September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

Kindergarten Teachers Take On the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)

Posted: Wednesday, November 16th, 2016

by Karal S. Blankenship and Claudia Mitchell

Science in Kindergarten is no different than teaching science in other grades. Students come to us full of wonder, resulting in endless questions. We strive to provide opportunities for our students to become active listeners, use critical thinking skills, to observe, and to make sense of the work around them. This provides our students the chance to develop a deep appreciation for science. This is nuts and bolts of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Our journey with the NGSS began with the California NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative Grant. Teachers were brought together to deepen their understanding of science, at an adult level, using the same strategies we would then take on with our students. At the same time we were learning more about the NGSS and learning to think about more than just the science ideas we used to think of as our content. We were learning how to include the Crosscutting Concepts and Science and Engineering Practices along with the Disciplinary Core Ideas to make our lesson plans three-dimensional.

After that first summer institute, we went to work in small grade level groups. We came together twice during the school year, planning a lesson that would then be taught in one of our classrooms by the group and then be taken back to all our classrooms to try on our own. When planning, our goal was to include the three dimensions of the NGSS. As with any good lesson, we learned that not everything can be included in that “one perfect lesson,” but we learned that as we thought of the flow of lessons, the three dimensions helped to guide our long range planning.

This is the lesson that we created in the spring of 2016. Try it out. There are some important shifts we were thoughtful about in the lesson, but because they are so natural for students, they make sense and will come naturally to the teacher after a while. There are just a few more components to think about when planning. For example, we want the students to engage more, to talk, and to question.

5E Lesson Plan: Kindergarten Pushes and Pulls

Students discovering how gentle and hard pushes affect the speed of a ball.

Students discovering how gentle and hard pushes affect the speed of a ball.

This lesson was planned to introduce the learning sequence. When we came together to plan we realized that in kindergarten, “pushes and pulls” are not easily identified. So we discussed how our learning sequence should include multiple opportunities to observe “pushes and pulls.” We also realized that the Science and Engineering Practice of “Analyzing and Interpreting Data” would be the most useful to help students discover ideas around the concept of push and pulls. While the Performance Expectation K-PS2-1 called for “Planning and Carrying out Investigations”, we chose to focus on getting students to really look at what was happening with the balls and learning how to interpret what they were seeing. Since we planned this lesson as an introduction to the learning sequence, we knew we could include “Planning and Carrying out Investigations”, later in the sequence. Future lesson included taking the students outside to focus on “really” hard pushes, and what happens to the direction the ball takes. After several opportunities to explore and explain pushes, we moved to pulls, and finally, collisions. This is where we chose to include “Planning and Carrying Out Investigations.”

One of our big “aha’s” was centering the lesson around a phenomenon the students would try to explain. As we wrestled with the use of phenomenon in the lesson, we discovered the students let us know if we had found something that really triggered their thinking. When we did, students talked about and referred to the phenomenon throughout (and that even carried over into other lessons). That was when we knew we had found a quality phenomenon. If students only talked about it during the one lesson, we knew it didn’t encourage their connections deeply enough.

We have also realized that because groups of children are different each year, we have to be prepared, always be looking for quality ideas to introduce new information. Don’t worry if things don’t go the way you intended. Student-centered instruction means that you have to build from your students’ understanding. This last year we had to be ready to adapt, to provide students experiences to answer the questions they still had, and we had to keep reading resources that support the NGSS. We found that when we thought our students were taking us off topic, they were really just needing another step to build their understanding and that we had not provided experiences to bridge their learning. This helped us be more careful planners of instruction.

Useful NGSS Resources:

National Research Council (2012). A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

NGSS Lead States. 2013. Next Generation Science Standards: For States, By States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. (2013).


Walt Disney Animation Studios. (2011, November 16). The Mini Adventures of Winnie the Pooh: Stuck at Rabbit’s House. Retrieved from


Karal S. Blankenship is a kindergarten teacher at SDUSD, and a Core Leadership Team Leader of the CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative, and a member of CSTA.

Claudia Mitchell is a kindergarten teacher at Cherokee Point Elementary, SDUSD, a Lead Teacher in the CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative, and a member of CSTA.

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.

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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.

News and Happenings in CSTA’s Region 1 – Fall 2017

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Marian Murphy-Shaw


This month I was fortunate enough to hear about some new topics to share with our entire region. Some of you may access the online or newsletter options, others may attend events in person that are nearer to you. Long time CSTA member and environmental science educator Mike Roa is well known to North Bay Area teachers for his volunteer work sharing events and resources. In this month’s Region 1 updates I am happy to make a few of the options Mike offers available to our region. Learn More…

Written by Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw is the student services director at Siskiyou County Office of Education and is CSTA’s Region 1 Director and chair of CSTA’s Policy Committee.