September 2016 – Vol. 29 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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California Science Assessment Update

Posted: Wednesday, October 12th, 2016

by Jessica Sawko

In June 2016 California submitted a waiver application to discontinue using the old CST (based on 1998 standards) and conduct two years of pilot and field tests (in spring 2017 and 2018, respectively) of the new science assessment designed to support our state’s current science standards (California Next Generation Science Standards (CA-NGSS) adopted in 2013). The waiver was requested because no student scores will be provided as a part of the pilot and field tests. The CDE received a response from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) on September 30, 2016, which provides the CDE the opportunity to resubmit a revised waiver request within 60 days. The CDE will be revising the waiver request and resubmitting as ED suggested.

At its October 2016 North/South Assessment meetings CDE confirmed that there will be no administration of the old CST in the spring of 2017. (An archive of the meeting is available at 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.

Some ways to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in your classroom

Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

by Carol Peterson

1) To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, Google has put together a collection of virtual tours combining 360-degree video, panoramic photos and expert narration. It’s called “The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks” and is accessible right from the browser. You can choose from one of five different locales, including the Kenai Fjords in Alaska and Bryce Canyon in Utah, and get a guided “tour” from a local park ranger. Each one has a few virtual vistas to explore, with documentary-style voiceovers and extra media hidden behind clickable thumbnails. Ideas are included for use in classrooms. 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.

2016 Award Recipients – Join CSTA in Honoring Their Accomplishments

Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

CSTA is pleased to announce the winners of the 2016 CSTA Awards for Distinguished Contributions, Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, 2014 and 2015 PAEMST-Science recipients from California, and the 2016 California PAEMST Finalists. The following individuals and organizations will be honored during the 2016 California Science Education Conference  on October 21- 23 in Palm Springs. This year’s group of awardees are truly outstanding. Please join us in congratulating them!

Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award

John Keller

John Keller

The Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award honors an individual who has made a significant contribution to science education in the state and who, through years of leadership and service, has truly made a positive impact on the quality of science teaching. This year’s recipient is John Keller, Ph.D. Dr. Keller is Associate Professor, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Co-Director, Center for Engineering, Science, and Mathematics Education, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. In her letter of recommendation, SDSU science education faculty and former CSTA board member Donna Ross wrote: “He brings people together who share the desire to make a difference in the development and implementation of programs for science teaching. Examples of these projects include the Math and Science Teaching Initiative (MSTI), Noyce Scholars Program, Western Regional Noyce Initiative, and the Science Teacher and Researcher (STAR) program.” Through his work, he has had a dramatic impact on science teacher education, both preservice and in-service, in California, the region, and the country. He developed and implemented the STEM Teacher and Researcher Program which aims to produce excellent K-12 STEM teachers by providing aspiring teachers with opportunities to do authentic research while helping them translate their research experience into classroom practice. SFSU faculty member Larry Horvath said it best in his letter:“John Keller exemplifies the best aspects of a scientist, science educator, and mentor. His contributions to science education in the state of California are varied, significant, and I am sure will continue well into the future.” 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.

NGSS: Making Your Life Easier

Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

by Peter A’hearn

Wait… What?

NGSS is a big shift. Teachers need to learn new content, figure out how this whole engineering thing relates to science, and develop new unit and lesson plans. How could NGSS possibly make life easier?

The idea that NGSS could make our lives easier came to me during the California State NGSS Rollout #1 Classroom Example lesson on chromatography. I have since done this lesson with high school chemistry students and it made me think back to having my own students do chromatography. I spent lots of time preparing to make sure the experiment went well and achieved the “correct” result. I pre-prepared the solutions and organized and prepped the materials. I re-wrote and re-wrote again the procedure so there was no way a kid could get it wrong. I spent 20 minutes before the lab modeling all of the steps in class, so there was no way to do it wrong. Except that it turns out there were many. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the K-12 science specialist in the Palm Springs Unified School District and is Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Celestial Highlights, September 2016

Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graph of evening planet setting times by Dr. Jeffrey L. Hunt 

Our evening twilight chart for September, depicting the sky about 40 minutes after sunset from SoCal, shows brilliant Venus remaining low, creeping from W to WSW and gaining a little altitude as the month progresses. Its close encounter within 2.5° N of Spica on Sept. 18 is best seen with binoculars to catch the star low in bright twilight. The brightest stars in the evening sky are golden Arcturus descending in the west, and blue-white Vega passing just north of overhead. Look for Altair and Deneb completing the Summer Triangle with Vega. The triangle of Mars-Saturn-Antares expands as Mars seems to hold nearly stationary in SSW as the month progresses, while Saturn and Antares slink off to the SW. 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.