May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

NGSS: Replacing “Have To” with “Get To”

Posted: Wednesday, April 1st, 2015

by Anna Van Dordrecht

The following article was originally posted on March 6, 2015 by the Sonoma County Office of Education in their Exploring NGSS blog. It is republished here with permission from the author.

Now that we’re solidly into March, it’s a good time to take stock of New Year’s resolutions. The hype of January has long since worn off, so any resolutions that are still being kept are clearly important and have a much higher chance of succeeding than they did on January 2.

My resolution this year was—and still is—to examine how often I say “I have to” and, when possible, replace that statement with “I get to.” Although this may sound simple, I admit that I’ve failed on a number of occasions. I’ve been surprised at how hard it’s been to remember and amazed at what a big difference it makes in my outlook when I do.


The impetus for this resolution lies in an interaction with my students. It was a busy morning and I was very hungry, so at break I dashed to the refrigerator and grabbed a yogurt. I didn’t have time to open it until class began and to my great dismay I saw that it had frozen. I complained loudly, “Oh no! My yogurt froze. I hate when that happens.”

One of the students helpfully piped in, “Ms. Van, that’s a first-world problem.” Although not the comfort I was looking for in the moment, this was very true. For the most part, I am very privileged to have the option of yogurt or some other snack at any time I’d like it. After this encounter, I started thinking about other areas where I have a skewed perception of the demands and “trials” placed on me. Thus was born my resolution.

Since my resolution began in the classroom, much of what I’ve focused on has been work-related. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s a year of new adventures for me: working at SCOE and also teaching an AP course for the first time. It’s sometimes tempting to complain that I have to rush between two new, demanding jobs. However, what is far more true is that I have the honor of working with two amazing sets of colleagues and the opportunity to develop a micro and macro view of the changes in science education and what they mean.

When I end a week and don’t have any lessons planned for the next one, my first impulse is to grumble that I have to spend weekend time learning AP content and planning learning experiences for the students. But I can equally say that I get to learn new things, then spend time with incredible students who find biology fascinating.


I wonder what would happen if we all tried replacing just a fraction of our education-based “have to” statements with “get to.” With CCSS already in play and the Next Generation Science Standards poised for implementation, there are a lot of things that feel like “have to” in science education.

We have to redesign lessons, units and, in some cases, entire curriculums. We have to make decisions about the sequence and structure of courses. We have to change some of our instruction and interactions with students. We have to break students in to new ways of learning science that they won’t all appreciate at first.

There are certainly needs and questions that we can’t wipe away with optimism and enthusiasm. Legitimately, there needs to be time structured into our day so that we can think about and make changes to curriculum and instruction. Tough decisions will need to be made. Students will struggle some with the transition, and we’ll need to develop strategies to help them.

We can’t change these realities and they need to be discussed. But the lens through which we approach this change can be altered. As science educators at this particular junction, we actuallyget to do quite a bit. We get to be creative in planning and instruction—and inspire the same creativity in students. We get the chance to engage in dialogue around decisions and truly consider what’s best for our students. We get to invite students to think in a different way, knowing that we are helping them develop skills they will take with them into the world. We get to inspire students about the STEM field at a time when it’s growing and there’s a lot of promise for employment and advancement.

I’ve already confessed that I don’t always remember my resolution. When I do, sometimes I don’t believe my own word choice. In addition, there’s no way around the fact that some things truly are a “have to” instead of a “get to.” At this time of year, when quarters and trimesters are ending and we’re all staring report cards in the face, you probably have no trouble agreeing! But even with all of this, a simple word choice has still made a difference. I am reminded more often that I’m extraordinarily lucky in my career. A change of wording also gives me hope even when the road ahead seems hard.


Perhaps the most compelling reason for me to continue pursuing my resolution is that it has the potential to impact others. “I get to” is contagious. It has inspired me to be more creative and enthusiastic, which in turn inspires colleagues and students. I encourage you to try it for one week—find one aspect of your job as an educator and replace “have to” with “get to.” If nothing else, you’ll try it, and then you’ll get to move on. But the odds are good that it will impact you and others. My hope is that it might also make the shift to Next Generation Science Standards more of a “get to” aspect of your work as a 21st century science educator.

 Anna Van Dordrecht is a Teacher-on-Loan for Science with the Sonoma County Office of Education, a science teacher at Maria Carrillo High School, and a member of CSTA.

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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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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.