September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

Everybody In! Using Cultural Awareness to Support Diverse Classrooms

Posted: Wednesday, August 10th, 2016

by Emily Schoerning

California science teachers work with some of the most diverse student populations in the country. Finding ways to help students from all sorts of backgrounds achieve in the science classroom can be a real challenge. Learning science often means learning a lot of vocabulary, but it also means learning how to present scientific arguments and utilize the scientific method. By recognizing the intense language and cultural demands of classroom science, we can help to build inclusive environments where diverse students can succeed.

If you work with many students who are English Language Learners, you may have considered that learning the language of science is in some ways like learning another new language. When we also consider cultural differences, we can start to see what a unique environment the science classroom can be for our students. Some cultures do not encourage children to engage in questioning or produce arguments. Other cultures have a lot of anxiety around children making mistakes or experiencing failure.

Not only is the science classroom a place with lots of new words, it is a place where you can argue and it is a place where you are expected to make mistakes. Every scientist knows that not every experiment works out! The resilience involved in going back to the drawing board is as important a scientific skill as learning the vocabulary of scientific communication.

Research suggests that a concept-first approach to science learning, which de-emphasizes vocabulary lists, is useful for many students from all sorts of language backgrounds. By working to explain ideas before introducing new vocabulary words, you may find that your students actually retain new vocabulary more successfully. A concept-first approach to language can help level the playing field for your students regardless of language background, but there is more you can do to increase access for students from varied cultural backgrounds.

When you go back to the classroom this fall, think about the cultural backgrounds of your students and how they compare to the unique culture of the science classroom. This can help you make valuable changes to your teaching practice. What types of backgrounds do your students usually come from? If you can think of ways in which their cultural practices may be different from the science classroom, you can provide targeted support.

For example, many science teachers do not provide students with explicit instruction or practice time in questioning skills. This is because they assume this is a skillset their students bring to the classroom from their home environments. Similarly, many science teachers assume that students are familiar with the question-claim-evidence structure of scientific argument, or that students understand that mistakes and failure are essential elements of the scientific process. By breaking down these processes and concepts for your students, and giving them opportunities to practice with you and with their peers, you can build student confidence and skill regarding these scientific cultural practices. By explicitly discussing these potentially major cultural differences, we can reduce the anxiety our students might feel at finding themselves in a new environment with unfamiliar expectations.

Welcoming students to the unique language and culture of scientific practice is an important part of teaching science in today’s America. By helping them navigate these differences, you can show them that science is for all of us!

Emily Schoerning is the Director of Community Organizing and Research at the National Center for Science Education

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.

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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

Cal

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.