September 2016 – Vol. 29 No. 1

Bold: adj. Showing the Ability to Take Risks

Posted: Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015

by Lisa Hegdahl

I just finished my first attempt at planning and implementing a Next Generation of Science Standards Lesson Series.   While I never intended it to be printed in a statewide publication, I am reminded of the words of Stephen Pruitt, Achieve Senior Vice President, Content, Research & Development, in an address to California Science Educators in September 2014 when he said,

Be bold

Since hearing those words, I have tried to apply them to everything I do regarding NGSS – including sharing a lesson series that is far from exemplar. While the lesson series does not always provide learning at the nexus of all 3 dimensions of NGSS – Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCI), Science and Engineering Practices (SEP), and Crosscutting Concepts – it does provide students opportunities to take control of their own learning and reflect on their learning progress. With that said, the intent of this article is to describe my planning and teaching process so that you may have the courage to begin a NGSS Lesson Series of your own, even if it is not perfect.   If this article encourages just one of you to “be bold” enough to take your own first steps into NGSS implementation, the purpose of this article will be served.

It will help you to know that my school district is part of the NGSS Early Implementation Initiative.  As such, we are expected to forge ahead into NGSS Implementation with no Curriculum Framework, no state or national assessment, and no NGSS based support materials.  However, as Early Implementers, we attended a 2014 summer institute that included participation in a NGSS lesson series. After using NGSS SEPs and CCCs to learn about energy and the water cycle, we engineered a Mars Habitat that would maintain a consistent temperature and create precipitation (read more – Next Generation of Science Standards: Jump Right In).  I used that lesson series as an example when I began my lesson planning process. Also, with the support of my school administration, I have the liberty this year to spend 100% of my energy practicing and improving my NGSS planning and teaching paying particular attention to incorporating the SEPs and CCCs.

Getting Started

To begin, I needed a question that addressed a phenomenon. Ideally I wanted the phenomenon to lend itself to an engineering project. I wish I could give you a formula for how I chose the phenomenon. Honestly, it just came to me. Subconsciously, I was probably thinking about the Particle Model with which I started out the year and about phase changes which is the next topic I usually teach. I was also aware that CA NGSS 8th grade science has two performance expectations (PEs) in physical science that address energy. In the end, I came upon a question that was simple, included an engineering piece, enabled me to use some curriculum of which I was already familiar, and allowed me to explore a concept I had not taught before (but would ultimately be responsible for once NGSS is fully implemented). Although it would have taken me longer if I had included everything I thought of along the way, the lesson series as described here took nearly four months to complete.

Mindful of this article’s length, I have not listed everything the students or I did, but have included those I think will give the best overall picture of how I approached the series. Where it was clear to me that I was explicitly addressing one of them, I have used the following notations: SEP, CCC, NOS (understandings about the nature of science) and ETS (Engineering, Technology, and Applications of Science).

Basic Concept Map for the Lesson Series

Basic Concept Map for the Lesson Series

On the first day, I introduced the question to the students – How do hot air balloons fly? After they watched a short video clip about the hot air balloon festival in Albuquerque, NM, they wrote down their initial answer to the question in their journals. At the end of the lesson series, students re-visited their original answer and reflected on their learning (NOS).

Particle Model of Matter

Many years ago, I attended a summer institute at the University of California at Davis where I received a set of short lab activities and demonstrations that guide students to progressively gather evidence about the nature of particles in matter such as:

    • matter as tiny particles (NOS )
    • particle spacing in solids, liquids, and gases (SEP)
    • spacing between particles (NOS)
    • variations in particle size (NOS)
    • particle movement (NOS)
    • the effects of energy on particle movement (SEP)

Once completed, students have a model for matter that they developed from evidence and that they can use to help them predict how matter will act in different circumstances.


While adoption of the NGSS by the State Board of Education in the Fall 2013 means many teachers will be asked to teach content out of their comfort zone, many science education experts familiar with NGSS point out that NGSS content is not the biggest shift teachers will have to make during implementation.  The biggest shift will be in how students are taught. Energy is one of those topics I have little experience teaching, but one I will have to take on once NGSS is fully implemented.   The question of how a hot air balloon flies offered the perfect opportunity to practice guiding students in an exploration of energy.  As an added bonus, energy is a NGSS cross cutting concept.

I started by showing students a series of objects:

      • battery (in my hand)
      • tumble car (moving at a constant speed across a table)
      • wooden top (spinning)
      • match (unlit)
      • Granola bar (in the wrapper)
      • domino (in my hand)
      • rubber band (stretched)
      • paper helicopter (falling and spinning)
      • vinegar and baking soda (combined)
      • flashlight (on)

Students sorted the items into 2 groups – those that have energy and those that don’t. Students collaborated in pairs, groups, and as a class sharing their thoughts and re-sorting as they considered necessary.

