September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

Cup of Tea

Posted: Thursday, June 4th, 2015

by Leah Wheeler

Have you ever felt like your time is split between too many subject areas in your classroom and you’re torn on how to teach all of the content? As a 5th grade teacher in a self contained classroom, I have always struggled with integrating curriculum in my classroom instruction. Through my participation with the Next Generation of Science Standards (NGSS) Early Implementation team in Galt, I have learned how to take the science and engineering practices (SEP) and incorporate them into the other curricular areas using simple modifications to my instruction.

Instead of looking at science and engineering practices as only part of the three-dimensional learning of NGSS, I try to think of ways to incorporate them into other content areas, so I can create bridges for learning.  For instance, inspired by the Boston Tea Party after my students studied the American Revolution, students engineered crates to hold tea.

Engineering Task:  Design a crate that can hold a tea bag submerged into a tub of water without leaking.

  • Design Phase: Students design and create a crate that will keep their tea bag dry for the longest period of time in a tub of cold water.
  • Building Phase:  Students worked in groups of 3.  Each group was given 16 popsicle sticks, a 2 inch by 2 inch square of wax paper, one 6 inch strip of masking tape, 12 inch piece of yarn, 1 tea bag, and a tub of water.  They had 20 minutes to complete this phase.
  • Test Phase:  Student groups tested their designs by submerging their tea crates in tubs of cold water.  Leakage was determined by the color of the water around the crate.  When the water turned dark, the timer would stop. One group’s crate went an entire 24 hours without leakage, so the class studied their design and tried to recreate their crates.
  • Redesign and Re-build Phase: Students had 30 minutes to redesign and rebuild their crates using the same materials as before.
  • Re-Test Phase:  Students were more successful with their crates this time around and they didn’t leak as fast in the re-test phase.

During the engineering process, I noticed collaborative conversations and problem solving. Some students tried raft and pontoon designs, but those did not withstand the challenge while others tried a fully enclosed crate that was successful. The students who were the most successful completely encased their tea bag in the wax paper while binding it with yarn and then wrapping the Popsicle sticks around the bundle.
Thinking outside the box is the key to lessening the load in the classroom and incorporating multiple content areas; no pun intended.  The three-dimensional learning called for in NGSS provides many opportunities to integrate in a cross curricular manner and provides rich learning experiences for students.

Leah Wheeler is a 5th Grade Science Teacher at Lake Canyon Elementary School, Galt Elementary School District. She was invited to write for California Classroom Science by CSTA President-Elect Lisa Hegdahl.

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One Response

  1. First, let me say, I encourage this type of incorporation, as I believe it “de-compartmentalizes” learning. I wanted to leave a reply, as an industrial engineer and as someone who feels betrayed by my public education growing up. I’d propose an additional engineering exercise that could lead children to critically think (although I often question if this is the desired outcome of the public educational institutions, at least at the administrative level) about things they read. There’s a systems engineering exercise that I use to view historical and contemporary events, to come a conclusion about the accuracy of information. If you map out key related events leading up to the one you’re currently learning about, and then go back and identify the inputs and outputs of each event (sometimes these are not known, but that’s where the fun begins) you can surmise the likely missing information based on the preceding or successor event, as well as see if the explained known outcomes of each event likely sum up to the concluding event (this also crosses into sociology, political science, etc… You can take it as far as you want in the curriculum). Such as: how could Britain have handled one of the preceding events, to prevent the tea party.

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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.