March/April 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 6

Getting to Know You: Start the Year by Knowing Your Learners

Posted: Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

by:  Frederick Nelson

One of the organizing frameworks that guide the practice of National Board Certified Teachers is the Architecture of Accomplished Teaching. The foundation of this graphic, and the first step in constructing meaningful learning experiences, is an exploration of the questions, “Who are your students? Where are they now? What do they need and in what order do they need it? Where should I begin?” Only after we have some answers to these questions can we begin setting high, worthwhile goals and designing appropriate and engaging learning experiences.

So how do we find out who our students are? The purpose of this exploration is to discover information that will be useful in your classroom. This could include things such as:

  • Students’ prior learning of important content
  • Students’ interests—hobbies, activities, favorite movies, TV shows, music, sports
  • Students’ family background—places they have lived, other family members, experiences they have had
  • Students’ personalities and learning styles—how do they learn best?

Prior knowledge is an aspect of knowing our learners that is often determined with a pretest. Many textbook publishers include instruments of this type in sets of ancillary materials. There are also many assessments available on the Internet, for example, a popular measure of high school and college students’ physics knowledge is the Force Concept Inventory, which focuses on understanding of Newtonian physics. Pretests for other content areas can be located on the web.



Making connections between students’ interests and course content is a key method for establishing relevance of lessons. For example, students who are musicians will not only have an inherent interest in a unit on sound and waves, but can also be recruited to perform demonstrations and lead activities related to these concepts. Project-based learning activities can be linked to student interests, such as drawing (create an anime-style comic book about the battle between a white blood cell and bacteria), theater (write and perform a skit about the water cycle), and video games (analyze the effect gravity would have on buildings in the game Minecraft). These interests can be discovered through many writing and creative activities such as journaling and poster construction. Even brief student introductions can generate useful information about student interests. Take some notes while students are sharing what they did this summer.

A third approach to connecting with your students is to use an engaging activity to learn about their backgrounds. One such activity is the Project Learning Tree activity, “Tree Cookies.” In this exercise students examine a slice of a tree trunk or limb, noting unique characteristics, such as annual ring size or fire scars, and consider the various events that resulted in these differences. They then draw their own life cookie on a paper plate, with a ring for each year of their lives, and significant events indicated in a relevant way. This information can provide insights into student motivation and family involvement.

Finally, there are numerous online surveys that reveal personality and learning style information. These include the Index of Learning Styles Questionnaire, assessments that measure Multiple Intelligences, and Myers-Briggs personality profiles. This information can be useful in establishing cooperative learning groups and addressing classroom management issues.

The important consideration in gathering any of this information is having a clear sense of purpose for how it can be used in the construction of meaningful learning experiences in your classroom. While these activities should be done early, the data produced should be examined continuously throughout the school year.

One final suggestion: allow your learners to get to know you, too. Share some relevant pieces of your own history, using engaging activities like Two Truths and a Lie. Appropriate self-disclosure is an important method for building an environment of trust in your classroom.

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Written by Frederick Nelson

Frederick Nelson

Frederick Nelson is an Assistant Professor of Science Education, California State University, Fresno and is CSTA’s Region 3 Director

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CSTA Endorses March for Science

Posted: Monday, March 27th, 2017

The California Science Teachers Association (CSTA) stands with our science and science education colleagues in endorsing the March For Science and its associated activities.

The decision by the CSTA Board of Directors to support the March for Science was based on the understanding that this is an opportunity to advocate for our mission of high quality science education for all and to advance the idea that science has application to everyday life, is a vehicle for lifelong learning, and the scientific enterprise expands our knowledge of the world around us. The principles and goals of the March for Science parallel those of CSTA to assume a leadership role in solidarity with our colleagues in science and science education and create an understanding of the value of science in the greater community. CSTA believes that the integrity of the nature of science and that the work of scientists and science educators should be valued and supported. We encourage your participation to stand with us.

There are over 30 satellite marches planned for the April 22, 2017 March for Science in California (to find a march near you, click on “marches” in the upper right of the main page, select “satellite marches” and use the search feature). We encourage members who participate in the March for Science to share their involvement and promotion of science and science education. Feel free to promote CSTA on your signs and banners. For those on social media, you may share your involvement via Twitter, @cascience and our Facebook groups.

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.

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.