September 2016 – Vol. 29 No. 1

Citizen Science Resolved: 2013 from the Birds to the Bees

Posted: Tuesday, January 1st, 2013

by Bethany Dixon

“They’re eating the berries!  The robins are eating the berries off the trees!”  My normally sleepy first-hour biology class was outside. “There are the cedar waxwings!” “ Shhh! You’re too loud –  you’re gonna scare them away! There they go!” Half a dozen waxwings flit across the parking lot from one clump of trees to another, attempting to avoid the 32 “researchers” during their ten-minute bird count.  Our students use Cornell University’s Celebrate Urban Birds Checklist to count how many of their 16 focal species are in and around our school parking lot. It’s this class’ first foray into citizen science, but those familiar with the Audubon Society’s 113-year-old Christmas Bird Count know that using laypeople to collect large amounts of data is not a new idea. What is exciting is that now anyone with internet access and fifteen minutes can tap into a huge network of citizen science projects; and it isn’t just birds.

NSTA’s December issue of The Science Teacher highlighted a potpourri of options for citizen science, and training for programs range from complex 10-week naturalist training courses to simple web-based tutorials for solar storm identification. Even if you aren’t participating directly, your computer or gaming console can participate for you through folding-at-home and other public distributed computing efforts.  Cornell’s Ornithology Lab’s Celebrate Urban Birds is a national project, but state and local projects abound close to home in California. For example, the University of California Naturalist program features 140 citizen science projects ready for participants, most of which accept students as researchers.  From monitoring squirrels, frogs, ants, or invasive spiders to counting craters on the moon, identifying Martian terrain, or searching for supernovae, the opportunities for involvement are staggering.

Citizen science projects are appropriate for all levels, and Cornell’s Citizen Science Resources page shows older students interested in research design how to “Organize and implement initiatives where volunteers are involved scientific research.”

Active participation in research builds student confidence in their scientific abilities and activities like making observations, collecting data, and analyzing results are often much more memorable to students in the field than in the classroom. Building experience and familiarity with research processes helps increase scientific literacy and even builds relationships within the community as students volunteer with other citizen scientists.  Collecting data for ongoing research also helps students understand how investigations are designed and what parameters are important for generating a fair test.  As we collect data for the Celebrating Urban Birds investigation in my high school classes, we discussed how the scientists might have selected certain species over others and ways that scientists might use our data.

As you make your teaching resolutions for the New Year, consider adding a citizen science project to your repertoire. As we trekked across the parking lot and back to the classroom, students compared checklists and watched a turkey vulture spiral around the building. “I’ll bet it’s going to eat that bird that ran into Ms. Leonard’s window yesterday during algebra!”  “Gross, no way!” “Ms. Dixon, do you think it will?” It might, I say, if it’s still there. As we head upstairs I hear plans hatching for bird-related science projects, and the next day a student rushes up to me in the hall, “I showed the cedar waxwing to my mom this morning! They’re still out in the parking lot!” All this, and fostering communication between high school students and their parents? Maybe my New Year’s resolution to make the world a better place isn’t so far out of reach.


Audubon Society:

University of California Naturalist Link:

Cornell’s Citizen Science Pages:

Cornell’s Citizen Science Resources:

Celebrate Urban Birds:

NSTA’s December issue blog:

Written by Bethany Dixon

Bethany Dixon is a science teacher at Western Sierra Collegiate Academy, is a CSTA Publications Committee Member, and is a member of CSTA.

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California Science Assessment Update

Posted: Wednesday, October 12th, 2016

by Jessica Sawko

In June 2016 California submitted a waiver application to discontinue using the old CST (based on 1998 standards) and conduct two years of pilot and field tests (in spring 2017 and 2018, respectively) of the new science assessment designed to support our state’s current science standards (California Next Generation Science Standards (CA-NGSS) adopted in 2013). The waiver was requested because no student scores will be provided as a part of the pilot and field tests. The CDE received a response from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) on September 30, 2016, which provides the CDE the opportunity to resubmit a revised waiver request within 60 days. The CDE will be revising the waiver request and resubmitting as ED suggested.

