all had the same answer, “The Earth turns!”

Seems like they already understand, time to move on to the next lesson, right?

To make sure, we gave a group of students a choice of balls and lights and asked them to come up with a way to explain night and day more fully. As groups began to demonstrate their understanding, the confusion quickly became very clear. (more…)

NGSS: Making Your Life Easier

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. (more…)

What About the Stages of Mitosis?

Monday, June 20th, 2016

by Peter A’Hearn

The stages of mitosis are really important.

A-Hearn-Mitosis-Vocabulary

I’m not being sarcastic. Every cell in your body (save those used to make babies) went through the stages of mitosis. And if the stages of mitosis didn’t work with great precision at coordinating the dance of the chromosomes, you would not be a very well functioning human being.  So the stages of mitosis are very important.

As a starting biology teacher, I spent much time and energy making sure my students knew the phases of mitosis. I brought in straw hats and flannel shirts and had my students do a “Mitosis Square Dance.” We tried to identify the phases in onion cells under the microscope. I came up with mnemonics so stupid I can’t remember them. (more…)

Is NGSS the End of Science Fair?

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2016

by Peter A’Hearn

It’s science fair season again and time for my annual love/hate relationship with the science fair.

I love science fair because it gets some kids really excited about doing science and going deep into a topic which is where the real learning occurs. I love that families get excited and do science together—how powerful for kids and parents to work together to learn something new! I love talking to kids who are excited about their projects and what they did. My own daughters’ science fair projects have been among the most powerful learning they have done in their school years. Not just in science, but in reading, writing, learning how to do research, applying math, and being able to present themselves. (more…)

The NGSS Crosscutting Concepts ARE Science Content!

Monday, February 8th, 2016

by Pete A’Hearn

“How come if people evolved from monkeys, monkeys aren’t turning into people now?”

Evolution-Ahearn-1

I’m going to bet that any science teacher who has taught evolution has run into this question at some point. There are a bunch of incorrect assumptions behind the question, including the idea that evolution is a process that we could observe occurring during our lifetimes. This idea is directly addressed as part of the NGSS Crosscutting Concept of Scale, Proportion, and Quantity with the idea that:

  • Phenomena that can be observed at one scale may not be observable at another scale.

and

  • Time, space, and energy phenomena can be observed at various scales using models to study systems that are too large or too small.

(Note that this is not the crosscutting concept called out in the middle school evolution topic. Teachers will need to used multiple crosscutting concepts as well as multiple practices in building coherent units – not just the ones highlighted in the standards). (more…)

Do We Really Need a Third Dimension?

Monday, February 8th, 2016

by Peter A’Hearn

The NGSS has defined science learning as three-dimensional. There are Core Ideas and Science and Engineering Practices, which seem similar to content from the old standards. Then there’s this new thing- the Crosscutting Concepts.

So… do we really need the crosscutting concepts? How important are they to science? Consider a few examples from the history of science:

Galileo used a new tool, the telescope, which let him observe the universe at a different SCALE. He observed PATTERNS which he tried to establish CAUSE AND EFFECT relationships to explain. He ended up supporting a new SYSTEMS MODEL of the solar system. (more…)

NGSS – Putting the STEM in STEM

Friday, December 11th, 2015

by Peter A’Hearn

“Our proposed design uses waves with a frequency of 5,000 Hz to detect the tumor. We are getting our best resolution of the tumor when we are 7 cm away, which is one wavelength of the sound waves that we are using. Our proposed App would include a set of wheels for smooth tracking and image the body as a grid to help determine location.”

Is this an episode of Shark Tank? No this was a group of teachers at the Project Prototype* 2015 Summer Institute. Project Prototype is a California Math Science Partnership Grant in the Coachella Valley focused on the integration of science and engineering through the NGSS. Secondary science teachers were focusing on the middle and high school standards on Waves and their Applications in Information Technology. The week began with a visit to the Desert Regional Medical Center where teachers got to learn about and experience the different uses of waves in medical imaging technology from the ultrasound used to view soft tissue, to X-rays, CAT scans, MRI, and PET. A highlight was the Stereotaxis Machine used to visualize and guide a catheter to a stroke in a patient’s brain. (more…)

Is the NGSS Going to Ruin High School Chemistry?

