September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

Teachable Moments

Posted: Friday, February 1st, 2013

by Amanda L. Smith

What do natural disasters, national holidays, international wars, and bizarre events all have in common?  These can all be incorporated into your classroom as “teachable moments.”  A teachable moment is not something that you can typically plan for, and often may cause you to digress from your original lesson plan; however, it provides an organic way to maximize “the moment”, which in turn, captivates the interest of the students in ways that pre-planned lessons might not.

One of my favorite ways to incorporate teachable moments in the classroom is to start with my current events bulletin board.  Each week, I bring in articles about current topics within the scientific community. These are often brief articles, such as one on a new fossil organism that was discovered, or perhaps an explanation on a large solar magnetic storm coming up. Students can borrow the articles to read during silent reading and free time, and it gives them a great opening to ask questions and inquire about the world around us.

Living in California provides a multitude of teachable moments, especially when it comes to natural disasters.  Depending on where you live in California, each year you may deal with flash floods, extremely hot and extremely cold temperatures, wild fires, and of course, earthquakes.  Even if a major earthquake occurs in another country students may hear about it on the local news and ask about it in class.  I find that because I teach science, that my students think that I am the “knower of all things science-related.”  I’ve found that even though I may not be the most knowledgeable about earth science, or an expert on the ins and outs of earthquakes, I can still use the moment to tell the students what I do know, and let them know that I will do my own research and expand my own understanding about it, too. It’s great when we can show our students that even though we’re teachers, we’re still learning, too!

Great ways to incorporate discussions can come from a variety of methods: oral discussion (with lead-in questions, such as, “Did you hear about…?”; “Why do you think that…?”; “What might have happened if…?”); written work like drawing pictures of the event or process leading up to the

event or writing poetry about the event; compare and contrast with another previous event (Hurricane Sandy versus Hurricane Katrina); mathematical investigations (altitude of clouds; changes in barometric pressure; graphing “p” and “s” waves in a recent earthquake); interviews (asking family members how they felt about a major historical event of the past, and making connections to how current families feel about the recent event); and so many more!

New teachers are often so caught up with trying to cover more than they have time for, already, that they miss out on these teachable moments or feel like they just can’t possibly take advantage of them.  The longer that I have been teaching, the more I’ve adopted a, “go with the flow,” mindset, because I figure if my students are more interested in the meteor that hit northern Peru than my planned lesson on Newton’s Laws, I am willing to part with my plan and discuss the meteor. Learning to be flexible was difficult for me as a new teacher, but has proven more beneficial for my students in the long run.  Although it can be unsettling to be off of your pacing guide or divert from your normal lesson plan, it is usually well worth it in the end.  Ultimately, as science educators, our goal is to educate children within the vast world of science; not just stick to the plan.

Written by Amanda Smith

Amanda Smith is a science teacher at Wilder’s Preparatory Academy Charter School and a member of CSTA.

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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.

News and Happenings in CSTA’s Region 1 – Fall 2017

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Marian Murphy-Shaw

Cal

This month I was fortunate enough to hear about some new topics to share with our entire region. Some of you may access the online or newsletter options, others may attend events in person that are nearer to you. Long time CSTA member and environmental science educator Mike Roa is well known to North Bay Area teachers for his volunteer work sharing events and resources. In this month’s Region 1 updates I am happy to make a few of the options Mike offers available to our region. Learn More…

Written by Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw is the student services director at Siskiyou County Office of Education and is CSTA’s Region 1 Director and chair of CSTA’s Policy Committee.