May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

Mobile Tech Helps Aquarium Programs Dig Deeper

Posted: Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

by Katy Scott

One high school student stands knee-deep in water, a probe in her hand.

“Is it working?” she yells to a partner on shore. He’s looking at an iPad, watching a graph instantly form. “Got it!” he answers.

Three other students encircle a crab trap a few meters away; as one holds up a green crab, another photographs it with a phone. Then, he uses his finger to annotate over the image, labeling the parts that serve as evidence for species identification.

This is the way technology integration is supposed to work.

But all too often, it’s not what’s actually happening.

What’s actually happening, education technology professionals have noted, is the digitization of 20th century teaching. Many educators have turned their overhead transparencies into PowerPoints and worksheets into PDFs but have done very little to actually update their practices.

It’s hard to blame them. The term “21st century skills” rings of meaningless jargon. Plus, knowing that it’s important to integrate technology is one thing, but understanding how to do it well is something entirely different.

Middle school girls use IPads to explore the Monterey Bay Aquarium as part of the Young Women in Science summer program

Image courtesy of the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

At the Monterey Bay Aquarium, our education team needed about three years of professional development to fully understand how to meaningfully utilize technology to support our program objectives. Now, when we talk about 21st century skills, we’re usually referring to the four Cs (which are also prevalent in the Common Core State Standards): critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity

The four Cs represent quality teaching in general. But in recent years we’ve found that technology – and, specifically, mobile technology – has allowed us to teach more deeply and more effectively, especially regarding these skills.

For the Aquarium, the growing prevalence of mobile technology such as cell phones and tablets was the game-changer. That prevalence meant that, first, nearly every student has some level of access, and second, we can take this pocket-sized technology anywhere. Since 2009, we’ve tried dozens of integration strategies and have identified three methods that have had the deepest positive impacts on our programs.

1. Digital Field Notes

At the Aquarium, we spend a lot of time taking our teachers and students to field sites. We go tide pooling in Pebble Beach and kayaking in Elkhorn Slough. We collect trash and complete outdoor investigations on Monterey beaches.

Any educator who has planned a field experience knows what that entails – backpacks filled with field tools that might be needed: hand lenses, field guides, calculators, rulers, compasses, science notebooks, colored pencils, etc. But now, we’re able to fit it all in a package that’s less than two pounds: a single iPad.



We make great use of the app Notability ($2.99), which turns an iPad into a notebook. Users can type, write, draw, highlight, and add photos and audio to a blank page or a pre-made worksheet PDF. All the notes can be organized and searched.

Depending on content, there are dozens of field guide apps, for everything from tide pools to birds. The free Multifunction Ruler app turns the iPad into a ruler, and the free Gyro Compass app uses the iPad’s accelerometer to estimate direction. We use the zoom on the camera as a hand lens, although you can also turn an iPad camera into a field microscope using a jeweler’s loupe and a rubber grommet.

Best of all, everything that’s saved on the iPad can more easily be transferred to Google Drive for further collaboration or published on a student blog

2. Multi-Media Projects

Nearly any educator can tell you the importance of creation in learning – it’s the highest level of Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy and can be one of the most revealing culmination projects. We regularly ask our program participants to create products that demonstrate their learning.

Middle school girls use iPads to explore the Monterey Bay Aquarium as part of the Young Women in Science summer program. Image courtesy of the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

In the past, this might have been done with posters or short presentations. Now, we’re able to ask students and teachers to create something they can later access to share with their families, peers and community. With limited time, one of the greatest benefits of multi-media projects is that many can be completed in less than 10 minutes.

And we’re able to do these projects anywhere. Based on the program, we’ve had participants create projects in Aquarium exhibits, on beaches, during hikes, and even on buses during the ride back to school.

For quicker projects, one of our favorite tools is the free Educreations app (and website), which allows users to record their voice as they draw on a whiteboard. After longer experiences, such as our week-long summer camps, we ask students to use what they learned to create public service announcements using a video editing app, such as iMovie ($4.99).

We also give participants a rubric or checklist of required content and then allow them to choose any tool to complete it. Depending on the app they select, they can create videos, cartoons, digital books, or comics to communicate their learning.

3. Evidence Collection

The Next Generation Science Standards list “engaging in argument from evidence” as one of the eight science and engineering practices. Mobile technology has been a major benefit as students collect evidence in the field, as well as during investigations in classrooms and exhibits. They’re able to photograph live animals and, using apps like Notability and Educreations, annotate labels and reasoning directly onto the images.

We’ve recently begun testing the free app Zydeco Inquiry, which was specifically designed to help middle school students make claims based on evidence in a museum setting. This app has students create a hypothesis based on an overarching question and then prompts them to collect audio, photos, videos, and text as evidence. Lastly, students are asked to make a claim and select the evidence that supports that claim. They’re able to cite their own evidence, as well as evidence collected by their classmates, underscoring the collaborative nature of science.

While these three technology integration methods have helped revolutionize our education programs, they’ve done a lot more. Seeing these methods in action has helped our education staff gain a strong handle on what 21st century learning really means.

Katy Scott is the Education Technology Manager at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. You can find her on Twitter @katyscott22. She was invited to write for CCS by CSTA member Mary Whaley

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:

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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.