September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

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.

Engineering in the classroom can be a valuable vehicle for student learning. Its contribution to student buy-in, lesson purpose, and content augmentation is substantial. Engineering allows our students to become problems solvers applying scientific concepts they learn and evidence that they gather. Science and Engineering go hand in hand as the Science and Engineering Practices (SEP’s) of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) identify. Students not only need to gather information to make sense of the world around them, they need to use this information to present possible solutions to problems. This partnership between science and engineering increases the rigor by connecting to real-world problems for students to work on.



Before the NGSS, I incorporated engineering tasks in my 8th-grade class at Aspire’s Vanguard College Preparatory Academy, but they were often stand-alone activities that were fun but had only a weak connection to the concepts my students were learning. I tended to use these tasks as beginning and/or end of year activities. Now, using the California Science Framework, I can see the connections between engineering and science via the Performance Expectations (PE’s) and Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCI’s). The Engineering, Technology, and Science Performance Expectations (ETS) can be seamlessly incorporated into the DCI’s to engage my students and enrich their learning experience throughout the year.

At the start of a learning sequence, my students are challenged to solve a problem and asked what knowledge they need to learn in order to find a solution to the stated problem. This gives my students a stake in what they are learning and a purpose that drives them. This has triggered a big shift in my teacher-student classroom relationships. Instead of me driving the instruction, now my students drive the learning sequence by asking questions and organizing their ideas. The classroom relationship has become a partnership where I am now the facilitator of the learning experiences.

In an 8th grade sequence on forces and interactions, my students are challenged to design an effective helmet that will protect the wearer from injuries caused by forces. I asked the students what they would need to know in order to tackle this design challenge and explain the science behind their innovations. They came up with a list of questions that they needed answers to be able to complete the engineering task. Their questions included;

  • What is a force?
  • How do you measure force?
  • How can you calculate the forces?
  • When does a force become dangerous?
  • How can we reduce the injuries caused by these forces?
  • Does the mass of the person affect how well the helmet will protect them? How?
  • What material will make the helmet safer? How can we test this?

My students were excited that the lessons were driven by their questions. They were invested in what we were doing because they had a purpose for learning the content thanks to the engineering task. I was thrilled beyond belief to find that the question, “Why do I need to learn this?”, (the bane of my teaching life) faded away. Students knew why they were learning, what they were learning, and they were eager to do so!

Centering my lessons on engineering tasks has not only benefited my students but has also improved my instructional practice. When planning my lessons now, I look at the big picture and find the story that connects the concepts that I am teaching. An engineering task allows me to see those connections and present them to my students in a coherent and interesting way. It has challenged me to be thoughtful and reflective in my teaching and has also challenged my students to problem solve as engineers while thinking like scientists.


Huda Ali Gubary works for Aspire’s secondary school, Vanguard College Preparatory Academy and teaches integrated science-8, High School Chemistry, and High School Physics, a teacher leader for the CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative, and a member of CSTA. Her e-mail address is

Susheela Nath works for Aspire Public Schools as the multi-regional science director, is a project director for the CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation, and a member of CSTA. Her e-mail address is

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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.

One Response

  1. Love this! Thank you for sharing.

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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.