September 2016 – Vol. 29 No. 1

Getting’ WILD at the Zoo!

Posted: Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

by Joanne Michael

I am a big animal lover and have been ever since I was a little girl growing up in Seattle. My father was an ornithologist by hobby and I grew up with neighbors knocking at our door, stunned bird in a box after flying into a window. As an adult, I worked as a ZooCamp Instructor at the Los Angeles Zoo for a summer and during school breaks, and then went through the Docent Program, graduating in spring, 2012. To say I enjoy being around animals is an understatement!

Since becoming a docent, my eyes have been opened to how much science can be taught in the zoo that is beyond the obvious. As a docent, I lead student groups of anywhere between four and ten kids (and hopefully a parent chaperone or two) around the zoo, teaching them information about what they are studying in class, what they had covered earlier in the year, or introducing concepts for them to get excited about when they return to their classroom. Even though docents must go through a year of structured classes and exams, and continue to do yearly review tests, a lot of the information that I teach the kids can be easily learned by any classroom teacher when not in a classroom or traditional campus setting.

For example, before going on your next field trip, see if your zoo has a docent program that can escort your students around the park. Most locations have some form of this, and the docents truly love to educate kids – that is why they are there! Slightly older students, e.g. 3rd grade and higher, seem to get the most out of the experience but obviously any student enjoys a personalized tour. If a docent-led tour is unavailable, make yourself and your chaperones mini docents! Although at first glance some of the following activities may seem young, trust me- I have done this with high school students, and they all love it!

If you’re leading your own group, prepare by grabbing a bag – paper lunch sacks, grocery bags, anything that is relatively small will work. In the bag put a quarter, a piece of sandpaper (ideally 50-grit), and a piece of leather. If your students see a marsupial (e.g. koala, kangaroo, possum, sugar glider, etc.), show the kids the quarter. Marsupials begin life even smaller than the diameter of the quarter, but they wiggle themselves into a pouch on the mother where they will continue to grow until they are large enough to survive. In the pouch is a teat for the baby to receive milk, and the milk actually changes as the baby matures. The baby can be in the pouch for many weeks before a zoo employee will discover it is there! Ask the students to consider how that could be a benefit to the animal? Could it be a disadvantage?

Almost all zoos have felines – animals such as jaguars, tigers, lions, and servals. Spend a minute watching the cats walk around their environment. If possible, take a look at the food that the cats are eating, or see if you can find bones. Ask the students to think about what cats (like their cats at home) eat? They only eat meat, and for this reason we call them carnivores. If cats only eat meat, how do they get it off of the bone? Show them the sandpaper and allow them to feel it, even GENTLY slide it against the back of their hand. Tell the students that cats have tongues that are super rough like this sandpaper, and so they actually will lick the meat right off of the bone!

When the students see a reptile such as a turtle, crocodile, alligator, or snake, ask them if they know that these animals lay eggs. Some may know, but most probably won’t be aware. Tell them that these animals lay their eggs in holes, and ask why would they do that? Is that a good idea, or bad idea? Tell the students that in addition to the holes, these reptiles’ eggs are much more leathery than the eggs we have in our refrigerator, and show them the piece of leather. Would this protect the animal completely? Why is this a good idea? When could it be a disadvantage for the animal?

Out in an open field and studying birds? If you have room, get a long (3 feet or so) piece of nylon rope, and fray one of the ends. Hold the rope by the middle, and swing the non-frayed end over your head in a circle. It should make a whirring noise. Switch ends, and swing the frayed end. It shouldn’t make any noise – why is that? The ends of the rope break up the airflow around the rope, so it doesn’t make the whistle noise. Similarly, if one person jumped into the middle of a deep puddle- there would be a big wave all the way out. If a whole bunch of people jumped into the same big puddle at the same time, there wouldn’t be a single wave out- there would be lots and lots of smaller waves. For birds of prey (falcons, eagles, ospreys), the edges of their wings are frayed like the rope, and so when they fly, it makes almost no noise. Most other birds don’t have this adaptation – how come?

In closing, by doing very short, two-minute demonstrations at the zoo, your students will get a much more memorable experience. Not only will they begin seeing the animals through new eyes, but will start to make connections between different species of animals, giving you a better foundation when you return to your school classroom.

Written by Joanne Michael

Joanne Michael

Joanne Michael is a K-5 Science Specialist for Manhattan Beach Unified, former CSTA Upper Elementary director, and is a current CSTA member.

