September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

Comparing AP Science Practices, Common Core State Standards, and NGSS Science and Engineering Practices

Posted: Monday, June 3rd, 2013

by Bethany Dixon

At NSTA San Antonio and again at the California State Science Fair, I fell into a conversation about connecting NGSS Science and Engineering Practices and AP Biology Science Practices 1-7. In the past few years, ideas have converged on what it looks like to “Do Science:” the habits of mind necessary to develop scientific knowledge. This idea isn’t new to science education – scientific skills are still important. Haven’t we seen this before? We called it using the Scientific Method(s), or Levels of Inquiry, or whichever wrapper we’re putting things into… it doesn’t seem like the ideas of what constitute good science have changed. Or have they?

My question, from the best possible place of curiosity, is this: how is this different than what teachers have been asked to do before? Admittedly, I’m relatively new to the game, but shouldn’t science be happening in science classrooms, and doesn’t that generally involve teaching the basics of engineering and experimental design? Is it merely the idea that the process of science will now be assessed in a standardized way that is new? Is that even new? Watching the droves of teachers in line for sessions on linking NGSS and Common Core State Standards made me wonder if I’m missing some integral piece. With this in mind, here’s what I have gleaned so far from combing and combining the three documents with mentoring from those who have taught long enough to see the pendulum of change swing a few times.

1. Science Practices are iterative; they should be practiced often and with selective guidance to help lead students through inquiry; ranges of inquiry from confirmation labs through the levels of inquiry beginning with structured inquiry and leading to guided, and eventually open, inquiry. These labs are necessary to develop the skills of scientific thinking required for students to succeed at cognitively difficult tasks. Different skills should be isolated with different labs so students aren’t thrown off the deep end with a box of relevant but unknown toys. Teachers should be encouraged to help students uncover important content (making meaning through investigation) but should be cautious to ensure that enough time is taken to link each inquiry activity or modeling activity explicitly with objectives so that students are focused on the outcome of the process.

2. CCSS, the 7 AP Science Practices, and NGSS are already linked: science and engineering practices along with crosscutting concepts (cause and effect, modeling, using math appropriately, etc.) are embedded in the literature of effective science pedagogy. Labeling what we’re doing “Common Core-Friendly” is another standard to write on the board, but doesn’t change the important content-based literacy and numeracy tools we should already be using, such as reading science publications critically, engaging in argument, writing lab reports, collecting and interpreting appropriate data, etc.

3. Student engagement is your best weapon for increasing authentic inquiry. Process Oriented Inquiry Guided Learning (POGIL), case studies, Science Fair, Project Based Learning, etc., all point to giving students relevant choices so that “Real Life” and “Schoolwork” collide and make bookwork relevant. It seems like taking a basic survey of student science interests and framing the course around their real passions could be a powerful way to add relevance to the course: Essential Knowledge and standards are imperative and should be integrated for a content-rich course, but the framework gives teachers room for selection (no pun intended). Within careful limits, giving students choices over a few open-ended investigations that reflect their academic interests combined with teacher-prescribed labs create powerful learning experiences that students own and retain.

Building science skills and learning key information can be integrated, but students are more likely to retain that information if they can then apply it to solve a problem that they are already invested in. Working with the NGSS, AP Science Practices, and CCSS expands the “bull’s-eye” of what’s being tested to better reflect what good teachers already include. It isn’t more work: it just works better.

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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CSTA Is Now Accepting Nominations for Board Members

Posted: Friday, November 17th, 2017

Current, incoming, and outgoing CSTA Board of Directors at June 3, 2017 meeting.

Updated 7:25 pm, Nov. 17, 2017

It’s that time of year when CSTA is looking for dedicated and qualified persons to fill the upcoming vacancies on its Board of Directors. This opportunity allows you to help shape the policy and determine the path that the Board will take in the new year. There are time and energy commitments, but that is far outweighed by the personal satisfaction of knowing that you are an integral part of an outstanding professional educational organization, dedicated to the support and guidance of California’s science teachers. You will also have the opportunity to help CSTA review and support legislation that benefits good science teaching and teachers.

Right now is an exciting time to be involved at the state level in the California Science Teachers Association. The CSTA Board of Directors is currently involved in implementing the Next Generations Science Standards and its strategic plan. If you are interested in serving on the CSTA Board of Directors, now is the time to submit your name for consideration. 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.

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Announces 2017 Finalists for Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching

Posted: Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today nominated eight exceptional secondary mathematics and science teachers as California finalists for the 2017 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST).

“These teachers are dedicated and accomplished individuals whose innovative teaching styles prepare our students for 21st century careers and college and develop them into the designers and inventors of the future,” Torlakson said. “They rank among the finest in their profession and also serve as wonderful mentors and role models.”

The California Department of Education (CDE) partners annually with the California Science Teachers Association and the California Mathematics Council to recruit and select nominees for the PAEMST program—the highest recognition in the nation for a mathematics or science teacher. The Science Finalists will be recognized at the CSTA Awards Luncheon on Saturday, October 14, 2017. 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.

Thriving in a Time of Change

Posted: Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

by Jill Grace

By the time this message is posted online, most schools across California will have been in session for at least a month (if not longer, and hat tip to that bunch!). Long enough to get a good sense of who the kids in your classroom are and to get into that groove and momentum of the daily flow of teaching. It’s also very likely that for many of you who weren’t a part of a large grant initiative or in a district that set wheels in motion sooner, this is the first year you will really try to shift instruction to align to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). I’m not going to lie to you, it’s a challenging year – change is hard. Change is even harder when there’s not a playbook to go by.  But as someone who has had the very great privilege of walking alongside teachers going through that change for the past two years and being able to glimpse at what this looks like for different demographics across that state, there are three things I hope you will hold on to. These are things I have come to learn will overshadow the challenge: a growth mindset will get you far, one is a very powerful number, and it’s about the kids. Learn More…

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Written by Jill Grace

Jill Grace

Jill Grace is a Regional Director for the K-12 Alliance and is President of CSTA.

If You Are Not Teaching Science Then You Are Not Teaching Common Core

Posted: Thursday, August 31st, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn 

“Science and Social Studies can be taught for the last half hour of the day on Fridays”

– Elementary school principal

Anyone concerned with the teaching of science in elementary school is keenly aware of the problem of time. Kids need to learn to read, and learning to read takes time, nobody disputes that. So Common Core ELA can seem like the enemy of science. This was a big concern to me as I started looking at the curriculum that my district had adopted for Common Core ELA. I’ve been through those years where teachers are learning a new curriculum, and know first-hand how a new curriculum can become the focus of attention- sucking all the air out of the room. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Tools for Creating NGSS Standards Based Lessons

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Elizabeth Cooke

Think back on your own experiences with learning science in school. Were you required to memorize disjointed facts without understanding the concepts?

Science Education Background

In the past, science education focused on rote memorization and learning disjointed ideas. Elementary and secondary students in today’s science classes are fortunate now that science instruction has shifted from students demonstrating what they know to students demonstrating how they are able to apply their knowledge. Science education that reflects the Next Generation Science Standards challenges students to conduct investigations. As students explore phenomena and discrepant events they engage in academic discourse guided by focus questions from their teachers or student generated questions of that arise from analyzing data and creating and revising models that explain natural phenomena. Learn More…

Written by Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke teaches TK-5 science at Markham Elementary in the Oakland Unified School District, is an NGSS Early Implementer, and is CSTA’s Secretary.