May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

Family Science Nights

Posted: Saturday, January 1st, 2011

by Pete A’Hearn

Kids love to share what they are learning  in science with their parents, and they love making new discoveries with their families.  Hosting a family science night is a great way to encourage kids and their families to do hands-on science together.

A basic family science night consists of hands-on science stations with simple instructions set up in tables in the cafeteria or outside in a common area.  Teachers cover one to three stations, depending on how complex they are, to help families do the activities.  Older students can also be enlisted to run a station, and kids love to show off the science they have learned.

Stations can often be easily made using the hands-on materials in your science curriculum.  I have found that FOSS experiments are particularly ready to use.  Write up some simple instructions with some good open-ended questions to foster inquiry.  In my district, I try to get as many of them translated into Spanish as I can.  At the end of this article I’ve provided some examples of instruction sheets.

Some examples of hands-on stations I have used are:

  • Stream tables to experiment with erosion.
  • What types of things stick to a magnet?
  • Electromagnets with various extra circuit components and questions about how to make them stronger.
  • Make the phases of the moon with a chart, a bright light, and Styrofoam balls on as stick.
  • Observing living things with hand lenses and various supplies to investigate behavior—mealworms, land snails, sow bugs.
  • Minerals and supplies to observe their properties—scratch test, streak plate, magnet, vinegar.
  • Telescopes outside—invite members of your local astronomical society.
  • Microscopes with pond water, compost in water, fermenting yeast.  If you have a microscope camera and a projector, then participants can share their discoveries.
  • Light up a bulb with a battery and two wires.
  • Van De Graff generator.
  • How many drops of water can you fit on a penny and what variables can you change and test?
  • Break open rocks with rock hammers (safety goggles provided) and identify the minerals inside.
  • Use magnets in plastic bags to find magnetite in the playground sand.
  • Food Web card concentration—pay a version of concentration in which the first player to build a five step food web wins.
  • Human body systems floor puzzle.
  • Identifying animals by their skeletons.
  • Building tops and timing how long they stay up.
  • Generating electricity with a wind turbine and testing changes to the blades.
  • Straw rocket design and testing.
  • Finding the focal length of different lenses by projecting images.

There is money in Title I for parent involvement, both at the site and district levels.  Some schools might choose to use some of these funds for family nights.  This might be used to purchase supplies or to pay teachers for time in setting up the event.

You can organize a family science night with different themes or purposes.   Some events we have held are:  STEM Careers Night, Science Fair Night,  Family Astronomy Night, 4th and 5th Grade CST Science Night, and just good ol’ Science Night.  In a future issue, I’ll discuss some of the different kinds of Family Science Nights we have had in Palm Springs Unified School District and how they are organized.

The San Joaquin County Office of Education has some great ideas for Family Science Nights:

(Instruction sheets for some of the activities can be found on the CSTA website at

Pete A’Hearn is the K-12 science specialist in the Palm Springs Unified School District and is region 4 director for CSTA.

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.

2 Responses

  1. […] too structured.  For younger students, I set up many hands-on stations like those described in the January CCS, but add a […]

  2. For those of you who were trying to access the Family Science Night Directions document, our apologies that the link above was broken, it has now been fixed.

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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

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:

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.