May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

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.

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:

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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.