May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

Middle School Integrated Science – Getting Over It!

Posted: Tuesday, August 11th, 2015

by Peter A’Hearn

6th graders design bionic hands as they study how body systems work together in a unit that was moved to 6th grade this year- photo by Peter A’Hearn

6th graders design bionic hands as they study how body systems work together in a unit that was moved to 6th grade this year- photo by Peter A’Hearn

Last spring I wrote an article/blog post that addressed the growing discussion about the decision to teach middle school integrated or discipline specific science. The article gives the rationale for the change and also some different models that were considered for how to transition.

There was a lot of feedback to that post: strongly supportive, deeply skeptical, and many follow up questions. Now that Palm Springs USD has finished the first year of the transition, I thought it would be a good time to look back and see how it went.

The middle school teacher leaders who helped to make the decision chose the “fast” transition plan below. Year 2 was what we just finished. 6th grade teachers (and kids) were introduced to structure and function in living things. 7th graders tried chemistry for the first time, and 8th graders played with waves. Everyone tried a little (or a lot) of engineering.

Three-Year (“Fast”) Integrated Middle Grades Science Sample Implementation Plan

So how did it go? Here are the benefits, the things I would think about changing, challenges, and the work left to be done:

Benefits: The energy around the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) in our middle schools was much higher than in high school or elementary school. Teachers at most sites were experimenting, trying extended projects, dipping into engineering, and trying to use performance tasks. Kids were engaged and excited. The leaders of our decision to go integrated had said that the content shift would be a signal to teachers that other aspects of instruction would have to change as well, and that seems to have been true. We also have a California Math Science Partnership Grant (CaMSP) called Project Prototype that is supporting middle school teachers as they transition to NGSS and the integration of engineering and that has been a big help.

We had individual sites and teachers at the high school and elementary level who worked hard on NGSS, but middle school is leading the charge. At several sites we had teachers who had taught only one grade for years, but decided to teach two grades this year or to shift levels to learn more about content.

Chemical engineering in 8th grade will move to 7th grade under the integrated model.

Chemical engineering in 8th grade will move to 7th grade under the integrated model.

Things I would think about changing- Many of our 6th grade science teachers, as well as the 7th and 8th grade teachers at one site teach both math and science. These teachers were already facing a huge transition with Common Core math this year and were overwhelmed trying to make shifts in science in as well. We didn’t consider this in our thinking about the transition, but it might have been a good idea to wait a year to allow the math shift to happen before introducing the science shift. That said, we would have lost the benefit of all that great NGSS energy in middle school.

Challenges: The biggest was providing resources and support for teachers, especially at the 6th grade level. We are fortunate to have two science teachers on special assignment in our district, and most of our energy went to middle school and especially 6th grade. There was lots of short focused after-school professional development to support new content. To help fill the resource gap we created packets of text from another grade level to act as supplemental material during the transition. For example, we created packets for 6th grade on structure and function in living things using pages from our 7th grade CPO text along with some outside resources from sources like the Exploratorium. I still haven’t figured out if this is okay under the Williams Act, and I’m not sure anyone has an answer to that.

Looking Forward: Next year is the big year but we will have the California NGSS Early Implementers Project (as well as Project Prototype) to help us with teacher PD and classroom follow up. Last year some great ideas came out of the content part of the summer institute and we are hoping for more this year. We will need to continue to make packets and look for resources for more units. The storage rooms at our sites will need to be reorganized as things like microscopes and chemistry supplies shift grade levels. 6th grade teachers will continue to need more support than most.

An important discussion will be about when education about HIV/AIDS will take place. It was in 7th grade and seems to fit with some of the 6th grade standards, but there are some concerns about 6th grader’s readiness for the topic.

Further ahead is the challenge of true integration. So far we have concentrated on shifting topic between grades. The bigger challenge is to create integrated units that combine standards from earth, life, and physical science to solve real world problems or explain real world phenomena in the true spirit of NGSS. This year in discussion about how to organize our units for this year, some great ideas came up. For example, could the concept of resources in California (oil, agriculture, gold, water) be used to organize the whole year of 7th grade science? It was decided that that might be too fast and that teachers first need a change to learn and get comfortable with new content.

So we know that many challenges lie ahead and that our journey has just begun.

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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.

3 Responses

  1. I saw you in Longbeach. We decided to go integrated because it made sense to us. You gave us a handout that had a series of questions that could be used to connect the cross cutting concepts to pretty much any lesson. We did alien invasion (like a snowball fight) I think in that session. I really liked your quality questions, but I can’t find my copy. Is there any way you could send me a copy or direct me to them? Thanks.

  2. Hi Heidi- The crosscutting concept questions and symbols can be found at:


  3. More propaganda from the author.
    The Fordham Institute offers another perspective:

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Participate in Chemistry Education Research Study, Earn $500-800 Dollars!

