September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

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:

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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.