May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

Finding New Resources in a Changing Science Education Landscape

Posted: Friday, August 19th, 2016

by Amity Sandage

Field studies at Santa Cruz County Outdoor Science School

Field studies at Santa Cruz County Outdoor Science School

After two decades in education, I still love the natural rhythm of the school year. It is the teacher’s turn in the learning cycle. Reflections at the end of each school year spark new ideas that then flow and percolate throughout the summer. And I know come August I always find myself excited and apprehensive in equal measure. Excited to improve and try new approaches, and apprehensive because I need some concrete resources to accomplish the goals that began as visions floating around in my head and morphed and settled over summer into real plans. But where and how to find these resources when fall is fast approaching and NGSS is changing the landscape?

There is a network of resource professionals ready to help teachers connect science instruction with unique field experiences, grants, local experts, citizen science projects and more. CREEC (the California Regional Environmental Education Community) is a statewide network set up by the California Department of Education to help teachers find environmental education resources connected to instructional goals. Every region of California offers unique environmental education resources—State and National Parks programs, marine sanctuaries, outdoor science schools, open space preserves, natural history museums, and more. California has hundreds of organizations providing thousands of environmental education programs and resources across the state—many of them free and designed to support state education standards. But many of these resources are underutilized. This is not because teachers and the education system do not value environmental education. On the contrary, the Next Generation Science Standards, the new Blueprint for Environmental Literacy and an increasing emphasis on STEM and career readiness require more connections to environmental topics than ever. Students will need to understand natural resources management, environmental systems, environmental engineering and science-based decision making processes to face future challenges. Schools need environmental education resources now more than ever before, and CREEC is set up to help teachers access them.

CCSAdBValuable environmental science resources and programs may surround schools, but many teachers still face imposing barriers to taking advantage of them: time to find what resources are available and to align them to instructional goals and new standards, and funding for transportation and program fees.

The CREEC Network is designed to help address these barriers. CREEC maintains an online hub at for environmental education throughout California. This enables teachers to find grants, sign up for professional development opportunities and use a searchable database to quickly find resources and programs for their students to build strong connections to the environment, apply science practices, and advance them along the path to environmental literacy.

The network also provides a CREEC Coordinator, an expert advisor, in each region. The CREEC Coordinator in each of California’s 11 administrative regions serves as a conduit for information flowing between the school system and the non-formal environmental education sector. They alert teachers and administrators to opportunities for teacher professional development or grant funding. They help schools find programs that fit the needs of teachers and students. And they work closely with environmental education program providers to communicate the priorities of the schools so that environmental education organizations can design and offer programs that are accessible and support classroom instruction.

I serve as CREEC Coordinator for Region 5, a four-county region spanning the South San Francisco and Monterey Bay Areas. Environmental education providers in Region 5 and many other regions have been delving deep into NGSS in order to begin shifting their programs to support the new standards. As someone who loves teaching in the classroom and who also treasures the unique learning opportunities that take place outside of the classroom, I am passionate about my role in the CREEC Network. I feel fortunate to be in the position to connect the work of teachers and environmental education program providers around NGSS. It is an exciting time in science education, with new standards that encourage teachers and students to reach beyond classroom walls to accomplish their goals.

You may have already been familiar with CREEC; the network has been in place for well over a decade. But in this time of transition to NGSS, I encourage teachers to reconnect with the network often, as CREEC is evolving along with state education priorities. As a project of the California Department of Education, CREEC sits on the pulse of our education system. Our system has been going through sweeping changes in our education standards, and all educators are struggling to adapt and keep up. As teachers transition to Next Generation Science Standards, environmental topics provide meaningful opportunities for weaving together scientific and engineering practices, cross-cutting concepts and disciplinary core ideas as well as for testing integrated science models in real-world, relevant contexts. Cycles of matter and energy transfer in ecosystems, the roles of water in Earth’s surface processes, human impacts of Earth systems…these and other NGSS Disciplinary Core Idea progressions intersect naturally with programs and resources outside the classroom. CREEC can help make these connections.

How do you connect with CREEC? It’s simple—go to and find your region. Subscribe to your region’s quarterly newsletter to get word of local opportunities. Follow CREEC on Facebook to keep up with exciting news. Search the Resource Directory for local programs. And don’t be shy! Share your challenges during the transition to NGSS. Use the network, and head into Fall with some new resources and connections to support your journey into the new education landscape.

Amity Sandage is the CREEC Coordinator for Region 5 (South San Francisco and Monterey Bay Areas), and is a part of the Santa Cruz County Office of Education. She can be reached at

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy:

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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.