September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

NGSS – Putting the STEM in STEM

Posted: Friday, December 11th, 2015

by Peter A’Hearn

“Our proposed design uses waves with a frequency of 5,000 Hz to detect the tumor. We are getting our best resolution of the tumor when we are 7 cm away, which is one wavelength of the sound waves that we are using. Our proposed App would include a set of wheels for smooth tracking and image the body as a grid to help determine location.”

Is this an episode of Shark Tank? No this was a group of teachers at the Project Prototype* 2015 Summer Institute. Project Prototype is a California Math Science Partnership Grant in the Coachella Valley focused on the integration of science and engineering through the NGSS. Secondary science teachers were focusing on the middle and high school standards on Waves and their Applications in Information Technology. The week began with a visit to the Desert Regional Medical Center where teachers got to learn about and experience the different uses of waves in medical imaging technology from the ultrasound used to view soft tissue, to X-rays, CAT scans, MRI, and PET. A highlight was the Stereotaxis Machine used to visualize and guide a catheter to a stroke in a patient’s brain.i-phoneThe STEM movement aims to teach students how to use the related fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math to solve problems and access careers in high paying, high skill fields. There are many varied opportunities for kids to be involved in STEM, from after school robotics clubs, Career Technical Education (CTE) pathways, and special STEM and Engineering elective programs like Project Lead the Way and Engineer Your World. These are powerful programs, but they do not reach all kids.

How can we make sure that ALL kids get some rich learning about how Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math work together? The answer is that STEM is built into NGSS. NGSS has strong STEM connections built in with its engineering-specific Performance Expectations (PEs), the many PEs at all grade levels that incorporate engineering design and thinking, and also through the Science and Engineering Practice of “Using Mathematical and Computational Thinking.”

Lots of teachers (me included) saw that one and thought, “Oh, I already use math – I do that already.” So, if you haven’t read that one carefully, go back to the NRC’s Framework. It’s asking for computers: Computers to run algorithms, computers to handle large data sets, computers to run simulations. All of which are important parts of how real life scientists and engineers do their jobs.

ahearnBack at the institute, the teachers used long springs to find the mathematical relationship between the frequency and wavelength of standing waves. They were then introduced to Anechoic, a free iPhone App developed by Dr. William Grover of the Department of Bioengineering at the Bourns College of Engineering, University of California, Riverside. Anechoic uses both the speaker and the microphone of an iPhone to send out a sound at a certain wavelength and record its echo, like a sonar. The teachers used Anechoic to explore how sound waves interact with various materials.

In exploring the App, teachers discovered that the properties of the waves used strongly influences the way the waves interacted with different materials. They also discovered the wave property of interference.Teachers then had to put themselves into the role of engineers trying to develop an iPhone based device that could visualize a tumor using sound waves. The “tumor” was an old compact disk hidden behind a black cloth screen, and the teachers used the Anechoic app to visualize the tumor with sound. This led to the “Shark Tank” Proposal described above. Teams needed to describe the waves used mathematically as well as how they worked to visualize the tumor. They needed to address a list of criteria and constraints for real world medical devices in the design and explain how they would further develop the device if they were funded.

ahearn_screenshotThe group took some time to look at how programming in the Python language can be used to take a huge raw data set and turn it into an easy to understand visual display. A sound-recording app like Anechoic makes 44,000 sound measurements per second, so it can generate very large data sets very quickly. Data like this is virtually impossible to analyze without a computer, and the teachers saw firsthand how a simple Python program can perform this analysis. They saw that with small changes to the code, they can create many different ways to look at the Anechoic data sets to study different aspects of the signal. We were running short on time, but wished we could have had opportunities to explore this rich subject further.

The week ended by bringing the learning back to the hospital context. Teams of teachers were put into the role of hospital administrators who had to decide which medical imaging technologies to purchase given a limited budget. This engaging lesson comes from a new middle school curriculum from STC.

Hopefully this summer learning can be an example of how the real world context of STEM can give meaning and purpose to science learning. The convergence of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math is where many of our student’s bright futures lie. NGSS is the vehicle that will get them there. This will require hard work by teachers and students, some big shifts in how we think science learning happens, and lots of creative work designing curriculum and resources.

ahearn_2*Project Prototype is a partnership between Coachella Valley USD, Palm Springs USD, The UCR Bourns School of Engineering, CSU San Bernardino, and the College of the Desert. Community partners include the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership, SMART Education, The Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert, Linked Learning and others. It is a California Math Science Partnership (CaMSP) funded by the California Department of Education.

Pete A’Hearn is the K-12 science specialist in the Palm Springs Unified School District and is region 4 director for CSTA.

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for 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


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.