September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

Getting Started On Engineering

Posted: Saturday, June 1st, 2013

by Pete A’Hearn

One of the biggest concerns I have heard about the NGSS is that elementary teachers are not well prepared to teach the science standards and are especially concerned about the addition of engineering. So, I was happy this week to visit several classrooms at Vista Del Monte elementary school where elementary teachers were diving into engineering big time.

Second grade teachers Dena Azzolin and Debbie Gordon at Vista Del Monte were preparing their students to build bridges. To start, they tested a few bridge designs to learn what works and what doesn’t work.  They were reading the story, “Three Little Pigs,” with an emphasis on how different forces were used in the story. Kids were talking about which forces were involved in a bridge – the supports exert an upward force and the load exerts a downward force.  The goal is for teams of students to build and test their own bridges, and along the way they will test different materials and shapes, and record data and observations.  Note that this was not haphazardly throwing materials at students and asking them to design something, but taking them step by step through a process of testing and redesign that is rich with opportunities to read, write, share ideas, and use math. Nice introduction to Common Core State Standards as well

The curriculum they were using is called, Engineering is Elementary and the unit was To Get to the Other Side: Designing Bridges.  All of the units begin with the story of a child who has an engineering challenge they are trying to solve. The teachers and students have already done the Catching the Wind: Designing Windmills unit and plan to try to do A Work in Progress: Improving the Playdough Process before the year is out.

Sails that were built as part of the Windmills engineering unit.

Sails that were built as part of the Windmills engineering unit.

More bridge testing.
More bridge testing.

Meanwhile, Kurt Slieldge was working with third graders on building structures to survive earthquakes – a pertinent lesson in a school just five miles from the San Andreas Fault and built on loose sediment. Again students went through a process to test the strength of different shapes of folded paper to learn lessons to be applied in final design. Each team was given paper, straws, modeling clay, paperclips, and tape and challenged to build a tower to survive an earthquake. The structures were tested on a Pitsco programmable shake table for 50 seconds of hard shaking.

These lessons show that engineering is accessible and engaging to elementary school students. Teachers will need training and well-designed units to be successful, but it seems clear that the addition of engineering practices to elementary school will be less daunting than some fear. Be sure to come to the California Science Education Conference October 25-27 in Palm Springs to learn more about engineering and the rest of NGSS!

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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.