September 2016 – Vol. 29 No. 1

NGSS, Classroom Educators, and Informal Education Centers: A Mother’s Point of View

Posted: Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

by Christie Sweeney

As a curriculum developer for an informal science institution, I have closely followed the development of Common Core and the Next Generation Science Standards. It is essential that we continue to provide teachers with programs that align with their goals for their classrooms. However, I also have another, more personal reason for my interest in the latest educational reforms: I am the parent of children who will experience these shifts in the middle of their formative education.

As an informal educator, I cheer the reforms. The focus on understanding and application as opposed to the memorization of facts is what our informal education programs do best. At the Ocean Institute, Experience is the Teacher is our trademark. Students engage daily in scientific practices that stimulate curiosity and foster problem solving skills, while increasing overall knowledge. From the smiles on their faces as they discover answers to complete their tasks to their exclamations of, “This was the best field trip ever!” I know that hands-on investigations open new worlds to these young scholars. A deeper appreciation for science is sparked and potential future scientists just may be inspired.

As a parent, I am wary of education reform. I wonder, “Will the teachers be given the resources necessary to implement these programs? Will they be provided with any necessary training, time and equipment to achieve the goals of NGSS? Isn’t the trend of increasing class sizes and overcrowded classrooms on a collision course with the requirements of small group collaborative hands on activities that would be NGSS aligned?” I also worry, “Will my kids be at a disadvantage as the new standards are implemented midstream in their education process?”

In regards to NGSS, I believe the benefits my kids will receive far outweigh the potential difficulties faced during the challenges of transition. In the schools my boys attend, I am grateful to see that their teachers have already started to meet that challenge. Old workbooks are being replaced by activities teachers have developed collaboratively, often using resources found on the Internet. In this quest to create curriculum that develops critical thinking and communication skills, using scientific practices while exploring cross cutting concepts, informal education institutions can be a formal classroom teacher’s greatest ally. In addition to fieldtrips, workshops, student internships and assemblies, informal education centers often provide educators with ideas or activities they can use in their classroom. These projects can range from simple to elaborate, but many activities are designed to be easy to set up, require a few, low cost materials and include access to extensive background information.

Over the years, the Ocean Institute has developed many pre- and post-trip activities for the teachers who have attended our programs. Our classroom activities for teachers may be found on our website under program listings as separate links or may be included in our Prep Packs. While we are currently evaluating our curriculum to ensure that it reflects the vision and achieves the goals of NGSS, the basic building blocks are solidly in place. Revisions will be necessary, however, often that revision will largely consist of a new roadmap.

Our Sea Floor Explorer Lab and Cruise programs designed for middle school students have Pre Trip Activities that explore liquefaction and the spreading of the sea floor. In the first activity, students use scientific practices to create experiments that explore the relationship between viscosity and stress. They are asked to make connections based on the evidence found while evaluating the data from their experiments. In the second activity, students create graphs based on real world data, analyze samples and make predictions based on their findings. In the past we would have categorized these as Earth Science activities. However, upon further evaluation, the activities also touch upon or set the stage for all four of the Physical Science Disciplinary Core Ideas. In addition, the activities explore five of the seven cross cutting concepts (cause and effect, Scale, proportion, and quantity, energy and matter, structure and function, stability and change). Should the teacher choose, the cross cutting concept of systems and system models could be explored while introducing the activities.

In addition to classroom activities, look to your local informal education centers for NGSS seminars, symposiums, conferences and other training and networking activities.   As we develop programs in informal settings that aid teachers as they work to achieve the goals of Common Core and NGSS, we can foster critical thinking and problem solving in the context of authentic learning experiences. Through this period of transition, together as formal and informal educators, we can cultivate young minds to be productive and successful members of society armed with working knowledge and practical skills. As an informal educator, as a parent, and as a citizen of our society, those are worthy goals for all of our children.

Christie Sweeney is Program Development Specialist at the Ocean Institute, Dana Point. She was invited to write by CSTA member Valerie Joyner.

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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:

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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.