September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

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 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.

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

Anyone concerned with the teaching of science in elementary school is keenly aware of the problem of time. Kids need to learn to read, and learning to read takes time, nobody disputes that. So Common Core ELA can seem like the enemy of science. This was a big concern to me as I started looking at the curriculum that my district had adopted for Common Core ELA. I’ve been through those years where teachers are learning a new curriculum, and know first-hand how a new curriculum can become the focus of attention- sucking all the air out of the room. Learn More…

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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

In the past, science education focused on rote memorization and learning disjointed ideas. Elementary and secondary students in today’s science classes are fortunate now that science instruction has shifted from students demonstrating what they know to students demonstrating how they are able to apply their knowledge. Science education that reflects the Next Generation Science Standards challenges students to conduct investigations. As students explore phenomena and discrepant events they engage in academic discourse guided by focus questions from their teachers or student generated questions of that arise from analyzing data and creating and revising models that explain natural phenomena. Learn More…

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.