January/February 2018 – Vol. 31 No. 2

What Do Teachers Do?

Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Joseph Calmer

There is a quote from the newly published version of the California Framework:

“Teachers and administrators will not only have to consider a new context and programs, but they will need to think differently about their roles and their day-to-day work. The entire educational system will need to consider how to support these shifts throughout teacher and administrator careers (from pre-service to in-service) and how to implement policies and programs to support the transition from the awareness phase of the CA NGSS through and beyond the full implementation phase of the CA NGSS.” (Education, 2016) (more…)

Being an NGSS Teacher: Living with Uncertainty

Friday, May 5th, 2017

by Joseph Calmer

“Teaching with NGSS;” this phrase is becoming colloquial in our profession. The actual meaning of it is probably more amorphous than anyone would care to admit. I am going to explain how I “teach with NGSS” in this article. This diatribe is not meant to be the pathway to follow, just a simple path and an elucidation of how one teacher in California does it.

First off, there is a big philosophical assumption about the NGSS that one ought to have before trying to figure them out or attempt to practice NGSS’s tenets. The philosophical stance is built from the three tenets of How People Learn. This book says that learning occurs metacognitively, through conceptual frameworks, and is based on prior knowledge (Bransford, Brown et al. 1999). Most of us have heard these things a lot during our teaching lives, but one needs to truly embrace them. The other thing about the NGSS, which stands for “Next Generation Science Standards” (which truly are standards for the next generation), is that the clause: “All Standards, All Students” is not just a platitude but the actual, true intention. The standards are designed for all students to take them in school, not just the ones who sign up for specific courses (like the previous standards).  (more…)

Science Education: An Ecosystem Approach

Wednesday, November 16th, 2016

by Laura O’Dell

Though the organisms may claim our prime interest, when we are trying to think fundamentally, we cannot separate them from their special environments, with which they form one physical system.  –Arthur Tansley

As science teachers, our prime interest is teaching, guiding, and mentoring students in making sense of scientific phenomena. In 1935, Arthur Tansley, pioneer of the emerging science of ecology, described how environments function as complex systems comprised of biotic and abiotic factors. In coining the term “ecosystem”, Tansley gave a name to the interconnectedness of living things and their relationship to environmental factors. (more…)

The Actual Need for a Philosophy of Education

Thursday, September 15th, 2016

by Joseph Calmer, Ed.D

As the year begins, it is time for science teachers to think about their approach to this coming year. This year is an important one too, because of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The NGSS is in various stages of implementation across the state and among districts. The idea of NGSS is easy, but the actual practice of NGSS is difficult. Hopefully you’ve read the original framework ((NGSS Lead States, 2013). Maybe you’ve been able to read the California Draft Framework. When reading these tomes, you’ll probably find yourself agreeing with the authors. The teaching philosophy and pedagogy that frames the new standards are sound and are commensurate with current thoughts about teaching and learning (Bransford, Brown, Cocking, & ebrary, 1999; Hattie & Yates, 2013). The next step required for teachers is to turn theory into practice. (more…)

Navigating the NGSS Change Process: Understanding the How, What, and Why

Monday, June 20th, 2016

by John Spiegel

Change is difficult. It requires significant shifts in thinking as we seek to understand what is changing and how we are supposed to implement those changes. Change can also be deeply emotional. It asks us to rethink the fundamental purposes and rationale for what we do, how we do it, and also why we do it. The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) introduce a vision for science education that shifts the way students experience and learn science and engineering. It also places significant demands on teachers to rethink how they plan, teach, and assess in the classroom. Educators respond to these changes with a variety of emotions, which must be considered as part of the NGSS implementation process.

Over the past several years, I have introduced NGSS to thousands of teachers and hundreds of administrators. During that time I have attempted to help them understand what NGSS is and how to implement the Science and Engineering Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Disciplinary Core Ideas into planning, instruction, and assessment. This work has sought to answer the questions of what and how described below. (more…)

Stages of NGSS Grief

Tuesday, August 11th, 2015

by Jill Grace

So here we are in August. You are likely a responsible science educator and have spent some time digging into NGSS and considering how you will be making some changes this school year. Observing so many teachers across California these past two years of NGSS awareness, I get the sense we could all use a good laugh at this point! (I would like to express that in no way is this intended to trivialize those suffering from grief.)

