September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

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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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.