May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

eXtreme GreenLab

Posted: Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

by Bethany Dixon

“Put your hand into the tank, and they’ll eat off the dead skin.” NASA senior research scientist Dr. Bilal Bomani demonstrates and a swarm of mollies nibble his fingers.  Teachers look warily at the rows of massive saltwater tanks. Following Dr. Bomani’s example, we plunge our hands in. It tickles. Since its mission is to develop in-house capabilities to study biofuels as a renewable, alternative energy source for aviation fuel, the eXtreme GreenLab at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland is an unlikely place for hand treatments.  In May, the NASA Explorer Schools program selected 50 teachers out of the 2,800 registered NASA Explorer teachers for special recognition and the “Research Experience of a Lifetime:” an all-expenses-paid trip to work with NASA investigators in the field at one of four NASA sites (and get a free exfoliating hand treatment).  I was one of the twelve teachers who worked in the GreenLabthis summer, and here is how you can begin to implement “eXtreme Green” practices in your classroom this fall.

eXtreme Green Advisory Board Teachers (Bethany is kneeling in the front)

With apologies to Kermit, it really isn’t easy being green. Environmental marketing has made it difficult for consumers to know whether “green” companies are actually being good stewards or simply moving the problem from one sector to another. For example, using ethanol to reduce dependence on fossil fuels creates competition between farmland used for fuel and farmland used for growing food crops. This makes us choose between powering our technology or our bodies, and creates an unsustainable solution. However, understanding and protecting our home planet is a core part of the NASA mission, and Dr. Bomani’s team is dedicated to finding new ideas through research and development. Sustainable environmental practices are a key component of the work. For example, their research doesn’t use freshwater because it competes with human consumption, doesn’t compete against traditional food crops (corn, soybeans, sugarcane, etc.), and doesn’t use arable land because it competes with food crops.

In short, they have to use rocky, salty soil, non-potable, brackish water, and attempt to grow enough plants to process into fuel-quality oil. Finding plants that can survive under these harsh conditions to the point of producing enough biomass for fuel is hard enough, but NASA is attempting to use native plants in order to reduce the ecological impact. Dr. Bomani is working with halophytes (salt-loving plants) and algae with the goal of building systems that can be scaled-up for production, or scaled-down for trials or even student research in the classroom. With increased production, biofuels can be used in aviation and even space exploration.  But in the classroom, my students will be building a mini-version of Dr. Bomani’s lab to learn introductory biology and for their own inquiries based around the same question used in the GreenLab: which local plants produce the most biomass and can be grown in the most sustainable manner?

Dr. Bomani

I plan to use the lab with my high school biology students, beginning with formative assessments about the characteristics of life, (modifying the cucumber seed probe from Page Keeley’s book, for example), and watching Dr. Bomani’s TED Talk, “Plant fuels that could power a jet.” The lab setup is simple and inexpensive: one 35-gallon aquarium, a 75-gallon pump, marine sand, plants, plastic screening, PVC pipe, and freshwater mollies. Students will build a platform from PVC with the plastic screening holding the sand like a shelf in the tank. Teacher-drilled holes allow water to flow through the entire system.  Homeostasis and feedback loops are easily integrated into the next part of the investigation: slowly acclimating freshwater mollies to a marine system. Marine conditions provide a model for using salty coastal scrublands as biofuel farms. Students will germinate halophyte seeds donated from Dr. Bomani’s lab in the salty-sand top of the tank, while mollies underneath will provide nutrients to the plants. Students will be challenged to increase the amount of biomass produced in the tank and to come up with their own hypothesis about a local plant that could be a sustainable fuel crop.

By challenging students to follow the eXtreme Green example we point them toward more sustainable thinking. In your next inquiry lab, think about adding an eXtreme Green variable like non-potable water or non-arable soil. As you integrate the new engineering standards, consider the parameters of the GreenLab and think about the aspects of environmental engineering that could be applied. Which of your favorite activities can you make eXtreme Green so that they’re focused on long-term sustainability? This fall, I hope that through my work in the GreenLab I can inspire my students to put their “hands in” to research—not in the fish tank, but in a way that will positively impact their future, and maybe the future for everyone.


NASA Explorer Schools:

Dr. Bomani TED Talk:

Page Keeley Science Formative Assessment: 75 Practical Strategies for Linking Assessment, Instruction, and Learning:

NASA GreenLab:

Bethany Dixon is a science teacher at Western Sierra Collegiate Academy and is a member of CSTA.

Written by Bethany Dixon

Bethany Dixon is a science teacher at Western Sierra Collegiate Academy, is a CSTA Publications Committee Member, and is a member of CSTA.

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Participate in Chemistry Education Research Study, Earn $500-800 Dollars!

