September 2016 – Vol. 29 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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California Science Assessment Update

Posted: Wednesday, October 12th, 2016

by Jessica Sawko

In June 2016 California submitted a waiver application to discontinue using the old CST (based on 1998 standards) and conduct two years of pilot and field tests (in spring 2017 and 2018, respectively) of the new science assessment designed to support our state’s current science standards (California Next Generation Science Standards (CA-NGSS) adopted in 2013). The waiver was requested because no student scores will be provided as a part of the pilot and field tests. The CDE received a response from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) on September 30, 2016, which provides the CDE the opportunity to resubmit a revised waiver request within 60 days. The CDE will be revising the waiver request and resubmitting as ED suggested.

At its October 2016 North/South Assessment meetings CDE confirmed that there will be no administration of the old CST in the spring of 2017. (An archive of the meeting is available at 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.

Some ways to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in your classroom

Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

by Carol Peterson

1) To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, Google has put together a collection of virtual tours combining 360-degree video, panoramic photos and expert narration. It’s called “The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks” and is accessible right from the browser. You can choose from one of five different locales, including the Kenai Fjords in Alaska and Bryce Canyon in Utah, and get a guided “tour” from a local park ranger. Each one has a few virtual vistas to explore, with documentary-style voiceovers and extra media hidden behind clickable thumbnails. Ideas are included for use in classrooms. 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.

2016 Award Recipients – Join CSTA in Honoring Their Accomplishments

Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

CSTA is pleased to announce the winners of the 2016 CSTA Awards for Distinguished Contributions, Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, 2014 and 2015 PAEMST-Science recipients from California, and the 2016 California PAEMST Finalists. The following individuals and organizations will be honored during the 2016 California Science Education Conference  on October 21- 23 in Palm Springs. This year’s group of awardees are truly outstanding. Please join us in congratulating them!

Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award

John Keller

John Keller

The Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award honors an individual who has made a significant contribution to science education in the state and who, through years of leadership and service, has truly made a positive impact on the quality of science teaching. This year’s recipient is John Keller, Ph.D. Dr. Keller is Associate Professor, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Co-Director, Center for Engineering, Science, and Mathematics Education, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. In her letter of recommendation, SDSU science education faculty and former CSTA board member Donna Ross wrote: “He brings people together who share the desire to make a difference in the development and implementation of programs for science teaching. Examples of these projects include the Math and Science Teaching Initiative (MSTI), Noyce Scholars Program, Western Regional Noyce Initiative, and the Science Teacher and Researcher (STAR) program.” Through his work, he has had a dramatic impact on science teacher education, both preservice and in-service, in California, the region, and the country. He developed and implemented the STEM Teacher and Researcher Program which aims to produce excellent K-12 STEM teachers by providing aspiring teachers with opportunities to do authentic research while helping them translate their research experience into classroom practice. SFSU faculty member Larry Horvath said it best in his letter:“John Keller exemplifies the best aspects of a scientist, science educator, and mentor. His contributions to science education in the state of California are varied, significant, and I am sure will continue well into the future.” 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.

NGSS: Making Your Life Easier

Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

by Peter A’hearn

Wait… What?

NGSS is a big shift. Teachers need to learn new content, figure out how this whole engineering thing relates to science, and develop new unit and lesson plans. How could NGSS possibly make life easier?

The idea that NGSS could make our lives easier came to me during the California State NGSS Rollout #1 Classroom Example lesson on chromatography. I have since done this lesson with high school chemistry students and it made me think back to having my own students do chromatography. I spent lots of time preparing to make sure the experiment went well and achieved the “correct” result. I pre-prepared the solutions and organized and prepped the materials. I re-wrote and re-wrote again the procedure so there was no way a kid could get it wrong. I spent 20 minutes before the lab modeling all of the steps in class, so there was no way to do it wrong. Except that it turns out there were many. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the K-12 science specialist in the Palm Springs Unified School District and is Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Celestial Highlights, September 2016

Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graph of evening planet setting times by Dr. Jeffrey L. Hunt 

Our evening twilight chart for September, depicting the sky about 40 minutes after sunset from SoCal, shows brilliant Venus remaining low, creeping from W to WSW and gaining a little altitude as the month progresses. Its close encounter within 2.5° N of Spica on Sept. 18 is best seen with binoculars to catch the star low in bright twilight. The brightest stars in the evening sky are golden Arcturus descending in the west, and blue-white Vega passing just north of overhead. Look for Altair and Deneb completing the Summer Triangle with Vega. The triangle of Mars-Saturn-Antares expands as Mars seems to hold nearly stationary in SSW as the month progresses, while Saturn and Antares slink off to the SW. 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.