September 2016 – Vol. 29 No. 1

High Hopes – Few Opportunities: The State of Elementary Science Education in California

Posted: Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

by Valerie Joyner

The results of the research report High Hopes – Few Opportunities will not come as a surprise to science educators in California. On October 25, 2011, in partnership with The Lawrence Hall of Science at the University of California, Berkeley, SRI International, Belden Russonello & Stewart, Stone’s Throw Communications, and Inverness Research, The Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning at WestEd released the report on the state of science education in California’s elementary schools. The results of this 2010-2011 study included research surveys of California elementary and middle school teachers, principals, school district leaders, case studies, the results of previous public opinion surveys, and focus groups. While Californians maintain the belief that “high-quality science education” should be a top priority; the reality is that it is not.

The 2010 research survey A Priority for California’s Future: Science for Students found 86% of the respondents view science education as critical for California’s students. They further believe (70%) that science education should begin in elementary school in order to keep California and the United States in the forefront of technology and innovation. It is not only the public perception that science education is essential, but 92% and 95% of principals and teachers, respectively, believe the need to have quality science education is a high priority and that it should begin in kindergarten.

Despite public opinion and the opinions of California’s educators the fact remains that science does not exist as a priority in our schools. The study points out several challenges that keep science from being taught in our elementary classrooms; the emphasis on English Language Arts (ELA) and math, limited funds to purchase supplies, limited professional development opportunities, and lack of district support. Teachers point to the lack of time that can be devoted to science because of the state’s continued emphasis on ELA and math, and its associated testing to determine proficiency. As students move up in the grades they begin to spend more time learning science. The majority of kindergarten and first grade teachers report spending less than one hour per week on science instruction and experiences. Yet in fifth grade classrooms where science is tested, about 40% of classrooms spend 120+ minutes per week. The evidence suggests that a majority of our students spend less than one hour on science instruction per week.

About 90% of California’s elementary teachers report that they feel “very prepared” to teach ELA and math, yet only one-third feel they are “very prepared” to teach science. Add to that the feeling of teachers that they lack the background necessary for “high-quality” science instruction, including investigations and inquiry. Science related professional development is lacking and seldom supported by districts. If teachers are to present “high quality” science instruction where students are actively involved in the practices of science, they need strong district support and significant science initiatives.

The report concludes with recommendations that will assist with the development of science education as a priority in our elementary schools where students participate in meaningful investigations, experimentation, and scientific reasoning. These recommendations include providing teachers with district commitment, science expertise, resources, and building partnerships with industry, universities, and science institutions. Additionally, a recommendation was made to allocate the time necessary for science instruction by integrating science across the curriculum.

This is a very powerful study, one that should be used to influence our schools, administrators, and the California legislature. Read the full report at and share it with your colleagues. Reform efforts always take time in education, but when we work together we can accomplish so much. Let us all work to change the title of this study from High Hopes – Few Opportunities, to High Hopes – Many Opportunities!

It is time to take action! Read and discuss High Hopes – Few Opportunities with parents, colleagues, your administration, and potential partners. Take time to share your thoughts, ideas, and implementation efforts with us. Let us all take a first step toward reforming science education!

Valerie Joyner is district science lead teacher for Petaluma City Schools and is the CSTA’s region 1 director.

Written by Valerie Joyner

Valerie Joyner

Valerie Joyner is a retired elementary science educator and is CSTA’s Primary (grades K-2) Director.

One Response

  1. […] first identify it. CSTA Region I Director and second grade teacher, Valerie Joyner, discusses in her eCCS article this month, the recently released study High Hopes-Few Opportunities-The Status of Elementary Science […]

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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.