September 2016 – Vol. 29 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

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:

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:

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.

Leave a Reply


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…

Powered By DT Author Box

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…

Powered By DT Author Box

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.