September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

Diverse Experiential Science Abounds in Region 1

Posted: Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

by Valerie Joyner

We live and teach in a remarkable region full of natural wonders, biodiversity, and ecosystems.  From the arid high deserts of Modoc County, to the foggy redwood forests of Humboldt County, to the frigid alpine lakes of Trinity County, and on to the craggy granite outcropping of the Sierras, local science opportunities and experiences await our students.  What a great region to teach life, earth, and physical science!

As the school year begins, and we set our curriculum in place, it’s the perfect time to brainstorm opportunities for enriching our science curriculum.  Taking our students to structured science discovery centers creates lasting memories, but there are also infinite opportunities for our students to experience hands-on science within our own locale.

Life science topics lend themselves well to a local approach.  For one example, I like to start the school year by bringing a sample of local lichen into the classroom.  The students observe the sample, and I ask them what they think it might be.  After some discussion (science talk), I share with them other samples of lichen I have collected throughout California.  The students continue to observe and explore lichen and begin to develop a sense of inquiry that stimulates their interest in science.

Local animals also offer unique opportunities for students to develop their understanding of science concepts and processes.  The monarch butterfly is an example of a local animal that students can observe going through metamorphosis in just a few weeks.  Teachers can gather monarch eggs on milkweed plants in the summer and allow their students to experience the life cycle of a monarch first hand.  Though we often think of monarchs as endemic to the central and southern coast of California, they are also found along the southern edge of our region.

Outside the monarch’s range, teachers can substitute less well-known local invertebrates in the study of life cycles.  Start by browsing online resources such as The Bug Guide or the butterfly site hosted by UC Davis (listed in the accompanying Online Resources section) to select species that are common locally and get an idea of how long their life cycles they are and how to care for them.  Most caterpillars are plant-eating specialists, so if you can find out what sort of leaves they like, they can be as easy to care for as the perennially popular monarch.  Consider talking to local gardeners, farmers, nursery personnel or the county agricultural extension office to collect ideas on which local insects are numerous, interesting, and easy to find and care for.

It’s not only indigenous plants and animals that we can use to strengthen our students’ interest and learning in science, but local examples from the physical and earth sciences are available as well.  It can be tricky to organize meaningful local physical science field trips, but talk to local people and expand your field of possibilities.  Visits to local musicians, chefs, and craftspeople can give kids a chance to reexamine simple things like the vibrations of instruments, the physics of cooking, and the mechanical advantages of tools in a new scientific light.  Even a trip to a park can become an exploration of the kinetics of swings and teeter-totters.  By walking a faultline, examining simple machines on a local farm, or studying velocity and deposition in streams, our students feel and see a connection between science and their everyday lives.

We all know the importance of hands-on experiences in supporting and enriching science education, but we must also remember to make these experiences as relevant to the students as possible.  By using local cliffs, watersheds, plants, and animals we not only assist our students in their development of science concepts and processes, but impart to them a passion for science and its impact on their lives.  I hope you will collaborate with your colleagues and local experts and explore the opportunities your area has to support your science curriculum.  Sometimes it’s connecting their learning to the simple things in students’ world that develops their long-term understanding and appreciation for science.

Online Resources:
Life Science
What’s That Bug?
Bug Guide
Art Shapiro’s Butterfly Site
UC Berkeley Essig Museum of Etymology California Insect Survey

Earth Science
USGS California Geo-Tour: Geologic Field
Trip Guides of California

General Field Trip Lists
Food Related Field Trips in NorthernCalifornia
Guide to California Field Trip Resources
Family Days Out in California

The STRAW (Students and Teachers Restoring a Watershed) Project

Are you looking for a science-based community service project for your students?  Then you might want to consider tapping into the STRAW Project.  STRAW operates through the Bay Institute, with a network of students, teachers, watershed restoration specialists, and community partners to carry out watershed studies and restoration projects in Sonoma, Napa, Solano, and Marin counties.  Over the past 18 years students have participated in over 275 STRAW restoration projects.  The students have worked on rural and urban creeks, planted over 25,000 native plants, and restored more than 20 miles of creek banks.

For more information contact:
The Bay Institute
695 De Long Avenue, Suite 100
Novato, CA 94945

(415) 878-2929 Phone
(415) 878-2930 Fax

News from Upper Northeastern California (Butte, Glenn, Lassen, Modoc, Plumas, Shasta, Siskiyou,ehema, andTrinity counties)

The upper northeastern counties in our region are busy making plans for the upcoming year.  Marian Murphy-Shaw, local science lead and regional member to the state Science Curriculum and Instruction Steering Committee, reports that the Shasta county MSP (Math and Science Partnership) for science teachers is going well.  Some of their plans include, infusing STEM into their Local After School programs with robotics in Shasta county, solar and wind fairs in Siskiyou County, and additional programs in Butte and Modoc counties.

More information is available on-line at:

Written by Valerie Joyner

Valerie Joyner

Valerie Joyner is a retired elementary science educator 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.