May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

Me? A Leader? In Science?

Posted: Tuesday, July 7th, 2015

by Barbara Woods

To move work forward in any kind of initiative, it takes all sorts of leaders. It can be especially powerful when leaders emerge that don’t necessarily consider themselves leaders, at least at the outset. In the Galt Joint Union Elementary School District’s (GJUESD) efforts to move the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) into implementation with a gradual district-wide roll-out, this leadership mix has proven essential to the work.

In the spring of 2014, the GJUESD decided to seek at least one representative from each school site to join an NGSS implementation committee that would begin working out details for moving the work forward over a multi-year time period. Informed by the California Science Teachers Association about the CA NGSS Rollout #1 – a collaborative effort of the California Department of Education, California Science Project, California Science Teachers Association, Curriculum and Instruction Steering Committee, and K-12 Alliance/WestEd – several of our district leaders attended the event at the San Joaquin County Office of Education. It was there that we learned of the Early Implementation Initiative to become a lighthouse district in creating systemic change through implementation of the NGSS. As a district already involved in several labor-intensive initiatives, it seemed unrealistic to go for this opportunity. And yet, in analyzing its structure for leadership and training, and the time line for implementation, the grant matched the tentative plan that district leadership had already sketched out. So, after careful information gathering from each school, and analysis of the district’s capacity for adding another layer of leadership and growth, the district superintendent, Karen Schauer, gave the green light and the application was submitted.
In the meantime, site representatives were sought. With no knowledge of whether or not we would receive a grant that could support stipends, teachers signed on for what they thought would be an ordinary district committee that had something to do with some new science standards. But “ordinary” did not last long. With “yahoos” of celebration and “oh boys” of “what did we get ourselves into?” the news that our district was funded for this leadership opportunity changed things in a big way.

As the team gathered with other Early Implementer districts for the first time on the evening of August 3rd and listened to inspiring messages from Kathy DiRanna – K-12 Alliance, Steven Pruitt – Achieve, and Trish Williams – California State Board of Education, moment by moment it penetrated that this was a work far bigger than just a science grant. This was an opportunity to pave a pathway for California and the nation in creating a paradigm shift in how students experience science in their classrooms, and in how students think and communicate as they figure out concepts and ideas, rather than being “told” a body of knowledge to memorize. Yes, the scope of this work went far beyond science and each individual classroom. During that short yet limitless hour, it became clear that working together to move this work forward meant impacting students’ future opportunities as they caught the vision of what learning truly was about. This was an opportunity to work together to create systemic change.

And so, the work began. With the invaluable support and guidance provided by the WestEd/K-12 Alliance staff developers, each teacher leader “jumped right in” and began giving their students science experiences that, in many cases, they hadn’t even imagined would be possible. And the students are responding. Academic conversations, in which students question each other, question data, and work together to figure out and understand phenomena, are becoming the norm. “Can we do science today?” is the plea in classrooms where math and English language arts standards had often taken the limelight of instruction.

And each teacher is truly emerging as a leader–some speaking with energetic, enthusiastic voices; others quietly listening and then inserting an astute observation. Some vocally bringing us to task with the everyday teacher reality faced in a district rife with new and ongoing initiatives full of responsibilities and high workloads; others carefully strategizing how to get past roadblocks as we consider the daunting task of moving this work forward to all classrooms–to all students.

Growth in leadership thinking sometimes comes gradually, other times in leaps and bounds. The decision was made to start within—sharknados became the inside code word for the team—and make mistakes in a protected environment where mistakes are celebrated and problems are worked through. The administrators on the team encourage and provide support for this nurturing culture that frees up energy for taking risks and learning from them.

Gradually, team members are thinking beyond their classrooms and seeing themselves as leaders for their schools, for their grade levels across the district, for the district as a whole, and beyond. And, with that vision is coming changed conversations, changed focus, and willingness to take the next steps outward toward becoming change agents for a bigger picture. Many have expanded their leadership role by writing articles about their experiences for CSTA’s California Classroom Science.   Upcoming steps include attending a WestEd/K-12 Alliance CA NGSS Early Implementer Leadership Academy in June, and then joining other early implementer teacher leaders in delivering professional development at the July Early Implementer Institute for new NGSS lead teachers from the Tracy, Aspire, and Galt school districts. This will be followed by attendance at the California Science Education Conference in Sacramento this October.

It is the mix of leadership that makes this team dynamic and effective. One teacher still says “I don’t know much of anything about science” and yet many of her students are declaring their desire to become future scientists and engineers. Another team member, Lisa Hegdahl, president of the California Science Teachers Association, and a member of the Science Curriculum Framework and Evaluation Criteria Committee (CFCC), keeps the team aware of the work occurring at the state level. Yet another team member, always mindful of the district-wide vision and multi-year work ahead, probes with questions and possibilities, pushing the edges of thinking, and then has learned to leave the ideas to incubate in others’ thoughts while going forward with practical next steps. And so it goes, each team member filling a niche – creating and experiencing growth in an ecosystem of forward thinking leadership.

So now, largely due to the enthusiastic sharing of what this type of learning causes to happen in student classroom interactions, a new set of over 30 teachers is joining the GJUESD NGSS Early Implementer team. These teachers represent every grade level, TK-8th, and every school in the district, and include teachers of special education and teacher leaders in English Language Development.

So to the question: Me? A leader? In science? The answer is a resounding “Yes.” But far more than that—we are leaders in change. And that change will impact every child in every classroom in the district and beyond.

Barbara Woods is the District Curriculum Coach at Galt Joint Union Elementary School District and is NGSS Implementation Project Director, Common Core Integration, EEI Teacher Ambassador. She is a member of CSTA.

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:

Leave a Reply


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

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…

Powered By DT Author Box

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:

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…

Powered By DT Author Box

Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for CSTA.