May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

Elementary Science: What Is It? Part I

Posted: Friday, October 1st, 2010

Tim Williamson

“It is perilous to generalize about anything in the U.S. education system—quality varies enormously from classroom to classroom—but science has long been a poor stepchild to mathematics and reading. One report noted that science instruction in the early grades ‘occurs sporadically and rarely engages children in practices that encourage rigorous and reflective science learning.’  Science is high on the list of subjects that early-grade teachers feel ill prepared to teach.”

This quote from Scientific American Magazine, “Start Science Sooner,” by the editors, February 18, 2010, is a perfect introduction for a series of articles I will be sharing in the next few issues of e-CCS.

One of the major perks of being the CSTA president is being able to travel throughout the state and participate in informative dialog with many of California’s master science educators.  One of the “California Science Education Masters” I have had the privilege of working with for numerous years is my dear friend Maureen Allen from Orange County.  Maureen gives new meaning to the word “energy”!  She has been a dedicated member of CSTA for many, many years and is always ready to pitch-in and work with our state’s science educators, sharing her vast knowledge of science content, pedagogy, and curriculum development.  She has been retired from the Orange County Office of Education for a few years.  Retirement has not slowed her down a bit.  She continues to share her love and knowledge of teaching science to everyone she meets.  In my opinion, beside the definition of “science educator” in the dictionary, there should be a picture of Maureen Allen!

I asked her to share her feelings regarding the components a good elementary science classroom.  I’m sharing her response verbatim.

What makes a good elementary science classroom?  Ideas shared by Maureen Allen

(Or,  What would a science rich classroom look like?)

The answer to this question is very basic and most obvious.  It is not about the size of the classroom, the materials, the number of computers, budget per student, or any of the elements that make up a classroom.  Although these things are all very important, the most critical element of a really good science classroom is the TEACHER.

A TEACHER who loves and values science is the key to a science-rich classroom.

It is the TEACHER, who fosters CURIOSITY and EXCITEMENT for learning among his or her students.

It is the TEACHER, who encourages students to “tinker” with materials, ask questions, and seek answers by experimenting and gathering information for themselves.

A TEACHER, who may pose a question that sets the students off on a journey that they never would have imagined or experienced before.

A TEACHER, who is naturally curious themselves and is not afraid to venture forth into the realm of discovery WITH their students.

A teacher, who gives his or her students a positive environment, a place in the room to experiment, grow plants, build circuits, nurture animals, and even make a little mess conducting THEIR experiments to prove THEIR hypothesis.

It is the teacher who can weave all the different curricular areas together and take advantage of that “teachable moment” so the students see how all the bits and pieces of learning fit together and make sense to them.  A teacher like this can make MAGIC HAPPEN!

When one walks into a classroom where the teacher loves and values science one might see:

students working in groups on a variety of projects or activities, entering information in their subject notebooks, and talking quietly about their projects in a spirit of excitement and enthusiasm.

Around the edges of the room, one might see one or more, on-going, science projects with students engaged in recording their observations or measurements in their notebooks.  Whether they are measuring plants, sketching different stages of the grain beetle, or trying to make a bulb light , it is evident that the students are engaged in their activities and that learning is in progress.

—Taking center stage in the classroom would be a large bulletin board that has a large pictorial drawing that was originally drawn by the teacher, as he or she introduced the new unit of study.  The picture would be labeled with the key academic language, and realia, pictures, and items of student work would be strategically stapled around the edges of the pictorial, thus providing evidence that this unit is on-going and evolving, as the students study, experience, and learn more.

—Off to the side would be an area that has many different manipulatives for both science and mathematics, readily available for quick student use.  Balance scales, gram mass sets, meter sticks, rulers, calibrated cylinders, out on the shelves, in plain sight, ready for that spontaneous moment to quantify their observations.

—The science kit that accompanies their unit of study is visible, opened, and ready for use at any time.  Trays of materials are piled off to the side, in anticipation of the next lesson.

On the blackboard would be the daily schedule with time set aside for SCIENCE along with all the other areas of the curriculum.

And over the door is a sign for all the students to see that reads:

“I can wait to see what WE will DISCOVER and LEARN today! —Lucky Me!  Your TEACHER!”


These are words of wisdom from a true professional!  Thank you, Maureen, for sharing these insights and ideas.

Earlier I mentioned one of the perks of being the CSTA president.  These perks are numerous.  This position as an almost six-year member of the CSTA board of governors, has opened doors and given me opportunities I never could have imagined.  You, too, can share these benefits.  CSTA has numerous positions opening for its board of directors including…

  • President-Elect
  • Secretary
  • 2-Year College Director
  • Middle/Jr.High School Director
  • Primary (K-2) Director
  • Informal Science Education Director
  • Region 1 Director*
  • Region 3 Director*

The Personal Characteristics for these positions are… Possess strong leadership skills; possess a high energy level; demonstrate a willingness to make the necessary time commitment to hold a critical leadership position in the association; possess integrity, poise, adaptability, flexibility, a sense of humor, and an appreciation and respect for diversity; possess the ability to create a team effort, build consensus, motivate and involve others, and delegate authority.

