May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

Bridging Science and Math with Classroom Engineering

Posted: Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

by Kristin Sargianis

The Next Generation Science Standards, recently adopted in California, highlight the connections between science and engineering. As children design solutions to engineering challenges, they naturally apply their science content knowledge and engage in science practices. However, engineering also provides meaningful opportunities for children to apply what they are learning in math.


Use authentic measurement and data analysis opportunities to integrate science, engineering, and mathematics in your classroom! Photo taken by Engineering is Elementary staff.

Recently, the Engineering is Elementary (EiE) curriculum project has fielded quite a few requests from teachers looking to use engineering activities to help address the Common Core State Standards in Mathematics. To meet this demand, our team has developed a number of different integrated engineering activities. The “Engineering Sailboats” activity described below serves as a great example for how science, math, and engineering can be integrated in meaningful ways. We hope it inspires you to think about how to authentically integrate mathematics into the science and engineering YOU teach!

Engineering Sailboats

In this activity, students are challenged to engineer sails that can “catch the wind” and push a model sailboat. The “boat” is modeled using a foam raft attached to a track made of fishing line and a table or box fan generates the“wind.”

Video taken by Engineering is Elementary staff

Use authentic measurement and data analysis opportunities to integrate science, engineering, and mathematics in your classroom

Students first explore the materials available for their sail designs: tissue paper, index cards, felt, aluminum foil, plastic grocery bags, wax paper, cellophane tape, and coffee stirrers. After thinking about the properties of each material, the students make predictions about how well each material will (or will not) catch the wind. Working in small groups, students design and create sails out of any combination of the above materials—their only constraint is that they must use a craft stick “mast” to anchor their sail in the foam raft.



Before testing, a class discussion guides students to think about how they will measure the distance their sails travel down the fishing line track. The discussion encourages students to think critically about which units of measure and measuring tools (e.g., ruler, yardstick, meter stick, measuring tape, etc.) might be most appropriate for collecting these data. Students discuss and agree upon which unit (and tool) they will use to measure the distances their sails travel. Students subsequently test their sails, measure how far the raft travels down the track, and record their results on a line plot. Groups work to redesign and improve their sails based on their observations. They test their second designs and measure and record their results on the same line plot.

This authentic measurement experience, along with the resulting line plot, gives students an opportunity to analyze data in a meaningful way by answering such questions as, “Did your second sail design travel farther than your first sail design? How much further?” Then, to conclude the activity students return to their earlier predictions about which materials will work well to catch the wind and use their data to draw some conclusions about which properties of a material affect its ability to catch the wind.

A number of Next Generation Science Standards and Common Core State Standards for Mathematics are addressed in this simple engineering challenge, which can easily be adapted for students of various ages and abilities:

Common Core State Standards for Mathematics

  • Measure the length of an object by selecting and using appropriate tools such as rulers, yardsticks, meter sticks, and measuring tapes. (2.MD.1)
  • Measure to determine how much longer one object is than another, expressing the length difference in terms of a standard length unit. (2.MD.4)
  • Generate measurement data by measuring lengths of several objects to the nearest whole unit…Show the measurements by making a line plot, where the horizontal scale is marked off in whole-number units. (2.MD.9)

Next Generation Science Standards

  • Analyze data obtained from testing different materials to determine which materials have the properties that are best suited for an intended purpose. (2-PS1-2)
  • Analyze data from tests of two objects designed to solve the same problem to compare the strengths and weaknesses of how each performs. (K-2-ETS1-3)

This activity is adapted from the EiE unit, “Catching the Wind: Designing Windmills.” To see it in action in two different elementary classrooms, visit our website!

In Your Classroom
We hope that this example might inspire you to use engineering as way to authentically integrate the science and mathematics you are already teaching in your classroom. For more inspiration, check out the free EiE extension lessons on our website, which connect EiE curriculum units to science, Common Core mathematics, and more!

Kristin Sargianis is Director of Professional Development for “Engineering is Elementary” at the Museum of Science in Boston, MA

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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Participate in Chemistry Education Research Study, Earn $500-800 Dollars!

Posted: Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

WestEd, a non-profit educational research agency, has been funded by the US Department of Education to test a new molecular modeling kit, Happy Atoms. Happy Atoms is an interactive chemistry learning experience that consists of a set of physical atoms that connect magnetically to form molecules, and an app that uses image recognition to identify the molecules that you create with the set. WestEd is conducting a study around the effectiveness of using Happy Atoms in the classroom, and we are looking for high school chemistry teachers in California to participate.

