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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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.