September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

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 Is Now Accepting Nominations for Board Members

Posted: Friday, November 17th, 2017

Current, incoming, and outgoing CSTA Board of Directors at June 3, 2017 meeting.

Updated 7:25 pm, Nov. 17, 2017

It’s that time of year when CSTA is looking for dedicated and qualified persons to fill the upcoming vacancies on its Board of Directors. This opportunity allows you to help shape the policy and determine the path that the Board will take in the new year. There are time and energy commitments, but that is far outweighed by the personal satisfaction of knowing that you are an integral part of an outstanding professional educational organization, dedicated to the support and guidance of California’s science teachers. You will also have the opportunity to help CSTA review and support legislation that benefits good science teaching and teachers.

Right now is an exciting time to be involved at the state level in the California Science Teachers Association. The CSTA Board of Directors is currently involved in implementing the Next Generations Science Standards and its strategic plan. If you are interested in serving on the CSTA Board of Directors, now is the time to submit your name for consideration. 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.

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.