May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

Let’s Give Them Science to Talk About

Posted: Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

by Dana Goldberg

Think back to when you first learned about magnets, bubbles, and reflections in school. Describing what you saw and experienced could be exciting, but also challenging. Now imagine trying to do it in a new language.

Nearly 60 percent of all students in Sonoma Valley Unified School District (SVUSD) are English-language learners, almost all of them native Spanish speakers. Integrating English Language Development and Science, a program created in partnership with the Exploratori­um’s Institute for Inquiry, is building a bridge between learning science and acquir­ing English language skills. This professional development program operates with teachers from all five elementary schools in SVUSD.

This innovative program honors the intellectual capacity of all students, regard­less of their language level, and focuses on inquiry as a learning approach. Participating teachers attend a summer institute and school-year study groups at the Exploratorium receive materials that support lessons about water, magnetism, erosion, electricity, and more. One ground­ing idea is “let’s give them science to talk about,” that is, science that students can see, touch, and describe is science that gets kids excited. Teachers pose or elicit questions that their students are eager to investigate: What do you see? What do you wonder? How could we try to answer these questions?

Photo by Sally Weis

Photo by Sally Weis

“Using language in meaningful ways is what helps kids acquire language—not just learning tenses and grammar,” says Fred Stein, Senior Science Educator at the Explor­atorium. “When they’re asking questions and describing their findings, even if they don’t know the appropriate verb tense, they’re com­municating.” Students get to practice Eng­lish, and their teachers get to support their students’ language development

Hands-on science provides a rich oppor­tunity for language development as students speak, write, and read to build their under­standing and represent their ideas. Working together, students use different parts of English to describe their discoveries.

This content-centric model keeps stu­dents curious and engaged, as their teachers encourage them to explain their observations, hypotheses, and evidence. “These require fairly sophisticated ways of thinking about and using language,” says Fred, “but it’s very natural in this context.” The teachers also use strategies that take into account students’ varying language levels and abilities.

The ultimate goal of the program is not to privilege language acquisition over mastering grade-appropriate science content, but to genuinely integrate both. “Expressing your questions and ideas and dialoguing with others advances your own thinking. Having all this great stuff to communicate about allows students to practice language with increasing levels of complexity,” says Fred.

The motivation for the program came, in a roundabout way, from No Child Left Behind. NCLB requires schools with children with lower English-language proficiency to provide dedicated time for language development—often at the expense of science, art, and social studies content. Maite Iturri, the principal at El Verano elementary school, (eventually the project’s pilot school), didn’t want to deprive students of interesting, engaging content until they had mastered English-language fundamentals. Instead of seeing the content as taking time away from English-language development, she hypothesized that it could instead foster it—with students learning the content as well.



This idea is gaining currency as research supports a shift from focusing on isolated vocabulary and grammar skills development to engaging language learners in meaningful activities that encourage a more conversation­al approach. Language expert and Stanford education professor Kenji Hakuta says, “The more you use [language] to articulate complex subject matter, the deeper your understanding is going to get of that subject matter.”

The Integrating English Language Development and Science program is halfway through its five-year grant. As the program expands to include all of the district’s 90 teachers, the Exploratorium and the SVUSD are striving to make an exponential impact. “We’re not just looking to create better English speakers through this program,” says Fred. “We’re also hoping to create more engaged and inquisitive learners.”

Integrating English Language Development and Science is funded by the US Department of Educa­tion’s Investing in Innovation Fund, the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation, the Vadasz Family Foundation, and the Mary A. Crocker Trust. For more information on the Exploratorium’s Institute for Inquiry, visit

Dana Goldberg is the Managing Editor, Institutional Media at the Exploratorium and was invited to contribute to CCS by CSTA member Valerie Joyner

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:

Leave a Reply


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:

Please contact Rosanne Luu at 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…

Powered By DT Author Box

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…

Powered By DT Author Box

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.