September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 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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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.