March/April 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 6

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 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.

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California Science Curriculum Framework Now Available

Posted: Tuesday, March 14th, 2017

The pre-publication version of the new California Science Curriculum Framework is now available for download. This publication incorporates all the edits that were approved by the State Board of Education in November 2016 and was many months in the making. Our sincere thanks to the dozens of CSTA members were involved in its development. Our appreciation is also extended to the California Department of Education, the State Board of Education, the Instructional Quality Commission, and the Science Curriculum Framework and Evaluation Criteria Committee and their staff for their hard work and dedication to produce this document and for their commitment to the public input process. To the many writers and contributors to the Framework CSTA thanks you for your many hours of work to produce a world-class document.

For tips on how to approach this document see our article from December 2016: California Has Adopted a New Science Curriculum Framework – Now What …? If you would like to learn more about the Framework, consider participating in one of the Framework Launch events (a.k.a. Rollout #4) scheduled throughout 2017.

The final publication version (formatted for printing) will be available in July 2017. This document will not be available in printed format, only electronically.

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.

Call for CSTA Awards Nominations

Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017

The 2017 Award Season is now open! One of the benefits of being a CSTA member is your eligibility for awards as well as your eligibility to nominate someone for an award. CSTA offers several awards and members may nominate individuals and organizations for the Future Science Teacher Award, the prestigious Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, and the CSTA Distinguished Contributions Award (organizational award). May 9, 2017 is the deadline for nominations for these awards. CSTA believes that the importance of science education cannot be overstated. Given the essential presence of the sciences in understanding the past and planning for the future, science education remains, and will increasingly be one of the most important disciplines in education. CSTA is committed to recognizing and encouraging excellence in science teaching through the presentation of awards to science educators and organizations who have made outstanding contributions in science education in the state and who are poised to continue the momentum of providing high quality, relevant science education 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.

Call for Volunteers – CSTA Committees

Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017


CSTA is now accepting applications from regular, preservice, and retired members to serve on our volunteer committees! CSTA’s all-volunteer board of directors invites you to consider maximizing your member experience by volunteering for CSTA. CSTA committee service offers you the opportunity to share your expertise, learn a new skill, or do something you love to do but never have the opportunity to do in your regular day. CSTA committee volunteers do some pretty amazing things: 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.

A Friend in CA Science Education Now at CSTA Region 1 Science Center

Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017

by Marian Murphy-Shaw

If you attended an NGSS Rollout phase 1-3 or CDE workshops at CSTA’s annual conference you may recall hearing from Chris Breazeale when he was working with the CDE. Chris has relocated professionally, with his passion for science education, and is now the Executive Director at the Explorit Science Center, a hands-on exploration museum featuring interactive STEM exhibits located at the beautiful Mace Ranch, 3141 5th St. in Davis, CA. Visitors can “think it, try it, and explorit” with a variety of displays that allow visitors to “do science.” To preview the museum, or schedule a classroom visit, see 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.

Learning to Teach in 3D

Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017

by Joseph Calmer

Probably like you, NGSS has been at the forefront of many department meetings, lunch conversations, and solitary lesson planning sessions. Despite reading the original NRC Framework, the Ca Draft Frameworks, and many CSTA writings, I am still left with the question: “what does it actually mean for my classroom?”

I had an eye-opening experience that helped me with that question. It came out of a conversation that I had with a student teacher. It turns out that I’ve found the secret to learning how to teach with NGSS: I need to engage in dialogue about teaching with novice teachers. I’ve had the pleasure of teaching science in some capacity for 12 years. During that time pedagogy and student learning become sort of a “hidden curriculum.” It is difficult to plan a lesson for the hidden curriculum; the best way is to just have two or more professionals talk and see what emerges. I was surprised it took me so long to realize this epiphany. Learn More…

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: