November/December 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 2

Going Green: Striving to Reduce Waste at a Middle School

Wednesday, October 25th, 2017

by Jessica Hunt

Community-based Social Marketing (CBSM) is the current trend in influencing the public to make more eco-friendly choices. Marketing strategies of the past focused solely on dissemination of information while CBSM focuses on removing barriers that make the desired outcome difficult to achieve. This paper details the construction of a CBSM plan to reduce waste sent to the landfill at a public middle school in California. Strategies employed in this CBSM include making the desired action more convenient, prompting, and social diffusion. Strategies for designing your own CBSM plan are also discussed. (more…)

Thoughtful Use of Computer Simulations

Friday, May 5th, 2017

by Lisa Hegdahl

More teachers than ever before are making the transition to the CA NGSS and there are many resources available now to make that transition a smooth one. While we should embrace new ways of teaching our students, we should also be thoughtful consumers of the new information and technologies that come our way.

Computer simulations are a wonderful tool for facilitating CA NGSS instruction. Not only do they allow students to use 21st Century technology, but they also often allow students to explore scenarios that would not be possible in the traditional classroom. And, since the California Science Test (CAST) will be computer based, it makes sense that our students become comfortable with manipulating data with computerized platforms.

With that said, teachers should use computer based science simulations with prudence. In the early years of the CA NGSS adoption, I had the opportunity and honor to have an informal conversation with Helen Quinn. The conversation eventually turned to this very topic of utilizing computer simulations in the science classroom. While all for their practical uses, Dr. Quinn did express concerns that simulations are often too neat. Among others issues, the data that is produced often comes out too perfect (real world data is often messy) and there are limitations as to the variables that can be manipulated which can mislead students. (more…)

Unplug and Recharge

Monday, June 20th, 2016

by Sue Campbell

Every night before I go to bed I plug in my cell phone so it can recharge overnight.  I want to start the day with a full charge so I am ready to handle anything without worrying about running out of power before the day is over.  Our summer break is now upon us and it is time for us to recharge.  Unlike our cell phones and other electronic devices we often recharge best when we unplug for a time.

Teaching is a rewarding and demanding profession.  We plan, create, teach, assess, nurture, and learn.  There is little down time during the academic year.  For many of us, some of our summer time is committed to summer school and professional development.  If that is true for you, be sure to carve out some time for recharging.  Get your calendar out and look at your summer schedule.  When you have put your commitments in the calendar, look at the remaining time.  How much time do you have left?  Hopefully you will have at least two to four weeks.  It often takes a week or more to start to unwind.  Block it out for recharge time and guard it.  Unplug from work related contact during that time. (more…)

Continuous Assessment Through Questioning

Friday, April 8th, 2016

by Sue Campbell

At the beginning of my teaching career I believed that I could tell how well students understood the concepts I was teaching by their test scores. I equated tests with assessments and limited my view of assessments to tests or quizzes. Little did I know or understand how ineffective that view was! At some point I was introduced to formative assessments, which broadened my view of assessments considerably. Good formative assessments require that the students explain their thinking. Page Keeley’s Formative Assessment books published by NSTA are a good source. It was enlightening. It was also disconcerting to discover that some students could pass tests but when faced with a formative assessment, they could not explain their thinking or their reasoning was faulty. (more…)

Crosscutting Concepts – Making Connections and Creating Tools for Student Thinking

Monday, February 8th, 2016

by Sue Campbell

Have you ever wondered how they make 3D movies and why some provide a thrilling experience for the viewers and others leave the audience disappointed and even a little sick? My curiosity led to me to do a little reading and research and I discovered that the difference comes in the planning and shooting of the film. 3D movies require different lighting, shooting angles, and more. So if the intent is to have a 3D movie, then the filming must be planned accordingly. Retrofitting a movie to be three dimensional is problematic and the results are usually disappointing. (more…)

STEM in the Classroom – Find a Place to Start

Friday, December 11th, 2015

by Sue Campbell

STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. While they don’t always have to be taught together, when you do, it is almost magic. To shift your lesson strategy, all you have to do is find a place in a lesson and start.

