September 2016 – Vol. 29 No. 1

Integrating Common Core into Everyday Teaching

Posted: Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

by Joanne Michael

If your school is anything like mine, math and language arts have recently been overhauled to meet with the Common Core Standards. Just as everyone seems to be getting their heads slightly above water with the changes, in comes NGSS, flipping the standards around and creating more panic. What?! We need to somehow integrate more science into our lessons? With the new curriculum that I am barely understanding in the first place? How am I supposed to do that?!

With practice, Common Core and NGSS can be easily integrated. Under each NGSS standard is a list of the language arts and math standards that can be aligned with relative ease.

Common Core Connection Box - from NGSS Grade 4. Structure, Function, and Information Processing

Common Core Connection Box – from NGSS Grade 4. Structure, Function, and Information Processing

However, many other standards in language arts can also be incorporated into science (and vice versa). Below are just a few ideas that I have used in my own classroom, or helped colleagues use in theirs.

Even though it is not mandated for another couple years, I have begun introducing science vocabulary with my students. As a science specialist I teach grades K-5, so my hope is that by the time NGSS is fully operational even my youngest students will be fluent in the science vernacular. For classroom teachers, this can easily be done as well, and will definitely help them (and you!) out as the year progresses.

Especially with the younger ones, the more complex the vocabulary, the more intimidated they are. Once they understand what it means and how to use it, though, they are excited to practice! For example, instead of asking 3rd graders “what happened when baking soda and vinegar were mixed?” changing the prompt to, “state your observations when the baking soda and vinegar were combined” gives the students a chance to practice reading advanced terminology and subconsciously encourages them to use higher-level terms, themselves.



Once the students start using higher-level terminology (while still appropriate for their grade level), they can start to write lab reports for their experiments. One of the language arts standards for 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade is to “write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly” (Text Types and Purposes-2), as well as “Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences (Text Types and Purposes- 3). Using the baking soda and vinegar experiment, the students can write a story about an imaginary student doing the experiment – complete with pictures, if desired, to make it a children’s book for younger grades. Particularly for the 4th and 5th grade – why not have the student write up the purpose, procedure, results, and the effect this information can have on future experiments, or how can knowing that baking soda and vinegar produces carbon dioxide bubbles help the general public?!

Many of my students like science, but claim that they don’t like math and don’t understand why we have to do math when it is clearly science time! If only it were that easy to completely isolate one subject from another – fortunately, it can be fun to do both… and integrate the new Common Core standards at the same time! Every grade level has the same basic eight mathematical practices:

  1. Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them;
  2. Reason abstractly and quantitatively;
  3. Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others;
  4. Model with mathematics;
  5. Use appropriate tools strategically;
  6. Attend to precision;
  7. Look for and make use of structure; and
  8. Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.

While some lend themselves to elementary science more easily than others do, all eight can be done. For example, is your class discussing weather patterns? If you build a working (rudimentary) thermometer, you have used practice #5. Tracking the weather at your school and at a few other schools in different parts of the country, and charting the data to analyze for patterns, incorporates practices #3, #4, and #8, and depending on how you present the material you may also be meeting other practice standards as well. If your school has a “sister school” in another city, exchanging postcards with them can help bridge language arts standards as well as help form relationships between the students, to hopefully make them WANT to learn more about the sister school’s location.

Bridging between Common Core and the science can go the opposite direction as well. If studying fractions, have students measure ½ a cup of baking soda, and add ¼ cup of cornstarch to it. How much is there now? Theorize what would happen if ¼ cup of vinegar was added to this baking soda/cornstarch mixture. They know baking soda and vinegar, but does cornstarch and vinegar have any kind of chemical reaction? After combining them, the students can write a math equation, work on a lab write-up, and theorize as to why they observed the reaction that they did. Math, language arts AND science, all disguised as a messy time? Sounds like combining Common Core and NGSS to me!

Written by Joanne Michael

Joanne Michael

Joanne Michael is a K-5 Science Specialist for Manhattan Beach Unified, former CSTA Upper Elementary director, and is a current CSTA member.

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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.