May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

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.  http://crosscutsymbols.weebly.com/

Cross Cut Symbol for Structure and Function. Used with permission from CrossCutSymbols. http://crosscutsymbols.weebly.com/

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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Participate in Chemistry Education Research Study, Earn $500-800 Dollars!

Posted: Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

WestEd, a non-profit educational research agency, has been funded by the US Department of Education to test a new molecular modeling kit, Happy Atoms. Happy Atoms is an interactive chemistry learning experience that consists of a set of physical atoms that connect magnetically to form molecules, and an app that uses image recognition to identify the molecules that you create with the set. WestEd is conducting a study around the effectiveness of using Happy Atoms in the classroom, and we are looking for high school chemistry teachers in California to participate.

As part of the study, teachers will be randomly assigned to either the treatment group (who uses Happy Atoms) or the control group (who uses Happy Atoms at a later date). Teachers in the treatment group will be asked to use the Happy Atoms set in their classrooms for 5 lessons over the course of the fall 2017 semester. Students will complete pre- and post-assessments and surveys around their chemistry content knowledge and beliefs about learning chemistry. WestEd will provide access to all teacher materials, teacher training, and student materials needed to participate.

Participating teachers will receive a stipend of $500-800. You can read more information about the study here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/HappyAtoms

Please contact Rosanne Luu at rluu@wested.org or 650.381.6432 if you are interested in participating in this opportunity, or if you have any questions!

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.

2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption Reviewer Application

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

The California Department of Education and State Board of Education are now accepting applications for reviewers for the 2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption. The application deadline is 3:00 pm, July 21, 2017. The application is comprehensive, so don’t wait until the last minute to apply.

On Tuesday, May 9, 2017, State Superintendent Tom Torlakson forwarded this recruitment letter to county and district superintendents and charter school administrators.

Review panel members will evaluate instructional materials for use in kindergarten through grade eight, inclusive, that are aligned with the California Next Generation Science Content Standards for California Public Schools (CA NGSS). 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.

Lessons Learned from the NGSS Early Implementer Districts

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

On March 31, 2017, Achieve released two documents examining some lessons learned from the California K-8 Early Implementation Initiative. The initiative began in August 2014 and was developed by the K-12 Alliance at WestEd, with close collaborative input on its design and objectives from the State Board of Education, the California Department of Education, and Achieve.

Eight (8) traditional school districts and two (2) charter management organizations were selected to participate in the initiative, becoming the first districts in California to implement the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Those districts included Galt Joint Union Elementary, Kings Canyon Joint Unified, Lakeside Union, Oakland Unified, Palm Springs Unified, San Diego Unified, Tracy Joint Unified, Vista Unified, Aspire, and High Tech High.

To more closely examine some of the early successes and challenges experienced by the Early Implementer LEAs, Achieve interviewed nine of the ten participating districts and compiled that information into two resources, focusing primarily on professional learning and instructional materials. 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.

Using Online Simulations to Support the NGSS in Middle School Classrooms

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

by Lesley Gates, Loren Nikkel, and Kambria Eastham

Middle school teachers in Kings Canyon Unified School District (KCUSD), a CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative district, have been diligently working on transitioning to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) integrated model for middle school. This year, the teachers focused on building their own knowledge of the Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs). They have been gathering and sharing ideas at monthly collaborative meetings as to how to make sure their students are not just learning about science but that they are actually doing science in their classrooms. Students should be planning and carrying out investigations to gather data for analysis in order to construct explanations. This is best done through hands-on lab experiments. Experimental work is such an important part of the learning of science and education research shows that students learn better and retain more when they are active through inquiry, investigation, and application. A Framework for K-12 Science Education (2011) notes, “…learning about science and engineering involves integration of the knowledge of scientific explanations (i.e., content knowledge) and the practices needed to engage in scientific inquiry and engineering design. Thus the framework seeks to illustrate how knowledge and practice must be intertwined in designing learning experiences in K-12 Science Education” (pg. 11).

Many middle school teachers in KCUSD are facing challenges as they begin implementing these student-driven, inquiry-based NGSS science experiences in their classrooms. First, many of the middle school classrooms at our K-8 school sites are not designed as science labs. Learn More…

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Written by NGSS Early Implementer

NGSS Early Implementer

In 2015 CSTA began to publish a series of articles written by teachers participating in the NGSS Early Implementation Initiative. This article was written by an educator(s) participating in the initiative. CSTA thanks them for their contributions and for sharing their experience with the science teaching community.

Celestial Highlights: May – July 2017

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

May Through July 2017 with Web Resources for the Solar Eclipse of August 21, 2017

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graphs of planet rising and setting times by Jeffrey L. Hunt.

In spring and summer 2017, Jupiter is the most prominent “star” in the evening sky, and Venus, even brighter, rules the morning. By mid-June, Saturn rises at a convenient evening hour, allowing both giant planets to be viewed well in early evening until Jupiter sinks low in late September. The Moon is always a crescent in its monthly encounters with Venus, but is full whenever it appears near Jupiter or Saturn in the eastern evening sky opposite the Sun. (In 2017, Full Moon is near Jupiter in April, Saturn in June.) At intervals of 27-28 days thereafter, the Moon appears at a progressively earlier phase at each pairing with the outer planet until its final conjunction, with Moon a thin crescent, low in the west at dusk. You’ll see many beautiful events by just following the Moon’s wanderings at dusk and dawn in the three months leading up to the solar eclipse. 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.