September 2016 – Vol. 29 No. 1

Is Science Practiced in Your Classroom? Seven Overarching Skills Used by Scientists (Part 1 of 2)

Posted: Friday, February 1st, 2013

By Bethany Dixon

The College Board has released seven science practices that describe the overarching skills and abilities that scientists use, and which will crucial for students to succeed with the new Advanced Placement (AP) Science Examinations and the upcoming Next Generation Science Standards. Intended to allow students more opportunities to build their inquiry-based reasoning skills, the practices will be implemented via revamped discipline-specific courses: AP Biology’s new Curriculum Framework began this year and plans for a revamped AP Chemistry (2013-2014) and AP Physics (2014-2015) are on the horizon. Here are the first three of the seven practices with use-them-now tips for your classroom.

Use REPRESENTATIONS and MODELS to communicate scientific phenomena and solve scientific problems.
Building models has been a mainstay of science education since the first “solar system” was made out of wire hangers. This type of kitschy, inaccurate model can be used to spark questions about how models can be improved, what scientists can learn from them, and how refining a model can help scientists (and students) to better understand complex systems. Allowing students to build and critique their own models of intricate scientific phenomena helps them to understand subtleties that might be missed in a traditional lecture. I use this strategy in groups: teams are given index cards, pipe cleaners, string, pennies, paperclips, Play-Doh, and masking tape. I use a giant “modeling toy box” filled with random donated items like packaging, plastic bottles, lids, colorful math counters, etc. Students select items from the box and model their system in partners and then share within a group of four, discussing benefits and drawbacks to each design. Critical thinking with models also extends to discussion of model organisms in science and bioethics.

Use MATHEMATICS appropriately.
Quantitative skills are an absolute necessity for any researcher! Allowing students to discover early that math skills can be used to solve student-selected problems, and WHICH math skills can be used for which type of problem, empowers students to be more numerically literate. When I hear the inevitable groans and moans in my middle school science classes at the beginning of the year, I explain that now that we are in Middle School,  and Math and Science are “BFFs”—remember your best buddy, Science? She isn’t going ANYWHERE without her bestie, Math EVER AGAIN. They are fused at the hip like middle school girls. Luckily, Math is a really good influence on Science and helps her solve all kinds of problems, and you’ll find out from Science that Math is actually a much cooler friend than you ever imagined—you might even fall in love with Math and be happy that Science introduced you. AP Biology has added grid-in items on their newest exam, and we can expect to see more quantitative skills requested in introductory college classes, as math skills frequently separate which students continue in science. Make sure your class can “do the math” when they get there: for example, work with your math department to find out when they teach graphing or statistics and see if you can arrange some cross-curricular homework.

Engage in SCIENTIFIC QUESTIONING to extend thinking or to guide investigations.
Asking and answering scientific questions is one of the most difficult tasks a researcher faces. Narrowing the wonderful world of science into a single, testable question can be excruciating for graduate school students. Figuring out HOW to run the test is part of the creativity and excitement of science that is so frequently glossed over in school. So often in textbooks, it seems as if the researchers magically already “knew” how to test these questions. Taking students back to the basics of research is exciting. Most often, they seem to do it on accident, without even realizing they’re being coerced into a situation they cannot escape without thinking. Watch your students after a lab. What do they ask? What do they want to do next? How could they change the lab and what would they do? Why would they do that? Would the experiment still be safe? Valid? Would it test a new hypothesis? Starting an experiment from “scratch” can be fun, but engaging students to extend experiments that you’re already doing can yield exciting results that begin to invite them into the world of investigation.

We would love to hear what strategies you use that mirror the first three science practices! Please feel free to reply and share! Part 2, coming up in March, will include the last four practices:

  • Plan and implement DATA COLLECTION strategies appropriate to a particular scientific question.
  • Perform DATA ANALYSIS and evaluation of evidence.
  • Work with scientific EXPLANATIONS AND THEORIES.
  • CONNECT AND RELATE knowledge across various scales, concepts, and representations.

Written by Bethany Dixon

Bethany Dixon is a science teacher at Western Sierra Collegiate Academy, is a CSTA Publications Committee Member, and is a member of CSTA.

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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.