January/February 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 4

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 is the Programs and Policy Director at the National Center for Science Education and is CSTA’s Region 2 Director.

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STEM Conference Hosted by CMSESMC

Posted: Saturday, January 14th, 2017

The Council of Math/Science Educators of San Mateo County will be hosting the 41st annual STEM Conference this February 4, 2017 at the San Mateo County Office of Education. This STEM Conference is the place to get lots of new lessons and ideas to use in your classroom. There will be over twenty-five workshops and a variety of exhibitors that provide participants with a wide range of practical and realistic ideas and resources to use in their science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs from Pre-K to grade 12. With California’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards, we are dedicated to ensuring that we prepare our teachers to take on these educational policies.

Teachers, administrators and parents are invited to explore the many exciting aspects of STEM education and learn about and discuss the latest news, information and issues. This is also an opportunity to network with colleagues who can assist you in building your programs and meet new friends that share your interests and love of teaching.

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.

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Posted: Friday, January 13th, 2017

What follows are several opportunities for science teachers to work with the Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) on various projects that have direct or indirect implications for the implementation of NGSS in California. Please consider applying to one or more of the following opportunities.

CSET Field Testing Opportunities

Field testing opportunities for future CSET Multiple Subjects and Science tests are available beginning Dec. 5, 2016. Participants will have the choice between a $50 Barnes and Noble eGift Card or a $75 test fee voucher that may be applied to future test registration fees. For more information, including how to register to participate, please visit: http://www.pearsonvue.com/espilot/cset.asp. 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.

Submit Your NGSS Lessons and Units Today!

Posted: Friday, January 13th, 2017

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If you or your state, district, school, or organization has designed NGSS-aligned instructional materials, please consider submitting these in order to help provide educators across the country with various models and templates of high-quality lesson and unit plans. 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.

Opportunity for High School Students – Los Angeles County

Posted: Friday, January 13th, 2017

An upcoming Perry Outreach Program on Saturday, April 22, 2017 at the Orthopaedic Institute for Children in Los Angeles, CA. The Perry Outreach Program is a free, one-day, hands-on experience for high school and college-aged women who are interested in pursuing careers in medicine and engineering. Students will hear from women leaders in these fields and try it for themselves by performing mock orthopaedic surgeries and biomechanics experiments. 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.

Science Education Policy Update

Posted: Friday, January 13th, 2017

by Jessica Sawko

January 2017 has proven to be a very busy month for science education policy and CA NGSS implementation activities. CSTA has been and will be there every step of the way, seeking and enacting all options to support high-quality science education and the successful implementation of CA NGSS.

California Department of Education/U.S. Department of Education Science Double-Testing Waiver Hearing

The year started with California Department of Education’s (CDE) hearing with the U.S. Department of Education conducted via WebEx on January 6, 2017. This hearing was the final step in California’s efforts to secure a waiver from the federal government in order to discontinue administration of the old CST and suspension of the reporting of student test scores on a science assessment for two years. As reported by EdSource, the U.S. Department of Education representative, Ann Whalen, a senior adviser to U.S. Secretary John King Jr., committed to making her final ruling “very shortly.” Deputy Superintendent Keric Ashley presented on behalf of CDE during the hearing and did an excellent job describing the broad-based support for this waiver in California, the rationale for the waiver, and California’s commitment to the successful implementation of a new high-quality science assessment. As previously reported, California is moving forward with its plans to administer a census pilot assessments this spring. The testing window is set to open on March 20, 2017. For more information visit New CA Science Test: What You Should Know.

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.