Posted: Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

WestEd, a non-profit educational research agency, has been funded by the US Department of Education to test a new molecular modeling kit, Happy Atoms. Happy Atoms is an interactive chemistry learning experience that consists of a set of physical atoms that connect magnetically to form molecules, and an app that uses image recognition to identify the molecules that you create with the set. WestEd is conducting a study around the effectiveness of using Happy Atoms in the classroom, and we are looking for high school chemistry teachers in California to participate.

As part of the study, teachers will be randomly assigned to either the treatment group (who uses Happy Atoms) or the control group (who uses Happy Atoms at a later date). Teachers in the treatment group will be asked to use the Happy Atoms set in their classrooms for 5 lessons over the course of the fall 2017 semester. Students will complete pre- and post-assessments and surveys around their chemistry content knowledge and beliefs about learning chemistry. WestEd will provide access to all teacher materials, teacher training, and student materials needed to participate.

Participating teachers will receive a stipend of $500-800. You can read more information about the study here:

Please contact Rosanne Luu at or 650.381.6432 if you are interested in participating in this opportunity, or if you have any questions!

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.

2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption Reviewer Application

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

The California Department of Education and State Board of Education are now accepting applications for reviewers for the 2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption. The application deadline is 3:00 pm, July 21, 2017. The application is comprehensive, so don’t wait until the last minute to apply.

On Tuesday, May 9, 2017, State Superintendent Tom Torlakson forwarded this recruitment letter to county and district superintendents and charter school administrators.

Review panel members will evaluate instructional materials for use in kindergarten through grade eight, inclusive, that are aligned with the California Next Generation Science Content Standards for California Public Schools (CA NGSS). 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.

Lessons Learned from the NGSS Early Implementer Districts

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

On March 31, 2017, Achieve released two documents examining some lessons learned from the California K-8 Early Implementation Initiative. The initiative began in August 2014 and was developed by the K-12 Alliance at WestEd, with close collaborative input on its design and objectives from the State Board of Education, the California Department of Education, and Achieve.

Eight (8) traditional school districts and two (2) charter management organizations were selected to participate in the initiative, becoming the first districts in California to implement the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Those districts included Galt Joint Union Elementary, Kings Canyon Joint Unified, Lakeside Union, Oakland Unified, Palm Springs Unified, San Diego Unified, Tracy Joint Unified, Vista Unified, Aspire, and High Tech High.

To more closely examine some of the early successes and challenges experienced by the Early Implementer LEAs, Achieve interviewed nine of the ten participating districts and compiled that information into two resources, focusing primarily on professional learning and instructional materials. 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.

Using Online Simulations to Support the NGSS in Middle School Classrooms

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

by Lesley Gates, Loren Nikkel, and Kambria Eastham

Middle school teachers in Kings Canyon Unified School District (KCUSD), a CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative district, have been diligently working on transitioning to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) integrated model for middle school. This year, the teachers focused on building their own knowledge of the Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs). They have been gathering and sharing ideas at monthly collaborative meetings as to how to make sure their students are not just learning about science but that they are actually doing science in their classrooms. Students should be planning and carrying out investigations to gather data for analysis in order to construct explanations. This is best done through hands-on lab experiments. Experimental work is such an important part of the learning of science and education research shows that students learn better and retain more when they are active through inquiry, investigation, and application. A Framework for K-12 Science Education (2011) notes, “…learning about science and engineering involves integration of the knowledge of scientific explanations (i.e., content knowledge) and the practices needed to engage in scientific inquiry and engineering design. Thus the framework seeks to illustrate how knowledge and practice must be intertwined in designing learning experiences in K-12 Science Education” (pg. 11).

Many middle school teachers in KCUSD are facing challenges as they begin implementing these student-driven, inquiry-based NGSS science experiences in their classrooms. First, many of the middle school classrooms at our K-8 school sites are not designed as science labs. 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 NGSS 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.

Celestial Highlights: May – July 2017

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

May Through July 2017 with Web Resources for the Solar Eclipse of August 21, 2017

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graphs of planet rising and setting times by Jeffrey L. Hunt.

In spring and summer 2017, Jupiter is the most prominent “star” in the evening sky, and Venus, even brighter, rules the morning. By mid-June, Saturn rises at a convenient evening hour, allowing both giant planets to be viewed well in early evening until Jupiter sinks low in late September. The Moon is always a crescent in its monthly encounters with Venus, but is full whenever it appears near Jupiter or Saturn in the eastern evening sky opposite the Sun. (In 2017, Full Moon is near Jupiter in April, Saturn in June.) At intervals of 27-28 days thereafter, the Moon appears at a progressively earlier phase at each pairing with the outer planet until its final conjunction, with Moon a thin crescent, low in the west at dusk. You’ll see many beautiful events by just following the Moon’s wanderings at dusk and dawn in the three months leading up to the solar eclipse. 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.