May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

Elementary Science: What Is It? Part II

Posted: Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

Tim Williamson

This is the second in a series of columns related to the necessity for the teaching of science in the elementary school.

The elementary grades are a perfect place to build on a child’s natural curiosity about the world they experience.  By instructing these students in “hands-on minds-on” science instruction, teachers can stimulate this curiosity which in turn allows the students to think about and understand the world around them.  This innate and wonderful curiosity soon disappears if science is omitted from elementary classroom instruction.

I asked Eric Brundin, the science curriculum leader of Long Beach Unified School District, to also share his feelings regarding good elementary science instruction.  Eric and I worked together and shared an office in LBUSD when I was the Science Math Resource Center’s head teacher.  We shared many long conversations regarding the teaching of science (or lack thereof) in the elementary classroom.  I knew Eric would be able to share some very valuable insights into this “What is Elementary Science?” question.  I’m sharing his insightful response as it was relayed to me.

Elementary Science – by Eric Brundin

It is often said that children are natural scientists.  Perhaps we overplay that idea because we mistake curiosity for scientific inquiry.  Curiosity is the foundation for inquiry, but it is not the goal.  The goal, I think, is one subtle step beyond that.  If we respond to student curiosity with “the answer,” there is a level of, “Oh, I get it” that creates a certain level of satisfaction in students.  But for most students, it is not enough; it will not last.  Most science content is taught as other peoples’ (professional scientists’) answers to questions other people have asked.  As students and teachers, we sit on the sidelines and try to fit it into our own understanding.  What we really want kids to learn is how to get it.  As much as possible, we want our students to try to figure it out, to make guesses, and to be humble enough to accept what the evidence really tells them.

If only the California science standards had started with the Investigation and Experimentation skill standards and stated that the content standards (life, physical, and earth) are merely the context for learning the I&E skills!  But, alas, it’s up to us to explain that from the grassroots.  Perhaps they were just saving the best for last.

One thing I’ve learned is that we, too, must be humble enough to accept what the evidence is really telling us.  The evidence I’ve seen shows that some teachers can catch fire easier than others.  Years ago here in Long Beach, the K-12 Alliance came and made a tremendous difference with a group of elementary teachers.  One of these teachers still talks about how she turned from being science-phobic to completely excited about science.  She is now among our most experienced and valued science specialists.  And others have caught fire as well, but many teachers have not.  They see or experience great inquiry activities and respond, “Could you come show that to my class?”  How do we help these teachers take it on for themselves?

Some people like to jump right in to a swimming pool.  Others of us prefer to wade in slowly, … inch by inch, … checking to make sure the pulse rate is not too dangerously high, … letting that last inch of skin get fully used to the wet and cold before assaulting the next inch.  And if those jumpy, splashy people get too close, we may just opt for something else, something safer to do.  How many elementary teachers are living this way with science?  How many are tacitly saying that science is just too uncomfortable so I’ll do as little possible?  They are just going to do what they need to do.  One thing we’ve implemented is a system to help the “waders” discover what they really need.  We have created a district level, standards-based assessment system that allows us to get the individual item analysis that is instructionally useful, which the state system does not provide.  It is gives private, teacher level data that individual teachers compare to the district average to find strengths and weaknesses.  Once teachers identify the weaknesses, we help them to focus on the standards/concepts that seem most important.  In collaborative groups with teachers or resource people who know the science, you can develop class activities that will help students experience, understand, and retain understanding.  Lesson study is perhaps the ultimate form of this, but less formal settings can work, too.  The science expert can be someone from industry if they can blend their expertise with the teaching expertise of the teachers.  Or, expertise can come from a middle or high school teacher, or some other resource: either in person or on the web.

We operate in a data-driven world today – sometimes we smother ourselves with it, sometimes we just give it lip service.  The key is to making it work is getting limited, useful data and then acting on it.  Also, avoid the temptation to fix everything.  Remember, the waders need to be brought along slowly.  They probably need to be brought along slowly each time they come upon a new pool.  From a leadership perspective, this calls for tenacious patience, all too rare a quality where science education is concerned.”


Thank you Eric for your well articulated and thought provoking insights regarding this educational dilemma.

Contemplating his words of wisdom allows us to become better prepared to impart scientific literacy to all of our younger charges, preparing them for a successful future for themselves, our state and our nation.

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.

One Response

  1. Well said! The state STAR tests assess science content knowledge, not the ability to deal with the ambiguity and uncertainty of problem statements, hypotheses, and data, which requires analysis, application, synthesis and evaluation. Science isn’t about “getting the answer”, but asking appropriate, meaningful questions that can guide inquiry. We never “arrive” in science; we’re always on a journey to the the next question.

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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.