Posted: Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

WestEd, a non-profit educational research agency, has been funded by the US Department of Education to test a new molecular modeling kit, Happy Atoms. Happy Atoms is an interactive chemistry learning experience that consists of a set of physical atoms that connect magnetically to form molecules, and an app that uses image recognition to identify the molecules that you create with the set. WestEd is conducting a study around the effectiveness of using Happy Atoms in the classroom, and we are looking for high school chemistry teachers in California to participate.

As part of the study, teachers will be randomly assigned to either the treatment group (who uses Happy Atoms) or the control group (who uses Happy Atoms at a later date). Teachers in the treatment group will be asked to use the Happy Atoms set in their classrooms for 5 lessons over the course of the fall 2017 semester. Students will complete pre- and post-assessments and surveys around their chemistry content knowledge and beliefs about learning chemistry. WestEd will provide access to all teacher materials, teacher training, and student materials needed to participate.

Participating teachers will receive a stipend of $500-800. You can read more information about the study here:

Please contact Rosanne Luu at or 650.381.6432 if you are interested in participating in this opportunity, or if you have any questions!

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.

2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption Reviewer Application

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

The California Department of Education and State Board of Education are now accepting applications for reviewers for the 2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption. The application deadline is 3:00 pm, July 21, 2017. The application is comprehensive, so don’t wait until the last minute to apply.

On Tuesday, May 9, 2017, State Superintendent Tom Torlakson forwarded this recruitment letter to county and district superintendents and charter school administrators.

Review panel members will evaluate instructional materials for use in kindergarten through grade eight, inclusive, that are aligned with the California Next Generation Science Content Standards for California Public Schools (CA NGSS). 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.

Lessons Learned from the NGSS Early Implementer Districts

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

On March 31, 2017, Achieve released two documents examining some lessons learned from the California K-8 Early Implementation Initiative. The initiative began in August 2014 and was developed by the K-12 Alliance at WestEd, with close collaborative input on its design and objectives from the State Board of Education, the California Department of Education, and Achieve.

Eight (8) traditional school districts and two (2) charter management organizations were selected to participate in the initiative, becoming the first districts in California to implement the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Those districts included Galt Joint Union Elementary, Kings Canyon Joint Unified, Lakeside Union, Oakland Unified, Palm Springs Unified, San Diego Unified, Tracy Joint Unified, Vista Unified, Aspire, and High Tech High.

To more closely examine some of the early successes and challenges experienced by the Early Implementer LEAs, Achieve interviewed nine of the ten participating districts and compiled that information into two resources, focusing primarily on professional learning and instructional materials. 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.

Using Online Simulations to Support the NGSS in Middle School Classrooms

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

by Lesley Gates, Loren Nikkel, and Kambria Eastham

Middle school teachers in Kings Canyon Unified School District (KCUSD), a CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative district, have been diligently working on transitioning to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) integrated model for middle school. This year, the teachers focused on building their own knowledge of the Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs). They have been gathering and sharing ideas at monthly collaborative meetings as to how to make sure their students are not just learning about science but that they are actually doing science in their classrooms. Students should be planning and carrying out investigations to gather data for analysis in order to construct explanations. This is best done through hands-on lab experiments. Experimental work is such an important part of the learning of science and education research shows that students learn better and retain more when they are active through inquiry, investigation, and application. A Framework for K-12 Science Education (2011) notes, “…learning about science and engineering involves integration of the knowledge of scientific explanations (i.e., content knowledge) and the practices needed to engage in scientific inquiry and engineering design. Thus the framework seeks to illustrate how knowledge and practice must be intertwined in designing learning experiences in K-12 Science Education” (pg. 11).

Many middle school teachers in KCUSD are facing challenges as they begin implementing these student-driven, inquiry-based NGSS science experiences in their classrooms. First, many of the middle school classrooms at our K-8 school sites are not designed as science labs. Learn More…

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Written by NGSS Early Implementer

NGSS Early Implementer

In 2015 CSTA began to publish a series of articles written by teachers participating in the NGSS 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.

Celestial Highlights: May – July 2017

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

May Through July 2017 with Web Resources for the Solar Eclipse of August 21, 2017

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graphs of planet rising and setting times by Jeffrey L. Hunt.

In spring and summer 2017, Jupiter is the most prominent “star” in the evening sky, and Venus, even brighter, rules the morning. By mid-June, Saturn rises at a convenient evening hour, allowing both giant planets to be viewed well in early evening until Jupiter sinks low in late September. The Moon is always a crescent in its monthly encounters with Venus, but is full whenever it appears near Jupiter or Saturn in the eastern evening sky opposite the Sun. (In 2017, Full Moon is near Jupiter in April, Saturn in June.) At intervals of 27-28 days thereafter, the Moon appears at a progressively earlier phase at each pairing with the outer planet until its final conjunction, with Moon a thin crescent, low in the west at dusk. You’ll see many beautiful events by just following the Moon’s wanderings at dusk and dawn in the three months leading up to the solar eclipse. 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.