September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

Human Impacts, Human Solutions: Engaging Elementary School Children in Solution-Based Science

Posted: Monday, April 1st, 2013

by Minda Berbeco

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are scheduled for release this spring and already many teachers and administrators are abuzz with questions about the anticipated changes. How will core topics be addressed? Will teachers need to rethink their lesson plans? Are students going to be overwhelmed? Many folks were startled by the inclusion of human impacts on natural systems in the standards, even at younger ages – leading them to ask how we can address such issues without making children fearful and despondent? This last question is one I received long before drafts of the NGSS were even released, but now that it appears it will be a core component of several of the standards, the question has become all the more relevant. How, indeed, can we talk about human impacts on natural systems without frightening or depressing students? 

Although some well-meaning parents and teachers might want to try to protect their children and students from these realities, it is unrealistic to think that children haven’t already heard about many of them. If you ask even young students about polar bears and ozone layer depletion, for example, you’ll probably find that they have heard something about these topics from family, friends, or even media like television or movies. Rather than evade the subject and risk letting possible misconceptions stand, the challenge is to teach the climate science behind these issues so that students don’t find them quite so terrifying. A good way of doing so is to emphasize potential solutions and teach students about possible ways to mitigate or adapt to climate change. This is an extraordinarily broad challenge for teachers, so the question is where we must start.

A good starting place is with a federal organization you can trust for quality scientific information and a solutions-focused approach to management, such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). They have a core curriculum centering on coral reefs: their biology, human impacts, and management. Unlike many lessons around human impacts on natural systems, these lessons start in younger years (third grade) where students begin to learn about coral reefs and their inhabitants. After understanding reef system basics, students can then start to learn about human impacts on coral reefs and how they can be managed in a thoughtful manner. The curricula and lesson plans are located at http://coralreef.noaa.gov/education/educators/resourcecd/lessonplans/.

Although many students easily make connections between themselves and ocean systems, others do not – coral reefs just seem too far away even though California is a coastal state. Another way for teachers to help students frame human impacts on natural systems in a solutions-focused manner is to first connect them to their immediate landscape by looking at the schoolyard itself or the urban ecosystem that students live in. The Cary Institute has developed very clever lesson plans encouraging teachers to take advantage of their own schoolyard to teach about basic scientific questions regarding human impacts on systems. Through these lessons, elementary school students learn about the natural, physical, and social elements of their environment and how they interact and affect one another. In a lesson demonstrating human impacts on soils, for example, students are asked to compare schoolyard soils with high and low student traffic.  They can measure soil temperature, percolation, and even critters in these different locations to understand how humans impact their environment. From there, teachers can engage students in conversations about how people affect their environments, and ways in which students can work to manage those impacts.

The lesson plans are located at: http://www.caryinstitute.org/educators/teaching-materials.

Sometimes taking students outside of the classroom can be difficult, and having an easy-to- access media source at their fingertips can be a good alternative for teaching children about scientific issues. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has done a nice job putting together an informative and interactive website with videos demonstrating not only the science of climate change but also the challenges and potential solutions. The videos take students on virtual expeditions around the globe to examine human impacts in different locations, discussing how we know what we know about climate change and the human connection. It’s a colorful, inviting website that teachers can use to support classroom activities or ask students to visit on their own. The website is located at: http://www.epa.gov/climatestudents/.

Learning about human impacts on natural systems can be emotionally challenging for students, particularly at the elementary school age. However, the effects of climate change are becoming increasingly more visible and there are great resources available to help teachers address these issues. Students are already hearing about the challenges. It is up to their science teachers to put them into context, explain the science in an age-appropriate manner, and help them to develop their understanding and skills for the future.

Minda Berbeco is the Programs and Policy Director at the National Center for Science Education.

Written by Minda Berbeco

Minda Berbeco

Minda Berbeco was the Programs and Policy Director at the National Center for Science Education and is now the Director of the Sierra Club San Francisco Chapter.

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State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Announces 2017 Finalists for Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching

Posted: Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today nominated eight exceptional secondary mathematics and science teachers as California finalists for the 2017 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST).

“These teachers are dedicated and accomplished individuals whose innovative teaching styles prepare our students for 21st century careers and college and develop them into the designers and inventors of the future,” Torlakson said. “They rank among the finest in their profession and also serve as wonderful mentors and role models.”

The California Department of Education (CDE) partners annually with the California Science Teachers Association and the California Mathematics Council to recruit and select nominees for the PAEMST program—the highest recognition in the nation for a mathematics or science teacher. The Science Finalists will be recognized at the CSTA Awards Luncheon on Saturday, October 14, 2017. Learn More…

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California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

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Posted: Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

by Jill Grace

By the time this message is posted online, most schools across California will have been in session for at least a month (if not longer, and hat tip to that bunch!). Long enough to get a good sense of who the kids in your classroom are and to get into that groove and momentum of the daily flow of teaching. It’s also very likely that for many of you who weren’t a part of a large grant initiative or in a district that set wheels in motion sooner, this is the first year you will really try to shift instruction to align to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). I’m not going to lie to you, it’s a challenging year – change is hard. Change is even harder when there’s not a playbook to go by.  But as someone who has had the very great privilege of walking alongside teachers going through that change for the past two years and being able to glimpse at what this looks like for different demographics across that state, there are three things I hope you will hold on to. These are things I have come to learn will overshadow the challenge: a growth mindset will get you far, one is a very powerful number, and it’s about the kids. Learn More…

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Written by Jill Grace

Jill Grace

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

If You Are Not Teaching Science Then You Are Not Teaching Common Core

Posted: Thursday, August 31st, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn 

“Science and Social Studies can be taught for the last half hour of the day on Fridays”

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Tools for Creating NGSS Standards Based Lessons

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Elizabeth Cooke

Think back on your own experiences with learning science in school. Were you required to memorize disjointed facts without understanding the concepts?

Science Education Background

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Written by Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke teaches TK-5 science at Markham Elementary in the Oakland Unified School District, is an NGSS Early Implementer, and is CSTA’s Secretary.

News and Happenings in CSTA’s Region 1 – Fall 2017

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Marian Murphy-Shaw

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This month I was fortunate enough to hear about some new topics to share with our entire region. Some of you may access the online or newsletter options, others may attend events in person that are nearer to you. Long time CSTA member and environmental science educator Mike Roa is well known to North Bay Area teachers for his volunteer work sharing events and resources. In this month’s Region 1 updates I am happy to make a few of the options Mike offers available to our region. 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.