May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

Patterns of Survival

Posted: Friday, May 20th, 2016

by Joey Noelle Lehnhard

To develop a scientific understanding of the natural world, students need lots of time to observe that world and notice patterns. In fact, the Next Generation Science Standards tell us, “noticing patterns is often a first step to organizing phenomena and asking scientific questions about why and how the patterns occur.” This may be different from the way we’ve guided student observations in the past. Before, we might ask for detailed sentences about color, size, and shape. We might have encouraged students to add an illustration and stopped there. However, focusing students on pattern identification can foster authentic engagement with a phenomenon and can lead to opportunities for deeper meaning making.

Finding patterns in the natural world often requires getting out of the classroom. To both contextualize content and develop a conservation ethic, it’s important for young students to study their local environment, rather than exotic ones. So exploring your schoolyard, a field site, or local habitats exhibited by your area zoo or aquarium is an excellent way to engage students in this crosscutting concept. Educators at the Monterey Bay Aquarium recently developed the following PreK-2nd grade curriculum piece, which you can lead with your students at any informal science institution or outdoor site. We’ll use the rocky shore as an example, but you can use any habitat that is accessible to you or available on your next field trip. (We’re a bit biased, but we think the rocky shore is pretty amazing.)



Our activity centers around the focus question, What patterns do we see in animals that live in the rocky shore? You might choose to begin this activity by introducing the focus question to students. First, we access prior knowledge about the habitat by asking if any of the students have ever been to a tide pool. We discuss the various creatures they saw there and create a shared list. Then, we read the book In One Tide Pool by Anthony D. Fredericks aloud with students and add to the list of animals they think they might find in the rocky shore.

Lehnhard_May-16-Image1At the Aquarium, students spend time exploring the rocky shore touch pools. Coming back together, each student or group of students chooses three animals they saw in the touch pools. They return to the touch pools, as well as other exhibits, to carefully observe those three animals and record their thoughts by taking photos with an iPad or other mobile device, sketching the animal in a science notebook, or talking about what they see with a chaperone. Then students use a sentence frame to construct an explanation about patterns they observed in animals that live in the same habitat. For example, one recent student wrote: “In the rocky shore, the sea star, sea urchin and anemone all stick to rocks.” Other patterns they identify in the rocky shore might include: needing water, having a hard shell, or eating kelp.

Lehnhard_May-16-Image2Each student then shares the pattern they found and tries to think of why that pattern might be helpful to the animals that live in that habitat. This can be facilitated in small groups by each chaperone or as a whole group in a quieter part of the facility (the back deck of the Aquarium works well for this). In response to the next sentence frame, a student might write: “In the rocky shore, I think sticking to rocks helps animals survive. I think this because of the strong waves.”

Later, back in the classroom, students use their photos, illustrations, observations, and completed sentence frames to create a screencast to communicate their thinking. We use the free version of Educreations, but any screencast program or application would work. Depending on time, students can share their screencasts with a partner, a small group, the whole class or at a school event.

Lehnhard_May-16-Image4Finally, we return to our focus question: What patterns do we see in animals that live in the rocky shore? We review the patterns we identified and the reasons we think those patterns are helpful. This often leads to more sophisticated discussions about adaptations (body parts and behaviors) and the needs of living things. One way we help solidify student understanding is to end the activity with a meaning-making science talk.

Content Connections:

This activity could support a variety of NGSS performance expectations including

  • K-LS1: Use observations to describe patterns of what plants and animals (including humans) need to survive.
  • 1-LS1: Read texts and use media to determine patterns in behavior of parents and offspring that help offspring survive.

The current draft of the California Transitional Kindergarten Science Standards also includes this standard that may be applicable: PreK-LS1.3: Recognize that living things have habitats in different environments suited to their unique needs.

If you decide to have your students create screencasts, a variety of Common Core State Standards can be addressed as well, including:

  • Language Arts, W.K.6, W.1.6, W.2.6 Writing: With guidance and support from adults, explore a variety of digital tools to produce and publish writing, including in collaboration with peers.
  • Language Arts, SL.1.5 Speaking and Listening: Add drawings or other visual displays to descriptions when appropriate to clarify ideas, thoughts, and feelings.
  • Language Arts, W.K.2 Writing: Use a combination of drawing, dictating and writing to compose informative/explanatory texts in which they name what they are writing about and supply some information about the topic.

Lehnhard_May-16-Image5Field trips to the Monterey Bay Aquarium are always free. Register for next year in May.

Joey Noelle Lehnhard is a Senior Education Specialist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and CSTA member. Find her on Twitter @JoeyElle or Email:

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From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy:

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Participate in Chemistry Education Research Study, Earn $500-800 Dollars!

Posted: Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

WestEd, a non-profit educational research agency, has been funded by the US Department of Education to test a new molecular modeling kit, Happy Atoms. Happy Atoms is an interactive chemistry learning experience that consists of a set of physical atoms that connect magnetically to form molecules, and an app that uses image recognition to identify the molecules that you create with the set. WestEd is conducting a study around the effectiveness of using Happy Atoms in the classroom, and we are looking for high school chemistry teachers in California to participate.

