September 2016 – Vol. 29 No. 1

California’s NGSS Early Implementers Meet for Mid-Year Training

Posted: Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015

Corrected March 9, 2015

by Lisa Hegdahl

The last time we were all together was August of 2014. Since then, we have ‘experimented’ with implementing the Next Generation of Science Standards with varying degrees of success. We have come to Claremont, California to continue our NGSS education and to gain leadership skills we will pass on to our colleagues when they join us in this process next summer. We are the eight school districts and two CMOs (Charter Management Organizations) chosen for the NGSS Early Implementation Initiative* – Galt Joint Union Elementary School District, Kings Canyon Unified School District, Lakeside Union School District, Oakland Unified School District, Palm Springs Unified School District, San Diego Unified School District, Tracy Unified School District, and Vista Unified School District, Aspire, and High Tech High – and we are excited to begin.

Day 1 – Thursday, January 29th

We commence at 9:00 a.m. with a football-themed icebreaker and a welcome from Statewide Director, K-12 Alliance at WestEd, Kathy DiRanna. Kathy reminds us that one objective of NGSS is to “activate learning”. Teachers should be competent, confident, collaborative, creative, and caring. As Early Implementers we will continue to find our way, produce snapshots of the NGSS classroom, participate in our teaching/learning communities, and create district plans for NGSS Implementation.

Throughout the talk, Kathy inspires with quotes that include:

“I touch the future. I teach.” – Christa McAuliffe

…People set rules to keep from making decisions” – Coach K

Individually we are one drop. Together we are an ocean.” – Ryunosuke Satoro

When Kathy DiRanna finishes speaking, we are energized and ready to take on the next 3 long days.

John Durand, tries out his projectile device.   Photo by Lisa Hegdahl

John Durand, tries out his projectile device.
Photo by Lisa Hegdahl

Individually, we create graphics illustrating our path to leadership and then share them with our district teams. Mine focuses on a mentor who always sees something in me that I do not see in myself. He challenges me, pushing me out of my comfort zone, and shows me all I have to offer. Many of my teammates tell of being leaders from a young age and of engaging in activities for which they have a passion.

An afternoon session on equity is followed by dinner and then it is back to training. The evening workshop focuses on Engineering in NGSS. Groups are tasked with creating a projectile device for a small pompom. Our materials are a paper cup, pipe cleaner, rubber band, paper clip, and two Popsicle sticks. As with all engineering practices, we must create a design before we build. (Our instructors, Peter A’Hearn, K-12 Science Specialist at Palm Springs Unified School District and Sheila Nath, Science Instructional Coach at Aspire Public Schools, suggest a classroom strategy for students sharing their designs with others: when classmates look at each other’s individual designs, they may add to them, but they cannot subtract anything.) Most of the groups create a slingshot-type mechanism.  The pompoms fly across the room, after which it is time to revise designs and re-build.

Soon, it is 8:30 p.m. – time to call it a day.

Day 2 – Friday, January 30th

Photo by Lisa Hegdahl

Photo by Lisa Hegdahl

Photo by Lisa Hegdahl

Photo by Lisa Hegdahl

This morning there is a contest to see who can create the most re-Tweeted Tweet about NGSS. Our team composes one with as many buzz words as we can think of – we do not win. We are not even close.

After our tweets are posted around room, Jennifer Childress, Director of Instructional Support for Science at Achieve, gives us an update on what’s happening with NGSS. Currently 13 states have fully adopted the Standards with other states in the process. Some are working together, using the EQuIP Rubric to update old content such as science kits.

NGSS Tools Available at Achieve:

(*under development)

(Jennifer recommends the website She says it is “amazing”.)

Observing an NGSS classroom can be tricky business for administrators and teachers alike. The old routine of posting standards and objectives on the board, with administrators checking them off a list of teaching practices, is gone. Teachers and administrators will need new ways to find evidence of student learning. Our Early Implementer administrators use a ‘tool’ similar to a rubric that helps them view lessons and lesson series through the NGSS lens. The tool also helps teachers with their planning. Part of our Friday morning is spent analyzing the usefulness of the tool and making suggestions as to how it can be better.