Eventually, students gathered information from resources that included readings and video clips. As they gained more understanding, they not only re-sorted, but added additional columns to their data table to accommodate their new knowledge (NOS).

As a way to have students explore energy transfer, they watched several video clips of Rube Goldberg devices. Students listed the energy transfers they saw as well as the different kinds of energy the devices utilized. This would have been an ideal opportunity for students to build their own Rube Goldberg devises, however, time, my own inexperience with the topic, as well as wanting to stay focused on the hot air balloon goal, kept me from doing so. I did have students draw their own transfer of energy sequences.

Phase Changes

Students began by drawing a representation of the particle spacing and motion in solids, liquids, and gases. In collaborative groups, they explained how solids change into liquids and then into gases. Groups also discussed how a gas could change into a liquid and then into a solid. Using a computer states of matter simulation, students saw how temperature affects particle motion and the structure of matter. Students also read about different kinds of phase changes and the difference between heat and temperature.


We started with the question – Why do some things sink and others float? In their journals, students wrote their own answer to the question.   About half way through the Bill Nye video about buoyancy, Bill Nye throws several objects into a pool to see if they sink or float. I gave my students the list of those items and asked them to predict which they thought would sink and which they thought would float.  When they had finished with their lists, they watched the clip and recorded what actually happened. Students looked at the results and tried to come up with an explanation for what they observed (SEP).

Using Chromebooks, students accessed a density simulation to gather data about five materials that they ‘dropped’ into water. Once the mass, volume, and ability of the material to sink or float was recorded, students looked to see if they could find a pattern (CCC) within that data (SEP). Using the same simulation, they recorded the densities for the same materials.  Again, they looked for a pattern within the data.  Students noted whether or not they could change the floating or sinking of the materials by changing the mass or volume of the objects.

Students used data tables to discover that the density of an object can be obtained by dividing the object’s mass by its volume. That led to the d=m/v equation. This equation was used to make predictions about whether objects would sink or float in a liquid (SEP). Students also participated in several other lab activities such as finding the density of an irregular object and determining the relative densities of four different saltwater solutions.

Engineering (ETS)

Students watched a short video – NASA for Kids: Intro to Engineering.  The video makes clear that, after identifying a need, engineers create a plan.   After telling the students that their balloons could be made out of a dry cleaner bag, 6 straws, tape, and 5 birthday candles, the students created their own balloon designs (ETS), which they next shared in their groups of 4. Groups came to a consensus on one design that they would try and then they shared their designs with the class. At the end of the presentations, groups were allowed to revise their designs (NOS).


The following day students built their first balloon.  As they attempted to fly them, students talked to each other about what seemed to be working and what they needed to change (ETS). The following day, balloons were re-built (ETS) and they were much more successful than the day before. (None of the balloons ever actually flew, but several skidded around on the floor about a 1/2 inch off the ground.) Due to the Christmas holiday, I was unable to give students a 3rd day to re-design, build, and fly their balloons.

The Wrap Up

To culminate the lesson series, I again asked students “How do hot air balloons fly?’ They wrote individual answers in their journals. Then they collaborated as groups to come up with an explanation that they presented to the class. The following day, we revisited what groups said and together came up with a process that made sense based on what they knew about:

      • Particles in matter
      • Energy
      • Phase changes
      • The engineering of a hot air balloon

Formative and Summative Assessments

Assessments took several forms including:

      • Listening to student discussions
      • Questioning students individually and in groups
      • Challenge statements – students write in support or non-support of a statement to demonstrate their ability to apply their learning to a new situation
      • Group presentations
      • Observing the revisions students made to their journals after they acquired new information
      • Traditional quizzes (just couldn’t resist)

The summative assessment was a writing assignment where they explained how a hot air balloon flies while addressing the concepts of structure of matter, energy, phase changes, and density. Students were allowed to use the records they kept in their journals during the assessment.

I am confident that there are parts of this lesson series that some of you would have approached in another way whether due to your particular teaching style or NGSS expertise. I also, given the opportunity, would do some things differently. I hope to use what I learned to guide me as I develop my next NGSS lesson series that I began on January 6th. Regardless of where you are in the NGSS implementation process, my hope is that my experience will help you to be fearless as you move forward.

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Written by Lisa Hegdahl

Lisa Hegdahl

Lisa Hegdahl is an 8th grade science teacher at McCaffrey Middle School in Galt, CA and is President for CSTA.

2 Responses

  1. Thank you so much for being bold! Not only to develop and teach an NGSS-aligned lesson, but to share it with all of us, who are also in the NGSS Early Implementation Initiative with you.

  2. Thanks for sharing your bold endeavors. I will use and build off of your experiences with these ideas and this process.

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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.