September 2016 – Vol. 29 No. 1

Patterns in the Primary Grades: Plastic Lids Activity

Posted: Tuesday, November 4th, 2014

by Valerie Joyner

Primary grade teachers have always understood the importance of patterns in early childhood education. Patterns are used in reading, math, and written language. They are also used with students to assist in their development of understanding and applying science. According to the NGSS, “Patterns in the natural and human world can be observed, used to describe phenomena, and used as evidence”. The importance in patterns in early childhood science education cannot be understated!

The study of patterns in K-2 provides students with myriad opportunities to identify patterns and properties using examples like weather, plant and animal parts, inherited traits, daylight, the stars, moon, and sun. Take a look at the NGSS Performance Expectations and Crosscutting Concepts for your grade level, and you will see that the Crosscutting Concepts of Patterns occurs several times throughout the year in connection with several different Disciplinary Core Ideas.

A great way to start off any study of patterns and properties is to allow students to collect, sort, and identify patterns in their everyday world. One of the easiest collections to make is an assortment of plastic lids, like the ones that come from shampoo, milk bottles, toothpaste, and yogurt cups. The possibilities are endless, and they are free!

Activity: Properties and Patterns

Making the Collection:

  1. Ask families to collect a variety of plastic lids and send them to school with their child. Encourage them to think big and small, colorful and dull, flip-top or screw-on, the greater the variety the better. It is fine to have duplicates. It is best to have at least 200 lids.
  2. Allow the collection to grow in the classroom for a few weeks. As the plastic lids come into the classroom allow students to observe them.

Getting Ready:

  1. Put 15-20 plastic lids in a zip lock bag or tub – one bag/tub for each pair of students
  2. Paper folded into halves or quarters for recording sorts – one for each student
  3. Pencils or crayons to record sorts

Getting Started:

Day #1

  1. With the entire class, discuss the word “Collections” with students. Ask them to identify collections they have or have seen at home, school, or elsewhere.
  2. Next ask students how people organize items in a collection. This is a good time to introduce the word “Properties” using examples like shells sorted by size, shape, or color; clothes sorted by type; books sorted by author or genre; numbers sorted by odd/even, etc. Explain that people use properties to sort and/or describe patterns.
  3. Explain to the students that they will be observing their classroom collection of plastic lids. Demonstrate by sorting several plastic lids by color. Then, ask the students to identify and describe how you sorted the lids. Record the sort.
  4. Next ask one student to sort your lids in another way. Then ask students to identify the new way the lids were sorted.
  5. Explain that each pair of students will be sorting a bag of plastic lids at least 2-4 different ways, and they may not repeat the same sort. As they complete a sort they must record their sort on paper by drawing or writing each of the ways they sorted the lids.
  6. Distribute materials and allow student to begin working.
  7. As the students are working walk around the room asking questions and guiding inquiry. Be sure the students are recording their sorts as they go along.
  8. Allow enough time for students to complete their sorts and record. Then ask each pair of student to show one way they sorted and describe the properties they used to sort. As students are sharing point out and record all of the different properties that were used to sort.
  9. Collect the lids and bags to allow the students to continue their discussions. Ask questions like: Why is it important to sort? What types of patterns did we notice? What other ways might we sort in the future?
  10. Save students records for Day #2.

Day #2

  1. Post the record of prior ways the students sorted.
  2. Repeat the activity and have students sort in new ways. They may refer to their records from Day #1. It gets harder and harder as they continue to look for new patterns and properties. I have seen students sort by bumpy and flat edges, the sounds that are made when lids are tapped or clicked, even by rooms where the lids are used. There are limitless possibilities.
  3. Again, debrief with the entire class sharing and asking for different ways the lids were sorted. Depending on your grade level, you might ask about patterns in weather, seasons, plant and animal traits, the sky, sound, etc. Ask students to identify different patterns in their world, including but not limited to science.

Patterns are critical to the understanding and application of science as a discipline and in our everyday world. As primary grade teachers it is our job to see that science is taught every day. Crosscutting Concepts like Patterns, Science and Engineering Practices like developing models, and Disciplinary Core Ideas like inheritance and variation of traits are taught every school day and every school year!

Written by Valerie Joyner

Valerie Joyner

Valerie Joyner is a retired elementary science educator and is CSTA’s Primary (grades K-2) Director.

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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.