September 2016 – Vol. 29 No. 1

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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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.