May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

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.

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Participate in Chemistry Education Research Study, Earn $500-800 Dollars!

Posted: Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

WestEd, a non-profit educational research agency, has been funded by the US Department of Education to test a new molecular modeling kit, Happy Atoms. Happy Atoms is an interactive chemistry learning experience that consists of a set of physical atoms that connect magnetically to form molecules, and an app that uses image recognition to identify the molecules that you create with the set. WestEd is conducting a study around the effectiveness of using Happy Atoms in the classroom, and we are looking for high school chemistry teachers in California to participate.

As part of the study, teachers will be randomly assigned to either the treatment group (who uses Happy Atoms) or the control group (who uses Happy Atoms at a later date). Teachers in the treatment group will be asked to use the Happy Atoms set in their classrooms for 5 lessons over the course of the fall 2017 semester. Students will complete pre- and post-assessments and surveys around their chemistry content knowledge and beliefs about learning chemistry. WestEd will provide access to all teacher materials, teacher training, and student materials needed to participate.

Participating teachers will receive a stipend of $500-800. You can read more information about the study here:

Please contact Rosanne Luu at or 650.381.6432 if you are interested in participating in this opportunity, or if you have any questions!

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.

2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption Reviewer Application

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

The California Department of Education and State Board of Education are now accepting applications for reviewers for the 2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption. The application deadline is 3:00 pm, July 21, 2017. The application is comprehensive, so don’t wait until the last minute to apply.

On Tuesday, May 9, 2017, State Superintendent Tom Torlakson forwarded this recruitment letter to county and district superintendents and charter school administrators.

Review panel members will evaluate instructional materials for use in kindergarten through grade eight, inclusive, that are aligned with the California Next Generation Science Content Standards for California Public Schools (CA NGSS). 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.

Lessons Learned from the NGSS Early Implementer Districts

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

On March 31, 2017, Achieve released two documents examining some lessons learned from the California K-8 Early Implementation Initiative. The initiative began in August 2014 and was developed by the K-12 Alliance at WestEd, with close collaborative input on its design and objectives from the State Board of Education, the California Department of Education, and Achieve.

Eight (8) traditional school districts and two (2) charter management organizations were selected to participate in the initiative, becoming the first districts in California to implement the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Those districts included Galt Joint Union Elementary, Kings Canyon Joint Unified, Lakeside Union, Oakland Unified, Palm Springs Unified, San Diego Unified, Tracy Joint Unified, Vista Unified, Aspire, and High Tech High.

To more closely examine some of the early successes and challenges experienced by the Early Implementer LEAs, Achieve interviewed nine of the ten participating districts and compiled that information into two resources, focusing primarily on professional learning and instructional materials. 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.

Using Online Simulations to Support the NGSS in Middle School Classrooms

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

by Lesley Gates, Loren Nikkel, and Kambria Eastham

Middle school teachers in Kings Canyon Unified School District (KCUSD), a CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative district, have been diligently working on transitioning to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) integrated model for middle school. This year, the teachers focused on building their own knowledge of the Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs). They have been gathering and sharing ideas at monthly collaborative meetings as to how to make sure their students are not just learning about science but that they are actually doing science in their classrooms. Students should be planning and carrying out investigations to gather data for analysis in order to construct explanations. This is best done through hands-on lab experiments. Experimental work is such an important part of the learning of science and education research shows that students learn better and retain more when they are active through inquiry, investigation, and application. A Framework for K-12 Science Education (2011) notes, “…learning about science and engineering involves integration of the knowledge of scientific explanations (i.e., content knowledge) and the practices needed to engage in scientific inquiry and engineering design. Thus the framework seeks to illustrate how knowledge and practice must be intertwined in designing learning experiences in K-12 Science Education” (pg. 11).

Many middle school teachers in KCUSD are facing challenges as they begin implementing these student-driven, inquiry-based NGSS science experiences in their classrooms. First, many of the middle school classrooms at our K-8 school sites are not designed as science labs. 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 NGSS 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.

Celestial Highlights: May – July 2017

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

May Through July 2017 with Web Resources for the Solar Eclipse of August 21, 2017

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graphs of planet rising and setting times by Jeffrey L. Hunt.

In spring and summer 2017, Jupiter is the most prominent “star” in the evening sky, and Venus, even brighter, rules the morning. By mid-June, Saturn rises at a convenient evening hour, allowing both giant planets to be viewed well in early evening until Jupiter sinks low in late September. The Moon is always a crescent in its monthly encounters with Venus, but is full whenever it appears near Jupiter or Saturn in the eastern evening sky opposite the Sun. (In 2017, Full Moon is near Jupiter in April, Saturn in June.) At intervals of 27-28 days thereafter, the Moon appears at a progressively earlier phase at each pairing with the outer planet until its final conjunction, with Moon a thin crescent, low in the west at dusk. You’ll see many beautiful events by just following the Moon’s wanderings at dusk and dawn in the three months leading up to the solar eclipse. 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.