September 2016 – Vol. 29 No. 1

Moving into Summer: Maintaining Student Engagement

Posted: Monday, June 20th, 2016

by Bret States, CSTA Region 1 Guest Contributor

The Secondary Integration of Modeling in Mathematics and Science (SIMMS) Project began in June of 2014 as part of cohort 10 of the California Math and Science Partnership Grant. We currently have 54 high school math and science teachers participating in 60 hours of intensive training and 24 hours of follow up classroom support. The intensive training includes a week-long summer institute, four ½ day Saturdays, plus 9 hours of online/independent training. The follow-up classroom support comes in the form of two rounds of lesson studies.

When the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) were officially adopted by the California State Board of Education in 2013, it became clear that teachers wanted specialized professional development. Modeling is one of the science and engineering practices and is a key component of NGSS. Models and/or modeling is mentioned 181 times in the 9-12 NGSS! According to Appendix F – Science and Engineering Practices in the NGSS,

Models include diagrams, physical replicas, mathematical representations, analogies, and computer simulations. Although models do not correspond exactly to the real world, they bring certain features into focus while obscuring others. All models contain approximations and assumptions that limit the range of validity and predictive power, so it is important for students to recognize their limitations. (NGSS Release, p. 6)

And as we all know, computer technology has become an integral part of our daily lives and it should therefore be an integral part of student’s education. What better way is there to engage and maintain student engagement than the use of computer models and simulations as a tool for deeper understanding of math and science?

We are currently wrapping up our second year of this three-year grant. Our professional development model is based on year 1 – training, year 2 – implementation and year 3 – dissemination.  The purpose of this article is to shed light or disseminate information on how we have implemented computer modeling and simulations into 5E lessons and will also give tips on how other educators can benefit from the extensive work that has been done.

Mathematical modeling and scientific modeling are quite different but as the SIMMS project has discovered, the integration of the two is quite powerful. According to the Common Core State Standards Initiative website:

Modeling links classroom mathematics and statistics to everyday life, work, and decision-making. Modeling is the process of choosing and using appropriate mathematics and statistics to analyze empirical situations, to understand them better, and to improve decisions. Quantities and their relationships in physical, economic, public policy, social, and everyday situations can be modeled using mathematical and statistical methods. When making mathematical models, technology is valuable for varying assumptions, exploring consequences, and comparing predictions with data.

SIMMS Teachers have successfully collaborated during lesson studies in cross-curricular math and science teams to develop 5E lesson plans. The central focus of these lessons are based around the idea of modeling and are aligned to both NGSS and Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (CCSS-M). These lessons are available at our project’s website: The website features:

  • Modeling 5E lesson plans for NGSS and CCSS-M
  • NetLogo Skills
  • Flipped Learning Tutorials
  • Teacher Professional Development
  • Modeling Tools
  • Statistical Tools
  • Pedagogical Skills

The library of flipped learning tutorials by students explaining how to use computer simulation tools, such as NetLogo is a perfect way to also increase and maintain student engagement in what can be a tedious challenge of computer programming or coding. The site also has sections on teacher professional development with Modeling Tools, NetLogo Skills, Statistical Tools and Pedagogical Skills. This is also where the 5E lessons are referenced by the appropriate NGSS and CCSS-M standards. Some of the lessons also have flipped learning instructional videos explaining how to implement the lesson appropriately.

NetLogo has been the emphasized modeling format that SIMMS utilizes.

NetLogo is a free, multi-agent programmable modeling environment. It is authored by Uri Wilensky and developed at the Center for Connected Learning and Computer-Based Modeling (CCL) at Northwestern University. SIMMS teachers have been trained on how to program using NetLogo to develop unique computer models and simulations or to modify existing simulations to meet their specific classroom needs.

Although NetLogo has a large model library, there isn’t a “one size fits all” site that has been found to exist.

