September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 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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CSTA Is Now Accepting Nominations for Board Members

Posted: Friday, November 17th, 2017

Current, incoming, and outgoing CSTA Board of Directors at June 3, 2017 meeting.

Updated 7:25 pm, Nov. 17, 2017

It’s that time of year when CSTA is looking for dedicated and qualified persons to fill the upcoming vacancies on its Board of Directors. This opportunity allows you to help shape the policy and determine the path that the Board will take in the new year. There are time and energy commitments, but that is far outweighed by the personal satisfaction of knowing that you are an integral part of an outstanding professional educational organization, dedicated to the support and guidance of California’s science teachers. You will also have the opportunity to help CSTA review and support legislation that benefits good science teaching and teachers.

Right now is an exciting time to be involved at the state level in the California Science Teachers Association. The CSTA Board of Directors is currently involved in implementing the Next Generations Science Standards and its strategic plan. If you are interested in serving on the CSTA Board of Directors, now is the time to submit your name for consideration. 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.

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Announces 2017 Finalists for Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching

Posted: Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today nominated eight exceptional secondary mathematics and science teachers as California finalists for the 2017 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST).

“These teachers are dedicated and accomplished individuals whose innovative teaching styles prepare our students for 21st century careers and college and develop them into the designers and inventors of the future,” Torlakson said. “They rank among the finest in their profession and also serve as wonderful mentors and role models.”

The California Department of Education (CDE) partners annually with the California Science Teachers Association and the California Mathematics Council to recruit and select nominees for the PAEMST program—the highest recognition in the nation for a mathematics or science teacher. The Science Finalists will be recognized at the CSTA Awards Luncheon on Saturday, October 14, 2017. 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.

Thriving in a Time of Change

Posted: Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

by Jill Grace

By the time this message is posted online, most schools across California will have been in session for at least a month (if not longer, and hat tip to that bunch!). Long enough to get a good sense of who the kids in your classroom are and to get into that groove and momentum of the daily flow of teaching. It’s also very likely that for many of you who weren’t a part of a large grant initiative or in a district that set wheels in motion sooner, this is the first year you will really try to shift instruction to align to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). I’m not going to lie to you, it’s a challenging year – change is hard. Change is even harder when there’s not a playbook to go by.  But as someone who has had the very great privilege of walking alongside teachers going through that change for the past two years and being able to glimpse at what this looks like for different demographics across that state, there are three things I hope you will hold on to. These are things I have come to learn will overshadow the challenge: a growth mindset will get you far, one is a very powerful number, and it’s about the kids. Learn More…

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Written by Jill Grace

Jill Grace

Jill Grace is a Regional Director for the K-12 Alliance and is President of CSTA.

If You Are Not Teaching Science Then You Are Not Teaching Common Core

Posted: Thursday, August 31st, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn 

“Science and Social Studies can be taught for the last half hour of the day on Fridays”

– Elementary school principal

Anyone concerned with the teaching of science in elementary school is keenly aware of the problem of time. Kids need to learn to read, and learning to read takes time, nobody disputes that. So Common Core ELA can seem like the enemy of science. This was a big concern to me as I started looking at the curriculum that my district had adopted for Common Core ELA. I’ve been through those years where teachers are learning a new curriculum, and know first-hand how a new curriculum can become the focus of attention- sucking all the air out of the room. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Tools for Creating NGSS Standards Based Lessons

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Elizabeth Cooke

Think back on your own experiences with learning science in school. Were you required to memorize disjointed facts without understanding the concepts?

Science Education Background

In the past, science education focused on rote memorization and learning disjointed ideas. Elementary and secondary students in today’s science classes are fortunate now that science instruction has shifted from students demonstrating what they know to students demonstrating how they are able to apply their knowledge. Science education that reflects the Next Generation Science Standards challenges students to conduct investigations. As students explore phenomena and discrepant events they engage in academic discourse guided by focus questions from their teachers or student generated questions of that arise from analyzing data and creating and revising models that explain natural phenomena. Learn More…

Written by Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke teaches TK-5 science at Markham Elementary in the Oakland Unified School District, is an NGSS Early Implementer, and is CSTA’s Secretary.