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California Science Assessment Update

Posted: Wednesday, October 12th, 2016

by Jessica Sawko

In June 2016 California submitted a waiver application to discontinue using the old CST (based on 1998 standards) and conduct two years of pilot and field tests (in spring 2017 and 2018, respectively) of the new science assessment designed to support our state’s current science standards (California Next Generation Science Standards (CA-NGSS) adopted in 2013). The waiver was requested because no student scores will be provided as a part of the pilot and field tests. The CDE received a response from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) on September 30, 2016, which provides the CDE the opportunity to resubmit a revised waiver request within 60 days. The CDE will be revising the waiver request and resubmitting as ED suggested.

At its October 2016 North/South Assessment meetings CDE confirmed that there will be no administration of the old CST in the spring of 2017. (An archive of the meeting is available at 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.

Some ways to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in your classroom

Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

by Carol Peterson

1) To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, Google has put together a collection of virtual tours combining 360-degree video, panoramic photos and expert narration. It’s called “The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks” and is accessible right from the browser. You can choose from one of five different locales, including the Kenai Fjords in Alaska and Bryce Canyon in Utah, and get a guided “tour” from a local park ranger. Each one has a few virtual vistas to explore, with documentary-style voiceovers and extra media hidden behind clickable thumbnails. Ideas are included for use in classrooms. 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.

2016 Award Recipients – Join CSTA in Honoring Their Accomplishments

Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

CSTA is pleased to announce the winners of the 2016 CSTA Awards for Distinguished Contributions, Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, 2014 and 2015 PAEMST-Science recipients from California, and the 2016 California PAEMST Finalists. The following individuals and organizations will be honored during the 2016 California Science Education Conference  on October 21- 23 in Palm Springs. This year’s group of awardees are truly outstanding. Please join us in congratulating them!

Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award

John Keller

John Keller

The Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award honors an individual who has made a significant contribution to science education in the state and who, through years of leadership and service, has truly made a positive impact on the quality of science teaching. This year’s recipient is John Keller, Ph.D. Dr. Keller is Associate Professor, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Co-Director, Center for Engineering, Science, and Mathematics Education, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. In her letter of recommendation, SDSU science education faculty and former CSTA board member Donna Ross wrote: “He brings people together who share the desire to make a difference in the development and implementation of programs for science teaching. Examples of these projects include the Math and Science Teaching Initiative (MSTI), Noyce Scholars Program, Western Regional Noyce Initiative, and the Science Teacher and Researcher (STAR) program.” Through his work, he has had a dramatic impact on science teacher education, both preservice and in-service, in California, the region, and the country. He developed and implemented the STEM Teacher and Researcher Program which aims to produce excellent K-12 STEM teachers by providing aspiring teachers with opportunities to do authentic research while helping them translate their research experience into classroom practice. SFSU faculty member Larry Horvath said it best in his letter:“John Keller exemplifies the best aspects of a scientist, science educator, and mentor. His contributions to science education in the state of California are varied, significant, and I am sure will continue well 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.

NGSS: Making Your Life Easier

Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

by Peter A’hearn

Wait… What?

NGSS is a big shift. Teachers need to learn new content, figure out how this whole engineering thing relates to science, and develop new unit and lesson plans. How could NGSS possibly make life easier?

The idea that NGSS could make our lives easier came to me during the California State NGSS Rollout #1 Classroom Example lesson on chromatography. I have since done this lesson with high school chemistry students and it made me think back to having my own students do chromatography. I spent lots of time preparing to make sure the experiment went well and achieved the “correct” result. I pre-prepared the solutions and organized and prepped the materials. I re-wrote and re-wrote again the procedure so there was no way a kid could get it wrong. I spent 20 minutes before the lab modeling all of the steps in class, so there was no way to do it wrong. Except that it turns out there were many. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the K-12 science specialist in the Palm Springs Unified School District and is Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Celestial Highlights, September 2016

Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graph of evening planet setting times by Dr. Jeffrey L. Hunt 

Our evening twilight chart for September, depicting the sky about 40 minutes after sunset from SoCal, shows brilliant Venus remaining low, creeping from W to WSW and gaining a little altitude as the month progresses. Its close encounter within 2.5° N of Spica on Sept. 18 is best seen with binoculars to catch the star low in bright twilight. The brightest stars in the evening sky are golden Arcturus descending in the west, and blue-white Vega passing just north of overhead. Look for Altair and Deneb completing the Summer Triangle with Vega. The triangle of Mars-Saturn-Antares expands as Mars seems to hold nearly stationary in SSW as the month progresses, while Saturn and Antares slink off to the SW. 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.