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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CSTA Annual Conference Early Bird Rates End July 14

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Jessica Sawko

Teachers engaged in workshop activity

Teachers engaging in hands-on learning during a workshop at the 2016 CSTA conference.

Don’t miss your chance to register at the early bird rate for the 2017 CSTA Conference – the early-bird rate closes July 14. Need ideas on how to secure funding for your participation? Visit our website for suggestions, a budget planning tool, and downloadable justification letter to share with your admin. Want to take advantage of the early rate – but know your district will pay eventually? Register online today and CSTA will reimburse you when we receive payment from your district/employer. (For more information on how that works contact Zi Stair in the office for details – 916-979-7004 or zi@cascience.org.)

New Information Now Available On-line:

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.

Goodbye Outgoing and Welcome Incoming CSTA Board Members

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

Jill Grace

Jill Grace, CSTA President, 2017-2019

On July 1, 2017 five CSTA members concluded their service and four new board members joined the ranks of the CSTA Board of Directors. CSTA is so grateful for all the volunteer board of directors who contribute hours upon hours of time and energy to advance the work of the association. At the June 3 board meeting, CSTA was able to say goodbye to the outgoing board members and welcome the incoming members.

This new year also brings with it a new president for CSTA. As of July 1, 2017 Jill Grace is the president of the California Science Teachers Association. Jill is a graduate of California State University, Long Beach, a former middle school science teacher, and is currently a Regional Director with the K-12 Alliance @ WestEd where she works with California NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative districts and charter networks in the San Diego area.

Outgoing Board Members

  • Laura Henriques (President-Elect: 2011 – 2013, President: 2013 – 2015, Past President: 2015 – 2017)
  • Valerie Joyner (Region 1 Director: 2009 – 2013, Primary Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Mary Whaley (Informal Science Education Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Sue Campbell (Middle School/Jr. High Director: 2015 – 2017)
  • Marcus Tessier (2-Year College Director: 2015 – 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.

Finding My Student’s Motivation of Learning Through Engineering Tasks

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Huda Ali Gubary and Susheela Nath

It’s 8:02 and the bell rings. My students’ walk in and pick up an entry ticket based on yesterday’s lesson and homework. My countdown starts for students to begin…3, 2, 1. Ten students are on task and diligently completing the work, twenty are off task with behaviors ranging from talking up a storm with their neighbors to silently staring off into space. This was the start of my classes, more often than not. My students rarely showed the enthusiasm for a class that I had eagerly prepared for. I spent so much time searching for ways to get my students excited about the concepts they were learning. I wanted them to feel a connection to the lessons and come into my class motivated about what they were going to learn next. I would ask myself how I could make my class memorable where the kids were in the driver’s seat of learning. Incorporating engineering made this possible. 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 California NGSS k-8 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.

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Unveils Updated Recommended Literature List

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson unveiled an addition of 285 award-winning titles to the Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list.

“The books our students read help broaden their perspectives, enhance their knowledge, and fire their imaginations,” Torlakson said. “The addition of these award-winning titles represents the state’s continued commitment to the interests and engagement of California’s young readers.”

The Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list is a collection of more than 8,000 titles of recommended reading for children and adolescents. Reflecting contemporary and classic titles, including California authors, this online list provides an exciting range of literature that students should be reading at school and for pleasure. Works include fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama to provide for a variety of tastes, interests, and abilities. Learn More…

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.

Teaching Science in the Time of Alternative Facts – Why NGSS Can Help (somewhat)

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn

The father of one of my students gave me a book: In the Beginning: Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood by Walt Brown, Ph. D. He had heard that I was teaching Plate Tectonics and wanted me to consider another perspective. The book offered the idea that the evidence for plate tectonics could be better understood if we considered the idea that beneath the continent of Pangaea was a huge underground layer of water that suddenly burst forth from a rift between the now continents of Africa and South America. The waters shot up and the continents hydroplaned apart on the water layer to their current positions. The force of the movement pushed up great mountain ranges which are still settling to this day, resulting in earthquakes along the margins of continents. This had happened about 6,000 years ago and created a great worldwide flood. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

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