September 2016 – Vol. 29 No. 1

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

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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:

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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.