May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

Making the Most of Museums

Posted: Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

by Jim Kisiel

Be honest. If you’re a science teacher, and you read the title of this column, chances are the first thing you thought of was a field trip. Sure, you may have reminisced about that cool third grade field trip to the natural history museum, where you saw a real fossilized Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton for the first time and finally understood just how big they were. Or perhaps a painful reminder of the last class trip to the zoo that you attempted came to mind—an experience involving forgotten lunches, disgruntled parents, and a skeptical administrator convinced that your test scores would drop due to lost instructional time. Whatever the case, the school field trip is probably the most common approach for bringing the resources of the museum to students. When asked why field trips are important to their curriculum, teachers report a wide variety of motivations ranging from student exposure to new interests, fostering student interest in science or other topics, and of course, supporting classroom learning.[i] There is a growing base of educational research related to best practices in field trip pedagogy; this research identifies strategies that are likely to result in effective student learning experiences.[ii]

But there remains a problem. Informal science education institutions (ISEIs), such as science centers, natural history museums, aquariums and zoos, nature centers and the like, typically offer a variety of supports for K-12 science teachers that go far beyond the traditional field trip. Yet recent research studies suggest that when asked about how museums and other community organizations might support school science, the majority of teachers think ‘field trip’.[iii] Meanwhile, these institutions spend millions of dollars on science programs and materials that are underutilized.[iv]

ISEIs often provide a variety of science learning opportunities for both students AND teachers. Outreach programs, ranging from auditorium shows, to smaller hands-on classroom lessons, to unique mobile vans or trucks, can provide science-based activities to a range of grade levels on school grounds. Such programs, while still requiring some logistical preparation, bring the community institution to the school without the challenge of permissions slips, bussing arrangements or tracking lunches. ISEIs also frequently provide professional development training for teachers as well. These training opportunities may focus on a particularly challenging science concept (e.g. climate change or evolution) or exploring new pedagogies (e.g. inquiry, project-based learning, and engineering practices.) Many ISEIs have a strong web presence that not only provides information about the institution but also provide a variety of e-resources such as videos, lesson plans, and of course, science and instructional background for teachers. Some examples of outstanding websites include the University of California Museum of Paleontology, The Exploratorium,   and the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

What prevents teachers from using these resources? Although there seems to be several misconceptions and concerns that affect access, one of the most common is simply a lack of awareness. Despite emails, flyers, posters, and other forms of communication, teachers in a recent study of school-museum interactions indicated that they were most likely to learn about such programs via word of mouth.3 Even informal science educators, in the same study, indicated that word of mouth was likely the most effective mode of communication! So how can we get around this contradiction? It requires teachers to be a little more attentive to those mailings and fliers stuffed in their school mailbox, and requires ISEI educators to think about how best to directly interact with teachers—perhaps reaching out to individual schools, administrators or teachers and meeting them face to face, say during a faculty meeting. In some regions, there are online portals that list a variety of science resources from multiple institutions. An example of this would be the California Regional Environmental Education Community website where you can specify region, grade level, topic, audience (teacher vs. student) and then see what programs/opportunities might suit your teaching needs.

There are two other concerns often brought up when talking about using field trips or other out-of-classroom resources to support science instruction: costs and curriculum. While limited funding and accountability issues are unlikely to disappear anytime soon, these need not be limitations. Although the costs of field trips (especially the transportation costs) may seem daunting, other ISEI K-12 resources such as professional development and outreach programs require much less funding (and may even be free.) In many instances, ISEIs can offer a limited number of ‘scholarship’ field trips, where admission and/or transportation are provided. Such programs may be described on the institution’s website, but it also pays to contact the ISEI educators directly to get more information and suggestions on how to make these resources more affordable. As for the curriculum, most ISEIs indicate alignment of their student and teacher programs with current content standards. Conversations with teachers who make use of ISEI resources on a regular basis indicate that addressing standards is rarely a challenge—the right resources can be used to support just about any learning goal.3 Yet remember that these resources are just that—materials and experiences that can help science teachers achieve their instructional goals. Although an outreach program may be listed as addressing Life Science standard 3a and 3b, it is the teachers who will ultimately use the experience as one of several strategies for helping students develop understanding. A single assembly program or even a 2-hour trip to the aquarium should not be mistaken as a ‘completed standard requirement’—good preparation, thoughtful follow-up and application of concepts will ultimately help students master the desired learning outcome.



As we begin to dig into the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), we realize that these adjustments to how we think about science education in California (and across the country) present a new challenge. How do teachers find the resources (time, funding, and knowledge) that allow them to effectively implement the new guidelines, new strategies, and new science content required by NGSS? These new ideas, as good as they are, will require teachers to re-examine their science knowledge, their instructional practices and the resources needed to do this effectively. More than ever before, now is a great time to take a closer look at what your local aquarium, nature center, or science museum has to offer teachers. You may be surprised at what lies just outside your classroom door.

Jim Kisiel is an Associate Professor in Science Education at CSU Long Beach and is a member of CSTA.

[i] Kisiel, J. (2005). Understanding elementary teacher motivations for science fieldtrips. Science Education, 89(6), 936-955.

[ii] DeWitt, J., & Storksdieck, M. (2008). A short review of school field trips: Key findings from the past and implications for the future. Visitor Studies, 11(2), 181-197.

[iii] Kisiel, J. (in press). Clarifying the complexities of school-museum interactions: Perspectives from two communities. Journal of Research in Science Teaching.

[iv] Phillips, M., Finkelstein, D., & Wever-Frerichs, S. (2007). School site to museum floor: How informal science institutions work with schools. International Journal of Science Education, 29(12), 1489-1507.


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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:

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…

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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.