September 2016 – Vol. 29 No. 1

Making Life Science and/or Chemistry Instruction Understandable and Accessible for All

Posted: Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

by Jeanine Wulfenstein, in collaboration with Michael Arroyo

Being a life science or chemistry instructor isn’t always easy.  This is especially true when concepts are abstract and novel vocabulary terms are abundant.  I have been fortunate to work with a team of teachers at the middle school level who are devoted to the task, from teaching our most gifted students to instructing our students with learning challenges. 

As a science teacher who is part of an outstanding science team, I have sat in countless Professional Learning Community (PLC) meetings where discussions have centered on meeting the educational needs of students with exceptional needs.  As a team, we have struggled with teaching the standards in a way that ensures a guaranteed viable curriculum for all.  This is especially true when the standards being taught are abstract, vocabulary is complex, and concepts require accessing prior knowledge.

In order to meet the needs of our exceptional learners, we have made it a priority at our school site and in our department to regularly meet with our Special Education Teachers to collaborate on essential standards and best instructional practices. This collaboration has proven extremely beneficial for student learning outcomes.

At our school site, for each unit of instruction, we identify the standards most essential for conceptual understanding.  We focus on the “big picture” for each concept.  By identifying the most essential learning objectives and then identifying supporting objectives we have prioritized our instruction as a grade level team and created a cohesive message for student learning.  In doing this, we have focused our instructional objectives so we can hone in on what students will need to know to be successful as they continue along their educational pathway.

Once the primary objectives to be taught are identified, we scaffold instruction in a way that our general education population and our exceptional population are working on the same content at the same time.  The core learning expectations are the same and the assessment component is based on the essential learning.  The academic standards are the same, the learning objectives are the same, and the only variable is the means by which students are interacting with the content.  More specifically, in the specialized academic instruction (SAI) setting, whether it be an SAI-Pullout classroom or an SAI-Collaborative classroom, students are given additional opportunities for peer exploration, discussion and collaboration beyond what would traditionally be given to students in a typical general education classroom.  During this collaborative time, students are encouraged to use academic vocabulary in the dialog.  Using the academic language in conceptual “partner talk” has been beneficial to confidence building and success in content vocabulary development.

Beyond peer-to-peer collaboration, educational learning opportunities are also adjusted to meet the needs of the exceptional child.  The learning opportunities become more varied with the use of additional manipulatives, outdoor-explorations, cognitively appropriate vocabulary use, and guest speakers working in the field.

For example, as part of our genetics unit, SAI students had the opportunity to have a university professor guest speaker discuss the role of genetics in forensics.  Students then were lead through a lab in the extraction of DNA from strawberries.  This was a memorable day for all students involved and the learning outcomes for all were significant.  As part of a chemistry unit, our 8th grade teacher in collaboration with our SAI instructor brainstormed ways to make chemistry concepts more engaging for all students.  As a result of that collaboration, students played a matching game with atoms and corresponding valence electrons, built models, and acted out different types of bonding.  The use of collaborative games, additional visual cues, and kinesthetic teaching strategies has helped make abstract concepts more understandable for all students, but especially so for our SAI students.

In conclusion, the rigors of content must be structured in a way to allow students to experience success while keeping the workload appropriate and challenging for the ability of the individual.  All students should be assessed based on what is deemed the essential content, and held to the core academic standards so grade-level proficiency can be determined. Through collaboration and teamwork, teachers can better serve all students and ensure a guaranteed viable curriculum for all.

Michael Arroyo is a Specialize Academic Science Instructor (SAI) at Gardner Middle School in Temecula, CA.

Written by Jeanine Wulfenstein

Jeanine Wulfenstein

Jeanine Wulfenstein teaches science at Gardner Middle School and is the CSTA Treasurer. You can reach her by emailing

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California Science Assessment Update

Posted: Wednesday, October 12th, 2016

by Jessica Sawko

In June 2016 California submitted a waiver application to discontinue using the old CST (based on 1998 standards) and conduct two years of pilot and field tests (in spring 2017 and 2018, respectively) of the new science assessment designed to support our state’s current science standards (California Next Generation Science Standards (CA-NGSS) adopted in 2013). The waiver was requested because no student scores will be provided as a part of the pilot and field tests. The CDE received a response from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) on September 30, 2016, which provides the CDE the opportunity to resubmit a revised waiver request within 60 days. The CDE will be revising the waiver request and resubmitting as ED suggested.