In my travels around the state I have met so many qualified people for these positions who possess all of the above characteristics.  Now is the time!  Please apply for a board position!  The minimal time commitments for these positions are nothing compared to the numerous educational opportunities, friendships, and, above all, the ability to share and further develop your personal leadership characteristics.  We need your dedication!  We need your science education knowledge!  We need your leadership!  We need you!

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.

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CSTA Annual Conference Early Bird Rates End July 14

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Jessica Sawko

Teachers engaged in workshop activity

Teachers engaging in hands-on learning during a workshop at the 2016 CSTA conference.

Don’t miss your chance to register at the early bird rate for the 2017 CSTA Conference – the early-bird rate closes July 14. Need ideas on how to secure funding for your participation? Visit our website for suggestions, a budget planning tool, and downloadable justification letter to share with your admin. Want to take advantage of the early rate – but know your district will pay eventually? Register online today and CSTA will reimburse you when we receive payment from your district/employer. (For more information on how that works contact Zi Stair in the office for details – 916-979-7004 or

New Information Now Available On-line:

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.

Goodbye Outgoing and Welcome Incoming CSTA Board Members

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

Jill Grace

Jill Grace, CSTA President, 2017-2019

On July 1, 2017 five CSTA members concluded their service and four new board members joined the ranks of the CSTA Board of Directors. CSTA is so grateful for all the volunteer board of directors who contribute hours upon hours of time and energy to advance the work of the association. At the June 3 board meeting, CSTA was able to say goodbye to the outgoing board members and welcome the incoming members.

This new year also brings with it a new president for CSTA. As of July 1, 2017 Jill Grace is the president of the California Science Teachers Association. Jill is a graduate of California State University, Long Beach, a former middle school science teacher, and is currently a Regional Director with the K-12 Alliance @ WestEd where she works with California NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative districts and charter networks in the San Diego area.

Outgoing Board Members

  • Laura Henriques (President-Elect: 2011 – 2013, President: 2013 – 2015, Past President: 2015 – 2017)
  • Valerie Joyner (Region 1 Director: 2009 – 2013, Primary Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Mary Whaley (Informal Science Education Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Sue Campbell (Middle School/Jr. High Director: 2015 – 2017)
  • Marcus Tessier (2-Year College Director: 2015 – 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.

Finding My Student’s Motivation of Learning Through Engineering Tasks

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Huda Ali Gubary and Susheela Nath

It’s 8:02 and the bell rings. My students’ walk in and pick up an entry ticket based on yesterday’s lesson and homework. My countdown starts for students to begin…3, 2, 1. Ten students are on task and diligently completing the work, twenty are off task with behaviors ranging from talking up a storm with their neighbors to silently staring off into space. This was the start of my classes, more often than not. My students rarely showed the enthusiasm for a class that I had eagerly prepared for. I spent so much time searching for ways to get my students excited about the concepts they were learning. I wanted them to feel a connection to the lessons and come into my class motivated about what they were going to learn next. I would ask myself how I could make my class memorable where the kids were in the driver’s seat of learning. Incorporating engineering made this possible. 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 California NGSS k-8 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.

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Unveils Updated Recommended Literature List

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson unveiled an addition of 285 award-winning titles to the Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list.

“The books our students read help broaden their perspectives, enhance their knowledge, and fire their imaginations,” Torlakson said. “The addition of these award-winning titles represents the state’s continued commitment to the interests and engagement of California’s young readers.”

The Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list is a collection of more than 8,000 titles of recommended reading for children and adolescents. Reflecting contemporary and classic titles, including California authors, this online list provides an exciting range of literature that students should be reading at school and for pleasure. Works include fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama to provide for a variety of tastes, interests, and abilities. Learn More…

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy:

Teaching Science in the Time of Alternative Facts – Why NGSS Can Help (somewhat)

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn

The father of one of my students gave me a book: In the Beginning: Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood by Walt Brown, Ph. D. He had heard that I was teaching Plate Tectonics and wanted me to consider another perspective. The book offered the idea that the evidence for plate tectonics could be better understood if we considered the idea that beneath the continent of Pangaea was a huge underground layer of water that suddenly burst forth from a rift between the now continents of Africa and South America. The waters shot up and the continents hydroplaned apart on the water layer to their current positions. The force of the movement pushed up great mountain ranges which are still settling to this day, resulting in earthquakes along the margins of continents. This had happened about 6,000 years ago and created a great worldwide flood. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for CSTA.