May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

Informal Science Learning with Space Shuttle Endeavour – California Science Center / Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center

Posted: Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

by Kenneth E. Phillips, Ph.D

Learning inside and outside the classroom:

Museums and science centers offer a unique opportunity for learning across generations and age groups. Unlike formal classroom environments in which 5th graders, 10th graders, and graduate students learn separately, great exhibits engage people of all ages around a topic of common interest. Rather than being an exception, learning together is the rule in science centers! This means that informal learning (or free choice learning) involves entire families that encompass a wide range of interests and familiarity with the subject matter. This presents both an opportunity and a challenge with the former being the chance for entire families to explore the world of science together and the latter being the challenge that confronts curators, exhibit designers, A/V specialists and others to create something that is both challenging and accessible by everyone—no small order, indeed!

Of course, STEM learning encompasses both informal and formal settings with the latter being the structured classroom environment with which we are all familiar. The difference isn’t subject matter; rather, it is more a matter of breadth and time. In the science center guests can experience a wide range of subjects in an afternoon and learn a great deal by selecting their own pathways through the subject matter delving in more depth into those areas of greatest interest. In the classroom students have the opportunity for protracted periods of inquiry-based learning but usually within a structured and, often, linear presentation. The two methods of learning are not in conflict but compliment each other remarkably well if each is executed appropriately.



California Science Center 25-year Master Plan:

With the award by NASA of Space Shuttle Endeavour on April 12, 2011, the California Science Center entered the third phase of its 25-year master plan to interpret a world of science through four themes. The first two areas, Creative World and World of Life, opened together in 1998 with Creative World addressing the human-built environment offering hands on learning in the areas of structures, communications and transportation. The second area, World of Life, addresses the five common processes shared by every living organism whether a single-cell life form or a trillion-cell human being.

Phase 2 of the master plan, Ecosystems, takes guests on a tour of eleven different regions of the world. Although each of the 11 has a different theme, the exhibit highlights the common features among ecosystems that appear very different at first glance. This area opened in 2010 and is an innovative blend of hands-on interactive experiences and living collections including many species of animals ranging from desert tortoises to dozens of species of salt water fish. The curator of the salt water tank, Dr. Chuck Kopczak, is experimenting with the growth of live kelp in a captive environment.

Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center:

Science center 1With Endeavour’s arrival the Science Center has embarked on its most ambitious project to date, the 2018 opening of the Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center. It will feature approximately 200 exhibits, 100 artifacts (including Endeavour) and 10 simulators distributed over three galleries (Air, Space and Shuttle) and four physical levels. This $250-million campaign will result in 70-thousand square feet of exhibit space and the opportunity for numerous informal learning opportunities. Chief among the exhibits is the Space Shuttle Endeavour. Displayed in launch configuration with gantry and circular ramp, guests can ascend the entire length of the vehicle and walk 360-degrees around the vehicle while on the launch pad.

Exhibit Development for Informal Learning:

The process of exhibit development begins with a clear definition of the key education messages that define the gallery along with those education messages that accompany individual exhibit experiences. Conceptual designs capture the experience itself and show how a particular scientific or engineering concept will be interpreted to facilitate learning. For example, see the concept development drawing (left) that shows a science center visitor looking through a mockup of the aft flight deck of a space shuttle orbiter while operating the robot arm that is used to maneuver payloads in and out of the orbiter’s payload bay. Science Center 2Science Center 3This exhibit reinforces education messages about the use of robotic devices to help humans in space. The experience itself requires dexterity and teaches the participant how to manipulate the payload within a three dimensional coordinate system. The drawing on the right is a design development rendering that provides guidance for prototyping the experience to assure that it actually works and communicates its intended education message. The primary education message is the same but the prototype rendering helps designers make the right selection of the robot and assure that its range of motion and lift capability will support the experience.

The difference between this informal experience and a more formal learning environment is the means by which the participant learns about the functioning of the robot arm and what that implies for a 3D coordinate system. The informal learning experience is under the direction of the participant who must map the movement of the payload to the direction in which the joystick moves. Through a fun, hands-on experience and a little practice the participant will develop a familiarity with the 3D space through which the payload moves and can thereby mentally construct this space without the need for a formal treatise on coordinate systems and how shuttle robotics perform.

Of course the ideal experience would blend the science center learning opportunity with STEM learning inside the classroom. For example, students might modify the robot’s design or otherwise change its capability as part of a structured curriculum with formal lesson plans. Again, the difference is time and breadth as opposed to subject matter with the science center offering a kinesthetic experience combined with an actual flown spacecraft so students can learn basic science concepts through hands-on learning and links these to real world applications using flown artifacts.

To learn more about the California Science Center and the Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center visit Be on the look-out for field trip options to see Endeavor during the 2014 NSTA Long Beach Area Conference – in Collaboration with CSTA.

Kenneth E. Phillips, Ph.D. is the Curator for Aerospace Science and was invited to contribute to CCS by CSTA member Jill Grace

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy:

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Participate in Chemistry Education Research Study, Earn $500-800 Dollars!

