September 2016 – Vol. 29 No. 1

Integrating Science and English Language Development

Posted: Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

by Valerie Joyner

Teachers frequently see children light up with excitement about science activities, and nothing motivates language development like the hunger to express exciting new ideas.  For the past two years the Exploratorium Institute for Inquiry (IFI) and the Sonoma Valley Unified School District (SVUSD) have teamed up to explore the powerful connections between language acquisition and science.  Armed with funding from the U.S. Department of Education, the Vadasz Family Foundation, and the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation, El Verano Elementary School has brought science lessons into the mainstream of English Language Development.

The IFI and El Verano School have been working together to develop a model set of hands-on inquiry-based science lessons that actively promote English language development.  The program uses open-ended science investigations along with science notebooks and oral presentations to promote academic and conversational language.

SVUSD presents a perfect challenge scenario for testing the integration of language and science learning, with a district wide population of 58 percent English Language Learners (ELL). El Verano, specifically, has 70 percent ELL students and is now in year five of Program Improvement status of the federal No Child Left Behind law.  It’s a tribute to this extraordinary program that as of 2009, the school and all its subgroups have met state academic growth targets.

“Inquiry is a wonderful way to teach kids.  It honors who they are, where they are, and what they are thinking,” says El Verano principal Maite Iturri.  “It gives them a reason to want to know the language.  Language happens in context, by having those experiences in the classroom.”

Craig Madison, a third grade teacher at El Verano, states, “Science is this case is the vehicle for (English language development).  It is so mutually beneficial.  It’s giving the students a reason why they should know a meaning and why they should speak—because they have something that has a deep, rich meaning to think about.”

Last year, the students in Madison’s class were handed flashlights and mirrors and … the classroom lights went out.  The students were given time to explore the concept of light reflection on their own.  “We know kids are curious, we know they like to play,” says Madison.  “When they are allowed to discover things on their own, they really retain that.”

After the initial exploratory period, the students worked in small groups to determine a question they wanted to investigate.  They took ownership of the direction their investigation would take.  Students put together their own lesson with an educated hypothesis and steps they would follow.  They made discoveries and put together a poster outline of their findings.  Their final task was to give a presentation of their findings.

“It’s fun.  You can experience stuff you don’t really know about,” said one of Madison’s students.  “My science projects has helped me learn to speak English better at school because I have new words.”

The idea of integrating science and English Language Development is not new.  Research has shown that language development in students can be stifled by their inability to access and comprehend science terms and concepts in reading, writing, and through discourse.  There has also been a connection between strong language development and the use of rich hands-on science activities with an inquiry-based approach.  These techniques give students opportunities to first experience the science they’re learning, before being asked to comprehend, apply, and discuss it.

These pioneering local teachers, fresh from a successful launch, plan to integrate the program into all the schools in Sonoma Valley.  Over the course of the next three years, teachers in the pilot group will disseminate the program to 90 district colleagues in the form of workshops, videos, and classroom visits.  The Institute for Inquiry will then teach educators how to use the program through the variety of workshops and forums they provide to school districts nationwide.

The thrill of discovery inherent in science exploration goes to the very core of the purpose of early education: learning to learn and learning to love learning.  Now science educators can look forward to another powerful program for igniting the love of learning in our students.

Valerie Joyner teaches elementary school in Petaluma and is CSTA’s region 1 director.

Written by Valerie Joyner

Valerie Joyner

Valerie Joyner is a retired elementary science educator and is CSTA’s Primary (grades K-2) Director.

2 Responses

  1. This should be a shot in the arm for the state’s ELD program and elementary science curriculum, which has been on the back burner for years. Since math and language arts have taken much of the prime time for schools in the program improvement status arena, it would make sense to combine both curriculum areas!

  2. I’d love to find an update on this work! The NSTA has an interesting article (possibly related?) and things look good.

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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.