September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

From Hot Asphalt to Solar Radiation

Posted: Monday, March 14th, 2016

by Philip Hudec

Imagine a group of sixth graders, challenging one another to see who can sit on the asphalt the longest, on a hot August day at a middle school in the Palm Springs Unified School District, where temperatures can reach 115° F. (This may sound crazy to you but believe me, students in our district really do this!) Our students know that it is hotter in the desert than in most other places.They know that if they stick to the white lines of the black top, they are less likely to burn their feet. They know that when splashing water on the pool deck, it will be cool enough, even if only for a few minutes, to sit on.

What they don’t know is why these facts are true.

Now imagine the opportunity that their science teachers have to make connections between this common knowledge and the physics of heat, weather, and climate. Previous iterations of the California Science Standards, more often than not, ignored these types of opportunities. The 1998 California Science Standards, which placed an emphasis on students’ “knowing” information (often understood to mean being able to regurgitate information), did not always emphasize real world examples as a way of extending knowledge. For example, a 1998 standard on heat at 6th grade read, “Heat moves in a predictable flow from warmer objects to cooler objects until all the objects are at the same temperature.” Separate standards on energy in the Earth system further emphasized the need for students to “know” facts about these important science concepts without making explicit connections in relation to the cause and effect between them.



Today, as then, we have students in our classrooms that can make concrete connections to experiences in their everyday lives. The difference between then and now, however, is that now we are expected to tap into those real world experiences. As people of science, we understand the connection between heat transfer and how it drives weather and climate. Previously, however, their connections were often lost due to the mere fact that they were concepts in separate chapters of an adopted textbook.

Modeling the Sun and Earth relationship.

Modeling the Sun and Earth relationship.

Within the California Next Generation Science Standards (CA-NGSS), our students are asked to develop and use models to describe how unequal heating and rotation of the Earth cause patterns of atmospheric and oceanic currents that determine regional climates. They are asked to collect data and to provide evidence for how the motions and complex interactions of air masses results in changes in weather conditions. These performance expectations (MS-ESS2-5and MS-ESS2-6) are loaded with academic content in the form of “doing” science and engineering practices, applying understanding of disciplinary core ideas, and thinking in terms of crosscutting concepts.  It is easy to see that our students will be challenged to make the connections among the cause and effect relationship between the physics of heat and weather and climate. As educators, we can draw on their prior knowledge (like that obtained in their fun filled challenges on the school asphalt or by wearing black on a hot summer day) and begin to build conceptual frameworks that help them to demonstrate their understanding of the world around them.

Tackling the concept of heat capacity using heat lamps and various substrate materials.

Tackling the concept of heat capacity using heat lamps and various substrate materials.

This, of course, is one of the main goals behind the CA-NGSS. We want our students to have an understanding of how the universe works. This was also one of the main goals a team of scientists and educators and I had when we came together last summer as part of the California K-8 Next Generation Science Standards Early Implementation Initiative to provide professional development training. Dr. Cheryl Peach, from the Birch Aquarium at UCSD’s Scripps Institute of Oceanography, and Dr. Susan Gomez-Zwiep, a CSULB professor of science education, and I worked with a passionate group of 6th grade science educators from around southern California on the integration of earth, physical, and life science components of the NGSS. We found that making strong connections to prior knowledge and asking questions in regards to interesting phenomena helped to make learning the science a more meaningful experience that led to a deeper understanding.

Modeling the Coriolis effect to better understand patterns within global atmospheric and oceanic currents.

Modeling the Coriolis effect to better understand patterns within global atmospheric and oceanic currents.

During the summer institute, teacher’s involved spent time collecting data from their own investigations, and cross checking their findings, while looking for patterns in real world data gathered from various sources such as offshore moorings, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) websites, and the graduate students at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography. We started our week with a phenomenon: an animated map of global weather conditions indicating both global temperature patterns and ocean currents.

Throughout the summer institute, an emphasis was placed on asking interesting questions and the path to finding the answers using a 3-dimensional approach found within the NGSS. A 3-dimensional approach is the integration of the Science and Engineering Practices (SEP) with Crosscutting Concepts (CCC) and Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCI). While teachers conducted investigations and analyzed data (SEP) about how heat flows in different Earth materials (DCI), questions were used to focus their discussions around patterns (CCC). Is there a pattern to this data? How can I organize and display my data to show this pattern? Later in the week, teachers were asked to extend these patterns to develop models about how heat from the Sun can predict and explain global wind and ocean currents in the Earth’s system. Our questions shifted to “how can we model this system (Earth) and what are the parts or sub-systems contributing to these currents?” Our goal was to contribute to the important work being done to create more scientifically literate students. As science educators, we were reminded of our need to challenge students to think, to ask questions, and to connect their prior knowledge to science concepts.

Perhaps, in a few years, we will overhear our students contemplating the relationship between elevation, air pressure, and temperature as they sit on the hot blacktop determined to win the asphalt challenge.

Crosscutting concept questions retrieved from

>Philip Hudec is a Science Teacher on Special Assignment with the Palm Springs Unified School District, and can be contacted at

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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.

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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.

Is This a First: Young Female Teens Propose California Water Conservation Legislation?

Posted: Monday, August 28th, 2017

Meet the La Habra Water Guardians from the Optics of their Teacher Moderator, Dr. P.

by Susan M. Pritchard, Ph.D.

You have just won the 2016 Lexus Eco Challenge as one of four First Place Winners in the Middle School Category across the nation! Now, what are you going to do … go to Disneyland? No, not for four of the six La Habra Water Guardians, Disneyland is not in their future at this time. Although I think they would love a trip to Disneyland, (are you listening Mickey Mouse?), at this moment they are focused big time on one major thing … celebrating the passage of their proposed legislation: Assembly Bill 1343 Go Low Flow Water Conservation Partnership Bill and now promoting the enactment of this legislation. Learn More…

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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: