September 2016 – Vol. 29 No. 1

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

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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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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.