Posted: Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

WestEd, a non-profit educational research agency, has been funded by the US Department of Education to test a new molecular modeling kit, Happy Atoms. Happy Atoms is an interactive chemistry learning experience that consists of a set of physical atoms that connect magnetically to form molecules, and an app that uses image recognition to identify the molecules that you create with the set. WestEd is conducting a study around the effectiveness of using Happy Atoms in the classroom, and we are looking for high school chemistry teachers in California to participate.

As part of the study, teachers will be randomly assigned to either the treatment group (who uses Happy Atoms) or the control group (who uses Happy Atoms at a later date). Teachers in the treatment group will be asked to use the Happy Atoms set in their classrooms for 5 lessons over the course of the fall 2017 semester. Students will complete pre- and post-assessments and surveys around their chemistry content knowledge and beliefs about learning chemistry. WestEd will provide access to all teacher materials, teacher training, and student materials needed to participate.

Participating teachers will receive a stipend of $500-800. You can read more information about the study here:

Please contact Rosanne Luu at or 650.381.6432 if you are interested in participating in this opportunity, or if you have any questions!

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.

2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption Reviewer Application

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

The California Department of Education and State Board of Education are now accepting applications for reviewers for the 2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption. The application deadline is 3:00 pm, July 21, 2017. The application is comprehensive, so don’t wait until the last minute to apply.

On Tuesday, May 9, 2017, State Superintendent Tom Torlakson forwarded this recruitment letter to county and district superintendents and charter school administrators.

Review panel members will evaluate instructional materials for use in kindergarten through grade eight, inclusive, that are aligned with the California Next Generation Science Content Standards for California Public Schools (CA NGSS). 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.

Lessons Learned from the NGSS Early Implementer Districts

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

On March 31, 2017, Achieve released two documents examining some lessons learned from the California K-8 Early Implementation Initiative. The initiative began in August 2014 and was developed by the K-12 Alliance at WestEd, with close collaborative input on its design and objectives from the State Board of Education, the California Department of Education, and Achieve.

Eight (8) traditional school districts and two (2) charter management organizations were selected to participate in the initiative, becoming the first districts in California to implement the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Those districts included Galt Joint Union Elementary, Kings Canyon Joint Unified, Lakeside Union, Oakland Unified, Palm Springs Unified, San Diego Unified, Tracy Joint Unified, Vista Unified, Aspire, and High Tech High.

To more closely examine some of the early successes and challenges experienced by the Early Implementer LEAs, Achieve interviewed nine of the ten participating districts and compiled that information into two resources, focusing primarily on professional learning and instructional materials. 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.

Using Online Simulations to Support the NGSS in Middle School Classrooms

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

by Lesley Gates, Loren Nikkel, and Kambria Eastham

Middle school teachers in Kings Canyon Unified School District (KCUSD), a CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative district, have been diligently working on transitioning to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) integrated model for middle school. This year, the teachers focused on building their own knowledge of the Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs). They have been gathering and sharing ideas at monthly collaborative meetings as to how to make sure their students are not just learning about science but that they are actually doing science in their classrooms. Students should be planning and carrying out investigations to gather data for analysis in order to construct explanations. This is best done through hands-on lab experiments. Experimental work is such an important part of the learning of science and education research shows that students learn better and retain more when they are active through inquiry, investigation, and application. A Framework for K-12 Science Education (2011) notes, “…learning about science and engineering involves integration of the knowledge of scientific explanations (i.e., content knowledge) and the practices needed to engage in scientific inquiry and engineering design. Thus the framework seeks to illustrate how knowledge and practice must be intertwined in designing learning experiences in K-12 Science Education” (pg. 11).

Many middle school teachers in KCUSD are facing challenges as they begin implementing these student-driven, inquiry-based NGSS science experiences in their classrooms. First, many of the middle school classrooms at our K-8 school sites are not designed as science labs. Learn More…

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Written by NGSS Early Implementer

NGSS Early Implementer

In 2015 CSTA began to publish a series of articles written by teachers participating in the NGSS Early Implementation Initiative. This article was written by an educator(s) participating in the initiative. CSTA thanks them for their contributions and for sharing their experience with the science teaching community.

Celestial Highlights: May – July 2017

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

May Through July 2017 with Web Resources for the Solar Eclipse of August 21, 2017

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graphs of planet rising and setting times by Jeffrey L. Hunt.

In spring and summer 2017, Jupiter is the most prominent “star” in the evening sky, and Venus, even brighter, rules the morning. By mid-June, Saturn rises at a convenient evening hour, allowing both giant planets to be viewed well in early evening until Jupiter sinks low in late September. The Moon is always a crescent in its monthly encounters with Venus, but is full whenever it appears near Jupiter or Saturn in the eastern evening sky opposite the Sun. (In 2017, Full Moon is near Jupiter in April, Saturn in June.) At intervals of 27-28 days thereafter, the Moon appears at a progressively earlier phase at each pairing with the outer planet until its final conjunction, with Moon a thin crescent, low in the west at dusk. You’ll see many beautiful events by just following the Moon’s wanderings at dusk and dawn in the three months leading up to the solar eclipse. 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.