September 2016 – Vol. 29 No. 1

Climate Citizen Science for K-12 Students

Posted: Friday, February 1st, 2013

By Minda Barbeco

Engaging students in science can be tricky. Time is limited, the material can be stifling, and students are not always the most willing participants. Moreover, running students through the same experiments with known results doesn’t really demonstrate what science is like in the real world; often, when researchers conduct scientific experiments, the organismsdon’t behave, the chemicals don’t react, the balls don’t roll down the inclined plane at the right speeds. The fact that in actual laboratory work the results don’t always support the hypotheses no doubt comes as a sad realization to many a new researcher – “But my experiments always worked in high school science classes!”

So how can science teachers working with students of all ages engage students in real life science? Citizen science, a new model of enlisting the public in scientific research, has gained recent popularity. If you are science teacher inCalifornia, there are several projects that can get your students involved and most importantly, engaged in science.

Studying Plants and Climate Change

Project BudBurst is a program run by the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) for both formal and informal educators. Through this program, teachers take their students out of the classroom to monitor plant development in their schoolyard or neighborhood. This requires students to learn about different stages in plant development, where plants grow, and how climate affects their development. The data from Project BudBurst is available online as well, allowing teachers to use data collected from all over the country to teach students about how a changing climate affects plants all across the U.S. Courses on how to collect and use the data in your classroom are available through the NEON citizen science academy.

Tracking Test Gardens

As schoolyard gardens are gaining popularity across California, there are many ways to use them to develop hypotheses to learn about how microclimates affect plant life. Students can create their own notebooks to observe field conditions and how they change through the school year, analyze microclimates, make predictions for the season, and track developmental events. As flowers start to pop out this spring, they can also observe pollinators visiting their plots to understand more about biotic relationships and plant development. For suggestions on creating your own hypothesis-generating science notebook, check out:

Study Animal Migration

As your students are huddled in the classroom, animals outside are scuttling, soaring, or swimming around, migrating up and down the coast with the changing seasons. An hour of time collecting population data on these critters could be the jumping-off point for abundant investigations into animal physiology and behavior. Through the organization Journey North, you can investigate the movement of robins, the appearance of earthworms, and the migration of monarchs as these animals respond to changing seasons. The data can then be used to chart changes in population density through the year, track short-term migration patterns or incorporated into larger datasets to see how migration has changed over recent years with a changing climate. More information on Journey North’s program is available at:

Engaging students in citizen science teaches them, in real-life settings, how experiments are designed, data are collected, and information is analyzed. Taking students through the different steps in a field setting helps them build their understanding of how science works, how researchers study organisms, and about the organisms themselves. There are ample opportunities to use these investigative techniques to teach students about the world around them, while supporting the larger scientific community as a whole. And who knows, maybe some of your students will one day become researchers who look back at the data they collected as citizen scientists as the bedrock of their scientific studies.

Minda Barbeco is the Programs and Policy Director at the National Center for Science Education.

Written by Minda Berbeco

Minda Berbeco

Minda Berbeco is the Programs and Policy Director at the National Center for Science Education and is CSTA’s Region 2 Director.

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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.