Monday, October 19th, 2015

By Pete A’Hearn and Wanda Battaglia

Pete: Most science teachers I work with are excited about the shift to NGSS and exploring new possibilities for student learning. But, I have heard some grumbling from high school chemistry teachers that NGSS is gutting chemistry. “Why there are no standards for subjects like the Gas Laws, acids and bases, naming of compounds, and solutions that are an important part of chemistry?”

I know that you are a high school chemistry teacher who is working hard on NGSS. How would you respond to these teachers? (more…)

What Is the Role of Lecture in NGSS?

Tuesday, August 11th, 2015

by Peter A’Hearn

Is there a role for lecture in NGSS classrooms? Anyone who has spent much time working on the NGSS knows that NGSS is learner centered, more about helping students to develop the tools to investigate the world than about teachers supplying knowledge. The traditional teaching style of the teacher talking and students taking notes seems to be opposite of this vision.

This vision is supported by research indicating that traditional lecture is not an effective way to teach science. Nobel Prize winning physicist Dr. Carl Wieman makes a strong case against lecture as a way to teach science.  Click here to read a summary of his findings. (more…)

Middle School Integrated Science – Getting Over It!

Tuesday, August 11th, 2015

by Peter A’Hearn

6th graders design bionic hands as they study how body systems work together in a unit that was moved to 6th grade this year- photo by Peter A’Hearn

6th graders design bionic hands as they study how body systems work together in a unit that was moved to 6th grade this year- photo by Peter A’Hearn

Last spring I wrote an article/blog post that addressed the growing discussion about the decision to teach middle school integrated or discipline specific science. The article gives the rationale for the change and also some different models that were considered for how to transition.

There was a lot of feedback to that post: strongly supportive, deeply skeptical, and many follow up questions. Now that Palm Springs USD has finished the first year of the transition, I thought it would be a good time to look back and see how it went.

The middle school teacher leaders who helped to make the decision chose the “fast” transition plan below. Year 2 was what we just finished. 6th grade teachers (and kids) were introduced to structure and function in living things. 7th graders tried chemistry for the first time, and 8th graders played with waves. Everyone tried a little (or a lot) of engineering. (more…)

Where to Go in Sacramento: Field Courses for the CSTA Conference

Tuesday, August 11th, 2015

by Peter A’Hearn

When it comes to conferences I’m pretty much a workshop guy. You get lots of great ideas in a short time, lots of choices, and you are hearing it straight from teachers. But looking at the field studies being offered at the 2015 California Education Conference in Sacramento this October, I’m thinking I might just spend the whole conference learning science on the amazing field courses being offered.

Here are your choices:

AHearn_Field_Course_Photo_1The Science in Your Beer: Chemistry, Microbiology, and Sensory Analysis at Sudwerk Brewery – Visit with the scientists at the UC Davis Brewing Program, the yeast geeks at White Labs, and the brewers of Sudwerk Brewery to learn about the biochemistry and microbiology that goes into the beer you love to drink. We will share NGSS aligned activities (classroom appropriate) on reaction rate and population biology. You will also explore the chemistry of beer flavor and learn how to make taste testing scientifically rigorous! (more…)

A Teacher’s Journey: NGSS Is NOT an Add On

Tuesday, May 5th, 2015

by Peter A’Hearn

Students looking at a beaker containing 55.85g of iron-

AHearn_Photo_1

“That is one atom of iron.”

Huh… Umm…Sinking feeling… I hope nobody who knows anything about science walks into my room right now.