As part of the study, teachers will be randomly assigned to either the treatment group (who uses Happy Atoms) or the control group (who uses Happy Atoms at a later date). Teachers in the treatment group will be asked to use the Happy Atoms set in their classrooms for 5 lessons over the course of the fall 2017 semester. Students will complete pre- and post-assessments and surveys around their chemistry content knowledge and beliefs about learning chemistry. WestEd will provide access to all teacher materials, teacher training, and student materials needed to participate.

Participating teachers will receive a stipend of $500-800. You can read more information about the study here:

Please contact Rosanne Luu at or 650.381.6432 if you are interested in participating in this opportunity, or if you have any questions!

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.

2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption Reviewer Application

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

The California Department of Education and State Board of Education are now accepting applications for reviewers for the 2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption. The application deadline is 3:00 pm, July 21, 2017. The application is comprehensive, so don’t wait until the last minute to apply.

On Tuesday, May 9, 2017, State Superintendent Tom Torlakson forwarded this recruitment letter to county and district superintendents and charter school administrators.

Review panel members will evaluate instructional materials for use in kindergarten through grade eight, inclusive, that are aligned with the California Next Generation Science Content Standards for California Public Schools (CA NGSS). 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.

Lessons Learned from the NGSS Early Implementer Districts

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

On March 31, 2017, Achieve released two documents examining some lessons learned from the California K-8 Early Implementation Initiative. The initiative began in August 2014 and was developed by the K-12 Alliance at WestEd, with close collaborative input on its design and objectives from the State Board of Education, the California Department of Education, and Achieve.

Eight (8) traditional school districts and two (2) charter management organizations were selected to participate in the initiative, becoming the first districts in California to implement the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Those districts included Galt Joint Union Elementary, Kings Canyon Joint Unified, Lakeside Union, Oakland Unified, Palm Springs Unified, San Diego Unified, Tracy Joint Unified, Vista Unified, Aspire, and High Tech High.

To more closely examine some of the early successes and challenges experienced by the Early Implementer LEAs, Achieve interviewed nine of the ten participating districts and compiled that information into two resources, focusing primarily on professional learning and instructional materials. 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.

Using Online Simulations to Support the NGSS in Middle School Classrooms

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

by Lesley Gates, Loren Nikkel, and Kambria Eastham

Middle school teachers in Kings Canyon Unified School District (KCUSD), a CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative district, have been diligently working on transitioning to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) integrated model for middle school. This year, the teachers focused on building their own knowledge of the Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs). They have been gathering and sharing ideas at monthly collaborative meetings as to how to make sure their students are not just learning about science but that they are actually doing science in their classrooms. Students should be planning and carrying out investigations to gather data for analysis in order to construct explanations. This is best done through hands-on lab experiments. Experimental work is such an important part of the learning of science and education research shows that students learn better and retain more when they are active through inquiry, investigation, and application. A Framework for K-12 Science Education (2011) notes, “…learning about science and engineering involves integration of the knowledge of scientific explanations (i.e., content knowledge) and the practices needed to engage in scientific inquiry and engineering design. Thus the framework seeks to illustrate how knowledge and practice must be intertwined in designing learning experiences in K-12 Science Education” (pg. 11).

Many middle school teachers in KCUSD are facing challenges as they begin implementing these student-driven, inquiry-based NGSS science experiences in their classrooms. First, many of the middle school classrooms at our K-8 school sites are not designed as science labs. Learn More…

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Written by NGSS Early Implementer

NGSS Early Implementer

In 2015 CSTA began to publish a series of articles written by teachers participating in the NGSS Early Implementation Initiative. This article was written by an educator(s) participating in the initiative. CSTA thanks them for their contributions and for sharing their experience with the science teaching community.

Celestial Highlights: May – July 2017

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

May Through July 2017 with Web Resources for the Solar Eclipse of August 21, 2017

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graphs of planet rising and setting times by Jeffrey L. Hunt.

In spring and summer 2017, Jupiter is the most prominent “star” in the evening sky, and Venus, even brighter, rules the morning. By mid-June, Saturn rises at a convenient evening hour, allowing both giant planets to be viewed well in early evening until Jupiter sinks low in late September. The Moon is always a crescent in its monthly encounters with Venus, but is full whenever it appears near Jupiter or Saturn in the eastern evening sky opposite the Sun. (In 2017, Full Moon is near Jupiter in April, Saturn in June.) At intervals of 27-28 days thereafter, the Moon appears at a progressively earlier phase at each pairing with the outer planet until its final conjunction, with Moon a thin crescent, low in the west at dusk. You’ll see many beautiful events by just following the Moon’s wanderings at dusk and dawn in the three months leading up to the solar eclipse. 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.