September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

New School-Year Science Resolutions: My Top Five List

Posted: Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

by Michelle French

At the end of the last school year, I sat in my first grade classroom, stared at the empty walls, and reflected upon the year.  That time of quiet and uninterrupted peace also allowed me to start dreaming of what my classroom environment and curriculum will look like next year.   As I looked at the wall that displays my students’ work in science, I began thinking about how I could build upon what I did in science this year and make next year even better. So, I narrowed down the five areas where I felt I could use some rejuvenation, research, and refinement.  I thought that perhaps my “Top Five List” of science resolutions might be helpful to others as we start off a new year.

1) Ensure that my classroom environment is a safe place for children to ask questions, take risks, and learn from each other …  not just from me.  Last year, I went over basic classroom survival rules right off the bat: take turns and share, clean-up after yourself, keep all parts of our bodies to ourselves, etc.  This year, in addition to those rules, I would like explore norms for discussion from the start.  I delayed introducing norms for discussion last year, and I felt like I was playing catch-up the rest of the year.  Ready, Set, SCIENCE!  Putting Research to Work in K-8 Science Classrooms (2008) by the National Research Council states, “Proficiency in science entails skillful participation in a scientific community in the classroom and mastery of productive ways of representing ideas, using scientific tools, and interacting with peers about science.”  Even children in K-2 classrooms are capable of engaging in these types of productive content-driven discussions.   By having my students engage in scientific discussions when school begins, I hope to have students understand that it is okay to respectfully disagree with each other, feel safe even if they don’t know something, and know that their peers can help them find answers to questions.

2) I will craft questions and talk stems that: engage students, allow all students to participate, and lead to higher level thinking.  As I went through our adopted science materials last year, I noted that many of the questions were designed to elicit “right there” or “yes/no” answers.  I felt that there were missed opportunities in the curriculum for asking higher level questions.  While reading through Activating & Engaging Habits of the Mind (2000), Arthur L. Costa and Bena Kallick propose that teachers should “…formulate and pose questions that intentionally challenge students’ intellect and imagination.”   They also state that the level of questions that I mentioned finding in my curriculum is important for data gathering.  The next two levels that move students forward in their metacognitive abilities are processing and then speculating, elaborating, and applying concepts.  The authors break down questions in a way that is very easy to follow. In a nutshell, they state to select:

  • First, an invitational stem
  • Next, the cognitive operation (Data Gathering; Processing; or Speculate, Elaborate, and Apply)
  • Then, chose internal content (focus on feelings/emotions, thoughts, or reactions) or external content (focus on the lesson, the event, or the other students, etc).

A sample first grade science question could be “How might we (invitational stem) compare and contrast (processing level) the goldfish and the millipede (external content)?”  Costa and Kallick have provided me a blueprint to help me as I am crafting my own questions/talk stems and analyzing existing textbook questions.

3) I will look for every opportunity to make science meaningful, relevant, and accessible for all of my students.  In Teaching with the Brain in Mind (1998) by Eric Jensen, the author states, “It’s not more content that students want; it’s meaning.”   One of my most eye-opening moments last year actually came during a social studies lesson.  A very bright, inquisitive girl asked me, “Mrs. French, why do we need to know this?”  I obviously hadn’t made the lesson meaningful for her.  Ready, Set, SCIENCE! advocates using “practical or applied problems” to engage students in using what they already know to find solutions.  So, my plan of action to accomplish this will include accessing prior knowledge, creating problems for students to work on in collaborative groups, and scaffolding the science content/process skills that will support the problem.

4) I will attend the 2010 California Science Education Conference in Sacramento, October 22-24.  I am already registered and ready to go.  The last two years I attended the CSEC, I came away excited and more prepared to teach science.  I have looked through the extensive list of workshops that are available to K-2 teachers and have picked the ones that I know will strengthen my teaching.   I also can’t wait to meet with other K-2 teachers from around the state.  This is a great opportunity to hear about what is going on in the world of science education.  The networking alone is reason to attend.

5) I will try not to be so stressed-out.   My self-imposed stress should dissipate because I am going to follow my first four resolutions.  My goal is to work smarter, not harder.  Even though my resolutions will take more time initially, I know that in the long run, time spent with my students will be much more productive.  I will have: predesigned, targeted questions; norms for discussion established early in the year; designed problems that engage and motivate my students; been rejuvenated from attending the CSEC.

I hope that my list of resolutions is helpful to other primary teachers.  If you would like to talk to me about anything I mentioned in this article or anything else that I might be able to help you with, please feel free to contact me at  In the subject field, please put that you are emailing me about CSTA.

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.

One Response

  1. Ms. French,
    Your thoughtful resolutions about the teaching of science concerning your future elementary students are also relevant to middle and high school teachers. If more teachers at all grade levels would consider your resolutions, science would be better understood by students and scientific progress in the world would expand exponentially.

Leave a Reply


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…

Powered By DT Author Box

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…

Powered By DT Author Box

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.