September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

Conservation and Primary Students

Posted: Friday, April 8th, 2016

by Joey Noelle Lehnhard

As an educator at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, I think about conservation a lot. The mission of the Aquarium is “to inspire conservation of the ocean,” and that straight-forward principle is at the center of everything we do. For teacher professional development, we host workshops that focus on current marine issues, such as ocean acidification, biodiversity, overfishing, oil spills, and ocean plastic pollution. However, my focus is on elementary education, and inspiring conservation in 2nd graders requires something very different.

Sometimes, as educators who care deeply about the environment, we think that our elementary students can handle these dense topics. We want our curriculum to be rigorous and so we boil down complex concepts into something that they can relate to and understand. Sometimes that works out, but, in the case of conservation education, it can backfire.

It’s called ecophobia (Sobel, 1996). And we all probably know someone who (unknowingly) suffers from it. It manifests itself in a persistent sense of powerlessness with regard to a variety of environmental issues. It’s the person who litters, thinking that just one piece of trash doesn’t really matter. It’s the hiker who jumps the fence protecting young saplings, thinking one person’s footsteps won’t make a difference. It can also result in aversion to or fear of the outdoors and nature. Often, these effects don’t reveal themselves until long after students have left our classrooms. Introducing young students to real issues makes an impact but perhaps not always the impact we want. So what should we do to more appropriately build students’ conservation ethic and love for nature?



Young students need extended, frequent, positive experiences in nature to develop a sense and appreciation of a particular place (Kudryavtsev, Stedman, & Krasny, 2012). These places should not be just any outdoor place but an outdoor space in their own community. In fact, the best thing we can do as educators (or parents) to help kids develop a conservation ethic is make sure they have extended positive experiences in nature as children (Palmer, 1993). When students experience and learn about the plants, animals, habitats, and ecosystems nearest to them first, they can better translate that knowledge to places farther away. This is why it is so important to thoroughly investigate our own schoolyards before we start teaching about more exotic places like rainforests or the arctic tundra.

This doesn’t mean that we have to shy away from every conservation topic. Primary elementary students can be empowered when they do something good for the open spaces around them. Connecting with animals is a powerful way to build toward pro-environmental behaviors and attitudes. They can also learn to have good environmental manners in their time outdoors. They can pick up litter, recycle, stay on trails, use water wisely, and be careful with and kind to living things. They can also engage in projects that will help their local environment like building bird boxes, planting trees, gardening, or removing invasive plants (Ardoin, 2013).

The Next Generation Science Standards outline a progression of topics in the Disciplinary Core Idea ESS3.C – Human impacts on Earth systems. The kindergarten through second grade section says, “Things people do can affect the environment but they can make choices to reduce their impacts.” ESS3.D – Climate Change is not even applicable until middle school.

So what does all this mean when thinking about conservation of the ocean and complex, current, environmental marine issues? It means that PreK-2nd grade teachers who teach along the coast should teach about the ocean because it is local and therefore relevant to their students. Those students should engage in ocean-side investigations and beach cleanups. It means that inland teachers should teach about their own local habitats and leave addressing more abstract or distant ecosystems to later grades. It means we should take the time to explore and build connections with nearby outdoor spaces and with the unique plants and animals that live there (Bora, McCrea, Herrmann, Hutchison, Pistillo, & Wirth 2010). We should feel confident that time spent this way is time well-spent, both for our students and for our Earth.


Ardoin, N. (2013). Influencing conservation action: What research says about environmental literacy, behavior, and conservation results. National Audubon Society.

Bora, S., McCrea, E., Gay, M., Herrmann, L., Hutchison, L., Pistillo, M., & Wirth, S. (2010). Early childhood environment education programs: Guidelines for excellence. The North American Association for Environmental Education Publications, Washington.

Kudryavtsev, A., Stedman, R. C., & Krasny, M. E. (2012). Sense of place in environmental education. Environmental education research, 18(2), 229-250.

Palmer, J. A. (1993). Development of concern for the environment and formative experiences of educators. The Journal of Environmental Education, 24(3), 26-30.

Sobel, D. (1996). Beyond ecophobia: Reclaiming the heart in nature education (No. 1). Orion Society.

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy:

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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.