As we settle in, we realize that we have a lot of work to do get ready for the NGSS. I am experiencing a lot of emotions with respect to this change and I’ve been witnessing similar emotions in other teachers during the course of this journey we’ve been on together. (more…)

NGSS: Replacing “Have To” with “Get To”

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015

by Anna Van Dordrecht

The following article was originally posted on March 6, 2015 by the Sonoma County Office of Education in their Exploring NGSS blog. It is republished here with permission from the author.

Now that we’re solidly into March, it’s a good time to take stock of New Year’s resolutions. The hype of January has long since worn off, so any resolutions that are still being kept are clearly important and have a much higher chance of succeeding than they did on January 2.

My resolution this year was—and still is—to examine how often I say “I have to” and, when possible, replace that statement with “I get to.” Although this may sound simple, I admit that I’ve failed on a number of occasions. I’ve been surprised at how hard it’s been to remember and amazed at what a big difference it makes in my outlook when I do.



Middle School Madness: The Integrated or Discipline Specific Choice

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

by Robert Sherriff

As a middle school science teacher for the past 23 years, I am very interested in the implementation the Next Generation Science Standards. I was proud to be one of only two middle school teachers (along with one 6th grade self contained teacher who also represented the middle school grade span) on California’s Science Expert Panel (SEP) for the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

In this context, I’d like to address the debate between the NGSS integrated model or alternative model for middle school (K-5 is required to be integrated). I started with the many of the same concerns that middle school teachers have expressed with an integrated model. (more…)

Where’s the Nature of Science in the NGSS?

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

by Larry Flammer

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS, 2013) looks like the best thing that could happen to science education in this country. As long as teachers can be effectively prepared, and students are properly phased in (starting with elementary levels, then into middle schools and high schools), students should be far better prepared for high school and college level work.

However, when you carefully study the NGSS (2013), you will find that one critical topic in science is rarely seen there. Even the Framework (2012) devotes only two pages (78-9) to this topic. And that was because “Many of those who provided comments in an early draft thought that the ‘nature of science’ (NOS) needed to be made an explicit topic or idea. They noted that it would not emerge simply through engaging with practices.” (Framework 2012, p.334). By the way, those two pages in the Framework (2012, pp. 78-79) are rich with specific examples of the NOS. Every teacher should read them carefully. (more…)

Missing Science Majors

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

by Bethany Dixon

Why aren’t our best science students considering science majors? Out of my team of three State Science Fair awardees, only one is enrolled in a science class his senior year. The other two seniors are bright and interested in research but they didn’t want to take the chance that a difficult AP science course could damage their transcripts in their senior year. They’re tough courses and GPA matters for admissions. (more…)

Content Standards: Common Core and NGSS – A High School Teacher’s Perspective

Monday, June 3rd, 2013

by Jeff Orlinsky

In 1997 I attended the open hearings of the California Content Standards in Science.  The hearings were about developing the standards that would be used as part of the student assessment system.  I would venture a guess that at that time, no one would have anticipated how the panel’s decisions would impact curriculum and instruction in the science classroom.  This article is not about the debate or the benefits of standards, it is about the current changes occurring in science education, and how you as a CSTA member and a science classroom teacher, need to be an active participant, not a bystander. (more…)

Responding to NGSS Critiques – Anticipating the Final Release

Friday, March 1st, 2013

by Laura Henriques

As you likely know, the final version of the Next Generation Science Standards will be released at the end of this month. (more…)

Summer Reflections

Friday, June 29th, 2012

by Eric Lewis

In the past few weeks, I have led and attended a few workshops.  One thing that has been jumping out at me is our need to not only develop our content knowledge in science, but to also build upon our pedagogy so that we can really support ALL of our students to learn science.  I have had many, many conversations with teachers in my district (and beyond) over the past few years about the challenges of meeting the needs of the students in our classrooms.  That said, I’ve never been more convinced that the vast majority of my colleagues are really knowledgeable about their content.  Content knowledge, while extremely important, is NOT the real crux of what our experienced teachers need.  Sure, a few new labs and elegant experiments are great to add to your repertoire, but the professional development that we really need is in how to meet the needs of our students – especially when students may be arriving in our classes lacking the skills that we expected them to have. (more…)

Reducing the Science High School Graduation Requirement – A Step in the Wrong Direction

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

by Dean Gilbert

Science education is about more than a body of knowledge, about more than the accumulation of facts and formulas. It is about how we understand the world around us, how we learn to be problem solvers, and about developing skills essential in a changing world. Not only skills of science and engineering, but skills of an engaged, thoughtful, and efficacious citizenry.

