September 2016 – Vol. 29 No. 1

Bridging the Communication Gap Between Teacher and Parent

Posted: Tuesday, January 1st, 2013

by Amanda L. Smith

When I think back to being a brand new teacher, one of my biggest regrets was not communicating with parents more.  To be honest, learning how to bridge the communication gap between teacher and parent is still one of my biggest challenges each new school year.  Here are some tips on how to develop a good relationship with your classroom parents, and whether you have 25 students or closer to 200, you can always find creative ways to do this.

  • Keep parents informed on a regular basis about what you are doing in your classroom:

♦ Parents really appreciate hearing about all the daily/weekly/monthly activities going on in your classroom.  This can be done in a variety of ways, such as a weekly or monthly newsletter, class webpage, or take-home letters.  You can include projects, activities, fun events on campus, etc.

♦ It’s helpful to regularly update parents on their child’s academic and behavior performance as well.  As a middle school teacher I send out weekly or at least biweekly updates via text message and email to my students’ parents about academics and behavior.  This has helped greatly with keeping students on track, and also helps the individual student stay accountable for their actions and work ethic.

  • Disciplining students:

♦ Parents will be much more supportive of your discipline plan both inside and outside the classroom if you contact them as soon as negative behavior starts.  Waiting too long to contact parents gives little time to correct the issue and make positive corrections.  If a parent does not know about a behavior problem, it makes it difficult for them to support what you are doing in your classroom.

  • You can always say no to parents:

♦ Remember that you are the final decision maker in your classroom.  You can always politely, gently and firmly, say, “No!”  Sometimes parents need to learn restraint just as much as their children do.  Feel confident in your decision to say no when it is appropriate.

  • No news is not always good news:

♦ Parents enjoy hearing about the positives much more than the negatives.  Just think about the typical student who has a lot of behavior problems, is talkative in class, and does not turn in homework; the parent of that student may only hear about these negative behaviors, and probably doesn’t relish the constant reminders.  However, sending short emails, phone calls, or text messages about something positive can really make a difference.  I like to send home updates on high test scores, vast improvements in class participation, “light bulb” moments during discussions, etc.  A balance of positives with the negatives definitely helps parents to remember that their child is capable of learning, and can do well in school, even when faced with the challenging behavior issues mentioned above.

  • Never give up on a parent (even if they seem to have given up on you):

♦ Not every parent can show up to meetings, or be reached by email or phone, and sending home notes is not always successful…so what do you do?  Continue making phone calls and leaving messages (document all of your attempts), send letters home in the mail (instead of sending them home with the student), and if your school or district allows, make a home visit.  Persistence can be the key to communicating with a seemingly unreachable parent.

  • Additional ways to work with parents:

♦ Encourage parents to participate in class and school-wide activities.

♦ Reward, recognize and thank parents for their efforts (even for the small things).

♦ Ask parents to come into the classroom and share their hobbies and talents.  Just because you can’t paint with oils on canvas, doesn’t mean one of your parents can’t.  Students can learn a lot from the talents of others, including your own classroom parents.

♦ Assure parents that you are truly invested in their child’s learning and remind them that the reason you need their involvement is for the benefit of their child.

Written by Amanda Smith

Amanda Smith is a science teacher at Wilder’s Preparatory Academy Charter School and a member of CSTA.

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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.