September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

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 Is Now Accepting Nominations for Board Members

Posted: Friday, November 17th, 2017

Current, incoming, and outgoing CSTA Board of Directors at June 3, 2017 meeting.

Updated 7:25 pm, Nov. 17, 2017

It’s that time of year when CSTA is looking for dedicated and qualified persons to fill the upcoming vacancies on its Board of Directors. This opportunity allows you to help shape the policy and determine the path that the Board will take in the new year. There are time and energy commitments, but that is far outweighed by the personal satisfaction of knowing that you are an integral part of an outstanding professional educational organization, dedicated to the support and guidance of California’s science teachers. You will also have the opportunity to help CSTA review and support legislation that benefits good science teaching and teachers.

Right now is an exciting time to be involved at the state level in the California Science Teachers Association. The CSTA Board of Directors is currently involved in implementing the Next Generations Science Standards and its strategic plan. If you are interested in serving on the CSTA Board of Directors, now is the time to submit your name for consideration. 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.

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Announces 2017 Finalists for Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching

Posted: Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today nominated eight exceptional secondary mathematics and science teachers as California finalists for the 2017 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST).

“These teachers are dedicated and accomplished individuals whose innovative teaching styles prepare our students for 21st century careers and college and develop them into the designers and inventors of the future,” Torlakson said. “They rank among the finest in their profession and also serve as wonderful mentors and role models.”

The California Department of Education (CDE) partners annually with the California Science Teachers Association and the California Mathematics Council to recruit and select nominees for the PAEMST program—the highest recognition in the nation for a mathematics or science teacher. The Science Finalists will be recognized at the CSTA Awards Luncheon on Saturday, October 14, 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.

Thriving in a Time of Change

Posted: Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

by Jill Grace

By the time this message is posted online, most schools across California will have been in session for at least a month (if not longer, and hat tip to that bunch!). Long enough to get a good sense of who the kids in your classroom are and to get into that groove and momentum of the daily flow of teaching. It’s also very likely that for many of you who weren’t a part of a large grant initiative or in a district that set wheels in motion sooner, this is the first year you will really try to shift instruction to align to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). I’m not going to lie to you, it’s a challenging year – change is hard. Change is even harder when there’s not a playbook to go by.  But as someone who has had the very great privilege of walking alongside teachers going through that change for the past two years and being able to glimpse at what this looks like for different demographics across that state, there are three things I hope you will hold on to. These are things I have come to learn will overshadow the challenge: a growth mindset will get you far, one is a very powerful number, and it’s about the kids. Learn More…

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Written by Jill Grace

Jill Grace

Jill Grace is a Regional Director for the K-12 Alliance and is President of CSTA.

If You Are Not Teaching Science Then You Are Not Teaching Common Core

Posted: Thursday, August 31st, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn 

“Science and Social Studies can be taught for the last half hour of the day on Fridays”

– Elementary school principal

Anyone concerned with the teaching of science in elementary school is keenly aware of the problem of time. Kids need to learn to read, and learning to read takes time, nobody disputes that. So Common Core ELA can seem like the enemy of science. This was a big concern to me as I started looking at the curriculum that my district had adopted for Common Core ELA. I’ve been through those years where teachers are learning a new curriculum, and know first-hand how a new curriculum can become the focus of attention- sucking all the air out of the room. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

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

Tools for Creating NGSS Standards Based Lessons

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Elizabeth Cooke

Think back on your own experiences with learning science in school. Were you required to memorize disjointed facts without understanding the concepts?

Science Education Background

In the past, science education focused on rote memorization and learning disjointed ideas. Elementary and secondary students in today’s science classes are fortunate now that science instruction has shifted from students demonstrating what they know to students demonstrating how they are able to apply their knowledge. Science education that reflects the Next Generation Science Standards challenges students to conduct investigations. As students explore phenomena and discrepant events they engage in academic discourse guided by focus questions from their teachers or student generated questions of that arise from analyzing data and creating and revising models that explain natural phenomena. Learn More…

Written by Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke teaches TK-5 science at Markham Elementary in the Oakland Unified School District, is an NGSS Early Implementer, and is CSTA’s Secretary.