January/February 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 4

Next Generation Science Standards, STEAM, and the Use of Virtual Reality (VR)

Thursday, August 18th, 2016

by Anne Mangahas. Ed.D.

STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) with its interdisciplinary approach, is much like the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) in building a cohesive understanding of the process of science. Studies show that the Arts use right brain thinking to foster creativity, a quality essential to innovation and problem solving. This new paradigm within STEAM offers students the best opportunities in developing the skills necessary to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Virtual Reality Technology has been shown to enhance student comprehension of complex topics and is beneficial for children with variances in cognitive ability. The interaction involved in virtual reality engages learners by creating a holistic medium that incorporates kinesthetic, cognitive, and affective domains. This experience-heavy quality of VR environments is crucial to the learning process as it provides vibrant contexts. (more…)

Destroying Water: A Classic Lab Rejuvenated for NGSS

Monday, June 20th, 2016

by Rich Hedman and Lisa Hegdahl

After nearly 15 years teaching the 1998 CA Science Standards, many science educators have file cabinets and hard drives full of activities. The activities themselves are valuable in that they clearly illustrate scientific concepts and phenomena. However, in the past, they were often used only to verify information already presented in class. One of the many challenges of implementing the Next Generation of Science Standards (NGSS) is to move towards three dimensional learning and still utilize activities from the past. How can teachers modify labs that used to be just recipes for verification and turn them into experiences that engage students in the process of scientific discovery?

Electrolysis of water is a classic chemistry lab used as a way to confirm that water is made of 2-parts hydrogen to 1-part oxygen— in other words, that the chemical formula, H2O, is actually based on the proportion of atoms in a water molecule.  Teachers tell students that the chemical formula of water is H2O, and that during the experiment, they will be breaking water into hydrogen and oxygen gases.  Ion-rich water is electrified with direct current (DC), and gas bubbles form at the positive and negative terminals in the solution.  The gases are collected in tubes, and the volume of gas present in each tube is compared.  It turns out that twice as much of one gas is collected compared to the other gas. Teachers frequently use a splint and flame test (very carefully; following all safety protocols) to identify which gas is which (oxygen relights a splint, hydrogen pops loudly) and to verify that the elements that make up water have different properties than the water itself. Students see that there is twice as much hydrogen as oxygen, which verifies the chemical formula of water, and the lesson is completed in one class period. (more…)

Engaging Students by Monitoring Sand Crabs Through LiMPETS

Tuesday, May 5th, 2015

by Jeff Kepper

Engaging Students by Monitoring Sand Crabs through LiMPETS

Many visitors to California’s beaches have witnessed young children digging in the sand for an elusive creature, the sand crab (more…)

Bold: adj. Showing the Ability to Take Risks

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015

by Lisa Hegdahl

I just finished my first attempt at planning and implementing a Next Generation of Science Standards Lesson Series.   While I never intended it to be printed in a statewide publication, I am reminded of the words of Stephen Pruitt, Achieve Senior Vice President, Content, Research & Development, in an address to California Science Educators in September 2014 when he said,

Be bold

Since hearing those words, I have tried to apply them to everything I do regarding NGSS – including sharing a lesson series that is far from exemplar. While the lesson series does not always provide learning at the nexus of all 3 dimensions of NGSS – Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCI), Science and Engineering Practices (SEP), and Crosscutting Concepts – it does provide students opportunities to take control of their own learning and reflect on their learning progress. (more…)

Virtual Photosynthesis Lab

Wednesday, December 10th, 2014

by Jeff Orlinsky

This month’s activity incorporates computer virtual labs into your curriculum. I am not endorsing any company’s product; in fact you can find these labs via an Internet search. My goal for this activity is to use the virtual labs ability to model what would happen if I had the time and place to do this lab in my classroom. The other advantage for this lab is that it is reliable. I am sure of the results and know my students will have data to analyze. (more…)

Breaking Myths with Mythbusters Project

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014

by Padma Haldar

The Mythbusters project is the first project of the year for our physics class and is part of the “Nature of Science” unit. The students are all juniors and seniors and they know the scientific procedure by heart by now, so as we review we focus on the “real” nature of science doing activities. We read articles and discuss how science can be open-ended; we also explore how it may be influenced by the prejudices, experiences and biases of scientists. (As an aside, the checks lab by Evolution & the Nature of Science Institutes  at Indiana University is an excellent activity that drives home these points precisely.) (more…)

Get Ready for October’s Two Eclipses

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

Revised October 7, 2014

by Robert C. Victor

There are two eclipses in October 2014. First up is a total lunar eclipse in the predawn hours of Wednesday, October 8. (Set your alarm when you turn in for the night on Tuesday, October 7.) Owing to the unfortunate timing of this lunar eclipse during early predawn hours, the event might not be widely seen by elementary school students. The brief total lunar eclipse on April 4, 2015, centered on 5:00 a.m. PDT, may be somewhat more convenient to observe. The lunar eclipse on the evening of September 27, 2015 will be just about perfect for public viewing in California, with the Moon in partial eclipse as it rises around sunset; in total eclipse during 7:11-8:23 p.m. PDT; and out of the umbra by 9:27 p.m. (more…)

What Factors Affect Seed Germination?

