September 2016 – Vol. 29 No. 1

Now Is the Time to Be Heard!

Posted: Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

by Pete A’Hearn

We are about to begin the period for public review of the Next Generation Science Standards (release is anticipated on or around March 30). The process is guided by documents by the National Research Council. Twenty-six states including California have signed on to be part of the development of the standards and to adopt them when complete.  The new standards will represent a big change in how science is taught in California, so teachers should be  following the development closely and giving the feedback that comes with their experience. But few classroom teachers have time to digest and respond to the large amount of material that makes up the science standards. The purpose of this blog is to break it down into chunks and send it out a little at a time.  I will start with the conceptual framework and then move on to the standards when they are available. I will be making comparisons to the current California standards, but science teachers from other states are encouraged to participate. The framework can be downloaded as a PDF from the National Academies Press website at

The Big Picture- Three Dimensions

The Next Gen Framework’s most striking feature is also its overall vision of three equal aspects to science education. Science and Engineering Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Disciplinary Core Ideas are the three dimensions. The Next Gen logo reflects this trinity of ideas.

Here they are:

1. Scientific and Engineering Practices

1. Asking questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering)

2. Developing and using models

3. Planning and carrying out investigations

4. Analyzing and interpreting data

5. Using mathematics and computational thinking

6. Constructing explanations (for science) and designing

solutions (for engineering)

7. Engaging in argument from evidence

8. Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information

2. Crosscutting Concepts

1.      Patterns

2.      Cause and effect: Mechanism and explanation

3.      Scale, proportion, and quantity

4.      Systems and system models

5.      Energy and matter: Flows, cycles, and conservation

6.      Structure and function

7.      Stability and change

3. Disciplinary Core Ideas

Physical Sciences

PS 1: Matter and its interactions

PS 2: Motion and stability: Forces and interactions

PS 3: Energy

PS 4: Waves and their applications in technologies for information transfer

Life Sciences

LS 1: From molecules to organisms: Structures and processes

LS 2: Ecosystems: Interactions, energy, and dynamics

LS 3: Heredity: Inheritance and variation of traits

LS 4: Biological evolution: Unity and diversity

Earth and Space Sciences

ESS 1: Earths place in the universe

ESS 2: Earth’s systems

ESS 3: Earth and human activity

Engineering, Technology, and the Applications of Science

ETS 1: Engineering design

ETS 2: Links among engineering, technology, science, and society

These differ from the current CA standards in many significant ways. The biggest is the existence of Crosscutting Concepts, there is simply no analogue in the current standards. The concepts are necessarily there since they are fundamental ideas of science, but they are never explicitly mentioned or referenced. Another big change is the inclusion of engineering as one of the core disciplines in addition to life, physical, and earth sciences. There are from two to four core ideas identified in each discipline. This is intentional:

“The committee made this choice in order to avoid shallow coverage of a large number of topics and to allow more time for teachers and students to explore each idea in greater depth. Reduction of the sheer sum of details to be mastered is intended to give time for students to engage in scientific investigations and argumentation and to achieve depth of understanding of the core ideas presented.”

Scientific and Engineering Practices are similar to what are now called Investigation and Experimentation standards in California, but include some that go beyond what the CA standards now ask students to do. In the new framework, students are expected to develop and evaluate scientific models, construct explanations, and engage in arguments from evidence.  The idea that these practices are co-equal with the disciplinary core ideas also represents a big change.  Currently in California the Investigation and Experimentation standards count for only 10 % of CST tests and are found at the back of the standards. The authors of the new framework seek a stronger link between the two aspects of science , “… the framework seeks to illustrate how knowledge and practice must be intertwined in designing learning experiences in K-12 science education.”

Chapter 9 of the framework provides some tables to show how these three dimensions can be integrated. It gives examples at different grade levels of a core idea, a crosscutting concept that links strongly to that core idea, the scientific and engineering practices that students will use to access and process that core idea, and examples of what students will produce to demonstrate their learning.

So what do you think so far? Some questions to consider:

What are the biggest challenges of implementing this framework for teachers? Students? Schools and districts? Families and communities?

Does this vision help support the kind of learning that our students need for the future? Is this the science framework that you would want your own children to have? (I have two young children- this will be their framework).

Does the inclusion of scientific application (engineering) strengthen or weaken student’s learning of science?

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

9 Responses

  1. Nicely done Pete.

  2. eagerly anticipating learning more

  3. Congratulations on this great work that you have done. It is surely high time we changed the way science is taught.

    However, I have an observation and comment about the framework which is:

    I do not quite understand why this framework is separating science from engineering. Engineering is an application of science so it should be subsumed within sciences and not seen as separate entities. For example, Asking questions and Defining problems are things that scientists do generally. So are constructing explanations and designing
    solutions. There is absolutely no need to separate these science inquiry process into science and engineering pursuits. Doing this is bound to confuse teachers.

    Irene Osisioma

  4. I just heard a heated argument by an engineer at the Suborbital Research Conference this week to the effect that engineering and science are NOT the same. So I’m passing that on.

