September 2016 – Vol. 29 No. 1

Engineering in Afterschool: Attitude Is Everything!

Posted: Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

by Melissa Higgins

A boisterous group of fifth grade girls stand at the front of the room at Girls, Inc., an afterschool program in Lynn, MA. Younger girls sit crowded on the floor before them. They’re waiting for the start of the Bubble Bonanza—a carnival show being put on by the fifth grade engineers who have just finished designing their very own bubble wands.

As the Rihanna song the girls chose to set the mood begins to play, the engineers blow bubbles with their wands. The crowd “oohs” and claps as the first bubble is released.

The excitement that these young engineers show is not just a fortunate byproduct of this activity—it is one of the main intended outcomes. Creating activities that get children excited about engineering is a primary goal of the developers of the Engineering Adventures (EA) curriculum, who created the Bubble Bonanza: Engineering Bubble Wands unit described above. EA is a project of Engineering is Elementary, an education program developed at the Museum of Science, Boston’s National Center for Technological Literacy. The EA project develops free-to-download engineering units designed for 3rd-5th graders in informal learning environments.

Engineering experiences that are designed to build attitudinal gains make a great deal of sense in informal learning environments. Because children participating in out-of-school time (OST) programs may be coming from different schools and different grade levels, the EA team learned early in the development process that it was not possible to rely on any shared science or engineering background. Instead, the engineering skills and experiences must be built “on-site” as a group.

Programs that focus on building positive engineering attitudes and skills in young learners show real promise for making a positive impact on content knowledge and career choices. Research has shown that interest in STEM fields is a critical indicator of the likelihood a student will pursue math and science courses and careers later in life.[i]

The EA team has crafted four belief statements about engineering learning in out-of-school time that help us create activities to build children’s engineering confidence. We encourage you to use them as well, and to check for these key components when choosing or creating engineering activities for your afterschool and camp programs.

Kids will best learn engineering when they:

  • engage in activities that are fun, exciting, and connect to the world in which they live
  • choose their own path through open-ended challenges that have multiple solutions
  • have the opportunity to succeed in engineering challenges.
  • communicate and collaborate in innovative, active, problem solving.

Let’s look at each of these individually:

Engage kids in activities that are fun, exciting, and connect to the world in which they live

Engineers solve diverse problems with wide-ranging impacts, from cleaning polluted water to improving the design of cell phones. Being explicit about how this work impacts people helps children connect engineering to their own lives. In EA units, we do this through storytelling—we use a fictional brother and sister duo who travel the world to help introduce global engineering problems. These characters send messages to the children in your program to highlight how the problem presented connects to real life.

Let kids choose their path through open-ended challenges that have multiple solutions

There are many different ways to solve a given engineering problem—the most effective solutions depend on the criteria and constraints of the challenge. In the Bubble Bonanza unit, children define their own goal for the bubble wand they will create. They might decide to create a wand that makes giant bubbles, many small bubbles, etc. Because groups create different solutions, they can each focus on individual successes, while still learning from each other.

Give kids the opportunity to succeed in engineering challenges

The engineering challenges presented in OST programs should pose a


challenge and push children to think outside of the box. With appropriate scaffolding activities children should be able to create a successful design. Scaffolding activities, such as giving children a chance to experiment with materials, along with a bit of persistence and a focus on the “improve” step of the engineering design process, should enable groups to end up with a solution that meets the challenge.

Encourage kids to communicate and collaborate in innovative, active, problem solving

It is important to give children a chance to share the designs they created and their engineering knowledge. Each EA unit culminates in an engineering showcase. We encourage educators to invite families and other OST program members to attend the showcase, ask questions, and learn more about the engineering challenge children explored.

Back at Girls, Inc., the Bubble Bonanza had ended, but the girls are still excited and learning about engineering. Educator Linda Hall holds up a sign that says “I am an engineer because . . . ” “We made bubble makers,” volunteers Tanisha. “We asked questions,” adds Jaslene. “Imagined,” says Amanda. The girls are naming the steps of the engineering design process they used as they engineered their bubble wands. Other girls volunteer, “plan” and “improve.” “What was the most important part for us?” asks Linda. “Create!” the girls cheer.

Our evaluation of Engineering Adventures activities shows that kids who engage in our activities do develop more positive attitudes about engineering and related careers. The potential to empower children as problem solvers is what we see as the true strength and potential of using engineering in OST programs. We encourage you to try engineering activities, such as those in the EA unit “Bubble Bonanza: Engineering Bubble Wands,” in your program. To download this unit—or learn about other Engineering Adventures units—visit our website!

Melissa Higgins is Director of Curriculum Development for “Engineering is Elementary” at the Museum of Science in Boston, MA and was invited to write by CSTA member Valerie Joyner.