For me, the shift began with a question from one of my eighth grade students about what made instant hot packs get hot. We had just finished completing some investigations on endothermic and exothermic reactions when the question was raised. Although I knew that different reactants were involved in the hot packs, I realized that this was an opportunity to introduce an application of scientific understanding. I drafted a letter from a fictitious company asking students to create the most cost effective instant hot pack using only the materials owned by the company. Students had to design their own tests, collect data, and then write a proposal to the company, complete with supporting data. Students floundered a bit as they worked to find ways to organize their tests and data. They realized they needed to be careful and precise as they recorded the information. We, fortunately, had a set of probeware thermometers on loan from the Office of STEM Educational Services at San Joaquin County Office of Education that allowed students to be very accurate with their measurements. (more…)

Middle School Madness Part 2: Integrated Science Versus Coordinated Science

Thursday, November 12th, 2015

by Robert Sherriff

In my last article, I compared the integrated versus discipline-specific models of teaching science in middle school. In this article, I seek to dispel some misconceptions and refine the comparison of an integrated science program with a coordinated science program.

This past summer, I was honored to participate in presenting at the two Northern California NGSS Early Implementation Institutes. I was part of a science content cadre to which I brought both my 25 years of middle school teaching experience and my knowledge of NGSS (I was on the State Science Expert Panel and was Co-chair of the Curriculum Framework Criteria Committee – CFCC). Other members of the cadre included Bob Rumer, an innovative engineering professor who helped us incorporate the Engineering Standards, and an outstanding high school science teacher, Lesley Gates, who helped provide activities and pedagogy. (more…)

Middle School Integrated Science – Getting Over It!

Tuesday, August 11th, 2015

by Peter A’Hearn

6th graders design bionic hands as they study how body systems work together in a unit that was moved to 6th grade this year- photo by Peter A’Hearn

6th graders design bionic hands as they study how body systems work together in a unit that was moved to 6th grade this year- photo by Peter A’Hearn

Last spring I wrote an article/blog post that addressed the growing discussion about the decision to teach middle school integrated or discipline specific science. The article gives the rationale for the change and also some different models that were considered for how to transition.

There was a lot of feedback to that post: strongly supportive, deeply skeptical, and many follow up questions. Now that Palm Springs USD has finished the first year of the transition, I thought it would be a good time to look back and see how it went.

The middle school teacher leaders who helped to make the decision chose the “fast” transition plan below. Year 2 was what we just finished. 6th grade teachers (and kids) were introduced to structure and function in living things. 7th graders tried chemistry for the first time, and 8th graders played with waves. Everyone tried a little (or a lot) of engineering. (more…)

Meaningful Thinking in 140 Characters or Fewer

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015

by Jill Grace

I’ve learned the hard way that I will get “huffs”, eye-rolls, grunts, and the occasional nuclear meltdown from students if I ask them to summarize their learning in, dare I say it, a paragraph. It’s as though paragraph is a bad word and how shocking that I would ask for one in science class! I even get slammed with questions: “How many sentences to I have to write?” (why are we still asking that question in middle school?), “Do I have to use complete sentences?”, and “Do I really have to write a whole paragraph?” *teacher sigh*

First and foremost, I am a huge advocate of having students produce writing in a science class. I will also admit that this can be a challenge, and so the year that I decided to make the shift to an interactive science notebook it was glaring at me. I would be asking students for writing as a vehicle to share their thinking (in what we refer to as “outputs” in the notebook) all the time. Although we wouldn’t be able to avoid the writing, sometimes I may want to ask my students to share their thinking in a way that will avoid the drama that asking for a paragraph can sometimes generate. (Incidentally, this was all prior to implementation of the Common Core Standards – where anecdotally, in just one year, I’ve seen a big shift in student acceptance of writing outside of language arts.) (more…)

Backyard Mystery: Solving a Mystery with Science

Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

by Peggy G. Lemaux and Barbara Alonso

Backyard_Mystery_Photo

The Backyard Mystery curriculum was developed by Dr. Peggy G. Lemaux, and her assistant, Barbara Alonso, Science Communication Specialist, at the University of California, Berkeley. Dr. Jenne Stonaker at Stanford University also helped with the Backyard Mystery curriculum development. It was developed as a part of the project, “Collaborative Research Strategies: STEMware™ – Designing Immersive Biology Learning Simulations for Formal and Informal Settings”, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF ITEST Award Number 0929717). (more…)

ELA in My Science Class? Wait..What?

