September 2016 – Vol. 29 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:

Leave a Reply


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…

Powered By DT Author Box

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…

Powered By DT Author Box

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.