September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

Book Review: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Posted: Tuesday, May 6th, 2014

by Maya Wildgoose

Note: The following book review was written for the language and literacy class in the teacher credential program at the University of California, Davis. The author, Maya Wildgoose, (MS Geology, SS Science Credential) is student teaching at an urban high school in the Greater Sacramento area. – Rick Pomeroy, CSTA Past-President

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (Crown Publishers, 2010, 330 pages) is a non-fiction book written by a biologist-turned-journalist who had a personal fascination with the woman behind the famous “HeLa” cells. HeLa cells are named after the woman from whom the cells came from, Henrietta Lacks, and are used in labs around the world to help scientists study human cells. Author Rebecca Skloot was a high school dropout who took a biology class at a community college. Skloot was surprised when none of her teachers could tell her about the woman behind the cells except that were from an African-American woman who had died of cervical cancer in the 1950’s. Driven by her wish to know more, the author researched Henrietta and her family. The story that emerges is one centered squarely on bioethics and how it was possible for her family to be in the dark about the use of Henrietta’s cells until 20 years after they had been taken and cultured in labs around the world. The book takes a unique perspective for a science book: the human side. Though the author goes into some detail about the science, it is really more of a story of the woman herself and the impacts the science has had on her family.



The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks was written for a general audience, including those not familiar with the science involved in the story. Skloot does a great job explaining complex science in simple words and makes this book accessible for 9th grade readers and older. It would be very appropriate for a biology or anatomy class but could also be used in a social science or English class. The theme of bioethics provides a great backdrop to stage a debate on how it could have been handled differently. On her website, Ms. Skloot has a long (26 page) teacher’s guide to each chapter of the book, discussion/writing prompts for English, social science, and science classes. She also includes connections to the Common Core State Standards. With all of this additional material, it would be easy for a teacher to select which parts of the book would suit the needs of the class. Due to the length of the book, it would likely be necessary to choose appropriate sections to assign. There are some intense scenes and language in this book, including a chapter about the sexual abuse of one of Henrietta’s daughters. If one was to assign the entire book, it would require parental or guardian knowledge and signatures.

Overall, this is a fascinating book and one that could really help students make connections with bigger ideas and controversies in biology. Both the science and the bioethical aspects are well explained. One teacher who regularly assigns the entire book claims that the students absolutely love reading it. I can see why- it is hard to stop reading before you find out how the story ends!

Maya Wildgoose is a student in the Teacher Credential Program at UC Davis and is a member of CSTA.

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:

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State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Announces 2017 Finalists for Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching

Posted: Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today nominated eight exceptional secondary mathematics and science teachers as California finalists for the 2017 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST).

“These teachers are dedicated and accomplished individuals whose innovative teaching styles prepare our students for 21st century careers and college and develop them into the designers and inventors of the future,” Torlakson said. “They rank among the finest in their profession and also serve as wonderful mentors and role models.”

The California Department of Education (CDE) partners annually with the California Science Teachers Association and the California Mathematics Council to recruit and select nominees for the PAEMST program—the highest recognition in the nation for a mathematics or science teacher. The Science Finalists will be recognized at the CSTA Awards Luncheon on Saturday, October 14, 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.

Thriving in a Time of Change

Posted: Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

by Jill Grace

By the time this message is posted online, most schools across California will have been in session for at least a month (if not longer, and hat tip to that bunch!). Long enough to get a good sense of who the kids in your classroom are and to get into that groove and momentum of the daily flow of teaching. It’s also very likely that for many of you who weren’t a part of a large grant initiative or in a district that set wheels in motion sooner, this is the first year you will really try to shift instruction to align to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). I’m not going to lie to you, it’s a challenging year – change is hard. Change is even harder when there’s not a playbook to go by.  But as someone who has had the very great privilege of walking alongside teachers going through that change for the past two years and being able to glimpse at what this looks like for different demographics across that state, there are three things I hope you will hold on to. These are things I have come to learn will overshadow the challenge: a growth mindset will get you far, one is a very powerful number, and it’s about the kids. Learn More…

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Written by Jill Grace

Jill Grace

Jill Grace is a Regional Director for the K-12 Alliance and is President of CSTA.

If You Are Not Teaching Science Then You Are Not Teaching Common Core

Posted: Thursday, August 31st, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn 

“Science and Social Studies can be taught for the last half hour of the day on Fridays”

– Elementary school principal

Anyone concerned with the teaching of science in elementary school is keenly aware of the problem of time. Kids need to learn to read, and learning to read takes time, nobody disputes that. So Common Core ELA can seem like the enemy of science. This was a big concern to me as I started looking at the curriculum that my district had adopted for Common Core ELA. I’ve been through those years where teachers are learning a new curriculum, and know first-hand how a new curriculum can become the focus of attention- sucking all the air out of the room. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

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

Tools for Creating NGSS Standards Based Lessons

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Elizabeth Cooke

Think back on your own experiences with learning science in school. Were you required to memorize disjointed facts without understanding the concepts?

Science Education Background

In the past, science education focused on rote memorization and learning disjointed ideas. Elementary and secondary students in today’s science classes are fortunate now that science instruction has shifted from students demonstrating what they know to students demonstrating how they are able to apply their knowledge. Science education that reflects the Next Generation Science Standards challenges students to conduct investigations. As students explore phenomena and discrepant events they engage in academic discourse guided by focus questions from their teachers or student generated questions of that arise from analyzing data and creating and revising models that explain natural phenomena. Learn More…

Written by Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke teaches TK-5 science at Markham Elementary in the Oakland Unified School District, is an NGSS Early Implementer, and is CSTA’s Secretary.

News and Happenings in CSTA’s Region 1 – Fall 2017

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Marian Murphy-Shaw


This month I was fortunate enough to hear about some new topics to share with our entire region. Some of you may access the online or newsletter options, others may attend events in person that are nearer to you. Long time CSTA member and environmental science educator Mike Roa is well known to North Bay Area teachers for his volunteer work sharing events and resources. In this month’s Region 1 updates I am happy to make a few of the options Mike offers available to our region. 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.