So, here are a few other excellent sites for computer models and simulations that we have utilized as part of our work:

  • Molecular Workbench – Visual, Interactive Simulations for Teaching and Learning Science
  • PhET – Interactive Simulations for Science and Math

Here are some Mathematic Modeling/Analysis Tools:

  • GeoGebra – The graphing calculator for functions, geometry, algebra, calculus, statistics and 3D Math
  • Desmos – Graph functions, plot tables of data, evaluate equations, explore transformations, and much more – for free!

A SIMMS teacher sums it up best by saying:

“Having a simulation rather than just a worksheet makes that day an experience rather than busy work.  I teach physics and chemistry which can be very mathematical and sometimes intangible.  Every model shows some aspect of what students are learning and even if it is just a small part of what we do that day adding it to the curriculum is like adding a photo to a text book: it deepens students understanding and engagement.  A model does not need to be an entire lesson.  It can be a few minutes or you could use a few as parts of a lab.”

So as we all transition from “teacher mode” into the summer break, please consider visiting the SIMMS project’s website for all the resources necessary to challenge yourself and your students in developing and using computer models and simulations.

Region 1, as your districts map out their budgets to meet the needs identified in your LCAP’s, be sure you get some time to map out your professional learning. Adopting new science materials will be one step to implementing NGSS, but it is not the first step. Your time to learn should come first in the LCAP!

A few upcoming events in Region 1:

CUE Rock Star Math Edition

There is a convergence happening between math instruction and technology. Great tools like Google Sheets, Desmos, Bootstrap World and many many more available on the web are taking math off the worksheet and onto the web. This two-day math event is focused on changing how instruction is delivered in math to create a classroom workflow that moves well beyond algorithms and worksheets.

Led by classroom leaders who are directly involved in changing math instruction in their classrooms, attendees will be thrilled, entertained and inspired. The faculty for this event has world-class credentials: Fawn Nguyen, John Stevens, Matt Vaudrey, Ed Campos Jr and Michael Fenton are all Rock Star Math Instructors and will deliver rich sessions that are Common Core-Ready, digital, exciting and innovative.

More Rock Star Camps this Summer!

CUE Rock Star Camps for the Summer of 2016 open for registration on March 19th – watch for them at and on Twitter at #CUERockStar


If you have attended FIT then you know that at the end of the week participants say, “This is such a great program.  How come I have never heard of it?”

Well thanks to CCS now you have!

  • June 26-July 2, Shasta County
  • July 10-16, Humboldt County

The Forestry Institute for Teachers is a multi-day residence workshop developed by the Northern California Society of American Foresters, University of California Cooperative Extension, Shasta County Office of Education, The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, and Project Learning Tree.  The FIT Program is underwritten by a consortium of public and private sources. Since 1993, over 2,300 teachers have graduated from the program.

The goal of FIT is to provide K-12 teachers with knowledge, skills and tools to effectively teach their students about forest ecology and forest resource management practices. The program brings together natural resource specialists and teachers from rural and urban settings for one week, working side by side to gain a deeper understanding of forest ecosystems and human use of natural resources.

FIT is highly regarded professional development program that emphasized California Department of Education Content Standards including Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards.

Planning Ahead?

Those in Region 1 near San Joaquin COE might like to preview the TK-5, 6-8 and 9-12 offerings scheduled for the coming year starting in August, in addition to those still open for the summer.

Visit the webpage, or contact Bret States for flyers you can share at your site! / 209.468.4961

Bret States is SIMMS Project Director at the Office of STEM, Educational Services, San Joaquin County Office of Education and a CSTA member.

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:

One Response

  1. Welcome back to another academic year Region 1!
    If you are new to CSTA I hope you tune in frequently to this publication online as well as the CSTA website an Facebook communities.

    With NGSS now rolling along toward implementation in many districts statewide our Region 1 schools have lots of resources and colleagues to access through CSTA.

    I also invite each of you to consider sharing with me what you are doing and I can include it in these monthly updates.


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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.