May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

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 taught science at Gardner Middle School and is now assistant principal at Bella Vista Middle School in Temecula. She is a member of CSTA. You can reach her by emailing jwulfenstein@tvusd.k12.ca.us.

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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 zi@cascience.org.)

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

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.