September 2016 – Vol. 29 No. 1

Mars Curiosity

Posted: Saturday, September 1st, 2012

by Bethany Dixon

With a new year, it’s easy for teachers to feel like they’re on Mars, but with the landing of the Curiosity, we now have the opportunity to show students what it’s actually like to be there! How long can you spend on Mars? Whether it’s 60 seconds or 16 lessons, integrating the landing of the Curiosity rover into your curriculum can be more than just an interesting lesson in current STEM events. Organized by approximate time needed, here are the latest resources to deliver an out-of-this-world classroom experience, with a preview that spans bell work, an Emmy-award winning short video series, standards-based, ready-to-go lesson plans, and resources for using Mars for interdisciplinary community involvement:

60 Seconds for Mars: For a quick intro, start with “Mars in a Minute’s: How Hard is it to Land Curiosity on Mars?” from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory video series, this super-short introduction gives an intro to exactly what put the “terror” into NASA during those first seven minutes. The student-friendly animation is still sophisticated enough for high school but exciting enough to keep elementary students engaged.

2 Minutes for Mars:  If you have two minutes in your day, the “Flex, Zap, Roll,” video shows Curiosity’s new rock-zapping laser and some scientific camaraderie as they celebrate the first roll of the wheels.

15 Minutes for Mars: Try the Emmy-Award-Winning NASA Now videos. They’re free, come with pre-during-and-post-lesson questions, and leveled for grades 4-12. These come with questions to ask before and after and include extension activities for students. September is Mars month for NASA Explorer Schools, so if you haven’t signed up for this standards-based free resource this may be a great reason to join.

1 Class Period for Mars: Map Mars. Take a trip to the computer lab and utilize this seriously addictive program. NASA’s “Be a Martian” allows anyone to view imagery from the Odyssey orbiter and to align them with previous pictures to help build a more comprehensive map of Mars. The epic introduction will make students (and Mars-loving science teachers) feel like they’re an important part of the mission: align tiles to help map mars, count and tag craters, and help identify one of the 250,000+ images by clicking on what is in the picture. This is the perfect alternative to the early “scientific observations” lesson that you’ve grown tired of and it involves students in real-world research. The ability for students to earn points gives teachers an automatic accountability piece that can help with classroom management and give students a sense of accomplishment.

2 Class Periods for Mars: Consider using “Electromagnetic Spectrum: Remote Sensing Ices on Mars.” In this NASA Explorer Schools Physical Science lesson, students analyze data collected by Mars spacecraft using three different forms of electromagnetic energy — visible light, infrared, and gamma rays — to investigate the composition and distribution of ices at the high-latitude regions of Mars.

2 Weeks for Mars: If you have time and want a closer look at Mars, the Mars Student Imaging Project (MSIP) from Arizona State University and NASA’s Mars Education program works with teams of students from grades 5-college sophomores to help image the surface of Mars with the Odyssey, a spacecraft orbiting Mars.

Minutes to Months for Mars: The Imagine Mars Project is a STEM-based interdisciplinary project that asks students to work with NASA scientists and engineers to imagine and design a community on Mars. This project involves looking at and reflecting on school and community culture and making decisions about what careers and arts will be necessary for a community on Mars based on the differences in climate, terrain, and resources available. Projects are showcased in an impressive online gallery.

Mars Road Trip: Still can’t get enough of Mars? On Saturday, September 29, NASA and Arizona State University are hosting the “Curiosity has landed in Your Classroom!” Educator Conference for free at the Mars Space Flight Facility on campus: for more information visit the link below.

“But I teach life science!?” Not to worry, “Properties of Living Things: searching for life on Mars,” has an excellent activity that is a variation of the chestnut “yeast lab.” I modify the NASA curriculum by having my students act as samplers – I prepare three Martian “soils,” one with salt and sand, one with sugar, yeast, and sand, and one with crushed Alka-Seltzer tablets and sand. Then I have students test for signs of life by adding warm water. Use the NASA materials to discuss characteristics of life, and look to the NASA Now videos for the “Search for Life,” or “Extremophiles,” to expand their thinking on what life looks like – or MIGHT look like.


Mars in a Minute: How Hard is it to Land Curiosity on Mars?

Flex, Zap, Roll: Curiosity’s New Moves:

Map Mars:

Mars Exploration Program for Educators:

NASA Explorer Schools:

Mars Student Imaging Program Registration Form:

Imagine Mars:

Curiosity has Landed in Your Classroom Educator Conference Registration Form:

Written by Bethany Dixon

Bethany Dixon is a science teacher at Western Sierra Collegiate Academy, is a CSTA Publications Committee Member, and is a member of CSTA.

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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.