At its October 2016 North/South Assessment meetings CDE confirmed that there will be no administration of the old CST in the spring of 2017. (An archive of the meeting is available at Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Some ways to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in your classroom

Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

by Carol Peterson

1) To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, Google has put together a collection of virtual tours combining 360-degree video, panoramic photos and expert narration. It’s called “The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks” and is accessible right from the browser. You can choose from one of five different locales, including the Kenai Fjords in Alaska and Bryce Canyon in Utah, and get a guided “tour” from a local park ranger. Each one has a few virtual vistas to explore, with documentary-style voiceovers and extra media hidden behind clickable thumbnails. Ideas are included for use in classrooms. Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

2016 Award Recipients – Join CSTA in Honoring Their Accomplishments

Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

CSTA is pleased to announce the winners of the 2016 CSTA Awards for Distinguished Contributions, Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, 2014 and 2015 PAEMST-Science recipients from California, and the 2016 California PAEMST Finalists. The following individuals and organizations will be honored during the 2016 California Science Education Conference  on October 21- 23 in Palm Springs. This year’s group of awardees are truly outstanding. Please join us in congratulating them!

Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award

John Keller

John Keller

The Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award honors an individual who has made a significant contribution to science education in the state and who, through years of leadership and service, has truly made a positive impact on the quality of science teaching. This year’s recipient is John Keller, Ph.D. Dr. Keller is Associate Professor, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Co-Director, Center for Engineering, Science, and Mathematics Education, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. In her letter of recommendation, SDSU science education faculty and former CSTA board member Donna Ross wrote: “He brings people together who share the desire to make a difference in the development and implementation of programs for science teaching. Examples of these projects include the Math and Science Teaching Initiative (MSTI), Noyce Scholars Program, Western Regional Noyce Initiative, and the Science Teacher and Researcher (STAR) program.” Through his work, he has had a dramatic impact on science teacher education, both preservice and in-service, in California, the region, and the country. He developed and implemented the STEM Teacher and Researcher Program which aims to produce excellent K-12 STEM teachers by providing aspiring teachers with opportunities to do authentic research while helping them translate their research experience into classroom practice. SFSU faculty member Larry Horvath said it best in his letter:“John Keller exemplifies the best aspects of a scientist, science educator, and mentor. His contributions to science education in the state of California are varied, significant, and I am sure will continue well into the future.” Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

NGSS: Making Your Life Easier

Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

by Peter A’hearn

Wait… What?

NGSS is a big shift. Teachers need to learn new content, figure out how this whole engineering thing relates to science, and develop new unit and lesson plans. How could NGSS possibly make life easier?

The idea that NGSS could make our lives easier came to me during the California State NGSS Rollout #1 Classroom Example lesson on chromatography. I have since done this lesson with high school chemistry students and it made me think back to having my own students do chromatography. I spent lots of time preparing to make sure the experiment went well and achieved the “correct” result. I pre-prepared the solutions and organized and prepped the materials. I re-wrote and re-wrote again the procedure so there was no way a kid could get it wrong. I spent 20 minutes before the lab modeling all of the steps in class, so there was no way to do it wrong. Except that it turns out there were many. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the K-12 science specialist in the Palm Springs Unified School District and is Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Celestial Highlights, September 2016

Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graph of evening planet setting times by Dr. Jeffrey L. Hunt 

Our evening twilight chart for September, depicting the sky about 40 minutes after sunset from SoCal, shows brilliant Venus remaining low, creeping from W to WSW and gaining a little altitude as the month progresses. Its close encounter within 2.5° N of Spica on Sept. 18 is best seen with binoculars to catch the star low in bright twilight. The brightest stars in the evening sky are golden Arcturus descending in the west, and blue-white Vega passing just north of overhead. Look for Altair and Deneb completing the Summer Triangle with Vega. The triangle of Mars-Saturn-Antares expands as Mars seems to hold nearly stationary in SSW as the month progresses, while Saturn and Antares slink off to the SW. Learn More…

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Written by Robert Victor

Robert Victor

Robert C. Victor was Staff Astronomer at Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs, CA. Robert is a member of CSTA.