March/April 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 6

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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California Science Curriculum Framework Now Available

Posted: Tuesday, March 14th, 2017

The pre-publication version of the new California Science Curriculum Framework is now available for download. This publication incorporates all the edits that were approved by the State Board of Education in November 2016 and was many months in the making. Our sincere thanks to the dozens of CSTA members were involved in its development. Our appreciation is also extended to the California Department of Education, the State Board of Education, the Instructional Quality Commission, and the Science Curriculum Framework and Evaluation Criteria Committee and their staff for their hard work and dedication to produce this document and for their commitment to the public input process. To the many writers and contributors to the Framework CSTA thanks you for your many hours of work to produce a world-class document.

For tips on how to approach this document see our article from December 2016: California Has Adopted a New Science Curriculum Framework – Now What …? If you would like to learn more about the Framework, consider participating in one of the Framework Launch events (a.k.a. Rollout #4) scheduled throughout 2017.

The final publication version (formatted for printing) will be available in July 2017. This document will not be available in printed format, only electronically.

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.

Call for CSTA Awards Nominations

Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017

The 2017 Award Season is now open! One of the benefits of being a CSTA member is your eligibility for awards as well as your eligibility to nominate someone for an award. CSTA offers several awards and members may nominate individuals and organizations for the Future Science Teacher Award, the prestigious Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, and the CSTA Distinguished Contributions Award (organizational award). May 9, 2017 is the deadline for nominations for these awards. CSTA believes that the importance of science education cannot be overstated. Given the essential presence of the sciences in understanding the past and planning for the future, science education remains, and will increasingly be one of the most important disciplines in education. CSTA is committed to recognizing and encouraging excellence in science teaching through the presentation of awards to science educators and organizations who have made outstanding contributions in science education in the state and who are poised to continue the momentum of providing high quality, relevant science education 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.

Call for Volunteers – CSTA Committees

Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017


CSTA is now accepting applications from regular, preservice, and retired members to serve on our volunteer committees! CSTA’s all-volunteer board of directors invites you to consider maximizing your member experience by volunteering for CSTA. CSTA committee service offers you the opportunity to share your expertise, learn a new skill, or do something you love to do but never have the opportunity to do in your regular day. CSTA committee volunteers do some pretty amazing things: 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.

A Friend in CA Science Education Now at CSTA Region 1 Science Center

Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017

by Marian Murphy-Shaw

If you attended an NGSS Rollout phase 1-3 or CDE workshops at CSTA’s annual conference you may recall hearing from Chris Breazeale when he was working with the CDE. Chris has relocated professionally, with his passion for science education, and is now the Executive Director at the Explorit Science Center, a hands-on exploration museum featuring interactive STEM exhibits located at the beautiful Mace Ranch, 3141 5th St. in Davis, CA. Visitors can “think it, try it, and explorit” with a variety of displays that allow visitors to “do science.” To preview the museum, or schedule a classroom visit, see Learn More…

Written by Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw is the student services director at Siskiyou County Office of Education and is CSTA’s Region 1 Director and chair of CSTA’s Policy Committee.

Learning to Teach in 3D

Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017

by Joseph Calmer

Probably like you, NGSS has been at the forefront of many department meetings, lunch conversations, and solitary lesson planning sessions. Despite reading the original NRC Framework, the Ca Draft Frameworks, and many CSTA writings, I am still left with the question: “what does it actually mean for my classroom?”

I had an eye-opening experience that helped me with that question. It came out of a conversation that I had with a student teacher. It turns out that I’ve found the secret to learning how to teach with NGSS: I need to engage in dialogue about teaching with novice teachers. I’ve had the pleasure of teaching science in some capacity for 12 years. During that time pedagogy and student learning become sort of a “hidden curriculum.” It is difficult to plan a lesson for the hidden curriculum; the best way is to just have two or more professionals talk and see what emerges. I was surprised it took me so long to realize this epiphany. 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: