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 teaches science at Gardner Middle School and is the CSTA Treasurer. You can reach her by emailing jwulfenstein@tvusd.k12.ca.us.

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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: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/HappyAtoms

Please contact Rosanne Luu at rluu@wested.org 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…

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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 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…

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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.