May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

Engaging Your Students with the NGSS This Summer

Posted: Thursday, June 4th, 2015

by David Sloan

Many of us will use this summer to engage with the NGSS so we can bring new experiences and examples into our classrooms in the fall.  We are always looking for those examples, but the opportunity to travel to different places and experience new ecosystems is especially great during the summer.  We come back to the new school year invigorated with new ideas to bring into our science instruction, only to find that our students have lost some ground during that same break. 

I would like our students to engage with their environment and to think about science all summer long, just like we do as science teachers.  To do that, we need to plant some seeds in their minds during the last week or two of the school year.  Consider having the students engage in a Next Generation Science Standards scavenger hunt.

The fruit of summer.  Photo of Kyler Sloan by David Sloan.

The fruit of summer. Photo of Kyler Sloan by David Sloan.

The initial step is to have the students identify several things that they plan to do this summer.  Many of them will go places that they don’t go during the school year such as the beach, the local river (which might be more of a creek this year), the mountains, an amusement park, or to visit with family.  Others may stay very close to home, but they will still engage in behaviors that are unique to summer.  This could be as simple as swinging on the swings at a local park, or escaping summer’s heat by experiencing the cooling relief of a shade tree and enjoying the fresh fruit of summer time in California.

Once your students have identified several things that they plan to do this summer, the NGSS scavenger hunt is ready to begin.  Have them explore the NGSS across the grade levels and find the connections between the standards and those activities that they are planning to do this summer.  The Science and Engineering Practices, the Disciplinary Core Ideas, and the Crosscutting Concepts found in the NGSS are all about and connected to the world in which we live.  From the waves at the beach to the rounded rocks in the river to the motions and forces of a roller coaster or swing to the genetic traits they share with their cousins to the weather outside to the fruit they are eating, these are all excellent examples of science.  Since these are their examples of science in their own lives, the examples are even more meaningful and powerful.
After the summertime activities and the NGSS standards have been identified, have your students do a written explanation of how they are connected to each other.  When they report out to the class, everyone will have had the figurative seeds planted about a wide variety of activities that they might engage in, and how they are great examples of science.  As they engage in those activities during the summer, there is a decent chance that the scientific concepts will also come to mind.

Summer at the beach.  Photo of Marin Headlands by David Sloan.

Summer at the beach. Photo of Marin Headlands by David Sloan.

The final step in the process would occur in the fall.  That is when the subsequent teachers would ask the students about the science they engaged with during the summer.  It is a great way for that teacher to get to know their new students, and to get a sense of their prior knowledge as they all start the new school year together.

We work hard during the school year to bring science to life in our classrooms.  If we can get the students to a place where they can continue to see science in their summer activities, they will continue to make those connections and see science come to life all summer long.  Instead of losing ground during the summer, maybe we can hold steady or even see some growth.  Those seeds that we planted in the last weeks of school can germinate and the topics, the understanding, and the new questions can bloom.

Just imagine what it could be like if our students returned from summer invigorated about all of the science they saw and experienced during their time out of the classroom.  We experience that invigoration because we live the science and see it in everything we do.  Our students can learn to do the very same thing by seeing the science in the cherished summer activities of youth.  Wouldn’t it be great if instead of the first week of school’s assignment being about “What you did this summer,” it evolved into being about “What science did you experience this summer?”

David Sloan is a professor of education at Brandman University and the Region 1 Interim Director for CSTA,

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.