September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

Middle School Matters

Posted: Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

by Jill Grace

Welcome back middle school science teachers! I hope you had a nice relaxing summer.  Although, come to think of it, most teachers I know spend their whole summer working, taking classes, revamping content, figuring out how to squeeze in that Common Core thing… the list goes on.  Personally, I find “summer” to be an illusion to get me through the school year, but at least that works well enough to help me muster up the strength to teach all of our excitable, distracted, goofy, and hormonal quasi-teens.  This is an age group that most run away screaming from and, yet, we somehow wouldn’t trade it for anything because we know that deep down inside they are amazing young people with whom we get to share a year with and, hopefully, help start to navigate their path in life.

As it turns out, while we were “on vacation,” a lot was going on in middle school science.  The State released the proposed arrangement for NGSS in middle school.  I have to admit, even I paused in my tracks when I saw them.  The more information I got, however, the more I could see the vision that was being laid out and the opportunity that was there.  Further, I started to ask my own questions and tried to help answer questions from others.  Hopefully you were able to attend one of the three NGSS information meetings across the state in August.   We owe a debt of gratitude to the teachers, school officials, county office leaders, Science Expert Panel members, and CSTA representatives who helped make these happen (all of whom volunteered their time to do so).  In addition, the CSTA website now has an awesome NGSS link with tons of information to help you get informed.  There is no question the proposed alignment between NGSS and the Common Core Standards will require strong innovative curriculum and professional development for teachers.  The CSTA, County Offices of Education, science professional development groups, informal science centers, and industry leaders are already setting their sights on resource development.  Science teachers in California WILL be supported!

I decided to run for the CSTA board this year because I knew NGSS was coming and I wanted to be involved.  I wanted to help the CSTA board understand what middle school science teachers are going through and be a resource to support those teachers.  One thing I quickly realized is that the middle school science teachers I am in contact with represent a very small demographic of California and I want to make sure there is a forum for all of us across the state to be able to communicate with each other.  To this end, I’ve started a Facebook group and I invite all California middle school science teachers to join – just submit your “join group” request and you will be added to the group.  This can be a valuable place where we all can disseminate information and resources as well have a forum for all of us across the State to dialogue.



Perhaps even more so than with elementary or high school, the NGSS provides us with a very rare opportunity to completely revamp how we teach science in middle school.  Now, mind you, this will take a lot of strength and courage on our parts.  It will mean becoming learners ourselves.  There’s a chance we might find some new passions in our teaching we never knew we had.  BUT the prospects of what this change will mean to those crazy aliens we call middle school students is tremendous.  We have a chance to think about these kids, their learning, and how they will perceive science by the end of middle school.  How novel and wonderful!

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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.

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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.

News and Happenings in CSTA’s Region 1 – Fall 2017

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Marian Murphy-Shaw


This month I was fortunate enough to hear about some new topics to share with our entire region. Some of you may access the online or newsletter options, others may attend events in person that are nearer to you. Long time CSTA member and environmental science educator Mike Roa is well known to North Bay Area teachers for his volunteer work sharing events and resources. In this month’s Region 1 updates I am happy to make a few of the options Mike offers available to our region. 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.

Is This a First: Young Female Teens Propose California Water Conservation Legislation?

Posted: Monday, August 28th, 2017

Meet the La Habra Water Guardians from the Optics of their Teacher Moderator, Dr. P.

by Susan M. Pritchard, Ph.D.

You have just won the 2016 Lexus Eco Challenge as one of four First Place Winners in the Middle School Category across the nation! Now, what are you going to do … go to Disneyland? No, not for four of the six La Habra Water Guardians, Disneyland is not in their future at this time. Although I think they would love a trip to Disneyland, (are you listening Mickey Mouse?), at this moment they are focused big time on one major thing … celebrating the passage of their proposed legislation: Assembly Bill 1343 Go Low Flow Water Conservation Partnership Bill and now promoting the enactment of this legislation. Learn More…

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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: