May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

Exploring the Ecosystem That Is Your Classroom

Posted: Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015

by Laura Henriques

As you read through this month’s CCS you’ll find articles about biology, professional learning, NGSS implementation tales, and finding a job. I find the juxtaposition of the articles works. When we look for a job we need to have a good fit – we need to fill a niche in the school’s ecosystem and our needs must be met. When we look at our professional learning needs we are doing a self-assessment, finding out our own needs and meeting them

Earlier this year John Speigel, Anthony Quan and Yami Shimojyo wrote an article for CCS which discussed a pathway from NGSS awareness to implementation. If we use their awareness-transition-implementation matrix to mark our efforts we can start making changes to our instruction and have a mechanism to note progress. So let’s think of our classroom as its own teaching/learning ecosystem and start modifying the system to see what positive changes we can make to student engagement and student learning.

We know adding stressors to an ecosystem results in changes to the system. The same holds true as we make adjustments to our teaching, we change our classroom ecosystem. When we make a change to the system, we see impact and can measure the change. There are so many variable at play in our classroom ecosystem. NGSS is about asking questions, so here are a few questions we could ask.

  • What if we asked questions differently – this could be the type of question (e.g., low level vs. higher level, open ended vs. close ended)?
  • What happens when we incorporate more writing into science lessons?
  • What happens when we make our thinking and problem solving explicit, modeling for students our metacognitive practices?
  • What happens when we have students engaged in doing more science as opposed to taking notes and reading about science?
  • What happens to student motivation and persistence when I include engineering challenges in my instruction?
  • What do we see when we introduce text after science activities as opposed to before the lab activity?
  • How does student understanding change when science and engineering practices are included as a regular part of my classroom instruction?
  • What happens when I make nature of science instruction explicit and weave it throughout class discussions and investigations?
  • What impact does it have on students understanding of science concepts when I introduce cross-cutting concepts?

This list looks a little bit like potential research questions for a master’s thesis, doesn’t it? While we could do some thesis level research into these questions, I am encouraging a less intense, but no less meaningful, approach. Take one thing from the list – or come up with your own question – and see what happens in your ecosystem as you change what your practice. We know that students respond to changes in the system so it is likely that you’ll see some difference in the ecosystem. For example, research shows us that when we provide wait time after asking a question more students participate, students think more (and we all can agree that thinking is good), and students respond to each other’s comments and responses. As students talk and are engaged in discussion they are making more meaning than when they are simply listening to us and taking notes.

I encourage us to start with one innovation as opposed to trying to do too many things at once. Pick one, learn about it and try it. We know that we won’t be expert at the innovation the first time we try. Wait time, for example, is tough. We are so used to being pressed for time and it seems more efficient for us to ask and answer our own questions or to call on the kid who raises his/her hand the fastest. As we practice we get better and so do our students. Once we feel like we have some level of comfort and expertise with one innovation add another. Along the way, keep track of the impact. This is the fun part. You will notice students behaving differently, you may see them become more engaged or more motivated to learn, and you may see a change in grades. Remember that just as we need practice trying out a new teaching practice, as we change the rules for kids they will need some time as well.

Trying to use the language of NGSS, here’s my challenge to all of us as we move from stage 1 awareness to stage 4 full alignment. Just as we know students need ample practice using the science and engineering practices, so too do we. As a result I am giving us two performance expectations related to the same challenge as we take our next steps towards implementing NGSS.

  • Plan and carry out an investigation to see the effects of NGSS aligned instructional shifts on student engagement.
  • Analyze and interpret data showing how a teaching innovation impacts the classroom learning environment.

Find a colleague to be your lab partner and try out different things together. Share with your colleagues and share with us. We’d love to have you write an article for CCS where you tell us how things worked.

Written by Laura Henriques

Laura Henriques

Laura Henriques is a professor of science education at CSU Long Beach and a past-president of CSTA.