    The framework looks great. But the Devil in in the Details when it comes to implementation. Since I began teaching K-8 in 1971, California has regularly inflicted my colleagues and me with mandates to teach subject about which we know zilch. For me, it included music, statistics, and chemistry. For many teachers, it means science.

    For some reason, California seems to think that if you mandate it, everyone can teach it — no need to check teachers’ content knowledge — despite the fact that elementary credential holders are ELD and math specialists.

    Since I now do teacher training in space sciences, I’ve checked for content knowledge and can assure you that many fifth grade teachers don’t know what an astronomical unit is or how to distinguish between a solar system and a galaxy — even though these items are on California’s 8th grade standards, and these teachers potentially could find themselves in a self-contained 8th grade classroom some day.

    When I warn these teachers that they soon will be expected to teach engineering, too, they react with shock and disbelief.

    If you want a successful implementation, you need to do two things:

    1. Get rid of textbooks. They would be used by teachers as crutches to mask their ignorance.They also successfully kill interest in science by the end of high school.

    2. Make sure that extensive in-service training in content and inquiry methodologies is implemented the year BEFORE the standards are rolled out. If there’s no money for this training, then delay the standards implementation until money becomes available. Or, how about this? Use that textbook money to buy the very best teacher training there is.

  5. On behalf of CSTA, I have attended several meetings about the Conceptual Framework and the NGSS, both in California and with science implementors from 41 other states. From those meetings, several things that you mention are crystal clear. First, the addition of Engineering in the NGSS is a significant change. The authors of the Conceptual Framework acknowledge this and the need for professional development to enable a successful implementation. Yes, many of the things that engineers do are similar to what scientists do. The important thing is that the NGSS call for us to actually do some of those things with our students. The second thing is that the preparation of new teachers will have to change as well. If you consider that the existing Standards have been in place for at least the last 10 years, it will be important to start preparing teachers now to implement the NGSS when finally adopted, be it 2013 or later. Finally, many teachers will feel challenged by the NGSS, but that is no reason to accept the status quo. Just as any new endeavor requires buy in, training, and collaboration, so will the implementation of any new standards. These can be potentially exciting times if we realize that the NGSS describe the kind of science teaching that we have argued is missing in the current Standards. It will not necessarily be easy but nothing of real value ever is.

    One thing to keep in mind is that SB 300, the legislation authorizing new standards for California says that the Superintendent of Public Instruction must propose, by March 30, 2013, new science standards based on the NGSS, for California. The standards proposed may not be exactly like the NGSS but at least they are to be based on the same ideas and foundational concepts. The State Board of Education has until July 30, 2013 to adopt, reject, or adopt with modifications new standards for California. For this reason, it is eminently important that as many people participate in the public reviews of the NGSS when they are released on March 30, 2012. The more people participate in the review the more that the NGSS will be what California stakeholders want in new standards.

  6. Thanks to all for this conversation. I truly hope – ask – that it will be replicated in every hallway at every school in CA. Please keep spreading the word so the public comment can be effective in guiding policy in CA.

    Having followed this work for more than a year now via the website, webinars, etc. I can confirm what Rick addresses – the idea here is not to just deliver content, but to DO the science by applying process skills, engineering and cross-cutting concepts. This quote featured above by Pete is really important – for us and students.

    “The committee made this choice in order to avoid shallow coverage of a large number of topics and to allow more time for teachers and students to explore each idea in greater depth. Reduction of the sheer sum of details to be mastered is intended to give time for students to engage in scientific investigations and argumentation and to achieve depth of understanding of the core ideas presented.”

    We often express frustration at our curriculum being a mile wide and inch deep – here is our chance to address that and make a change.

    Many thanks Pete!

    Siskiyou COE
    Region 2 Science Lead
    CSTA Secretary

  7. I’m excited about the new three-dimensional “Big Picture”. I’d like to begin implementing it right now! I think it fits the way I want to teach and manage my classroom instruction, and I think it would make science more “real” for the students, rather than ramming a bunch of facts “into their brains” for purposes of scoring well on a test. The details, of course, remain to be seen, but this seems like a positive step in the right direction.

  8. The pendulum swings back and forth between detail and process. For now it would seem the pendulum is moving toward process.

    I am excited by the possibilities before us and the way we teach. I just hope that teachers start conversations now and start development now that will lead to a whole new way to teach our students. Many of the educational models we still use today have been in place for decades. With the current pace of technology, now is the time for us to look at new ways to learn and teach.

  9. I appreciate Susan Morrison’s concerns about implementation and what we are asking teachers to be prepared for. I agree that strong professional development will be needed. I disagree in that I think most teachers will need strong curriculum to guide them in implementation. Creating units that strongly connect scientific practices, core concepts, and crosscutting concepts will be daunting for most teachers. There are some very knowledgeable and creative teachers who are chomping at the bit to do this, but most teachers, especially those teaching science without a strong science background will need to have well designed materials to achieve the vision of the NGSS.

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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.