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

by Jill Grace

For many science teachers, the thought of having responsibility for the language development of students is a sobering prospect. Burned into my memory are the comments of many of my single subject peers in my credential program that could be summed up with the phrase, “I’m teaching science, not reading, that’s the job of the language arts teacher,” clearly unhappy over the prospect of having to take a course on reading and writing in the subject area. Over the years, these words still echo in staff meetings, on discussion boards, and even over meals between colleagues.

From day one, I was shocked by this mentality. (more…)

Shifting Priorities: Teaching Students to Defend and Not Just Identify Answers

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

by Sinead Klement     

todo

While still in the thick of teaching each school year, I prepare a list of things I want to do better the following year. Many times, I focus on little procedural changes that might help keep the room cleaner or help save valuable class time. Other times it is just about tweaking my lessons to add something cool I learned at a workshop or found online. This year, however, I am preparing for a massive shift in priorities. For years my focus has been on making science hands-on and of course FUN, but if I am being honest, it has also been on preparing my students to take a 66 question multiple-choice test in April. (more…)

Taking the Interactive Science Notebook Plunge

Tuesday, August 5th, 2014

by Jill Grace

I kept hearing about it for years. THE NOTEBOOK. It sounded interesting, it had good research street cred, everyone seemed to rave about it, BUT…I was intimidated. What is up with the input-output stuff? Besides, I was already doing a good job teaching, right?

It wasn’t until one particular bunch of kids in one particular school year that I realized I NEEDED to take the plunge. It was no longer an option. It was a tough group that year. I found I was hitting my head against the wall trying to help some underachieving students be successful. I figured that if the “Interactive Notebook” (which I will refer to as IN) was good for improving the literacy of students learning English then it had to be beneficial for all students. (more…)

Middle School Students Are Part of NASA Mars Missions

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

by Dennis Mitchell

What would you think if a group of 7th grade students had the ability to direct a multi-million dollar spacecraft and its camera at the surface of Mars and acquire an image that helps them and NASA learn more about the planet? What would you think about a group of 8th grade students that could direct the astronauts aboard the International Space Station to take images anywhere on Earth to help them with a science research project? What if those same students could meet with scientists and, in real time, ask them questions that help with their research? Or set up an online Wiki that shows their research project and allows them to post questions directly to NASA scientists and educators? What if those same students are so inspired by their research projects that they don’t meet as a class or receive any grades for their work, rather, they give up time before school, after school, lunch recess, and vacation time to complete their research projects and present their findings “live” over the internet and in person to a panel of NASA scientists? For the last nine years my students have been doing this from the comfort of their classroom on iPads, Chrome Books, or laptop computers through Distance Learning! (more…)

Understanding Global Change August 4–8, 2014

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

by Minda Berbeco

A NEW Summer Institute for environmental science, earth science, and biology middle and high school teachers!

The University of California Museum of Paleontology, together with the National Center for Science Education, will launch a new web resource — Understanding Global Change — at the end of 2014. The resource will provide vetted scientific content, teaching resources, and strategies for K-16 educators to effectively incorporate the complex and critically important topic of global change into existing curricula. (more…)

Ocean’s Music: Climate’s Dance

Tuesday, May 6th, 2014

By Jill Grace

As a teacher beginning to explore how to move ahead with the Next Generation Science Standards, I’ve been challenging myself to see how I can transform some of my current content. For example, I’ve recently been teaching my 7th graders about how geology and climate drive biology (to support the 1998 California standard, 7.4.d). Previously as 6th graders, they explored concepts related to heat distribution in the oceans and atmosphere (6.4.d and 6.4.e). When I tease out just the climate piece of my instruction, and consider the relationship between ocean and climate, it’s easy to see how rich the topic is, that it easily supports many of the shifts called for in NGSS, and that the topic works well with either middle school progression of NGSS. (more…)

Journalists of the Sea King News Bring You Technology, Engineering, and Science!

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

7th graders Siena O’Regan and Mehak Dedmari interview 8th grade STEM student Ryan Bloodgood.

7th graders Siena O’Regan and Mehak Dedmari interview 8th grade STEM student Ryan Bloodgood.

Journalists from the Sea King News at Palos Verdes Intermediate School (PVPUSD, Los Angeles County) have been hard at work.  They have stepped up to do a special report for CSTA!  Check out their video broadcast, highlighting how their school uses technology and engineering to help students understand math and science.  Under the spotlight in this episode is the school’s STEM program, a series of very popular elective classes.  See why students love this program so much, how it helps them bridge understanding in their other classes, and how students recognize the impact it will have on their future. (more…)

Discipline Focused Learning Progressions for Middle Grades Survey

Monday, February 3rd, 2014

Update as of 3:30 pm, February 7, 2014: The discipline focused middle grades learning progressions are now available. Please visit http://www.cde.ca.gov/pd/ca/sc/ngssintrod.asp to view the proposed progressions before completing the survey.