Governor Brown’s proposal to eliminate the second year laboratory science high school graduation requirement, as a means of saving 250 million dollars annually, will have devastating consequences for our schools and the nation.  It contradicts every message being sent across the airwaves, at every level of government and industry, that science education is critical to the future economy of the United States. (more…)

The State of California’s Middle School Science Education

Sunday, April 1st, 2012

by Laura Henriques

What an interesting cross-roads we are at in science education! On the one hand we are told by the President and other elected officials that STEM careers and STEM education provide opportunities for our country to move forward. “STEM” is on everyone’s lips. The economic engines are going to be fueled by a STEM-literate citizenry. Those countries or states that do the best job developing this workforce will be at the forefront of innovation and economic success.

On the other hand we have shrinking budgets for K-16 education. Stakeholders at all levels are fighting for their piece of an ever-diminishing pool of resources. In an effort to reduce the costs of education, the Governor even proposed reducing the high school science graduation requirements to one year, down from two. If a STEM-literate, well educated workforce helps run the economic engines for the state, wouldn’t we want to have students taking more science?


Fordham Institute Review of California Science Standards Given a C-

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

by Peter A’Hearn

The Fordham Institute recently gave the California State Science Standards an A in its recent “State of State Science Standards” report.  The report says the standards are, “Truly excellent.” Pretty cool huh? We’re number one! We’re number one!

These standards have been around since 1998 and have definitely had the time to become central to the way that science is taught in California. And yet in the most recent Nation’s Report Card (NAEP 2009), California ranked second to last in science achievement out of 43 participating states. We beat Mississippi! They had a hurricane that year, what is our excuse?  On the NAEP, only 22% of California 4th graders and 19% of California 8th graders were proficient in science. The report is available at http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2011451.

Maybe the problem is that the “truly excellent” standards haven’t been properly supported. The Fordham report does point out that, “standards alone can’t drive achievement.” But there is evidence that California teachers are doing a good job of teaching the science standards as seen on CST scores. On the California 2009 CST science test for the same year as the NAEP, 49% of 5th graders and 63% of 8th graders were graded proficient in their understanding of the California standards. This is actually frequently the pattern when NAEP scores are compared with state test scores. (more…)

Governor Brown’s Proposed Budget Could Be Bad News for Science Education

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

by Jessica L. Sawko

In his recently proposed budget for 2012 – 2013, Governor Brown proposes to reform K-14 education mandates by eliminating nearly half of them. One mandate that he is recommending for elimination is the Graduation Requirements mandate that requires students to complete two years of science in order to graduate from high school. The proposed budget refers to this as an “unnecessary mandate.” The proposal goes on to state that “local districts may choose to continue these activities at local discretion.” (p. 140) Click here to view the Governor’s Budget Summary – 2012-13 K Thru 12 Education.  CSTA asks you to note that this is the first draft of the budget and there is work still to be done.  As our colleagues at the Association of California School Administrators stated: “The governor’s budget proposal is only the beginning of the yearly budget debate and discussion.  Often in January, stakeholders tend to overreact to proposals which seem dire and certain to be implemented. Even as ACSA reviews the governor’s proposal, it is challenging to keep the perspective that this is the first iteration of a budget that is likely to see some change in the coming months.”  Please read on to learn more about the issue and possible implications. CSTA will continue to monitor this issue and bring you updates as they are available.  (more…)

A Perfect and Completely Accurate Prediction About the Future of Science Education

Thursday, December 1st, 2011

by Peter A’Hearn

(updated December 14, 2011)

What will science education look in 5, 10, 20 years? I think we are in for a period of reinvention and experimentation. Technology is creating big changes in some schools and classrooms where the pioneers and the early adopters are finding out what is possible. But soon, technology is going to start to change the way we learn science in every classroom, at every school.