Tuesday, August 5th, 2014

by Jeff Orlinsky

As you know, California Science Standards are changing and this year is a great time for teachers to examine old lab activities and modify them to the new standards. One of the changes in the standards is a focus on science and engineering practices, as listed below:

1. Asking questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering)
2. Developing and using models
3. Planning and carrying out investigations
4. Analyzing and interpreting data
5. Using mathematics and computational thinking
6. Constructing explanations (for science) and designing solutions (for engineering)
7. Engaging in argument from evidence (more…)

But What Is “Good”?! Learning and Using Observational Skills by Studying Water Taste

Tuesday, August 5th, 2014

by Joanne Michael

The beginning of the year is a fantastic time to get to know how skilled your students’ observations are when working on an experiment. While there are a number of brain teasers and visual slight-of-hands that can accomplish this, I like to do a lab that I call “Which Water is Water?” to quickly assess their skill set. From doing this, I have an immediate data set of which students are skilled at noticing subtle differences between two or more items, which students can describe something with detail, and which students are good at sitting back and allowing others to do the dirty work. Best of all the students LOVE this lab; they ask me mid-year if they can do it again! I normally do this with my 5th grade classes, but it can be done with any grade level. With the current drought occurring within California, it is also a fantastic time to discuss water sources and conservation. (more…)

The Teaching Length Scale

Tuesday, May 6th, 2014

by Galen T. Pickett

Physics can be organized by the size and duration of events. When we teach Newton’s mechanics, the examples we use typically are on length scales of meters and on time scales of seconds (tossing a ball, sliding into second base) and run up to solar system scales (tens of millions of kilometers for an Astronomical Unit, and tens of millions of seconds for a year). But, unless your classroom is equipped with technology at the extreme ends of the sophistication scale (chalkboards at the primitive end, and SmartBoards at the super-fancy end), you probably use ordinary whiteboards and erasable marker to make sketches and calculations for your students. (more…)

Newton’s Laws Rotation Activity

Tuesday, May 6th, 2014

by Carolyn Peterson

For the chapter on Newton’s Laws, I designed a station-rotation activity following the introductory lesson. The introductory lesson explained the vocabulary, the different laws, and how to draw force diagrams. The rotations were created with the intent of making the subject approachable and relatable for the students. With this shared common experience from this activity, students were able to learn the deeper content in the following lessons by applying it to what they experienced in the rotations. Having a shared prior experience helped with class discussions and helped them relate concrete experiences to the new content. (more…)

Bringing Marine Sciences into your Classroom to Talk About Climate Change

Tuesday, May 6th, 2014

by Minda Berbeco

Almost 40% of people in America live on the coast, yet very few students are lucky enough to have a teacher bring marine sciences into their classroom. Talking about coastal issues and sciences can be tricky for many educators, as they try to bring these concepts into already a full curriculum. It may be harder still, to attempt to integrate these complex ideas with other scientific concepts such as climate change. This can quickly become all too overwhelming. I have a couple recommendations though for getting started. (more…)

For the Love of Physics

Tuesday, May 6th, 2014

by Katie Beck

Whether it is the end of the semester or the end of the year, time seems to sneak up on us and we are always asking our students to review for something. While is it easy to pull out a list of review problems for students to do, it doesn’t always mean that they understand the concepts that were taught; just that they can follow a set of procedures to get an answer. Please don’t misunderstand; there may be merit in students being able to answer a set of questions, to know the correct equation to use or to sludge through calculations. However, do they always understand why they are using that equation, or what their answers mean and how they fit into the bigger picture? (more…)

Allelopathy Lab

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

by Heather Wygant

I am trying this lab in my AP Environmental Science Class, but it could also be used in biology, AP biology or even middles school life science classes.  This lab looks at the properties of allelopathy and has students experiment to discover just how much of a given allelopathic plant is needed to stunt or prevent growth of another plant.  I used mint, California bay laurel, manzanita and eucalyptus. (more…)

The Meltdown: Using the “Surprise” Factor to Challenge Misconceptions

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

by Barbara Woods 

“No way!” “That can’t be!” “But I thought…” When students experience an outcome that goes against what their own mental construct tells them should happen in the real world, the “surprise” response creates a flurry of brain activity. This makes it easier for students to take on and absorb challenging material.  Although misconceptions about scientific principles often make it difficult for students to fully understand new concepts, using discrepant events in which the “unexpected” occurs encourages students to challenge their own perceptions as they seek to know the “why” behind the experience. (more…)

Opportunity Wanders into the Urban Backyard

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

by Minda Berbeco

This past weekend, my husband came bursting into the house shouting “Turkeys! There are turkeys on the street!”

Now, no doubt this would be a normal occurrence if we lived in a more rural area, near a nature refuge or even a park.  But we actually live in one of the most urban parts of Berkeley, right on the border of an industrial parkway and a major throughway.  Though we certainly get the occasional migrating humming bird and seasonal butterfly in our tiny garden, a turkey was way more wildlife than we were used to seeing.  (more…)

The T in STEM – Technology Management in Science Classrooms

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

by Lisa Hegdahl

Next Generation of Science Standards, Common Core, and now technology!  Science teachers in California are being asked to incorporate increasingly more components into everyday lessons in order to prepare their students for college and career. Despite the increased demands, with a little preparation, technology can be an engaging way to involve students in the world of Science. (more…)

SIOP in the Science Classroom

Monday, February 3rd, 2014

by Stephanie Fisher

What is SIOP?

