September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 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).

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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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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.

News and Happenings in CSTA’s Region 1 – Fall 2017

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Marian Murphy-Shaw

Cal

This month I was fortunate enough to hear about some new topics to share with our entire region. Some of you may access the online or newsletter options, others may attend events in person that are nearer to you. Long time CSTA member and environmental science educator Mike Roa is well known to North Bay Area teachers for his volunteer work sharing events and resources. In this month’s Region 1 updates I am happy to make a few of the options Mike offers available to our region. Learn More…

Written by Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw is the student services director at Siskiyou County Office of Education and is CSTA’s Region 1 Director and chair of CSTA’s Policy Committee.