September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

How Will the Next Generation Science Standards Impact Higher Education in California?

Posted: Friday, March 1st, 2013

by Carolyn Holcroft and Gregory Potter

In recent months we’ve had many occasions to talk about the NGSS with our college faculty colleagues and without exception, reactions have been overwhelmingly positive. The vision set forth in the “Framework for K-12 Science Education” for integrating scientific practices, crosscutting concepts and disciplinary core ideas makes good sense. The “Conceptual Shifts” and the draft “Definition of College and Career Readiness in Science” seem promising and ambitious, and once the NGSS are successfully implemented we can expect to see a drastically different level of preparedness in the students arriving at our colleges.

The emphasis on deeper understanding and application and somewhat less content will certainly necessitate significant changes both in our curriculum and in the ways many higher ed faculty teach. A recurring theme I hear in NGSS and pedagogy discussions is that, “teachers usually teach students the way they themselves were taught”. Consequently, many higher ed faculty have a strong central focus on content and much less attention to application and integration with other disciplines. As we educate future California science teachers, though, we cannot expect them to embrace and engage in the paradigm shift if we’re not modeling it. However, even those faculty who don’t teach the teacher preparation courses will have to reevaluate their pedagogy. When students who have successfully met the NGSS begin to graduate and enroll in our college courses, they’ll surely vote with their feet if we offer them no more than the traditional delivery of content with little else.  Although this prospect is perhaps daunting, in the long run this is a tremendous chance to strengthen the K-16 pedagogy and curriculum and most importantly, graduate students who are better prepared to think critically and innovatively

So what is higher education doing to prepare for the impending paradigm shift? Faculty leaders are spreading the word and increasing faculty awareness of the NGSS. There is also a great opportunity for higher ed faculty to collaborate to design (and in some cases, redesign) the common course descriptors used for articulation to have a greater focus on practice and application rather than predominantly on content mastery. We can continue to work towards integrating higher expectations for writing and critical thinking ability in our assignments. We can also take a new look at the degrees we offer, to ensure that they reflect the NGSS emphasis on building coherently over the course of a student’s education.  That is, rather than building our science degrees as selections of courses in distinct silos, we can strive to make more obvious connections across our curriculum and offer ongoing opportunities for students to deepen their scientific understanding as they progress through their coursework. In doing so, we reinforce the overriding outcomes and meaning that serve as the foundation for our degrees. The NGSS is a promising impetus for change and it is our job as faculty of higher education to take this opportunity and run with it; to facilitate truly really meaningful change in education.

Carolyn Holcroft is CSTA’s two-year college director and teaches biology at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. 

Gregory Potter is CSTA’s four-year college director and is an assistant professor at the Bernerd School of Education at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, CA.

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.

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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.

News and Happenings in CSTA’s Region 1 – Fall 2017

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Marian Murphy-Shaw


This month I was fortunate enough to hear about some new topics to share with our entire region. Some of you may access the online or newsletter options, others may attend events in person that are nearer to you. Long time CSTA member and environmental science educator Mike Roa is well known to North Bay Area teachers for his volunteer work sharing events and resources. In this month’s Region 1 updates I am happy to make a few of the options Mike offers available to our region. Learn More…

Written by Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw is the student services director at Siskiyou County Office of Education and is CSTA’s Region 1 Director and chair of CSTA’s Policy Committee.