September 2016 – Vol. 29 No. 1

Highlights from NGSS Science Curriculum Framework Focus Group #3

Posted: Monday, February 3rd, 2014

by Jill Grace

I had the pleasure of attending the Science Curriculum Framework Focus group in Orange County on January 31, 2014.  The focus group was hosted by the Orange County Department of Education with 3 other counties, Ventura, Los Angeles, and Riverside, participating via teleconference.  A huge shout out to the 80 dedicated individuals who attended and had to brave rush-hour traffic on a Friday evening!  It was also nice to see several dedicated members of the Instructional Quality Commission present among the four counties listening in on the conversation.  

Since Heather did such a great job explaining the process, I thought I’d highlight a few of the suggestions put forth by both members of the focus group and members of the public.  There was a tremendous amount of information given, so keep in mind that these are just highlights.

One common theme that emerged from the meeting was the need to help teachers with the shift from what students KNOW to what they can DO.  Grade level examples with pedagogy and content, as well as rubrics for measuring success were requested.  It was emphasized that teachers will need help in understanding how engineering, literacy skills, nature of science, and crosscutting concepts can be embedded in the content, not taught as separate “units”.  It was also expressed that there was a need to help teachers identify what specific content and specific skills students would have acquired before “getting to my class” (like an atlas or learning map).  Models for different ways of bundling the standards were requested.  There were numerous suggestions for vignettes, videos of what NGSS looks like in a classroom, as well as an expanded resource website.

NGSS is designed to embed Common Core, so naturally conversation on this topic emerged.   It was requested that the framework help show the integration of math and language arts in an interdisciplinary way, and provide support ideas for cross-curricular training.  Incorporating some common language arts strategies that aren’t as familiar to science teachers, as well as known science education strategies that support literacy and metacognition would be helpful.  The frameworks should emphasize that reading and writing about science is not the same as doing and that hands on experiences can improve the literacy development in students – literacy and writing support science (not vice versa).  It was also stressed that because science is taught conceptually, this should inform collaborations between science teachers and other content teachers.  Further, distinguishing between evidence in science and evidence in ELA will be necessary.  Oh yes, and PLEASE help with finding quality, relevant, and grade-level appropriate readings for use with students in a science class.

Suggestions were made to help inform local education agencies about NGSS and including:

  • providing rationale by the Science Expert Panel for the middle grades learning progressions;
  • help with transitioning and “rolling out” NGSS;
  • help with professional development, information on credentialing, emphasizing equity across the State, and that science should be a full-year program for all students in all schools;
  • clearly defining and providing course protocol for what “life science”, “physical science”, and even “integrated science” should be at the high school levels are necessary as the existing courses do not necessarily hold up the vision or goals of NGSS. In addition, for students moving on beyond these courses, provide guidance for STEM bound students.  

Conversations arose about motivation for both teachers and students.  Suggestions were made to

  • emphasize that science should be hands-on;
  • connect students and teachers with scientists;
  • offer strategies on how to foster collaboration between higher education, informal/outdoor education groups, and non-profits and what this looks like in the classroom.

Other suggestions included requests to leave some flexibility for the creativity of teachers.  This flexibility could allow for differentiation of NGSS to meet the needs of a particular school population, allowing it to be relevant for those students and their community.  Framework writers were encouraged keep suggestions practical as many classrooms in California have large numbers of students, few supplies and resources, and only 45-55 minute periods.

Finally, another important theme emerged with respect to helping teachers understand the generality of the Performance Expectations (PEs).  There seems to be some confusion that because content isn’t explicitly stated in the PE, it won’t be taught.  Teachers will need guidance on how to build content to meet the goal of the PE. For example, although “acid base chemistry” isn’t explicitly stated, students would need to have an understanding of it to meet the high school standard HS-ESS3-6, which involves understanding the impact of human activity on Earth systems such as the ocean, atmosphere, biosphere, and others.  Although DNA isn’t explicitly stated, students would need to have some understanding of it to meet the expectations of the middle school standard MS-LS3, which involves understanding inheritance and variation of traits.  Teachers will need to know what prior knowledge students will have on the topic, as well as what new knowledge students will need to acquire to meet the PEs.

As mentioned previously, much more was shared beyond this, but these were some big themes that stood out to me.  Two more focus groups are being held in February: Sacramento with video conference locations from Humboldt, Shasta, and Siskiyou on February 4, 2014, and Fresno on February 11, 2014.  More info can be found at:  Public comments are also encouraged by February 18, 2014.  You can submit your own comments to

Written by Jill Grace

Jill Grace

Jill Grace is a Regional Director for the K-12 Alliance and is the President-elect for CSTA.

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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.