September 2016 – Vol. 29 No. 1

Crosscutting Concepts Part 2: Structure and Function

Posted: Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015

by Valerie Joyner

Cross Cut Symbol for Structure and Function. Used with permission from CrossCutSymbols.

Cross Cut Symbol for Structure and Function. Used with permission from CrossCutSymbols.

In January we explored, the NGSS crosscutting concept of patterns in the primary grades through the lens of earth, space, and ocean sciences. This month we will take a look at the crosscutting concept of structure and function as it relates to the life sciences.

While structure and function are not taught in kindergarten, they are covered in 1st and 2nd grades. The early study of structure and function is necessary for laying the groundwork for all students’ science education throughout the grades. The importance of early childhood science in grades K-2 cannot be emphasized enough.

“In grades K-2, – students observe that the shape and stability of structure and designed objects are related to their function(s)” (NGSS, Appendix G). Just as a fork with prongs makes eating noodles easier, and a spoon with a bowl makes a better tool for sipping soup, plants and animals have structures that assist them in their survival. Take for example:

  • red tubular flowers attract hummingbirds, pollinators with long slender beaks
  • many berries have protective thorns; small animals shelter in their thorny thickets
  • African trees grow tall to avoid grazers; giraffes have long necks to reach them
  • kangaroos use their tails for stability so they can stand and bound on two legs
  • bats and foxes have big ears to catch more sound so they can hear and hunt better

In first grade 1-LS1-1, students “use materials to design a solution to a human problem by mimicking how plants and/or animals use their external parts to help survive, grow, and meet their needs.” Coming up with simple investigations to illustrate these connections between structure and function can be challenging but here are a few ideas.

Have students make tiny chairs, each with one Dixie cup and no more than three toothpick legs, with a mini marshmallow as a base for each toothpick leg. If you have them start with two legs each and graduate to three, they will notice and appreciate the stability added by the kangaroo’s third appendage, its tail.

First grade scientists can also draw and cut out different size and shape paper ear extensions to see if their hearing improves. Show some basic examples like small triangle cat ears, tall skinny rabbit ears, and large triangle fox ears, and direct students to make any size or shape animal ears they want. Then switch styles among themselves so they can all try several different sizes and shapes (making sure no one actually inserts anything into their ears).

In second grade 2-LS2-2, students “develop a simple model that mimics the function of an animal in dispersing seeds or pollinating plants.” Here are a few possibilities for compelling investigations still simple enough for the age group.

Have second grade students make simple Dixie cup “flowers” with fuzzy sticks (pipe cleaners) sprinkled with cornstarch for stamens and pollen. Students can visit the flowers with bees they make from fuzzy sticks and note how the “pollen” sticks to the “bees”.

As a follow up, make Dixie cup “seed pods” by putting some wild bird seed in each cup, covering with tissue paper and securing with rubber bands. Students then go outside and poke small holes in the “seed pod” with a pencil and sprinkle seeds, mimicking behavior of animals that disperse seeds by brushing against or eating flowers and letting some of the seed scatter about.

Hands-on models for demonstrating to kids how structure and function relate to each other are even richer when they complement experiences outside the classroom, like guided hikes, sock seed walks (with old socks on over shoes and pant legs to collect and examine “hitchhikers”), and outings with family and friends. It helps to invite students to make observations about structures throughout their days and share them in the classroom during science time. Kids can speculate together on what functions different structures may serve for the observed plant or animal.

As teachers, we’re always looking for more variety in activities so we can adapt to different student needs and classroom settings. As you integrate this concept into your teaching toolbox, keep an eye out for ideas and investigations to help primary kids connect structure to function. Above all, please share ideas and experiences with colleagues in your school and with us in this newsletter to enrich science learning for all students.

This article is the second in a series exploring crosscutting concepts and offering ideas for applications in the primary grades. Crosscutting concepts “provide students with connections and intellectual tools that are related across the different areas of disciplinary content and can enrich the application of practices and their understanding of core ideas.” (NRC, 2012, pg. 233)

There are seven fundamental crosscutting concepts so necessary for students to learn effectively, throughout all grade levels in all disciplines. These are 1) patterns, 2) cause and effect, 3) scale, proportion, and quantity, 4) systems and system models, 5) energy and matter: flows, cycles, and conservation, 6) structure and function, and 7) stability and change.

Look for another crosscutting concept featured in the next issue, and in the meantime, we’d love to hear from you about your experiences with teaching any of these fundamental connecting concepts to primary students.

Written by Valerie Joyner

Valerie Joyner

Valerie Joyner is a retired elementary science educator and is CSTA’s Primary (grades K-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.