January/February 2018 – Vol. 31 No. 2

Engineer Turned Classroom Teacher

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Patrick Chan and Susheela Nath

I spent 18 years employed as an engineer. Teaching science was the furthest thing from my mind the day I walked into the president’s office to discuss cutbacks at the company where I had spent the past eight of those years working as a quality assurance manager. When I left the office, my name was added to the unemployment list. It was that moment, at the age of 42, that I decided to change careers and become a science teacher. I am now in my 14th year of teaching middle school science and high school physics. Reflecting on this recently, I have found several parallels between the two careers.

As a process engineer of the epitaxial silicon process at National Semiconductor, I would walk in the fab (short for fabrication) in my bunny suit to find that my process was down overnight and there were dozens of silicon wafers waiting to be processed. It would take me days to duplicate the problem in a manner that would allow me to identify what needed to be done to fit it. Keep in mind, this was a business, and in business, time is money. I soon realized that I needed to teach my operators (on all three shifts) to watch for potential problems. The more information my operators would give me at the moment the problem occurred, the easier it was for me to diagnose the issue and develop corrective action. No one in my department ever trained their operators on the importance of their part of the transistor and on the process of making that part. The operators had only high school diplomas. No one had trained them and entrusted them with this amount of responsibility before. It was a lot of work, but after training, the operators were now partners in problem-solving and helped minimize downtime for our process. This has caused me to reflect a lot lately – imagine how different this situation would have been if those operators had experiences in school where they were entrusted with the necessary skills to be part of the solution.

Students with good observation skills have an advantage in science and in engineering careers. Knowing this, I allow students time to determine what the important areas to observe are – what is important to pay attention to and what doesn’t need as much attention. Once they have identified key observation areas, they are able to focus on these spots during an experiment or test runs of a design. Students will know right away if the locations of observation are the right ones and, if not, make adjustments. Soon, students will be able to identify these key potential observation locations more accurately. Selecting key areas of observation is a very important part of the Science and Engineering Practice – planning and carrying out investigations. Students are also challenged to decide how they can generate quantitative data in these tests. Although qualitative data based on observation can be extremely useful as evidence, data generated by an experiment or test is preferred in science and engineering (a banner of “In God we trust, all others bring data” was in our QA department wall).



As an engineer, when the product of my department was sent to Scotland to be manufactured there, I became a quality engineer working for the company’s QA department. Quality circle teams were being created as part of our continuous improvement or Kaizen efforts. I worked with several departments to provide quality tools such as SPC (statistical process control) and statistical DOE (design of experiments). It is through this lens that I understand firsthand how important it is to provide engineers (and students) with the necessary skills to solve their own problems. The Engineering Design Process of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) reminds me of the parts needed to systematically solve problems. As an example, students in my class created a bottle rocket that was launched with a digital altimeter. Once the optimal amount of water was determined, they were to improve on the design based on research and retest the rocket. It is vitally important to train students not to focus on the symptoms of the problem but to zero-in on the root cause of the problem in order to efficiently and effectively solve it. A simple method to zero-in on the root cause is to ask “5 Whys”. First, ask the question, “Why didn’t the rocket reach 100 m?” When the students give the answer, then ask “Why?” of the answer, and continue until you reach the actual root cause.


Students are preparing to launch their rocket and collect data as a result of planning and carrying out an investigation.

As I moved into quality assurance management in my engineering career, I had to learn to neutrally facilitate quality circles or quality improvement teams. The problems belonged to the team and did the solutions. I was acting as a consultant that would guide the team through the process. My job was only to provide the right tool at the right time and to move the team forward toward resolution. This is absolutely true also as a science teacher with the NGSS. We also have to trust our teams (in this case, students) to make the correct decisions based on the information they have collected and observations made. It is natural for me to ask guiding questions for their next step or when they hit a “roadblock” because that was my role in QA. This is also true in a classroom where it is important to have guiding questions planned ahead of time to assist students when they get stuck. As the quality engineer, I don’t own the problem or the solution. As the teacher, I don’t own the learning of my students. My role is a facilitator of a process that they will learn to use for any problem. The exit tickets at the end of my classes lately have shown that student retention of science concepts as a result of student ownership of their learning has dramatically improved.

Students using the engineering design process are empowered in their science classes to create products, collect data, and analyze areas of improvement and redesign. We, their science teachers, need to allow them time to adequately plan, analyze, and solve real problems in a safe and supportive environment, then get out of their way.

Patrick Chan works for Aspire’s secondary school, Benjamin Holt Middle School teaching integrated science-8, is a teacher leader for the CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative, and a member of CSTA. His e-mail address is patrick.chan@aspirepublicschools.org

Susheela Nath works for Aspire Public Schools as the multi-regional science director, is a project director for the CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation, and a member of CSTA. Her e-mail address is susheela.nath@aspirepublicschools.org

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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 California NGSS k-8 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.

