September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

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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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

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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

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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

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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.