September 2016 – Vol. 29 No. 1

The College Board’s Seven Science Practices: Practice Number Four

Posted: Friday, March 1st, 2013

by Bethany Dixon

The College Board has released seven science practices that will be shared through the disciplines. (Note: these are not to be confused with the NGSS “Science and Engineering Practices” from the Framework for K-12 Science Education.) The new Advanced Placement Curriculum Framework for AP Biology began this year, with plans for revamping AP Chemistry (2013-2014) and AP Physics (2014-2015) on the horizon. The new frameworks give students a chance to hone their skills at the lab bench, which is crucial for their success with the new AP Science Examinations and the upcoming transition to NGSS. Here is the second installment of the seven practices overview, with use-them-now tips for your classroom. The first three practices can be found in our February issue of eCCS.


4.     Plan and implement DATA COLLECTION strategies appropriate to a particular scientific question.

“Yes, but how do we MEASURE that?!” is a question that shouldn’t be the end to a scientific inquiry; instead, it’s part of the entire scientific process and experience. Teaching students how to arrange and collect data in an appropriate way is no easy feat, though. One group that has a handle on it is NASA’s Mars Student Imaging Project. The project helps students establish data-collection protocols and gives them the opportunity to collect and analyze data taken by the Thermal Emission Imaging System Camera on NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter. Teaching students to plan their own data collection method is a great way to involve students in understanding how science is built through peer review, and researching accepted protocols for different disciplines is a valuable learning experience for upper-level students.

Prompting students to looking at the way data is collected and to question each step provides them with greater insight on each aspect of the process. Asking students critical questions about even cookbook labs can help to build their inquiry skills, for example, “Why are they measuring both before and after the test?” or, “What are they looking for?” or, “Why is aseptic technique important in this lab, but not in the last one?”  Giving students choices between measuring implements for a lab slides them into creating their own data collection methods early. We can ask them to deliberate about what device or tool, (such as metric rulers, timers, thermometers, etc.) is most appropriate to measure with in order to collect the desired data. Beyond actual collection strategies, data implementation is also critical for student success. Understanding what constitutes data and how to effectively manage data during an experiment is a lesson many students learn and reinforce through experience. A favorite of mine is from “Loose in the Lab,” where students make “helicopters” of different sizes and fly them for one minute without collecting data and we explain the importance of reliable data.

After the data collection method has been established we must insure that students are collecting data appropriately. Students frequently struggle with the differences between error analysis in high school classes and uncertainty principles used in college labs. Many students in my class are able to effectively calculate error and describe significant figures but when it comes to understanding the “why” and “how” of probability and managing uncertainty in the college classroom, the differences between demonstrating (calculating) and  using (understanding and applying) error analysis can be frustrating and confusing. One technique used by the Science Education Resource Center (SERC) is to break the process into three key steps: First, teaching students how to make effective measurements and determine the differences between error and uncertainty. Second, give students the tools to measure effectively by identifying sources of error and sources of uncertainty in both individual measurements and groups of measurements. Third, students should integrate uncertainty measurement into existing lab activities on their own, blending what they’ve practiced with their own inquiry labs and pre-made labs.

Data collection and data collection strategies shouldn’t be limited to science classes. Utilize your teacher resources at your school to find out what kinds of data need to be collected on campus, or that might be valuable for math, English, or social science classes. A cross-curricular data-collection experiment on study habits is always appreciated by the counseling department, and students love collecting meaningful data and sharing their results with their peers. I also find that sharing how data is collected in other disciplines helps students who aren’t planning on majoring in science find real relevance in my course. My political science, psychology, and history majors are always impressed to find out that they can get a “leg up” in their major in research methods by understanding data collection.

Look for our next segment on the seven science practices in the next issue of ECCS including:

5.      Perform DATA ANALYSIS and evaluation of evidence.

6.    Work with scientific EXPLANATIONS AND THEORIES.

7.     CONNECT AND RELATE knowledge across various scales, concepts, and representations.

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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California Science Assessment Update

Posted: Wednesday, October 12th, 2016

by Jessica Sawko

In June 2016 California submitted a waiver application to discontinue using the old CST (based on 1998 standards) and conduct two years of pilot and field tests (in spring 2017 and 2018, respectively) of the new science assessment designed to support our state’s current science standards (California Next Generation Science Standards (CA-NGSS) adopted in 2013). The waiver was requested because no student scores will be provided as a part of the pilot and field tests. The CDE received a response from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) on September 30, 2016, which provides the CDE the opportunity to resubmit a revised waiver request within 60 days. The CDE will be revising the waiver request and resubmitting as ED suggested.