Jackie Gallaway, Jerry Young, and Christine Neal experiment before developing their model Photo by Lisa Hegdahl

Jackie Gallaway, Jerry Young, and Christine Neal experiment before developing their model
Photo by Lisa Hegdahl

Lunch is followed by a choice of sessions on science and engineering practices – arguing from either evidence or modeling. I choose the latter. But what is a model? Our instructors, Caleb Cheung, Science Manager at Oakland Unified School District and Peter A’Hearn, share with us this description:

An abstract, simplified representation of a system or phenomena that makes its central features explicit and visible (observable and unobservable). 

It can be used to generate predictions and explanations for natural phenomena.

We proceed to observe what happens when a lit candle, sitting in a dish of water, is covered by a jar. After our initial observations, we use a whiteboard to develop a model that explains what we observed, and then we present our thoughts to the rest of the group. We design additional experiments to test our ideas. It is a challenging process that pushes us to take careful observations, test, and re-test, each time revising our original model.

At the end of the session, we discuss the components of a quality model:

  • Represents a phenomenon
  • Context rich
  • Pictorial and written
  • Observable and unobservable
  • Revisable over time
  • Public

After discussing classroom strategies for developing models, we get in grade level groups and brainstorm possible phenomena that we can use in our classrooms. My colleagues show me a video of a 2 ball bounce which I use in a modeling activity with my students two days after I return from the training. Grade levels post the results of their brainstorms around the room.

Dinner is followed by guest speakers Robert Rodriguez, Ivan Figueroa, Jesus Enriquez, and Ivan Lopez – engineering students from Cal State Long Beach. They share a video from a contest they entered and speak about their experiences from their grade school days:

“Computer coding was very important as well as oral and written skills. They are like a hammer – a simple tool, but you can do so much with it.”

“Show me what I am good at, not what I am bad at.”

A teacher showed him that over time “ I can grow to understand.”

Day 3 – Saturday, January 31st

8:00 a.m. and it is time for Conceptual Flows. I signed up for this. Trying to do them alone is a daunting task, so I am hoping to get some help. The people in this room are supposed to be fairly advanced in their knowledge of NGSS – how the standards are structured and what the shifts are in instruction. Our instructors Rita Starnes, K-12 Alliance Regional Director, Susan Gomez-Zwiep, Associate Professor at Cal State Long Beach, and Don Whisman, Science Program Director at San Diego Unified, give us an NGSS acronym quiz:









I pass.

Photo by Lisa Hegdahl

Photo by Lisa Hegdahl

Photo by Lisa Hegdahl

Photo by Lisa Hegdahl

We are reminded that concepts are placed into the conceptual flow based on how students learn and how the concepts build on other topics. Disciplinary core ideas are connected by the crosscutting concepts and science and engineering practices. They can be used to link the ideas from previous years to the next year. Two other 8th grade teachers and I begin the process by each writing a narrative about everything an 8th grader should know about forces and motion. It is important that we write our narratives in complete sentences so it will be clear where each concept fits in the flow. Once the narratives are finished, we transfer our sentences to post-its – big concepts on big post-its and more specific ideas on smaller post-its. Then the organizing begins. The process takes us a long time. There are many moments we are stumped and just stare at all the post-its hoping they will organize themselves.

Susan suggests we use the NRC Framework grade level storylines to help us decide what we can trim. Eventually we have a flow we can agree on. We are fortunate – there are two other groups of 8th grade teachers who have created conceptual flows for other topics. We take pictures and hope they will help us as we move forward with our NGSS lesson planning. We are grateful for the opportunity to create something we can use with our departments when we return home.

Team meetings to work on our district 4-year plans and a working a lunch round out a day that ends at 3:00 p.m. Once again we Early Implementers go our separate ways. We have come far since last August and will go much further by the time we meet again in June. The journey is a long one and we are only getting started. We are ready for wherever it takes us.

*Participation by the eight districts in the NGSS Early Implementation Initiative is made possible by funding from the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation. Participation of the CMOs is supported by funding from the Hastings/Quillin Fund at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation

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Written by Lisa Hegdahl

Lisa Hegdahl

Lisa Hegdahl is an 8th grade science teacher at McCaffrey Middle School in Galt, CA and is President for 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.