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CSTA Annual Conference Early Bird Rates End July 14

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Jessica Sawko

Teachers engaged in workshop activity

Teachers engaging in hands-on learning during a workshop at the 2016 CSTA conference.

Don’t miss your chance to register at the early bird rate for the 2017 CSTA Conference – the early-bird rate closes July 14. Need ideas on how to secure funding for your participation? Visit our website for suggestions, a budget planning tool, and downloadable justification letter to share with your admin. Want to take advantage of the early rate – but know your district will pay eventually? Register online today and CSTA will reimburse you when we receive payment from your district/employer. (For more information on how that works contact Zi Stair in the office for details – 916-979-7004 or zi@cascience.org.)

New Information Now Available On-line:

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.

Goodbye Outgoing and Welcome Incoming CSTA Board Members

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

Jill Grace

Jill Grace, CSTA President, 2017-2019

On July 1, 2017 five CSTA members concluded their service and four new board members joined the ranks of the CSTA Board of Directors. CSTA is so grateful for all the volunteer board of directors who contribute hours upon hours of time and energy to advance the work of the association. At the June 3 board meeting, CSTA was able to say goodbye to the outgoing board members and welcome the incoming members.

This new year also brings with it a new president for CSTA. As of July 1, 2017 Jill Grace is the president of the California Science Teachers Association. Jill is a graduate of California State University, Long Beach, a former middle school science teacher, and is currently a Regional Director with the K-12 Alliance @ WestEd where she works with California NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative districts and charter networks in the San Diego area.

Outgoing Board Members

  • Laura Henriques (President-Elect: 2011 – 2013, President: 2013 – 2015, Past President: 2015 – 2017)
  • Valerie Joyner (Region 1 Director: 2009 – 2013, Primary Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Mary Whaley (Informal Science Education Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Sue Campbell (Middle School/Jr. High Director: 2015 – 2017)
  • Marcus Tessier (2-Year College Director: 2015 – 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.

Finding My Student’s Motivation of Learning Through Engineering Tasks

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Huda Ali Gubary and Susheela Nath

It’s 8:02 and the bell rings. My students’ walk in and pick up an entry ticket based on yesterday’s lesson and homework. My countdown starts for students to begin…3, 2, 1. Ten students are on task and diligently completing the work, twenty are off task with behaviors ranging from talking up a storm with their neighbors to silently staring off into space. This was the start of my classes, more often than not. My students rarely showed the enthusiasm for a class that I had eagerly prepared for. I spent so much time searching for ways to get my students excited about the concepts they were learning. I wanted them to feel a connection to the lessons and come into my class motivated about what they were going to learn next. I would ask myself how I could make my class memorable where the kids were in the driver’s seat of learning. Incorporating engineering made this possible. 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.

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Unveils Updated Recommended Literature List

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson unveiled an addition of 285 award-winning titles to the Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list.

“The books our students read help broaden their perspectives, enhance their knowledge, and fire their imaginations,” Torlakson said. “The addition of these award-winning titles represents the state’s continued commitment to the interests and engagement of California’s young readers.”

The Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list is a collection of more than 8,000 titles of recommended reading for children and adolescents. Reflecting contemporary and classic titles, including California authors, this online list provides an exciting range of literature that students should be reading at school and for pleasure. Works include fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama to provide for a variety of tastes, interests, and abilities. 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.

Teaching Science in the Time of Alternative Facts – Why NGSS Can Help (somewhat)

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn

The father of one of my students gave me a book: In the Beginning: Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood by Walt Brown, Ph. D. He had heard that I was teaching Plate Tectonics and wanted me to consider another perspective. The book offered the idea that the evidence for plate tectonics could be better understood if we considered the idea that beneath the continent of Pangaea was a huge underground layer of water that suddenly burst forth from a rift between the now continents of Africa and South America. The waters shot up and the continents hydroplaned apart on the water layer to their current positions. The force of the movement pushed up great mountain ranges which are still settling to this day, resulting in earthquakes along the margins of continents. This had happened about 6,000 years ago and created a great worldwide flood. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for CSTA.