May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

Elementary Science Can Glue It All Together!

Posted: Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

by Bethany Dixon

Elementary students use a lot of glue. Cutting and pasting develops fine motor skills as well as providing opportunities to assessment learning in the primary grades. Even in my fourth grade classroom, we frequently used glue outside of art to put our ideas together into graphic organizers. Consider, then, the following analogy. Time and funding for science in elementary education have been cut repeatedly. However, what if science didn’t take additional time but instead gave context to your current class work in other subjects? What if science could be the curricular glue that helps elementary students to transition from math and reading into writing and back again?

Time is precious in any classroom, but specific pressure is put on elementary school teachers to meet mandated requirements for reading, writing, and math. According to the 2011 Statewide Science Education Survey of Elementary School Teachers, “Only 10% of elementary students in California experience a pattern of classroom practices that support regular engagement in the practices of science… Across all grade levels, 40% of elementary teachers reported that their students received 60 minutes or less of science instruction per week; indeed, 13% of elementary teachers reported that their students received 30 minutes or less.” Elementary teachers cite lack of resources, professional development, and dedicated class time to teach science. Organizations and teachers are working to improve these statistics by implementing science lessons that are integrated with math, writing, reading, and speaking skills taught through the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

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Putting science into elementary school curriculum is challenging. Because of recent STEM initiatives, including the upcoming STEM Conference in Sacramento and Common Core implementation, now is an excellent time to re-energize elementary science. The CCSS state that K-5 reading students should have the ability to, “Integrate and evaluate content…visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.” It goes on to express that in grade 2, students should, “Participate in shared research and writing projects,” and gives recording science observations as an example. College and Career Readiness anchor standards frequently include conducting research projects in both writing and reading that incorporate different types of texts, presenting knowledge and ideas, and collaborating.

Elementary teachers can begin to integrate science through data collection in their own classrooms: not only monitoring the weather, but taking action to evaluate the practices currently in place to support their science curriculum. Unfortunately, excellent science standards don’t always translate to classroom practices that support science learners, and keeping track of the total time spent on science (versus planned time for science) can be eye-opening for departments. Cross-curricular adjustments of class time are often the most efficient means of including science (the glue!) if your learning day is full. Teachers can make a good start by committing to swap a few fiction books per unit and include a science-content-specific trade book in reading that will enhance your reading lesson (NSTA’s list of Outstanding Science books for elementary students). Using science-specific writing prompts, realia, and demonstrations can link your curriculum – moving from reading to math doesn’t have to be an abrupt end and science can be the bridge one lesson to the next. One example would be to add a seed germination project. After reading a book about seeds and writing about the life cycle of a plant, students put ten radish seeds in a damp paper towel and seal them in a plastic bag. Over a weekend, the seeds will germinate and students can measure the plants as they grow. Students can write and share their ideas about which tools should be used to measure and track the plants, and how the plants could be transplanted. The Great Backyard Bird Count as well as other citizen science projects frequently offer to work with elementary school students and can provide a multitude of opportunities to participate in science.

Local help can also come from middle and high school science teachers. At our school, high school AP biology students served as judges for the 6th grade science fair project and biology students served as “science mentors” to help elementary students research science topics. Our upper-level students create picture books about scientific phenomenon aimed at the elementary school student audience and the highlight of this project is ultimately reading the books to the elementary school students. This cross-grade experience revs students up for science on both levels and provides important scaffolding and connections between the schools.

Other resources are present as well! In California, CSTA includes specific workshops for elementary science teachers at the California Science Education Conference. Local universities often have science clubs that do outreach programs for elementary students at little or charge. Nationally, the American Museum of Natural History offers classes for teachers to improve their content knowledge. Science partnerships are also often easy to find: polling parents and having scientifically-inclined parents speak to the class can be a fantastic opportunity to build a sense of community and teach students about STEM careers.

Elementary science teachers’ encouragement of scientific thinking in the primary grades is critical for improving scientific literacy and building a society of critical thinkers. The emergence of the NGSS and Common Core Standards underscores the idea that science is critical for elementary students. Teachers have been tasked to implement the curriculum based on research, problem solving, investigating, and communicating results through mathematics, writing, and verbal communication. Cutting out these subjects to build a curriculum of separate projects doesn’t make sense, instead, elementary teachers who use science as a tool to further student understanding of other subjects create the capacity for more meaningful curriculum overall. Teaching science isn’t always an easy craft, but elementary school teachers can do wonders with a little “glue.”

Written by Bethany Dixon

Bethany Dixon is a science teacher at Western Sierra Collegiate Academy, is a CSTA Publications Committee Member, and is a member of CSTA.

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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.