May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

New Research Finds Potential for Science Learning in Middle School Goes Untapped

Posted: Sunday, April 1st, 2012

California’s middle schools have the potential to provide students with high quality science education, but significant challenges limit opportunities for science learning, leaving that potential unfulfilled, according to new research released on March 22, 2012  in Sacramento.

The research shows that middle schools offer dedicated time for science, access to facilities and a teaching force that is fairly well prepared for teaching the subject. But students often lack access to science instruction in earlier grades and arrive at middle school underprepared and uninterested. Systemic support for science has eroded and overcrowded classrooms, insufficient time for instruction and inadequate materials limit access to high quality learning opportunities.

And while many teachers are well prepared for teaching science, nearly one-quarter of middle school teachers do not have a background or credential in science. Teachers also need opportunities to continually deepen their knowledge and improve their teaching skills, while keeping up with ever changing developments in the field.

“California’s middle schools offer critical strengths for teaching science,” says Holly Jacobson, Director of the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning at WestEd.  “But too often their efforts are undermined by difficult challenges that are limiting opportunities for science learning for students.”

These findings and others are explored in Untapped Potential: The Status of Middle School Science Education in CaliforniaThis new report examines the results of a statewide study of science education conducted in 2010 and 2011 among teachers, principals and school district leaders in California, as well as analysis of secondary data in selected school districts. The study was commissioned by the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning at WestEd and conducted by the Lawrence Hall of Science at the University of California, Berkeley, and SRI International as part of their Strengthening Science Education in California Initiative. The report follows earlier research on science education in California’s elementary schools published in October 2011.

“Our research finds that students in California’s middle schools are unprepared for and uninterested in science learning,” says Ardice Hartry, a researcher at the Lawrence Hall of Science at the University of California, Berkeley. “And unfortunately, middle school students are unlikely to have access to high quality learning opportunities that engage them in the exploration and practice of science.” The analysis suggests that just 14 percent of middle school teachers provide a pattern of classroom practices that support regular engagement of students in the practices of science.

The research shows that nearly 40 percent of teachers view students’ lack of interest as a major or moderate challenge to science instruction, and nearly half (47%) of principals report students’ lack of preparation as a major or moderate challenge. The problem of inadequate preparation appears worse in schools serving low-income students. Thirty percent of principals in schools in the lowest income quartile said lack of student preparation was a major problem, while just 6 percent of principals in the highest income quartile reported preparation as a major problem.

The report also details challenges to teaching science at the middle school level.  In addition to the inadequate preparation of students in elementary schools, class size, funding and lack of access to needed materials are cited as barriers to science instruction. And while many middle school teachers have had access to professional development for teaching science, more than half of teachers say more is needed.

“If science learning is going to be a priority, it is imperative that California act to strengthen science education in elementary schools so that students will be prepared for and interested in the pursuit of science in middle school and beyond,” concludes Jacobson. “We should also build upon the existing strengths of our middle schools and address the challenges they face in ways that promote high quality learning opportunities in science.”

To further efforts to strengthen science education in California the report’s authors offer specific recommendations. Highlights of these include:

  • Prepare for the Next Generation Science Standards now under development.
  • Focus on elementary science.
  • Ensure that teachers have the professional development and other support needed to provide students with a comprehensive, experiential science program.
  • Examine the state requirements for middle school science teachers to ensure that the path leading to the credential adequately prepares the credential holder to teach to the rigors of middle school science.
  • Provide opportunities for vertical professional learning communities.
  • Examine the master schedule of middle schools to ensure that sufficient time is devoted to science classes and is scheduled to accommodate lab work and experiential learning.

Untapped Potential: The Status of Middle School Science Education in California is published as part of the work of Strengthening Science Education in California, a research, policy and communications initiative funded by the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation to improve the quality of science education. The report and summary materials can be found on the web at The research can also be found on the Lawrence Hall of Science website at

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.

