September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

Opportunity Wanders into the Urban Backyard

Posted: Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

by Minda Berbeco

This past weekend, my husband came bursting into the house shouting “Turkeys! There are turkeys on the street!”

Now, no doubt this would be a normal occurrence if we lived in a more rural area, near a nature refuge or even a park.  But we actually live in one of the most urban parts of Berkeley, right on the border of an industrial parkway and a major throughway.  Though we certainly get the occasional migrating humming bird and seasonal butterfly in our tiny garden, a turkey was way more wildlife than we were used to seeing. 

This was not the first time I’ve seen turkeys trotting around, either. Six months earlier I spotted a group of seven, gorging on an abandoned trash pile in an otherwise industrial alley in Oakland.  A few months before that, one had stopped traffic outside of a liquor-mart.  The first time I saw one I actually called animal control because I thought it was someone’s escaped pet, but I’ve since learned that these are wild turkeys making their way back into the cities. Given how much attention these awkward birds garner with people running out of their houses, jumping out of cars, following them down the street, I can’t think of a better educational tool to talk about urban ecosystems and wildlife.

If you are schoolteacher in an urban area, specializing in the life sciences, how could you integrate these strange birds into your already packed curriculum? Fortunately with the Next Generation Science Standards, there is an easy in: human impacts on natural systems.  People have changed the landscape immensely in urban areas. We’ve paved over the ground, put up buildings, and created an urban heat island. Most importantly for the turkeys, though, we’ve eliminated predators and created a reliable food source – birdseed and food waste! Can you imagine a better environment in which to find yourself?

There are a few online programs that can help you with your discussions, including eBird and iNaturalist, both of which allow you to track the birds yourself by adding your observations and seeing how they’ve spread over time.  You can ask questions like: Why have these birds traveled from the forested hillsides to the more urban areas? What do these animals need to survive? How has moving into these new areas mitigated limitations to their success?

Observation is the first step for any scientist, from kindergarten to PhD, and sometimes giving students the most startling observation is the best way to engage them in the science.  This can work for all areas of the life sciences, from evolution to climate change to population dynamics to trophic interactions.  Having students start with a strange observation of something unexpected can help them take ownership of the science and launch them into questions that they never thought would interest them.  Urban turkeys are certainly an unexpected place to start!

Minda Berbeco is the Programs and Policy Director at the National Center for Science Education

Written by Minda Berbeco

Minda Berbeco

Minda Berbeco was the Programs and Policy Director at the National Center for Science Education and is now the Director of the Sierra Club San Francisco Chapter.

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CSTA Is Now Accepting Nominations for Board Members

Posted: Friday, November 17th, 2017

Current, incoming, and outgoing CSTA Board of Directors at June 3, 2017 meeting.

Updated 7:25 pm, Nov. 17, 2017

It’s that time of year when CSTA is looking for dedicated and qualified persons to fill the upcoming vacancies on its Board of Directors. This opportunity allows you to help shape the policy and determine the path that the Board will take in the new year. There are time and energy commitments, but that is far outweighed by the personal satisfaction of knowing that you are an integral part of an outstanding professional educational organization, dedicated to the support and guidance of California’s science teachers. You will also have the opportunity to help CSTA review and support legislation that benefits good science teaching and teachers.

Right now is an exciting time to be involved at the state level in the California Science Teachers Association. The CSTA Board of Directors is currently involved in implementing the Next Generations Science Standards and its strategic plan. If you are interested in serving on the CSTA Board of Directors, now is the time to submit your name for consideration. 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.

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.