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Accelerating into NGSS – A Statewide Rollout Series Now Accepting Registrations

Posted: Friday, January 19th, 2018

Are you feeling behind on the implementation of NGSS? Then Accelerating into NGSS – the Statewide Rollout event – is right for you!

If you have not experienced Phases 1-4 of the Statewide Rollout, or are feeling behind with the implementation of NGSS, the Accelerating Into NGSS Statewide Rollout will provide you with the greatest hits from Phases 1-4!

Accelerating Into NGSS Statewide Rollout is a two-day training geared toward grade K-12 academic coaches, administrators, curriculum leads, and teacher leaders. Check-in for the two-day rollout begins at 7:30 a.m., followed by a continental breakfast. Sessions run from 8:00 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. on Day One and from 8:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Day Two.

Cost of training is $250 per attendee. Fee includes all materials, continental breakfast, and lunch on both days. It is recommended that districts send teams of four to six, which include at least one administrator. Payment can be made by check or credit card. If paying by check, registration is NOT complete until payment has been received. All payments must be received prior to the Rollout location date you are attending. Paying by credit card secures your seat at time of registration. No purchase orders accepted. No participant cancellation refunds.

For questions or more information, please contact Amy Kennedy at akennedy@sjcoe.net or (209) 468-9027.



MARCH 28-29, 2018
Host: San Mateo County Office of Education
Location: San Mateo County Office of Education, Redwood City

APRIL 10-11, 2018
Host: Orange County Office of Education
Location: Brandman University, Irvine

MAY 1-2, 2018
Host: Tulare County Office of Education
Location: Tulare County Office of Education, Visalia

MAY 3-4, 2018
Host: San Bernardino Superintendent of Schools
Location: West End Educational Service Center, Rancho Cucamonga

MAY 7-8, 2018
Host: Sacramento County Office of Education
Location: Sacramento County Office of Education Conference Center and David P. Meaney Education Center, Mather

JUNE 14-15, 2018
Host: Imperial County Office of Education
Location: Imperial Valley College, Imperial

Presented by the California Department of Education, California County Superintendents Educational Services Association/County Offices of Education, K-12 Alliance @WestEd, California Science Project, and the California Science Teachers Association.

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.

The Teaching and Learning Collaborative, Reflections from an Administrator

Posted: Friday, January 19th, 2018

by Kelly Patchen

My name is Mrs. Kelly Patchen, and I am proud to be an elementary assistant principal working in the Tracy Unified School District (TUSD) at Louis Bohn and McKinley Elementary Schools. Each of the schools I support are Title I K-5 schools with about 450 students, a diverse student population, a high percentage of English Language Learners, and students living in poverty. We’re also lucky to be part of the CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative with the K-12 Alliance. 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 California NGSS k-8 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.

2018 CSTA Conference Call for Proposals

Posted: Wednesday, January 17th, 2018

CSTA is pleased to announce that we are now accepting proposals for 90-minute workshops and three- and six-hour short courses for the 2018 California Science Education Conference. Workshops and short courses make up the bulk of the content and professional learning opportunities available at the conference. In recognition of their contribution, members who present a workshop or short course receive 50% off of their registration fees. Click for more information regarding proposals, or submit one today by following the links below.

Short Course Proposal

Workshop Proposal 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.

CSTA’s New Administrator Facebook Group Page

Posted: Monday, January 15th, 2018

by Holly Steele

The California Science Teachers Association’s mission is to promote high-quality science education, and one of the best practice’s we use to fulfill that mission is through the use of our Facebook group pages. CSTA hosts several closed and moderated Facebook group pages for specific grade levels, (Elementary, Middle, and High School), pages for district coaches and science education faculty, and the official CSTA Facebook page. These pages serve as an online resource for teachers and coaches to exchange teaching methods, materials, staying update on science events in California and asking questions. CSTA is happy to announce the creation of a 6th group page called, California Administrators Supporting Science. Learn More…

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.

Find Your Reason to Engage

Posted: Monday, January 15th, 2018

by Jill Grace

I was recently reflecting on events in the news and remembered that several years ago, National Public Radio had a story about a man named Stéphane Hessel, a World War II French resistance fighter, Nazi concentration camp survivor, and contributor to the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The story focused on a book he had published, Time for Outrage (2010).

In it, Hessel makes the argument that the worst attitude is indifference:

“Who is in charge; who are the decision makers? It’s not always easy to discern. We’re not dealing with a small elite anymore, whose actions we can clearly identify. We are dealing with a vast, interdependent world that is interconnected in unprecedented ways. But there are unbearable things all around us. You have to look for them; search carefully. Open your eyes and you will see. This is what I tell young people: If you spend a little time searching, you will find your reasons to engage. The worst attitude is indifference. ‘There’s nothing I can do; I get by’ – adopting this mindset will deprive you of one of the fundamental qualities of being human: outrage.  Our capacity for protest is indispensable, as is our freedom to engage.”

His words make me take pause when I think of the status of science in the United States. A general “mistrust” of science is increasingly pervasive, as outlined in a New Yorker article from the summer of 2016. 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.