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CSTA Annual Conference Early Bird Rates End July 14

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Jessica Sawko

Teachers engaged in workshop activity

Teachers engaging in hands-on learning during a workshop at the 2016 CSTA conference.

Don’t miss your chance to register at the early bird rate for the 2017 CSTA Conference – the early-bird rate closes July 14. Need ideas on how to secure funding for your participation? Visit our website for suggestions, a budget planning tool, and downloadable justification letter to share with your admin. Want to take advantage of the early rate – but know your district will pay eventually? Register online today and CSTA will reimburse you when we receive payment from your district/employer. (For more information on how that works contact Zi Stair in the office for details – 916-979-7004 or

New Information Now Available On-line:

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.

Goodbye Outgoing and Welcome Incoming CSTA Board Members

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

Jill Grace

Jill Grace, CSTA President, 2017-2019

On July 1, 2017 five CSTA members concluded their service and four new board members joined the ranks of the CSTA Board of Directors. CSTA is so grateful for all the volunteer board of directors who contribute hours upon hours of time and energy to advance the work of the association. At the June 3 board meeting, CSTA was able to say goodbye to the outgoing board members and welcome the incoming members.

This new year also brings with it a new president for CSTA. As of July 1, 2017 Jill Grace is the president of the California Science Teachers Association. Jill is a graduate of California State University, Long Beach, a former middle school science teacher, and is currently a Regional Director with the K-12 Alliance @ WestEd where she works with California NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative districts and charter networks in the San Diego area.

Outgoing Board Members

  • Laura Henriques (President-Elect: 2011 – 2013, President: 2013 – 2015, Past President: 2015 – 2017)
  • Valerie Joyner (Region 1 Director: 2009 – 2013, Primary Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Mary Whaley (Informal Science Education Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Sue Campbell (Middle School/Jr. High Director: 2015 – 2017)
  • Marcus Tessier (2-Year College Director: 2015 – 2017)

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.

Finding My Student’s Motivation of Learning Through Engineering Tasks

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Huda Ali Gubary and Susheela Nath

It’s 8:02 and the bell rings. My students’ walk in and pick up an entry ticket based on yesterday’s lesson and homework. My countdown starts for students to begin…3, 2, 1. Ten students are on task and diligently completing the work, twenty are off task with behaviors ranging from talking up a storm with their neighbors to silently staring off into space. This was the start of my classes, more often than not. My students rarely showed the enthusiasm for a class that I had eagerly prepared for. I spent so much time searching for ways to get my students excited about the concepts they were learning. I wanted them to feel a connection to the lessons and come into my class motivated about what they were going to learn next. I would ask myself how I could make my class memorable where the kids were in the driver’s seat of learning. Incorporating engineering made this possible. 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 California NGSS k-8 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.

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Unveils Updated Recommended Literature List

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson unveiled an addition of 285 award-winning titles to the Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list.

“The books our students read help broaden their perspectives, enhance their knowledge, and fire their imaginations,” Torlakson said. “The addition of these award-winning titles represents the state’s continued commitment to the interests and engagement of California’s young readers.”

The Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list is a collection of more than 8,000 titles of recommended reading for children and adolescents. Reflecting contemporary and classic titles, including California authors, this online list provides an exciting range of literature that students should be reading at school and for pleasure. Works include fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama to provide for a variety of tastes, interests, and abilities. Learn More…

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:

Teaching Science in the Time of Alternative Facts – Why NGSS Can Help (somewhat)

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn

The father of one of my students gave me a book: In the Beginning: Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood by Walt Brown, Ph. D. He had heard that I was teaching Plate Tectonics and wanted me to consider another perspective. The book offered the idea that the evidence for plate tectonics could be better understood if we considered the idea that beneath the continent of Pangaea was a huge underground layer of water that suddenly burst forth from a rift between the now continents of Africa and South America. The waters shot up and the continents hydroplaned apart on the water layer to their current positions. The force of the movement pushed up great mountain ranges which are still settling to this day, resulting in earthquakes along the margins of continents. This had happened about 6,000 years ago and created a great worldwide flood. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for CSTA.