September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

Foothill College Astronomy Instructor Named Honorary Member of Royal Astronomical Society of Canada

Posted: Thursday, December 1st, 2011

Honor Bestowed on Only 15 Living People at a Time

Foothill College Astronomy Instructor Andrew Fraknoi has been elected an honorary member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC). The prestigious honor is bestowed on only 15 living people at a time. The chairman of the astronomy department at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, Calif., Fraknoi appears to be the first community college educator selected for this honor in the 143-year history of the RASC.

“Since the Society has a rule that there can be no more than 15 honorary members living at any given time, I am tremendously honored to be included in a group that now includes Stephen Hawking and once included such noted astronomers as Harlow Shapley and Ejnar Hertzsprung,” Fraknoi said. “I have devoted the largest portion of my professional life to helping students understand the universe better and helping other educators (from primary school to college level) convey the excitement and power of science more effectively. Since this kind of work often goes unsung, it is especially gratifying that the Society has chosen to honor me for my work in education.”

Founded in 1868, RASC is Canada’s leading astronomy organization bringing together more than 4,200 professional scientists, enthusiastic amateurs and educators. Other current honorary members of the Society include British astrophysicist Prof. Stephen Hawking, Sir Patrick Moore, the prominent explainer of astronomy in England, Prof. P. J. E. Peebles, the award-winning cosmologist at Princeton University, Prof. Owen Gingerich, the noted historian of astronomy at Harvard University, and Julieta Fierro, one of Mexico’s most distinguished astronomy popularizers. Over the course of the society’s long history, a remarkable roster of leading astronomers outside Canada have been elected honorary members.

“Some of the astronomers I have most admired over the years have been honorary members of the RASC-Dr. Bart Bok, for example, whose work helped reveal characteristics of our Milky Way Galaxy, and whose public enthusiasm for astronomy was infectious or Allan Sandage, who continued and elucidated Hubble’s work on the expanding universe and who served as an active member of the board of directors of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific when I was executive officer. To be thought of in the same category as these scientists is indeed a staggering honor,” Fraknoi said.

Fraknoi teaches astronomy and physics for poets to more than 900 students each year at Foothill College. Named the California Professor of the Year in 2007 by the Carnegie Endowment for Higher Education, he has also received the Gemant Prize from the American Institute of Physics for a lifetime of contributions to physics popularization and connecting physics to the humanities. Before coming to Foothill, he served as the executive director of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (which is, in many ways, the counterpart of the RASC in the United States.) The International Astronomical Union has named Asteroid 4859 “Asteroid Fraknoi” to honor his contributions to the public understanding of astronomy.


Fraknoi’s professional passion is sharing the excitement of astronomy with students, teachers and the public at large. He has recently begun offering a Facebook page that is called The Astro-Prof about astronomical developments. Access The Astro-Prof at He founded Project ASTRO, a national program in which volunteer astronomers adopt a 4th-9th grade classroom and work with the teachers to bring a hands-on astronomy experience to the students. An offshoot, called Family ASTRO, provides games and activities that families can engage in to increase their understanding of astronomy. He is also the co-author of a leading college textbook in astronomy, and has published a children’s book for Disney called Disney’s Wonderful World of Space. The mammoth resource guide for teaching astronomy that he edited, called The Universe at Your Fingertips, has recently been updated and issued as a DVD-ROM by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. Fraknoi was co-founder of the online journal Astronomy Education Review, which is now published by the American Astronomical Society.

Citing his work in education and public outreach, RASC National President Mary Lou Whitehorne nominated Fraknoi to be an honorary member of the society. “His work represents the global gold standard in astronomy education and outreach. He has inspired many to follow in his footsteps. He is nothing short of phenomenal-passionate, inspiring, dedicated and caring. I have used, and marvelled at, his work for over two decades. He has been my personal role model for over 20 years and is unquestionably deserving of honorary membership status.”

Educated at Harvard University and the University of California, Berkeley, Fraknoi appears regularly on local and national radio programs explaining scientific ideas and discoveries in everyday language. He is the astronomer-in-residence on the syndicated Mark and Brian radio program and appears in San Francisco on KGO’s Gil Gross Show and the Forum program with Michael Krasny on KQED. One of his interests is the scientific search for intelligent life in the universe, and he currently serves as the vice chairman of the board of trustees of the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute. A resident of San Francisco, he is also a Fellow of the California Academy of Sciences. A full biography and a sampling of his writings is available online at


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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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.