September 2016 – Vol. 29 No. 1

Meaningful Thinking in 140 Characters or Fewer

Posted: Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015

by Jill Grace

I’ve learned the hard way that I will get “huffs”, eye-rolls, grunts, and the occasional nuclear meltdown from students if I ask them to summarize their learning in, dare I say it, a paragraph. It’s as though paragraph is a bad word and how shocking that I would ask for one in science class! I even get slammed with questions: “How many sentences to I have to write?” (why are we still asking that question in middle school?), “Do I have to use complete sentences?”, and “Do I really have to write a whole paragraph?” *teacher sigh*

First and foremost, I am a huge advocate of having students produce writing in a science class. I will also admit that this can be a challenge, and so the year that I decided to make the shift to an interactive science notebook it was glaring at me. I would be asking students for writing as a vehicle to share their thinking (in what we refer to as “outputs” in the notebook) all the time. Although we wouldn’t be able to avoid the writing, sometimes I may want to ask my students to share their thinking in a way that will avoid the drama that asking for a paragraph can sometimes generate. (Incidentally, this was all prior to implementation of the Common Core Standards – where anecdotally, in just one year, I’ve seen a big shift in student acceptance of writing outside of language arts.)

Switching to the interactive notebook is when I started to get creative. I greedily snatched up every thinking map I could find. I realized that poetry could be used, even brief poetry. To try and summarize what you have learned in the form of a haiku? Deceptively difficult to do well. How about a concept acrostic? You have to dig deep for that.

And then there was that beautiful day I came across this comic and the wheels started turning:

Great Tweets of Science from Piled Higher and Deeper by Jorge Cham

Great Tweets of Science from Piled Higher and Deeper by Jorge Cham

I could ask the kids to make a Tweet!

The first time I tried this was when we were knee-deep in genetics and the kids were learning a bit about Gregor Mendel. They were working on an assignment asking them to make sense of his contributions and I decided to have a Twitter “throw down” (a friendly competition for the best work in the class – the winning Tweeters earn extra points).

If Twitter existed in Mendel’s day, what would he have Tweeted?

Tweet requirements:

  • Profile picture
  • Name
  • User name (@…)
  • No more than 140 total characters (includes spaces and punctuation)
  • Date and time stamp

Things that are allowed:

  • Hashtags are #awesome
  • Location allowed
  • Retweets allowed
  • Tagging other users allowed

Here are some of my favorites (minus profile pictures):

Gredor Mendel @daddygenesluvspeas
OMG just found out that parents pass 1 factor of a trait to offspring and 1 is masked! #peasarelife #iambetterthanalbert @alberteinstein
1/22/1860, 12:17 PM
(I didn’t have the heart to tell this student Einstein wasn’t alive yet)

Gregor Mendel @fatherofgenetics
Fact of the day: traits don’t blend #peasfordays #plantlyfe @officialprofessorfranz
4/16/1859, 10:30 PM

Gregor Mendel @monkbiologist
Me: what’s up? My child: just the water flowin’ up my xylem #mykidsarecrazy
11/19/1859, 4:07 PM

Gregor Mendel @geneticsgenius
After lots of work I have discovered traits don’t blend #recessive #dominant BTW my book is out #2principleslaws #readit #youwillthankme
11/14/1866, 3:43 PM

Gregor Mendel @peamonk
Purple + purple = white? #mindblown #peasoupfordinner
5/10/1865, 4:30 PM

This went over so well that I recently asked my students to make tweets to show their understanding of the discovery of the structure of DNA and the scientists involved. This time, I was able to snap some photos for you:

When I ask my students to make Tweets – I see them bursting with enthusiasm. They are so excited about what they have done that half of them find it impossible to sit in their seats, they have to get up and show all of their friends. I’ll take that kind of learning excitement any day! Oh, and it’s also a great formative assessment tool!

Final advice: as with all great power, use it sparingly. To keep students interested, save it for just a couple of assignments in the year when you want to do something to pique engagement.

There are countless ides such as this that can be used to give students a forum to reflect on their understanding. I have to give a tremendous shout-out to my colleagues on our California Middle School Science Teacher Facebook Group for bringing their brains together to reflect on meaningful thinking and helping to compile a great resource called the “Output Arsenal.” This is a collection of possible “outputs,” such Tweet. This resource can both inform teacher planning and also be used directly by students when asked to do outputs. CSTA members can access this resource on the CSTA website.

Written by Jill Grace

Jill Grace

Jill Grace is a Regional Director for the K-12 Alliance and is the President-elect for CSTA.

2 Responses

  1. Love it!
    One little caution: It may be hard to believe, but kids from low income non-English speaking households may not tweet or even have mobile phones.

  2. Susan, that is such a good point and so true! That’s one of the reasons the structure is explained to the kids first. I didn’t mention it in the article, but I also screen-shot tweets to show them as examples too.

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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.