May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

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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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: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/HappyAtoms

Please contact Rosanne Luu at rluu@wested.org 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.