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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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.