September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

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:

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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.