September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

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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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.