September 2016 – Vol. 29 No. 1

Missing Science Majors

Posted: Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

by Bethany Dixon

Why aren’t our best science students considering science majors? Out of my team of three State Science Fair awardees, only one is enrolled in a science class his senior year. The other two seniors are bright and interested in research but they didn’t want to take the chance that a difficult AP science course could damage their transcripts in their senior year. They’re tough courses and GPA matters for admissions.

This pattern carries over to major selection and ultimately to the career paths students select. TIME’s Education Summit panel on Basic and Applied Research reported last year’s National Science Foundation operating budget at “$7.4 billion—only $400 million more than Americans spent on potato chips in the same period. Last year too, 20% of undergrads in China were studying in the STEM fields. In Europe it was 11%. In the U.S. it was 4.4%.”

Washington calls for STEM majors to fill technical jobs. Technical skills needed to fill entry-level science jobs offer pay incentives that are dramatically higher than others, but at what cost? Many students are pushed out of science in their first year through the weeding out process of basic required courses or pulled away because of success in early entry-level humanities courses. Statistically, we know that science majors are difficult and STEM careers in academic remain extremely competitive. A colleague of mine who also teaches AP Biology and has a Ph.D. in molecular biology from a top-tier California research institution told me that she struggles with sending her students into research. “It really depends on the lab,” she said, “That is not a place I would send my students.”

Funding of scientific research in the U.S. has been sliced by nearly 20% in the last decade and even as we send our students into careers in science where jobs are predicted to grow, only the most persistent and dedicated students will be able to pursue careers dedicated to science. Federal funding initiatives that researchers depend on (NASA, NIH, NSF) are less certain than ever, and science has a major public relations problem. Take a peek at what Google has to say about what “scientists are…” for an idea on general perceptions.

The American Society of Cell Biologists is trying to put a friendlier face on research with their latest competition: “We are research.” They’ve challenged members to submit photos that portray lab scientists in a more human light and their Facebook and Flickr pages are full of professors of all shapes and sizes and students clustered around tables and benches in jeans and t-shirts. It certainly doesn’t read like the societal misanthropes the Google search makes them out to be – they look like my high school students on a good day in class: happy to be there.

It reminds me of some of Bonnie Bassler’s (CSTA conference keynote speaker in 2009) final words in her fantastic TED Talk about Quorum Sensing. Showing a picture of her smiling lab group in Princeton, New Jersey she says,“…I just want to say that whenever you read something in the newspaper or you get to hear some talk about something ridiculous in the natural world it was done by a child. Science is done by that demographic. All of those people are between 20 and 30 years old, and they are the engine that drives scientific discovery in this country. It’s a really lucky demographic to work with…”

Don’t tell anyone this, but one of the reasons that this hits close to home is that I wasn’t a science major. I’m a tested-in second-career science geek. I read textbooks in my “free” time and watch MIT lectures while I run. I recently told a joke that began with “You need a little bit of background on enzymes for this one, but…” I feel that as a high school teacher the student demographic I work with is extraordinary, but even more so, that science is an extraordinary field. Fixing federal funding, competition, and undergraduate lecture halls of 400 may be beyond our reach, but public perception of scientists and preparation for students to improve major accessibility is well in our corner as science teachers.

Written by Bethany Dixon

Bethany Dixon is a science teacher at Western Sierra Collegiate Academy, is a CSTA Publications Committee Member, and is a member of CSTA.

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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.