At its October 2016 North/South Assessment meetings CDE confirmed that there will be no administration of the old CST in the spring of 2017. (An archive of the meeting is available at 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.

Some ways to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in your classroom

Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

by Carol Peterson

1) To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, Google has put together a collection of virtual tours combining 360-degree video, panoramic photos and expert narration. It’s called “The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks” and is accessible right from the browser. You can choose from one of five different locales, including the Kenai Fjords in Alaska and Bryce Canyon in Utah, and get a guided “tour” from a local park ranger. Each one has a few virtual vistas to explore, with documentary-style voiceovers and extra media hidden behind clickable thumbnails. Ideas are included for use in classrooms. 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.

2016 Award Recipients – Join CSTA in Honoring Their Accomplishments

Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

CSTA is pleased to announce the winners of the 2016 CSTA Awards for Distinguished Contributions, Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, 2014 and 2015 PAEMST-Science recipients from California, and the 2016 California PAEMST Finalists. The following individuals and organizations will be honored during the 2016 California Science Education Conference  on October 21- 23 in Palm Springs. This year’s group of awardees are truly outstanding. Please join us in congratulating them!

Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award

John Keller

John Keller

The Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award honors an individual who has made a significant contribution to science education in the state and who, through years of leadership and service, has truly made a positive impact on the quality of science teaching. This year’s recipient is John Keller, Ph.D. Dr. Keller is Associate Professor, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Co-Director, Center for Engineering, Science, and Mathematics Education, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. In her letter of recommendation, SDSU science education faculty and former CSTA board member Donna Ross wrote: “He brings people together who share the desire to make a difference in the development and implementation of programs for science teaching. Examples of these projects include the Math and Science Teaching Initiative (MSTI), Noyce Scholars Program, Western Regional Noyce Initiative, and the Science Teacher and Researcher (STAR) program.” Through his work, he has had a dramatic impact on science teacher education, both preservice and in-service, in California, the region, and the country. He developed and implemented the STEM Teacher and Researcher Program which aims to produce excellent K-12 STEM teachers by providing aspiring teachers with opportunities to do authentic research while helping them translate their research experience into classroom practice. SFSU faculty member Larry Horvath said it best in his letter:“John Keller exemplifies the best aspects of a scientist, science educator, and mentor. His contributions to science education in the state of California are varied, significant, and I am sure will continue well into the future.” 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: Making Your Life Easier

Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

by Peter A’hearn

Wait… What?

NGSS is a big shift. Teachers need to learn new content, figure out how this whole engineering thing relates to science, and develop new unit and lesson plans. How could NGSS possibly make life easier?

The idea that NGSS could make our lives easier came to me during the California State NGSS Rollout #1 Classroom Example lesson on chromatography. I have since done this lesson with high school chemistry students and it made me think back to having my own students do chromatography. I spent lots of time preparing to make sure the experiment went well and achieved the “correct” result. I pre-prepared the solutions and organized and prepped the materials. I re-wrote and re-wrote again the procedure so there was no way a kid could get it wrong. I spent 20 minutes before the lab modeling all of the steps in class, so there was no way to do it wrong. Except that it turns out there were many. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the K-12 science specialist in the Palm Springs Unified School District and is Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Celestial Highlights, September 2016

Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graph of evening planet setting times by Dr. Jeffrey L. Hunt 

Our evening twilight chart for September, depicting the sky about 40 minutes after sunset from SoCal, shows brilliant Venus remaining low, creeping from W to WSW and gaining a little altitude as the month progresses. Its close encounter within 2.5° N of Spica on Sept. 18 is best seen with binoculars to catch the star low in bright twilight. The brightest stars in the evening sky are golden Arcturus descending in the west, and blue-white Vega passing just north of overhead. Look for Altair and Deneb completing the Summer Triangle with Vega. The triangle of Mars-Saturn-Antares expands as Mars seems to hold nearly stationary in SSW as the month progresses, while Saturn and Antares slink off to the SW. 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.