May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

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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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: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/HappyAtoms

Please contact Rosanne Luu at rluu@wested.org 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.