At its October 2016 North/South Assessment meetings CDE confirmed that there will be no administration of the old CST in the spring of 2017. (An archive of the meeting is available at 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.

Some ways to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in your classroom

Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

by Carol Peterson

1) To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, Google has put together a collection of virtual tours combining 360-degree video, panoramic photos and expert narration. It’s called “The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks” and is accessible right from the browser. You can choose from one of five different locales, including the Kenai Fjords in Alaska and Bryce Canyon in Utah, and get a guided “tour” from a local park ranger. Each one has a few virtual vistas to explore, with documentary-style voiceovers and extra media hidden behind clickable thumbnails. Ideas are included for use in classrooms. 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.

2016 Award Recipients – Join CSTA in Honoring Their Accomplishments

Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

CSTA is pleased to announce the winners of the 2016 CSTA Awards for Distinguished Contributions, Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, 2014 and 2015 PAEMST-Science recipients from California, and the 2016 California PAEMST Finalists. The following individuals and organizations will be honored during the 2016 California Science Education Conference  on October 21- 23 in Palm Springs. This year’s group of awardees are truly outstanding. Please join us in congratulating them!

Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award

John Keller

John Keller

The Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award honors an individual who has made a significant contribution to science education in the state and who, through years of leadership and service, has truly made a positive impact on the quality of science teaching. This year’s recipient is John Keller, Ph.D. Dr. Keller is Associate Professor, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Co-Director, Center for Engineering, Science, and Mathematics Education, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. In her letter of recommendation, SDSU science education faculty and former CSTA board member Donna Ross wrote: “He brings people together who share the desire to make a difference in the development and implementation of programs for science teaching. Examples of these projects include the Math and Science Teaching Initiative (MSTI), Noyce Scholars Program, Western Regional Noyce Initiative, and the Science Teacher and Researcher (STAR) program.” Through his work, he has had a dramatic impact on science teacher education, both preservice and in-service, in California, the region, and the country. He developed and implemented the STEM Teacher and Researcher Program which aims to produce excellent K-12 STEM teachers by providing aspiring teachers with opportunities to do authentic research while helping them translate their research experience into classroom practice. SFSU faculty member Larry Horvath said it best in his letter:“John Keller exemplifies the best aspects of a scientist, science educator, and mentor. His contributions to science education in the state of California are varied, significant, and I am sure will continue well into the future.” 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.

NGSS: Making Your Life Easier

Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

by Peter A’hearn

Wait… What?

NGSS is a big shift. Teachers need to learn new content, figure out how this whole engineering thing relates to science, and develop new unit and lesson plans. How could NGSS possibly make life easier?

The idea that NGSS could make our lives easier came to me during the California State NGSS Rollout #1 Classroom Example lesson on chromatography. I have since done this lesson with high school chemistry students and it made me think back to having my own students do chromatography. I spent lots of time preparing to make sure the experiment went well and achieved the “correct” result. I pre-prepared the solutions and organized and prepped the materials. I re-wrote and re-wrote again the procedure so there was no way a kid could get it wrong. I spent 20 minutes before the lab modeling all of the steps in class, so there was no way to do it wrong. Except that it turns out there were many. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the K-12 science specialist in the Palm Springs Unified School District and is Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Celestial Highlights, September 2016

Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graph of evening planet setting times by Dr. Jeffrey L. Hunt 

Our evening twilight chart for September, depicting the sky about 40 minutes after sunset from SoCal, shows brilliant Venus remaining low, creeping from W to WSW and gaining a little altitude as the month progresses. Its close encounter within 2.5° N of Spica on Sept. 18 is best seen with binoculars to catch the star low in bright twilight. The brightest stars in the evening sky are golden Arcturus descending in the west, and blue-white Vega passing just north of overhead. Look for Altair and Deneb completing the Summer Triangle with Vega. The triangle of Mars-Saturn-Antares expands as Mars seems to hold nearly stationary in SSW as the month progresses, while Saturn and Antares slink off to the SW. Learn More…

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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.