My students were looking at a mole of iron (602,200,000,000,000,000,000,000 atoms more or less) and concluding that they were probably looking at one atom of iron. And this was after two weeks of learning about the periodic table and structure of the atom. My formal observation lesson that year had been about how to figure out the number of protons, neutrons, and electrons in an atom based on the periodic table. My principal gave me all “3s” and told me it was one of the best lessons he had observed that year. (more…)

NGSS March Madness Edition – a Sports Analogy

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015

by Peter A’Hearn

Imagine this scenario:

AHearn_Photo_1

You sign your daughter up to be on an elementary age basketball team. After several weeks, you ask your kid how they like playing basketball. Your kid says they never play basketball, they run drills. You ask the coach when they will play basketball and the coach says, “They aren’t good enough to play basketball yet. They really don’t have the skills down, they can’t dribble well, shoot well, pass well, and can barely run any plays.” Then you ask when they will be ready to play basketball and the coach answers, “Oh probably in 10 or 12 years they will have learned enough to play the game.” (more…)

Engineering Brings It All Together

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015

by Peter A’Hearn

P.Ahearn_Photo_1

I am really enjoying the creativity that NGSS is awakening in teachers. Those who want to create are taking the standards (and the freedom that comes from the lack of a test) and really exploring what engages their students. I found though, that even when trying our best to match up to the expectations of NGSS, there is a feeling that we missed something. Did we remember the crosscutting concepts? Did the students engage in the practices at the level that NGSS expects? Did we get to the engineering? How about the Nature of Science? Was the content deep enough to really teach the DCI to the point where it could be applied to a new situation? Was it engaging? About a real world phenomenon or problem? (more…)

The NGSS Crosscutting Concepts Make Science Learning 3D!

Tuesday, January 6th, 2015

by Peter A’Hearn

The idea that structure relates to function is pretty abstract for 1st graders. To get them thinking about structure and function in living things we started by having them draw a picture of what they thought a fish looks like. I have found that people have preconceived, cartoon versions of what things look like in their heads that can interfere with their ability to make objective observations of the real thing; it is helpful to give them a chance to draw that cartoon before having them observe the real thing and compare it to their drawing. (See How People Learn [1] for more about prior knowledge and also more about fish).  (more…)

Is NGSS the End of Vocabulary?

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014

by Peter A’Hearn

An exchange from a recent 4th grade lesson (excerpted):

[1] The Three Dimensions of Learning are found in Appendix E, F, and G at  and Chapters 3-8 from The Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas (NRC, 2012) can be found here.

National Park Service Photo by Neal Herbert

National Park Service Photo by Neal Herbert

Teacher: What processes make a canyon?

Student (after pair sharing): Erosion.

Teacher: Tell me more about what that means…

Student: Erosion. (more…)

Making NGSS Informal (Is There Really Such a Thing as Formal Science?)

Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

by Peter A’Hearn

NGSS_Blog_Photo_1

I had a conversation with Cristina Trecha of the San Diego Science Project about NGSS and informal science, and about the work she has been doing to help science centers make the shifts to NGSS.

Peter: So I see from your Twitter feed that you have been doing lots of work with the informal science community on NGSS. (more…)

Science and Math: Working to Connect NGSS and CCSS

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

by Peter A’Hearn

All science people know that there is a strong connection between science and math, so finding the connections between the Next Generation Science Standards and the Common Core Math Standards should be a no brainer. Last year, Palm Springs USD conducted a dozen Science/Math lesson studies to explore the connections. We found many strong connections and also identified some challenges in putting the two sets of standards together. (more…)

Teachers Discussing the Challenges of Implementing NGSS

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

by Peter A’Hearn

The following is a conversation that took place between a group of science teachers on a patio on a warm Southern California night after a long day of science training. The topic of conversation was the challenges of implementing NGSS.

K. (2nd grade teacher): I am overwhelmed by the huge shift in instruction and the level of rigor that is being asked for. It’s overwhelming. When you think about time and what we have to doI do lots of rigor but when you think about other teachers who are on page 345 in their study book and how they are going to have to change. (more…)

Middle School Integrated Science – Get Over It

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

by Pete A’Hearn

Okay, let’s face it, you are eventually going to the California integrated middle school progressions under NGSS. Time to get over it and start to plan the path forward. (Note: this is my opinion and not the opinion of CSTA.)