Two things got me thinking about this. One was a reading assignment for a technology training. This was the New Media Consortium 2011 Horizon report on technology in education.  Read it at: www.cosn.org/horizon. In discussing the key challenges to developing the full potential of technology in education there is this, “A key challenge is the fundamental structure of the K-12 education establishment — aka “the system.” As long as maintaining the basic elements of the existing system remains the focus of efforts to support education, there will be resistance to any profound change in practice.” (more…)

Science Education in Primary Classrooms

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

by Michelle French

I would like to begin by sharing where the “Photo of the Month” found in this issue of the eCCS came from. Last year, I received one of the best presents I will ever get. Paulina, a first grader in my class, walked into my room first thing in the morning and said, “Mrs. French, I have something for you.” She proudly presented her display of painted Styrofoam and toothpicks, and in a grand gesture, handed it to me. She said, “It’s the solar system. I stayed-up until 10:00 last night, and I made it all by myself for you.” The attached note stated, “Planits is a grat way to lern about siens.” I was blown away by her attention to detail and amount of effort she put into her childlike representation of the solar system. (more…)

National Framework for K-12 Science Education Overview

Monday, August 1st, 2011

by Heather A. Marshall

If you have not heard yet, the new National Framework for K-12 Science Education came out in late July from the National Research Council.  You can download the framework here.  I have looked at the framework and reviewed their published overviews so that I can give you an overview of the framework.

The overriding visions of the National Research Council (NRC) are science for all students and coherent learning.  They have three dimensions to direct their vision: scientific and engineering processes, crosscutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas. Some of this includes developing and using models, asking questions and defining problems, planning and carrying out investigations, and more.  Their idea is that students will DO more science instead of rote learning of science concepts.  Students should come up with their questions, plan an investigation, and develop the model to test their ideas.  The team came up with “Disciplinary Core Ideas” for physical, life, and earth and space sciences and engineering, technology, and applications of science. (more…)

Community College and K-12 Working Together Through CSTA…

Monday, August 1st, 2011

by Marian Murphy-Shaw

As of this issue CSTA will have a new Two-Year College Board member – still TBA as I write this – who will bring the voice of California’s Community Colleges to the table whenever CSTA meets at a conference or board meeting. There a not many arenas in California education where K-12, Community College, and other higher education partners meet together, and I feel fortunate to be involved in more than one of them as part of my role in education. (more…)

State of Science Education in California

Friday, April 1st, 2011

The following is a reasonable accounting of the content of my presentation at the Science Matters Town Hall Meeting at the NSTA Conference in San Francisco in early March.

In science, we often talk of things in pairs, action-reaction, oxidation-reduction, dominant and recessive, predator and prey, S-waves and P-waves, Adenine and Thymine, Guanine and Cytocine, and I guess, when asked to comment on the state of science education in California, from the teachers’ perspective, I would have to say that it could be better and it could be worse.

In California, we have a desire and a goal to prepare more students to enter science and, or STEM related fields in college, yet our state only requires two years of science for graduation from high school. This lack of commitment to the importance of science as a part of the core curriculum results in a wide range of science achievement amongst high school students. For example, The Sacramento Bee recently reported dramatic gains in test scores for students in some California schools, yet statewide CST and NAEP test data clearly show that many California students are lagging behind in science proficiency. That same NAEP data reveals that there is no longer a significant difference in the performance of males and females on national assessments, yet African American and Latino students as well as students of poverty score as much as 32 points lower than their white and Asian peers on these same tests. Clearly, dramatic gains in test scores are not universal. There are still large populations of students struggling to achieve in science.

Part of the discrepancy in achievement levels lies in the structural treatment of science as a component of the curriculum. With the onset of the State Assessment Program, California developed a set of gold-level science content standards outlining the content for all grade levels. Unfortunately, in the implementation of those standards, we only assess science for all students in grades 5, 8, and 10. The implication of this testing format is that little science is taught in elementary schools before grade 5. At a critical, formative time in their developmental lives, many children in California are not receiving any science instruction or, at best, woefully inadequate instruction for a few minutes each week. In essence, the statewide focus on math and literacy, both in curricula and assessment, results in an early childhood curricula that is devoid of the rich, thought-provoking experiences that science provides.  This dearth of quality science instruction at an early age robs students of the foundational knowledge and curiosity necessary for accessing more advanced studies in science and technology.