As part of the study, teachers will be randomly assigned to either the treatment group (who uses Happy Atoms) or the control group (who uses Happy Atoms at a later date). Teachers in the treatment group will be asked to use the Happy Atoms set in their classrooms for 5 lessons over the course of the fall 2017 semester. Students will complete pre- and post-assessments and surveys around their chemistry content knowledge and beliefs about learning chemistry. WestEd will provide access to all teacher materials, teacher training, and student materials needed to participate.

Participating teachers will receive a stipend of $500-800. You can read more information about the study here:

Please contact Rosanne Luu at or 650.381.6432 if you are interested in participating in this opportunity, or if you have any questions!

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.

2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption Reviewer Application

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

The California Department of Education and State Board of Education are now accepting applications for reviewers for the 2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption. The application deadline is 3:00 pm, July 21, 2017. The application is comprehensive, so don’t wait until the last minute to apply.

On Tuesday, May 9, 2017, State Superintendent Tom Torlakson forwarded this recruitment letter to county and district superintendents and charter school administrators.

Review panel members will evaluate instructional materials for use in kindergarten through grade eight, inclusive, that are aligned with the California Next Generation Science Content Standards for California Public Schools (CA NGSS). 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.

Lessons Learned from the NGSS Early Implementer Districts

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

On March 31, 2017, Achieve released two documents examining some lessons learned from the California K-8 Early Implementation Initiative. The initiative began in August 2014 and was developed by the K-12 Alliance at WestEd, with close collaborative input on its design and objectives from the State Board of Education, the California Department of Education, and Achieve.

Eight (8) traditional school districts and two (2) charter management organizations were selected to participate in the initiative, becoming the first districts in California to implement the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Those districts included Galt Joint Union Elementary, Kings Canyon Joint Unified, Lakeside Union, Oakland Unified, Palm Springs Unified, San Diego Unified, Tracy Joint Unified, Vista Unified, Aspire, and High Tech High.

To more closely examine some of the early successes and challenges experienced by the Early Implementer LEAs, Achieve interviewed nine of the ten participating districts and compiled that information into two resources, focusing primarily on professional learning and instructional materials. 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.

Using Online Simulations to Support the NGSS in Middle School Classrooms

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

by Lesley Gates, Loren Nikkel, and Kambria Eastham

Middle school teachers in Kings Canyon Unified School District (KCUSD), a CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative district, have been diligently working on transitioning to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) integrated model for middle school. This year, the teachers focused on building their own knowledge of the Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs). They have been gathering and sharing ideas at monthly collaborative meetings as to how to make sure their students are not just learning about science but that they are actually doing science in their classrooms. Students should be planning and carrying out investigations to gather data for analysis in order to construct explanations. This is best done through hands-on lab experiments. Experimental work is such an important part of the learning of science and education research shows that students learn better and retain more when they are active through inquiry, investigation, and application. A Framework for K-12 Science Education (2011) notes, “…learning about science and engineering involves integration of the knowledge of scientific explanations (i.e., content knowledge) and the practices needed to engage in scientific inquiry and engineering design. Thus the framework seeks to illustrate how knowledge and practice must be intertwined in designing learning experiences in K-12 Science Education” (pg. 11).

Many middle school teachers in KCUSD are facing challenges as they begin implementing these student-driven, inquiry-based NGSS science experiences in their classrooms. First, many of the middle school classrooms at our K-8 school sites are not designed as science labs. Learn More…

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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.

Celestial Highlights: May – July 2017

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

May Through July 2017 with Web Resources for the Solar Eclipse of August 21, 2017

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graphs of planet rising and setting times by Jeffrey L. Hunt.

In spring and summer 2017, Jupiter is the most prominent “star” in the evening sky, and Venus, even brighter, rules the morning. By mid-June, Saturn rises at a convenient evening hour, allowing both giant planets to be viewed well in early evening until Jupiter sinks low in late September. The Moon is always a crescent in its monthly encounters with Venus, but is full whenever it appears near Jupiter or Saturn in the eastern evening sky opposite the Sun. (In 2017, Full Moon is near Jupiter in April, Saturn in June.) At intervals of 27-28 days thereafter, the Moon appears at a progressively earlier phase at each pairing with the outer planet until its final conjunction, with Moon a thin crescent, low in the west at dusk. You’ll see many beautiful events by just following the Moon’s wanderings at dusk and dawn in the three months leading up to the solar eclipse. 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.