[i] (STEM Learning in Afterschool: An Analysis of Impact and Outcomes, Afterschool Alliance, Sept. 2011,

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California Science Assessment Update

Posted: Wednesday, October 12th, 2016

by Jessica Sawko

In June 2016 California submitted a waiver application to discontinue using the old CST (based on 1998 standards) and conduct two years of pilot and field tests (in spring 2017 and 2018, respectively) of the new science assessment designed to support our state’s current science standards (California Next Generation Science Standards (CA-NGSS) adopted in 2013). The waiver was requested because no student scores will be provided as a part of the pilot and field tests. The CDE received a response from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) on September 30, 2016, which provides the CDE the opportunity to resubmit a revised waiver request within 60 days. The CDE will be revising the waiver request and resubmitting as ED suggested.

At its October 2016 North/South Assessment meetings CDE confirmed that there will be no administration of the old CST in the spring of 2017. (An archive of the meeting is available at 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.

Some ways to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in your classroom

Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

by Carol Peterson

1) To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, Google has put together a collection of virtual tours combining 360-degree video, panoramic photos and expert narration. It’s called “The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks” and is accessible right from the browser. You can choose from one of five different locales, including the Kenai Fjords in Alaska and Bryce Canyon in Utah, and get a guided “tour” from a local park ranger. Each one has a few virtual vistas to explore, with documentary-style voiceovers and extra media hidden behind clickable thumbnails. Ideas are included for use in classrooms. 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.

2016 Award Recipients – Join CSTA in Honoring Their Accomplishments

Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

CSTA is pleased to announce the winners of the 2016 CSTA Awards for Distinguished Contributions, Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, 2014 and 2015 PAEMST-Science recipients from California, and the 2016 California PAEMST Finalists. The following individuals and organizations will be honored during the 2016 California Science Education Conference  on October 21- 23 in Palm Springs. This year’s group of awardees are truly outstanding. Please join us in congratulating them!

Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award

John Keller

John Keller

The Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award honors an individual who has made a significant contribution to science education in the state and who, through years of leadership and service, has truly made a positive impact on the quality of science teaching. This year’s recipient is John Keller, Ph.D. Dr. Keller is Associate Professor, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Co-Director, Center for Engineering, Science, and Mathematics Education, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. In her letter of recommendation, SDSU science education faculty and former CSTA board member Donna Ross wrote: “He brings people together who share the desire to make a difference in the development and implementation of programs for science teaching. Examples of these projects include the Math and Science Teaching Initiative (MSTI), Noyce Scholars Program, Western Regional Noyce Initiative, and the Science Teacher and Researcher (STAR) program.” Through his work, he has had a dramatic impact on science teacher education, both preservice and in-service, in California, the region, and the country. He developed and implemented the STEM Teacher and Researcher Program which aims to produce excellent K-12 STEM teachers by providing aspiring teachers with opportunities to do authentic research while helping them translate their research experience into classroom practice. SFSU faculty member Larry Horvath said it best in his letter:“John Keller exemplifies the best aspects of a scientist, science educator, and mentor. His contributions to science education in the state of California are varied, significant, and I am sure will continue well into the future.” 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.

NGSS: Making Your Life Easier

Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

by Peter A’hearn

Wait… What?

NGSS is a big shift. Teachers need to learn new content, figure out how this whole engineering thing relates to science, and develop new unit and lesson plans. How could NGSS possibly make life easier?

The idea that NGSS could make our lives easier came to me during the California State NGSS Rollout #1 Classroom Example lesson on chromatography. I have since done this lesson with high school chemistry students and it made me think back to having my own students do chromatography. I spent lots of time preparing to make sure the experiment went well and achieved the “correct” result. I pre-prepared the solutions and organized and prepped the materials. I re-wrote and re-wrote again the procedure so there was no way a kid could get it wrong. I spent 20 minutes before the lab modeling all of the steps in class, so there was no way to do it wrong. Except that it turns out there were many. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the K-12 science specialist in the Palm Springs Unified School District and is Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Celestial Highlights, September 2016

Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graph of evening planet setting times by Dr. Jeffrey L. Hunt 

Our evening twilight chart for September, depicting the sky about 40 minutes after sunset from SoCal, shows brilliant Venus remaining low, creeping from W to WSW and gaining a little altitude as the month progresses. Its close encounter within 2.5° N of Spica on Sept. 18 is best seen with binoculars to catch the star low in bright twilight. The brightest stars in the evening sky are golden Arcturus descending in the west, and blue-white Vega passing just north of overhead. Look for Altair and Deneb completing the Summer Triangle with Vega. The triangle of Mars-Saturn-Antares expands as Mars seems to hold nearly stationary in SSW as the month progresses, while Saturn and Antares slink off to the SW. 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.