Why am I so sure? Because I have looked at the two possibilities closely and once you have, it’s a no-brainer. Here is the domain specific model: (more…)

NGSS: Storytellers Wanted

Tuesday, May 6th, 2014

by Pete A’Hearn

Great teachers are great storytellers. They can take the dry facts and procedures in the standards or a textbook and weave them into a story that grips a kid’s attention. Stories are important. We know about some of humanity’s oldest ideas – The Illiad, The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Bible – because they were great stories worth remembering and repeating long before they were written down. In the right hands, science can be a great story too. In episode 7 of Cosmos, (spoiler alert!) Neil DeGrasse-Tyson told a gripping tale about how the quest to find the age of Earth led to the realization that leaded gasoline was poisoning us. Having a compelling mystery to solve is what drives science but for some reason often doesn’t drive science education. It certainly has never been part of the standards. (more…)

Could You Actually Like the NGSS Assessments?

Monday, February 3rd, 2014

by Peter A’Hearn

When teachers are asked about their concerns with the Next Generation Science Standards, questions about assessments top the list. This is not surprising. State assessments have been a stick to beat teachers with for a long time now and, like a dog that has been hit with a stick, teachers have learned to cower. Our thoughts about assessments often assume that the new assessment system will be like our current uninformative and punitive assessment system. An assessment system like that would: (more…)

Move Fast or Move Slow?

Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

by Peter A’Hearn

The CST tests are now well on their way out. There are science tests at grades 5, 8, and 10 set to take place at the end of the 2014 school year, but they will not affect a school’s AYP (they never have) and most likely will not affect a school’s API, which will likely be frozen for two years. Even when testing was still an issue, there was plenty that teachers eager to shift toward NGSS could do and now that the testing pressure is off, more teachers are looking at making the real changes that NGSS will require. (more…)

2013 CSTA Conference Cardboard Boat Race

Wednesday, December 4th, 2013

CSTA would like to thank Peter A’Hearn, 2013 Conference Co-Chair and lead organizer of the Pool Party event for recording and producing the video. CSTA also thanks the MESA program at the UCR Bourns College of Engineering for organizing, conducting, and providing the materials for the event.

Awards Breakfast Speaker

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

Sumida-Headshotby Pete A’Hearn

What do dinosaurs, cartoons, and theme park rides have in common? How does what you eat determine how you are shaped? How can paleontology help you design a character? Come to the awards breakfast with noted paleontologist and Hollywood consultant Dr. Stuart Sumida and find out the answers to these questions and others. Dr. Sumida is always a fun and wide ranging speaker. At the breakfast he will explore the close connections between the arts and science and how they can be used to engage students. Tickets are only $30 and include a hot breakfast.

Get Your NGSS Engineering on at #CSTA13!

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

by Pete A’Hearn

One of the biggest opportunities (and challenges) of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) will be integrating engineering into science classes. Come get started in the chillest way possible at the Friday night STEM pool party! Tickets are just $10 and include $10 worth of food during the event.

CSTA is working with the Math Engineering and Science Achievement (MESA) program at the UC Riverside Bourns School of Engineering to bring you a pool party and cardboard boat engineering challenge. Sign up a team to design, build, and race your boat. Test your small-scale prototypes in the kiddie pool and go deep on your understanding of Archimedes’s Principal. MESA will have lots of information about how to get started in engineering. (more…)

Back to School with NGSS

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

by Peter A’Hearn

Collecting data on mealworm habitat preference.

Collecting data on mealworm habitat preference.

This month the theme for California Classroom Science is  “Back to School.” But what about the standards you are teaching as you return to your classroom this fall?  We are still responsible for the 1998 California Science Standards, while we are also expected to start addressing the Common Core in English and Math and many of us are already anticipating the Next Generation Science Standards  (NGSS) and the changes in science learning that they will create.

(more…)

Get Outside and Start Collecting Data!

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

by Pete A’Hearn

Dragonfly

Photo Credit: Sasha and Maarit A’Hearn

Ahh summer, time to get outside and do field studies.  There are teachers in my district doing field ecology, geology, and marine biology studies this summer. Some of us are taking our own kids camping or to the beach and watching them learn about nature.

One objection I’ve heard to NGSS is that it will mean the end of outdoor science. This objection baffles me. I think this is due to a narrow reading of the standards and the assumption that they are curriculum. It’s imperative to remember they are not the curriculum, but only endpoint goals. I see many places where the NGSS practically requires getting outside to do science! For example… (more…)

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