September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

Eliminating Holiday Distractions: How to Keep Your Students Focused and On-Track

Posted: Thursday, November 1st, 2012

by Amanda Smith

The holidays are a time to work smarter, not harder. We all find ourselves busier than usual during the fall holiday season, both inside our classrooms and in our personal lives. However, we don’t want our students to lose their focus during these critical two months despite the numerous days off, fall/winter fundraisers, special events, and classroom parties. With this in mind, here are some of my personal tips on how you and your students can make the most of this year’s holiday season:

  • Keep to your pacing guide: It can be hard to stay on track in light of all the season’s distractions, but students thrive on stability – and frankly, so do we! Give your students activities and routines they can count on, such as consistent discipline, weekly homework, and classroom rules.
  • Call your parents: This is a great time to update parents about how their child is doing, not only in terms of their academic progress, but also about how well they follow your classroom rules and expectations. Although it takes a substantial amount of time to call every single parent in my spare time, these are such meaningful conversations to have and are an asset in the long run.
  • Add holiday cheer to your lessons and activities: If your school allows you to include holiday-themed lessons and other activities, use that to your advantage within your curriculum. For example, ask students to research how snowflakes crystalize for your science lesson.
  • Beat the holiday stress through efficiency: Take advantage of the fact that by this point in the school year, your students can work independently and/or in small groups. Try grading papers and working on lesson plans while students work on their own, and encourage them to find creative ways to keep busy (such as reading silently between activities).  Consider having students do an oral presentation so that you can evaluate their work during the presentation rather than taking written items home. Try structured peer review to let students help each other learn – you can always pair them up by your choice of method. For example, think about the purpose of the task, and decide whether the student would benefit working with a friend versus with a student with a higher grade.
  • Notice and reinforce success: Providing your students with genuine information about their abilities and competences can prevent many behavior problems in your classroom.  Be sure to commend behavior you have seen rather than behavior you wish to see, such as a direct reminder to the group: “Remember class, we all agreed to walk to recess quietly and in one line.” It’s also important to use positive words that do not single out a particular student, such as, “Many students did a great job cleaning up today after our activity, so now we have more time to read our story.”
  • Revisit personal goals for your students: At the beginning of your school year, you probably set some goals for both yourself and your students. Now is a great opportunity to reflect on your progress! Consider how your students are doing in terms of academics, social interaction, behavior, etc. Ask yourself if your goals need to be revised, or if it’s time to make brand new goals for the future.  It is never too late to make goals for yourself, either. Use your holiday breaks to revisit lessons that you have taught during the fall months, make notes in your planner about what worked, and what didn’t (it will be too hard to think about these things in June!). Last but certainly not least, make sure to make time for yourself and your family during this busy holiday time.

Written by Amanda Smith

Amanda Smith is a science teacher at Wilder’s Preparatory Academy Charter School and 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


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.