As science teachers, we want our students to propose experiments, collect and analyze data, and draw evidence based conclusions – yet the policy makers increase class size, decrease budgets, and expect teachers to cover all of the standards associated with content-rich areas and to do this in less than 85% of the instructional days in any given academic year.

To say that science teachers in California are confused and perplexed by the mixture of messages that they are receiving about what, how much, and how to teach science would be an understatement. When the California science content standards were adopted and implemented in 1998, teachers’ first comments focused on the number of standards to be covered, the age appropriateness of the content, and the vast amount of detail that students were expected to “know”.  Their sense of being overwhelmed was only exacerbated when teachers realized, and in many cases were told, that science instruction was not considered a core content area. The significance of this decision lay in the fact that that if science was not considered part of the core curriculum, and if it was not going to be tested at every grade level, then it would not be taught at those levels. Unfortunately, this is exactly what we are seeing in many, if not most, elementary schools today. Science has been de-emphasized or eliminated from the core curriculum due to the fact that science test scores represent only 7 percent of an elementary school’s measure of Academic Progress Indicators (API).

The ultimate result of these factors is only now becoming clear. Students are beginning their first real exposures to science in the seventh grade. By this late date, they universally lack the six years of foundational science that is described in the standards, and that would engage students in thinking critically about the world, how it works, and how it applies to their lives.

In California, we talk about our technology-based economy. Our leaders promote the idea that a reinvestment in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics will encourage more people to pursue STEM-based studies and careers, and that this reinvestment will ultimately return California and the nation to a leadership role in new and emerging fields of science, medicine, and technology. Yet current policies and practices have resulted in exactly the opposite effect. Enrollment in STEM majors, and the pursuit of science or STEM-based careers has failed to keep up with the national and worldwide demand for a scientifically literate population.

In California, we must explore ways to challenge the status quo and to promote more science instruction in schools. We must work to convince the decision makers and stakeholders that science is a key part of our future. We must be ready to invest the time and energy to promote high-quality instruction and assessment of science at all grade levels. Finally we must be willing to make the sacrifices that will be necessary to ensure that this vision of a return to a leadership role for California, and the nation, happens. To quote a friend, “The current emphasis on STEM careers and the emerging conversation about the need to regain our economic vigor has opened the door for science education by just a crack. As science education professionals, we can push the door open and enter the new age of science education in California or we can let the door shut. One moves us forward into the 21st century and the other will maintain a status quo born in the 1990s.”

Whither or Wither Science Ed?

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

by Christine Bertrand

As you will read elsewhere in this issue of CCS, I will be retiring from CSTA at the end of this month, after a truly wonderful 15 years with the organization.  When I was hired, lo those many years ago, I had no expectation of remaining with the association so long.  Indeed, I wasn’t sure just how far we, collectively, could take the organization which is, after all, made up solely of teacher-volunteers, and we all know how much extra time teachers have to dedicate to their own extracurricular activities.   (more…)

Truth in Labeling

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

by Pete A’Hearn

One of the high schools in my area decided this year that they would not do science fair anymore.  It used to be a requirement for honors classes.  It was what made an honors class different from a regular biology class.  The decision was made because doing an independent science project took too much time away from the preparation for CST testing.  Since doing the project wasn’t directly correlated with any CST test questions, it wasn’t deemed to be worth the time spent.  Yes, there are Investigation and Experimentation standards on the test, but only 10 percent, and it is often to see how doing an actual project directly prepares the kids for the test. (more…)

Service Organization or Consumer Organization?

Friday, October 1st, 2010

by Jeff Bradbury

Whenever there is a crisis or difficulty in my life it causes me to reflect on my priorities and my purpose in life.  I think that with our current “Great Recession,” many professional organizations, like CSTA, are asking deep questions about priority and purpose.  So often difficulty in life produces good changes.  CSTA is no different.  CSTA continues to put on the best science educators conference in the state.  I don’t think the economy has diminished our conference much at all.  Nevertheless, the economy is having a huge effect on CSTA’s budget and, maybe, even our future.  As a board member, this makes me reflect on our purpose and priorities.  It makes me consider why I joined CSTA in the first place.  (more…)

CSTA’s California Classroom Science Goes Digital: It’s All About Sustainability!

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

Tim Williamson, CSTA President

It’s that time of year again; another school year has begun.  Most of California’s school districts are doing all they can to maintain fiscal stability during these troubled economic times.  (more…)

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