At its November 6, 2013 meeting, the State Board of Education tasked the Science Expert Panel (SEP) to create a discipline focused learning progression for the middle grades science standards. This discipline focused learning progression would be made available as an alternative to the preferred integrated learning progressions adopted by the State Board at that same meeting.

(more…)

Share Your Thoughts on Reading in Middle School Science

Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

by Christina Morales

Signaled by the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), the movement to integrate reading and other disciplinary literacy instruction is rapidly gaining momentum. Take, for example, this long list of workshops and short courses offered at this year’s Science Education Conference aimed at helping teachers prepare for the implementation of the CCSS and NGSS. The prominence and popularity of sessions like these reflect the urgency with which literacy instruction is being incorporated in science classrooms all over California. (more…)

NGSS for Middle Grades: Tips for Implementation – Step 1, Don’t Rush

Wednesday, December 4th, 2013

by Jill Grace and Marian Murphy-Shaw

Since April 2013 when the national version of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) went public, California has been working at a steady pace to move from lead contributing state to active implementation. CSTA members and other readers of California Classroom Science may be the best informed educators in the state on NGSS at this time. This article is intended to aid middle grade teachers in communicating up-to-date information to your colleagues in science education and the educational leaders you work with.

The number one point which science education leaders, the California Department of Education (CDE), professional learning providers, and the NGSS Achieve group are all making is not to rush, there is no hurry, that 2016-17 is the probable target for full implementation. As with Common Core implementation, a sequence of events, resource preparation, policies, and teacher awareness and transition support will all occur over the next few years. Now that you can breathe again, here is a rundown of common questions and next steps to consider as you start the work towards toward NGSS implementation.  (more…)

Making the Case for Change

Monday, November 4th, 2013

by Jill Grace

Earlier this month I came across an article by the editorial board of the New York Times.  It summarized some recent findings from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Survey of Adult Skills (OECD).  The study measured adult proficiency in literacy, numeracy, and problem solving in information-rich environments. Arguably, these skills are at the heart of a world becoming more and more technologically advanced. This study, as you may have guessed, is yet another one showing we (Americans) are missing the mark.  What is especially poignant about this particular study, however, is that it provides data showing it is not just school-aged children falling behind their international counterparts, but working-aged adults as well.  Now, we can spend hours debating the quality of the study and its methods but at the end of the day it’s yet another study suggesting Americans currently have poor skills and, worse yet, that we aren’t improving.  (more…)

Middle School Matters

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

by Jill Grace

Welcome back middle school science teachers! I hope you had a nice relaxing summer.  Although, come to think of it, most teachers I know spend their whole summer working, taking classes, revamping content, figuring out how to squeeze in that Common Core thing… the list goes on.  Personally, I find “summer” to be an illusion to get me through the school year, but at least that works well enough to help me muster up the strength to teach all of our excitable, distracted, goofy, and hormonal quasi-teens.  (more…)

California Arrangement of Middle School Science Standards – Spurs Production of Rationale Document and Gatherings of Science Teachers

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

On June 28, 2013, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson released his much awaited recommendation for new science standards for California schools. The proposed standards, entitled Next Generation Science Standards for California Public Schools, Kindergarten through Grade 12, are based on the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) released by Achieve on April 9, 2013. California made only a few minor changes to the clarifying statements in the performance expectations that make up the NGSS and arranged the performance expectations for grades 6-8 into specific grades. The decision to allocate the performance expectations to specific grades, rather than adopt them in a grade ban, was a simple one. California is a K-8 adoption state and as such requires specific standards for those grades. (more…)

Free Planetary Science Workshop for Middle School Science Teachers and Curriculum Specialists

Saturday, June 1st, 2013

Thanks to some available funding, a small number of teachers can be invited to attend a 4-day workshop on planetary science at the Lawrence Hall of Science July 16 – 19 without having to pay the $225 regular fee.  (more…)

