January/February 2018 – Vol. 31 No. 2

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 http://www.pnas.org/content/98/10/5433.short

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: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.

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Accelerating into NGSS – A Statewide Rollout Series Now Accepting Registrations

Posted: Friday, January 19th, 2018

Are you feeling behind on the implementation of NGSS? Then Accelerating into NGSS – the Statewide Rollout event – is right for you!

If you have not experienced Phases 1-4 of the Statewide Rollout, or are feeling behind with the implementation of NGSS, the Accelerating Into NGSS Statewide Rollout will provide you with the greatest hits from Phases 1-4!

Accelerating Into NGSS Statewide Rollout is a two-day training geared toward grade K-12 academic coaches, administrators, curriculum leads, and teacher leaders. Check-in for the two-day rollout begins at 7:30 a.m., followed by a continental breakfast. Sessions run from 8:00 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. on Day One and from 8:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Day Two.

Cost of training is $250 per attendee. Fee includes all materials, continental breakfast, and lunch on both days. It is recommended that districts send teams of four to six, which include at least one administrator. Payment can be made by check or credit card. If paying by check, registration is NOT complete until payment has been received. All payments must be received prior to the Rollout location date you are attending. Paying by credit card secures your seat at time of registration. No purchase orders accepted. No participant cancellation refunds.

For questions or more information, please contact Amy Kennedy at akennedy@sjcoe.net or (209) 468-9027.



MARCH 28-29, 2018
Host: San Mateo County Office of Education
Location: San Mateo County Office of Education, Redwood City

APRIL 10-11, 2018
Host: Orange County Office of Education
Location: Brandman University, Irvine

MAY 1-2, 2018
Host: Tulare County Office of Education
Location: Tulare County Office of Education, Visalia

MAY 3-4, 2018
Host: San Bernardino Superintendent of Schools
Location: West End Educational Service Center, Rancho Cucamonga

MAY 7-8, 2018
Host: Sacramento County Office of Education
Location: Sacramento County Office of Education Conference Center and David P. Meaney Education Center, Mather

JUNE 14-15, 2018
Host: Imperial County Office of Education
Location: Imperial Valley College, Imperial

Presented by the California Department of Education, California County Superintendents Educational Services Association/County Offices of Education, K-12 Alliance @WestEd, California Science Project, and the California Science Teachers Association.

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.

The Teaching and Learning Collaborative, Reflections from an Administrator

Posted: Friday, January 19th, 2018

by Kelly Patchen

My name is Mrs. Kelly Patchen, and I am proud to be an elementary assistant principal working in the Tracy Unified School District (TUSD) at Louis Bohn and McKinley Elementary Schools. Each of the schools I support are Title I K-5 schools with about 450 students, a diverse student population, a high percentage of English Language Learners, and students living in poverty. We’re also lucky to be part of the CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative with the K-12 Alliance. 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.

2018 CSTA Conference Call for Proposals

Posted: Wednesday, January 17th, 2018

CSTA is pleased to announce that we are now accepting proposals for 90-minute workshops and three- and six-hour short courses for the 2018 California Science Education Conference. Workshops and short courses make up the bulk of the content and professional learning opportunities available at the conference. In recognition of their contribution, members who present a workshop or short course receive 50% off of their registration fees. Click for more information regarding proposals, or submit one today by following the links below.

Short Course Proposal

Workshop Proposal 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.

CSTA’s New Administrator Facebook Group Page

Posted: Monday, January 15th, 2018

by Holly Steele

The California Science Teachers Association’s mission is to promote high-quality science education, and one of the best practice’s we use to fulfill that mission is through the use of our Facebook group pages. CSTA hosts several closed and moderated Facebook group pages for specific grade levels, (Elementary, Middle, and High School), pages for district coaches and science education faculty, and the official CSTA Facebook page. These pages serve as an online resource for teachers and coaches to exchange teaching methods, materials, staying update on science events in California and asking questions. CSTA is happy to announce the creation of a 6th group page called, California Administrators Supporting Science. 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.

Find Your Reason to Engage

Posted: Monday, January 15th, 2018

by Jill Grace

I was recently reflecting on events in the news and remembered that several years ago, National Public Radio had a story about a man named Stéphane Hessel, a World War II French resistance fighter, Nazi concentration camp survivor, and contributor to the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The story focused on a book he had published, Time for Outrage (2010).

In it, Hessel makes the argument that the worst attitude is indifference:

“Who is in charge; who are the decision makers? It’s not always easy to discern. We’re not dealing with a small elite anymore, whose actions we can clearly identify. We are dealing with a vast, interdependent world that is interconnected in unprecedented ways. But there are unbearable things all around us. You have to look for them; search carefully. Open your eyes and you will see. This is what I tell young people: If you spend a little time searching, you will find your reasons to engage. The worst attitude is indifference. ‘There’s nothing I can do; I get by’ – adopting this mindset will deprive you of one of the fundamental qualities of being human: outrage.  Our capacity for protest is indispensable, as is our freedom to engage.”

His words make me take pause when I think of the status of science in the United States. A general “mistrust” of science is increasingly pervasive, as outlined in a New Yorker article from the summer of 2016. 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.