May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

Let’s Get Them Outside!

Posted: Friday, May 5th, 2017

by Jacquelyn Johansen

As a science teacher, I am lucky enough to be able to take my students to several outdoor venues where students have the opportunity to learn in a natural environment. This has been an invaluable part of their education experience: students can multiply their knowledge of field methods, make strides in their environmental stewardship, and learn to use NGSS (Next Generation Science Standards). Based on my observations of student learning in outdoor environments, I set out to find answers about how inquiry and participatory education opportunities affect the attitudes of students towards nature.

I surveyed students on two field trips to a local zoo and found they showed statistically significant increases in their connectedness to nature using the Nisbet Nature Relatedness Survey (Nisbet, et al, 2009). This survey included nature “experience” questions such as, “I take notice of wildlife wherever I am,” and “perspectives” questions such as, “I think a lot about the suffering of animals” (Nisbet, et al, 2009). Students also showed increases in the category of “self,” which included statements related to the entitlement of humans to resources such as, “humans have the right to use natural resources any way we want” (Nisbet, et al, 2009). This category seeks to distinguish individuals who feel a strong sense of environmental stewardship from those who are willing to take what they want without considering the cost to the world around them. Based on the results of these surveys, it has become clear to me that outdoor learning can be an integral part of a student’s educational experience. 

Why is this important, and how should it influence our teaching? Habitat loss occurs when natural habitats are destroyed and are no longer able to support the species present. Humans are the number one cause of habitat loss (Tilman & Lehman, 2001). As habitat loss increases worldwide, the need for people to connect with the natural world around them is critical. Now is the time to be thinking about how to get students outdoors and to plan field trips that will impact learners.

As an experienced teacher, I see a window that is currently wide-open for educators to expand student’s comfort zones with outdoor inquiry and participatory education. My research showed such techniques to have a large impact on students’ perspectives on nature. Not only do the newest science standards require more real-life applications, but research also strongly suggests that this is where the most headway in science education is being made (James & Williams, 2007). Many states, school districts, and publishers are still trying to figure out how to tailor exams to test the new standards. While the microscope is focused on exams, teachers should put their fears about inquiry to the side and create assignments that will increase passion, nurture curiosity, and instill a love of the natural world in their students.

Outdoor inquiry is still something that many science teachers may find new and daunting. However, as students move through school with the new NGSS, they will become more accustomed to the successes and frustrations that accompany true inquiry. There are many things that we, as teachers, can do to get our students more involved with nature. Try having your students study the California Floristic Province and highlight that the students live in a biodiversity hotspot. Have them complete a transect outside and do species counts on native, invasive, drought tolerant or water-guzzling plants. Encourage students to make recommendations to the school or PTA based on their findings. Complete tidepool studies, rain monitoring, local pond or vernal pool observations, or test erosion. Schedule a trip to a local zoo, nature center, or aquarium. These establishments often offer terrific student programs. You may have to plan the trip, but you can let the venue do the teaching. Additionally, many of them offer free lessons for teachers to take home. These are the kinds of connections that people need to be making with nature in order to foster future environmental stewardship and accountability.

Can’t get a field trip or outing approved? Bring the outdoors to the students by having them solve real world problems. Using web-based programs like iTree Canopy, students can calculate the amount of carbon dioxide that is being removed from the atmosphere by the trees in a location that they select on Google Maps. Have them create their own maps and hypothetically restore areas to learn how small changes can influence the whole ecosystem. Give ethograms a try. Ethograms are a data collecting tool where students can select several behaviors that an animal may exhibit. Students then make tick marks at 15-second intervals each time an animal exhibits that behavior. Potential animal behaviors may include preening, pacing, playing, eating, sleeping, or eliminating. This data can be used to analyze items such as enclosures and interactions. It can help students make inferences into behaviors and make data-driven suggestions for improvements. If you haven’t tried them before, pair up ethograms with zoo webcams for a virtual inquiry lab excursion. Students can select animal webcams from a location like a zoo or nature preserve. They will have so much fun deciding which data to collect and making meaningful inferences as to what they have learned. Think of the fun discussions that you could have.

Students learn amazing things when they have ownership of their learning. This is our chance to experiment with new ideas and teaching methods. While NGSS tests are in their pilot phase, let’s try new things, and shoot for the moon. Let’s get them outside!


I would like to thank Julian Charter School for allowing me the freedom to teach the change that I want to see in the world. I would also like to thank San Diego Zoo Safari Park and Beckman Center staff for being a transformational force in the world of science education.

James, J. K., & Williams, T. (2017). School-Based Experiential Outdoor Education: A Neglected Necessity. Journal Of Experiential Education, 40(1), 58-71

DT., & C. L. (2001, May 08). Human-caused environmental change: Impacts on plant diversity and evolution. Retrieved April 2, 2017, from

Jackie Johansen is lead online teacher and science department chair at Julian Charter School in Menifee, CA and is a member of CSTA.

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:

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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

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:

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.