September 2016 – Vol. 29 No. 1

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).



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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California Science Assessment Update

Posted: Wednesday, October 12th, 2016

by Jessica Sawko

In June 2016 California submitted a waiver application to discontinue using the old CST (based on 1998 standards) and conduct two years of pilot and field tests (in spring 2017 and 2018, respectively) of the new science assessment designed to support our state’s current science standards (California Next Generation Science Standards (CA-NGSS) adopted in 2013). The waiver was requested because no student scores will be provided as a part of the pilot and field tests. The CDE received a response from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) on September 30, 2016, which provides the CDE the opportunity to resubmit a revised waiver request within 60 days. The CDE will be revising the waiver request and resubmitting as ED suggested.

At its October 2016 North/South Assessment meetings CDE confirmed that there will be no administration of the old CST in the spring of 2017. (An archive of the meeting is available at 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.

Some ways to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in your classroom

Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

by Carol Peterson

1) To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, Google has put together a collection of virtual tours combining 360-degree video, panoramic photos and expert narration. It’s called “The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks” and is accessible right from the browser. You can choose from one of five different locales, including the Kenai Fjords in Alaska and Bryce Canyon in Utah, and get a guided “tour” from a local park ranger. Each one has a few virtual vistas to explore, with documentary-style voiceovers and extra media hidden behind clickable thumbnails. Ideas are included for use in classrooms. 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.

2016 Award Recipients – Join CSTA in Honoring Their Accomplishments

Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

CSTA is pleased to announce the winners of the 2016 CSTA Awards for Distinguished Contributions, Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, 2014 and 2015 PAEMST-Science recipients from California, and the 2016 California PAEMST Finalists. The following individuals and organizations will be honored during the 2016 California Science Education Conference  on October 21- 23 in Palm Springs. This year’s group of awardees are truly outstanding. Please join us in congratulating them!

Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award

John Keller

John Keller

The Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award honors an individual who has made a significant contribution to science education in the state and who, through years of leadership and service, has truly made a positive impact on the quality of science teaching. This year’s recipient is John Keller, Ph.D. Dr. Keller is Associate Professor, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Co-Director, Center for Engineering, Science, and Mathematics Education, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. In her letter of recommendation, SDSU science education faculty and former CSTA board member Donna Ross wrote: “He brings people together who share the desire to make a difference in the development and implementation of programs for science teaching. Examples of these projects include the Math and Science Teaching Initiative (MSTI), Noyce Scholars Program, Western Regional Noyce Initiative, and the Science Teacher and Researcher (STAR) program.” Through his work, he has had a dramatic impact on science teacher education, both preservice and in-service, in California, the region, and the country. He developed and implemented the STEM Teacher and Researcher Program which aims to produce excellent K-12 STEM teachers by providing aspiring teachers with opportunities to do authentic research while helping them translate their research experience into classroom practice. SFSU faculty member Larry Horvath said it best in his letter:“John Keller exemplifies the best aspects of a scientist, science educator, and mentor. His contributions to science education in the state of California are varied, significant, and I am sure will continue well into the future.” 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.

NGSS: Making Your Life Easier

Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

by Peter A’hearn

Wait… What?

NGSS is a big shift. Teachers need to learn new content, figure out how this whole engineering thing relates to science, and develop new unit and lesson plans. How could NGSS possibly make life easier?

The idea that NGSS could make our lives easier came to me during the California State NGSS Rollout #1 Classroom Example lesson on chromatography. I have since done this lesson with high school chemistry students and it made me think back to having my own students do chromatography. I spent lots of time preparing to make sure the experiment went well and achieved the “correct” result. I pre-prepared the solutions and organized and prepped the materials. I re-wrote and re-wrote again the procedure so there was no way a kid could get it wrong. I spent 20 minutes before the lab modeling all of the steps in class, so there was no way to do it wrong. Except that it turns out there were many. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the K-12 science specialist in the Palm Springs Unified School District and is Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Celestial Highlights, September 2016

Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graph of evening planet setting times by Dr. Jeffrey L. Hunt 

Our evening twilight chart for September, depicting the sky about 40 minutes after sunset from SoCal, shows brilliant Venus remaining low, creeping from W to WSW and gaining a little altitude as the month progresses. Its close encounter within 2.5° N of Spica on Sept. 18 is best seen with binoculars to catch the star low in bright twilight. The brightest stars in the evening sky are golden Arcturus descending in the west, and blue-white Vega passing just north of overhead. Look for Altair and Deneb completing the Summer Triangle with Vega. The triangle of Mars-Saturn-Antares expands as Mars seems to hold nearly stationary in SSW as the month progresses, while Saturn and Antares slink off to the SW. 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.