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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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:

Please contact Rosanne Luu at 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.