September 2016 – Vol. 29 No. 1

Opening Keynote Speaker Spotlight: Dr. Helen Quinn

Posted: Monday, October 1st, 2012

by Bethany Dixon

Google “genius,” and you’ll get pictures of Albert Einstein. However, to bring genius into your classroom, attend the CSTA Opening Session and listen to Dr. Helen Quinn speak at the Marriot San Jose on October 19, at 9:15 a.m. Dr. Quinn is one of the few to have shared Einstein’s job title: as a theoretical physicist she proposed the near-symmetry of the universe and explained quark-hadron duality. You might say she has a proclivity for solving both large and small problems. To our great fortune she has also channeled her energy into improving science education. Dr. Quinn served as the Chairperson of the 18-member super-team (equally split between science and education experts and including two Nobel Prize winners) responsible for developing, “A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas.” 

Dr. Quinn’s speech at the 2012 CSTA Conference will focus on the Framework as the basis for the Next Generation Science Standards, and while 26 states including California work to revise and release the second draft of the NGSS, teachers have the opportunity to change science education well before states can determine how to adopt and assess the new standards. “There is nothing in the framework that hasn’t happened in classrooms where people have paid attention to research about learning for the last few years,” says Dr. Quinn. This is good news for the CSTA: members will recognize that the California experimentation and investigation standards (also written by Dr. Quinn) have given teachers experience in implementing core concepts of the Next Generation Science Standards even prior to their official adoption.  Have a burning question you would like Dr. Quinn to address? Let us know, email your question to and we will share your questions with Dr. Quinn. Your questions can help to shape her presentation, making this a truly valuable experience for you.

Dr. Quinn is serious about engaging students: science practices are designed to provide students with a direct application of their learning. She explains that experimentation and critical thinking should be taught with content, not only cutting across scientific disciplines, but integrating math and language arts within the Common Core. This vision of education leads to a cohesive, three-dimensional format for science education that can be implemented within a curriculum, a course, or a lesson. Inquiry has been unpacked, with contextual, social, and experimental skills that would previously be taught separately or in different courses instead now aligned so that math and language arts classrooms support and reinforce each other.

Dr. Quinn says that drastically improving the education of all students requires a “connective tissue” between the disciplines, and she is committed to helping science students to develop the skills they need to succeed globally, and the lifeblood of our economy depends on it. Highly skilled professional scientists and technicians are in demand, and if we want to prepare students for a successful future, we need to increase their access to high-quality science education. The Framework provides what will be an internationally benchmarked solution for America’s decline in the STEM fields.

Although Dr. Quinn’s talk will give teachers a head start on what is coming next in science education, this shot in the arm from the National Academies isn’t a panacea. State standards, curriculum, and assessments need to be fully developed in order for the new vision to be fully implemented. The best hope for this includes science teachers, she explains. “If the people who are teaching you are excited about something, you’re more likely to be excited.” For Dr. Quinn, excitement with the building of the Stanford Linear Accelerator during her undergraduate years led to a career in particle physics. For your students it could be tomorrow’s lesson in your classroom. To implement the new science practices immediately, research the Framework at the National Academies website and come hear Dr. Quinn’s speech at the CSTA Conference.


Written by Bethany Dixon

Bethany Dixon is a science teacher at Western Sierra Collegiate Academy, is a CSTA Publications Committee Member, and is 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.