September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 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.

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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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


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.