September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

Conversation with a Leader in Science Education: Maria Chiara Simani

Posted: Tuesday, July 7th, 2015

by Minda Berbeco

Maria Simani, Physicist and Executive Director, California Science Project

Maria Simani, Physicist and Executive Director, California Science Project

CSTA promotes and supports leadership in science education as part of its mission to promote high quality science education. This newsletter regularly features contributions from emerging and established leaders in our CSTA community. For my article this month, I elected to spotlight a leader in California science education to share with our readers about the path of leadership. Teachers are inherent leaders, so it’s no surprise that I was able to find a really great person to chat with about her leadership positions. Maria Simani is the Executive Director of the California Science Project, a statewide network that provides professional learning to science teachers. If you are a science teacher in California, chances are high that you have been involved in one of Simani’s programs, or know someone who has. A tough job, but an incredibly importance one, Simani sat down with me a few weeks ago to talk about how she got into science education leadership and what makes her love every minute of it.

Minda: Briefly tell me about the California Science Project (CSP) – what do you do, how long has it been around and how long have you been involved?

Maria: The California Science Project is a statewide network of regional sites (currently 14) that provide professional learning to teachers of science. The leadership team in all our sites comprises educators as well as science faculty. Our goal is to develop systemic partnerships with regional schools and districts to provide sustained professional learning support for K-12 teachers. The California Science Project has been established by the California legislation in 1988, together with other discipline-specific network (arts, reading, writing, history and social science, international studies, world languages, physical education and health, and mathematics). These networks are also known as the California Subject Matter Projects.

I have been the Executive Director of CSP since July 2011. My major role is to oversee all the programs provided by our sites, monitor fiscal resources, and assist our regional teams to have the highest impact possible on teachers and students.

Minda: How did you end up in that leadership position, did you always want to be in a leadership role in science?

Maria: I have always been interested in the process of learning in particular and education in general. I was introduced to the CSP as a post-doctoral researcher at UC San Francisco. At that time I was doing research on learning at the neural level. When you learn something new, your neurons do change their activation patterns, very cool.

Throughout my professional career, I always ended up at some point being the main contact person and leading projects. This started early for me as an undergraduate student in physics when you become responsible for complex laboratory experiments. Subsequently, as a graduate student in high-energy physics, you need to become responsible for a piece of our large detectors. This means that you will be responsible for coordinating repairs and maintenance and supervising others working on that device. Step by step the responsibility becomes larger and the team to manage becomes larger too. I personally trust the people I am working with very much and truly appreciate all the experiences that they bring to the table. My role is to leverage those talents

Minda:  What would you like to see happen in the next ten years in science education

Maria: I would like every student to have an opportunity to experience science at every grade level. There are many barriers for students to learn what science is about. Sometimes it’s poorly prepared teachers, but most often it’s the school system and the assessment system that constrain the educational opportunity of students. I would like all the teachers to try out teaching according to the vision of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Students will become true critical thinkers and more involved in science and engineering

Minda: What is it like to be a leader in science STEM?

Maria: It is a great experience because I get the opportunity to share ideas with many other thoughtful thinkers that have more experience than me. It feels good that our thinking is coordinated in the best interest of students and in our willingness to assist teachers to transition to the NGSS.

Written by Minda Berbeco

Minda Berbeco

Minda Berbeco was the Programs and Policy Director at the National Center for Science Education and is now the Director of the Sierra Club San Francisco Chapter.

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CSTA Is Now Accepting Nominations for Board Members

Posted: Friday, November 17th, 2017

Current, incoming, and outgoing CSTA Board of Directors at June 3, 2017 meeting.

It’s that time of year when CSTA is looking for dedicated and qualified persons to fill the upcoming vacancies on its Board of Directors. This opportunity allows you to help shape the policy and determine the path that the Board will take in the new year. There are time and energy commitments, but that is far outweighed by the personal satisfaction of knowing that you are an integral part of an outstanding professional educational organization, dedicated to the support and guidance of California’s science teachers. You will also have the opportunity to help CSTA review and support legislation that benefits good science teaching and teachers.

Right now is an exciting time to be involved at the state level in the California Science Teachers Association. The CSTA Board of Directors is currently involved in implementing the Next Generations Science Standards and its strategic plan. If you are interested in serving on the CSTA Board of Directors, now is the time to submit your name for consideration. 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.

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.