Reading and Science Processes in One

Monday, April 1st, 2013

by Lisa Hegdahl

If you are like me, you are being asked to begin implementing the Common Core Standards in my science classroom.  With the help of district trainings, and a curriculum coach to observe delivery of my literacy instruction, I have managed to do so.  Although the lessons have been reasonably successful, I realized I tended to move quickly back to science processes where students are doing science – asking questions, making predictions, and testing hypothesizes.  This past week, though, I had the opportunity to visit a literacy lesson taught by the 8th grade science team at Rancho Medanos Junior High in Pittsburgh, California.  I ended the day knowing it’s possible to combine science processes with reading literacy in a way I had not considered before.  (more…)

Clear Straws as Mini-Density Columns

Tuesday, January 1st, 2013

by Lisa Hegdahl

Even though I received this lab from my Master Teacher 22 years ago, I’ve never seen it presented at any conference or seminar I’ve attended.  The lab itself is a little long for a full write up here, but with the basics, you can develop an activity to suit your needs. This lab uses the skill that we all learned as kids: picking up liquids with a straw.  However, in this activity students pick up two different liquids to check relative density.  In a nutshell:

  • Prepare four solutions of different densities with varying amounts of saturated saltwater and tap water.  One container has only saturated saltwater, one container has only water, one container has half of each, and the last container has ¼ saltwater and ¾ tap water.
  • Color the liquids so they can be identified easily.  (TIP: If you use yellow and blue as two of your colors, don’t use green.  I use red, blue, yellow, and I leave one clear.)

(more…)

Focus Speaker Feature – Karis McFarlane

Monday, October 1st, 2012

by Lisa Hegdahl

Karis McFarlane is an environmental scientist who has been using radiocarbons to study and better understand the carbon cycle since 1999. By studying Earth’s carbon cycle—the exchange of carbon between the planet’s land, atmosphere, and oceans—scientists are trying to understand the role played by huge tropical rainforests such as the Amazon River basin. In particular, they want to determine how long an ecosystem stores atmospheric carbon dioxide in its plants, soils, and rivers. At the 2012 CSTA Conference, Karis McFarlane will discuss the ways radiocarbon is used to study carbon cycling in ecosystems, and why it’s unique and important for climate change. She will focus on the importance of understanding how much, and for how long, carbon is sequestered in soil, as well as the role it plays in the carbon cycle. Environmental science educators and other conference attendees will find this lecture informative and thought provoking. (more…)

Focus Speaker Feature – Paul Doherty

Monday, October 1st, 2012

by Laura Henriques

Learning Physics by Doing Physics

As California science teachers we’ve all heard of the Exploratorium, and I am hoping that most of us have had the pleasure of spending some time there. The Exploratorium is the Grand Dame of hands-on science museums. In addition to the wonderful facility, The Exploratorium hosts workshops for teachers, and publishes books. Their vision includes a focus on learners exploring and making sense of their world through inquiry. A key contributor to that exciting edifice of science education is 2012 California Science Education Conference Focus Speaker Paul Doherty. (more…)

The Metric System Stair-Step Conversion Practice

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

by Amanda L. Smith

Gardener’s: Linguistic; Visual-Spatial; Bodily-Kinesthetic; Interpersonal; Logical-Mathematical
Bloom’s: Knowledge; Comprehension; Application

CA State Standards:
Investigation and Experimentation (Middle School grades 6-8)

Anticipatory Set/Objective:

  • Students will be able to: State the values of and abbreviations for each of the prefixes used in the metric system.
  • Students will be able to: Convert from one subunit to another subunit within a given unit of the metric system.

(more…)

Technology for the Classroom: An Examination of YouTube Education

Friday, June 1st, 2012

by Donna Ross

In the last installment of Technology for the Classroom, I considered the value of TED-Ed for classroom use.  This issue will examine several uses of YouTube.  Among people with computers and smart-phones, YouTube has become ubiquitous. Even late-night comics mine YouTube videos for humorous gems.  Most students, including those at the elementary grades, have searched for YouTube videos and many have posted their own creations.  However, as I watch those funny cat videos I inevitably seem to be bombarded with material that makes me question the appropriateness for a school setting.   For example, I searched for a video on DNA replication and I was faced with thousands of videos, many with comments that definitely were not school-friendly. Along with some reasonable choices, I also was presented with “popular videos” that, based on the content and the number of views, caused me to despair for the future of our society. But, before despair takes over, let me share some ways to make better use of YouTube for educational purposes. (more…)

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