May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

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 CSTA’s Primary (grades K-2) Director.

Leave a Reply


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:

Please contact Rosanne Luu at 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…

Powered By DT Author Box

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…

Powered By DT Author Box

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.