September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 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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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.