SIOP stands for Sheltered Instruction Observational Protocol. This practice is designed to make lessons as inclusive as possible for diverse populations in classrooms, allowing them to gain topic understanding and practice English language skills at the same time. This is done by building background information and the use realia so students find the content approachable. The correct use of SIOP strategies engages the students and prepares them for independent work. When all parts of SIOP are in place, the hope is that using strategies to increase reading, writing, speaking, and listening will lead to creating a more interactive environment. (more…)

So You’re Going on a Field Trip. What Will the Students Accomplish?

Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

by Jeff Orlinsky

Field trips can be a great learning experience for everyone. Most museums, zoos, aquariums, or “parks” have lesson plans or activities. Some have developed thematic lessons for use on site, as well as in the classroom. These are tried and true lessons, almost foolproof, and may already fit your lesson plan completely. You may also choose to use a teacher-created lesson; these are our pride and joy. Most teachers have been to the field trip destination previously and developed a lesson that may be a better fit with what they’re doing in the classroom. (more…)

Lesson Plan: Ornamental Corn Inquiry (Grades K-2)

Monday, November 4th, 2013

by Valerie Joyner 

Ornamental corn

Ornamental corn

Ornamental corn, available this time of year, is great for setting up an inquiry activity for your primary (K-2) students to explore.  If the weather in your part of California is still warm, you can begin this activity right away.  However, due to the size and diversity of weather conditions around California, you may need to purchase a few ears of ornamental corn now and save the activity until the spring when the weather warms up.  (more…)

Density Lesson

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

by Jeff Orlinsky

Chemistry and physical science teachers, here is a lesson on density.  It can be used with grades 10 to 12, but with some modifications it may also work with 8th or 9th grade.  This is a modification of a lab from West Catholic High School Archdiocese of Philadelphia, with references from Kenneth E. Kolb and Doris K. Kolb, Bradley University, Peoria, IL 61625 Journal of Chemical Education.

Grades: 10 – 12

Subjects: Chemistry, Earth Sciences, Physics, Physical Science, Environmental Science (more…)

Last Minute Science Idea for the First Day of School

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

by Valerie Joyner

During your travels and/or at home this summer you undoubtedly came across interesting and intriguing object that could inspire your students.  Found objects like corals, shells, rocks, lichens, dry flowers, pine cones, skeletons, worms, and caterpillars make wonderful mini science lessons.

  • Start by showing the object to your students and asking what they think it is.  Record their responses.
  • (more…)

Simple, Introductory Activity Aligns with Common Core and Provides Common Experience

Monday, July 1st, 2013

by Lisa Hegdahl

Years ago, when I was a Club Live Advisor, I took a group of students to a leadership seminar. As an introductory (more…)

Reconstructing a Fossil Lesson and Lab

Monday, June 3rd, 2013

by Jeff Orlinksy

This month’s lab focuses on inference and evolution.  I use this activity after our lessons in evolution.  I incorporate this activity after CST testing as well.

Grades: 9th – 12th (more…)

NGSS and the Primary Classroom

Thursday, May 2nd, 2013

by Michelle French

Since the public reviews of the Next Generation Science Standards have come to a close, like many primary teachers, I’ve been wondering what science will look like in kindergarten, first, and second grade classrooms.  (more…)

Switching Lab Materials Gives 8th Grade Teachers Options

Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

by Lisa Hegdahl

Recently, I was setting up a series of labs for Open House.  I became aware of how many labs have evolved over the years and how I’ve made changes to better suit my teaching situation. For example, I never prepared the Destroying Water Lab because I had only seen it using a huge battery, large beakers, and wires.  After attending a workshop at the California Science Teachers Conference, though, I started preparing the Destroying Water Lab using a small 9V battery, metal thumb tacks, 2 test tubes, and a 3 ounce condiment cup.  This lab has amazed my students every year since. Below, I offer some other lab variations for you to try.  I am sure there are countless other lab material options out there – you can add your favorites to the comment section below this article. (more…)

Digestion, Osmosis and Calories

Tuesday, January 1st, 2013

by Jeff Orlinsky

In September’s e-CCS, I introduced a lab about salinization and seed germination and one of the concepts illustrated was osmosis.  This month’s lab focuses on osmosis and soft drinks. (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.)


Kitchen Chemistry

Thursday, November 1st, 2012

by Judith Aguilar

My favorite aspect of attending the CSTA Conference is getting new ideas from practicing teachers. My all-time favorite lesson that I picked up as a new teacher was for Kitchen Chemistry.  (more…)

5th Grade – Root Beer Chemistry

Monday, October 1st, 2012

by Sean Timmons

Activities involving dry ice and root beer help students understand the chemical and physical changes that occur in matter. Students will investigate evidence (more…)

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