November/December 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 2

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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Priority Features of NGSS-Aligned Instructional Materials

Posted: Wednesday, November 29th, 2017

Recommendations for Publishers, Reviewers, and Educators. The California Science Teachers Association and the science teachers associations of three other Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) west-coast states, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington, have co-authored a white paper on priority features of NGSS instructional materials. This is the first time our states have collaborated to convey a common vision on an issue of great importance for the implementation of the NGSS. We understand all too well that for meaningful shifts to happen and to support the full vision of the NGSS, strong K-12 Instructional materials are required. 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.

State Board Moves Forward Two Key Pieces Supporting CA NGSS Implementation

Posted: Wednesday, November 29th, 2017

by Jessica Sawko

CSTA President Jill Grace provides public comment at the November 8, 2017, California State Board of Education meeting.

On November 8, 2017, the California State Board of Education (SBE) took action on two items of import relating to the implementation of the California Next Generation Science Standards (CA NGSS). One item was relating to the California Science Test (CAST) and the other to instructional materials. CSTA provided both written and oral comments on both items along with providing input on what CSTA and many other advocates view as a critical component of our state’s emerging accountability system – student access to a broad course of study. 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 – Early Attempts and Later Reflections from an Early Implementer Teacher

Posted: Thursday, November 23rd, 2017

by Christa Dunkel

  • There are so many acronyms! Where do I start?
  • What “baby step” should I take first? 
  • How can I make this happen in my elementary classroom?

All of these thoughts and more swam through my head over three years ago when I began my journey into NGSS. I was fresh from a week-long institute with the K-12 Alliance as part of the CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative. Much of the week was spent on digging into the NGSS architecture – how the standards are set-up, how to read the standards, what each of the three dimensions meant. Now that I knew how to read them, I needed to figure out how to implement them into my classroom of 24 eight-year-olds. With some guidance from the K-12 Alliance leaders and my own district-level NGSS team, I began the process with some easy “baby steps.” 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.

CSTA Is Now Accepting Nominations for Board Members

Posted: Friday, November 17th, 2017

Current, incoming, and outgoing CSTA Board of Directors at June 3, 2017 meeting.

Updated 7:25 pm, Nov. 17, 2017

It’s that time of year when CSTA is looking for dedicated and qualified persons to fill the upcoming vacancies on its Board of Directors. This opportunity allows you to help shape the policy and determine the path that the Board will take in the new year. There are time and energy commitments, but that is far outweighed by the personal satisfaction of knowing that you are an integral part of an outstanding professional educational organization, dedicated to the support and guidance of California’s science teachers. You will also have the opportunity to help CSTA review and support legislation that benefits good science teaching and teachers.

Right now is an exciting time to be involved at the state level in the California Science Teachers Association. The CSTA Board of Directors is currently involved in implementing the Next Generations Science Standards and its strategic plan. If you are interested in serving on the CSTA Board of Directors, now is the time to submit your name for consideration. 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.

Expanding Your Definition of Informal Science Education

Posted: Wednesday, November 15th, 2017

by Lori Walsh

When deciding on a field trip, zoos, aquariums and science centers typically come to mind. These facilities offer students hands-on opportunities to make science observations using inquiry. Teachers can schedule standards aligned workshops or self-guided visits. If your students have already visited these facilities, you can broaden your options by exploring the larger world of Informal Science Education. Nature centers, non-profits, and environmental groups often also offer NGSS aligned programs in the natural setting. Your students can discover the local environment while making memorable experiences. Learn More…

Written by Lori Walsh

Lori Walsh

Lori Walsh is the Education/Operations Supervisor at SEA LIFE Aquarium at LEGOLAND California Resort and Informal Science Director for CSTA.