May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

Planning STEM-Based Professional Development – A Behind the Scenes Look

Posted: Friday, December 11th, 2015

by Myra Pasquier

Committing to the planning of 15+ hours of teacher professional development in Science content for the California NGSS Early Implementer Institute that took place in Vista, California last summer was a daunting task. One major advantage was the collaboration that took place between my team members – Stephen Tsui, PhD, physics professor at California State University, San Marcos, and Kathryn Schulz, Regional Director of the San Diego Science Project. Our mission: put together a 5th Grade Physical Science content story line (also known as a Conceptual Flow) featuring the structure and properties of matter and its interactions. The story needed to be aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards and Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for both Mathematics and Language Arts, modeling the cross-curricular elements of (STEM) education.

With our mission envelope tucked under our arm, we started the brainstorming process of developing a Conceptual Flow for our story that would unfold for the teachers. With piles of multi-colored sticky notes, chart paper, and sharpies as our tools we embarked on our task. Different sized concept notes scattered the chart paper and were in constant motion as we debated back and forth about their placement in the story. Were the concepts appropriate for our objectives? Did they make the story flow and be seamless? Was the story complete with a beginning, a middle, and an end? As hours went by, and the Conceptual Flow began to take shape, a sense of euphoria grew from a combination of fatigue and exhilaration at our accomplishments. And this was just the beginning.

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When we were satisfied with our Conceptual Flow, we labeled the elements according to Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCI), Science and Engineering Practices (SEP), and Crosscutting Concepts (CCC). Although several SEPs fit, we decided that developing and using models was the most overarching when looking at the core science idea of the week: matter and its interactions (specifically, 5-PS1-4). We also worked with the CCC lenses of energy and matter, and patterns through which to examine our content. One of our greatest challenges was determining the depth and breadth of our content. Although we were tasked to train 5th grade teachers, the objective of our team was not to simply provide materials for 5th grade content but rather to help prepare these adults in developing their own learning sequences for students. Since these were adult learners, we wanted them to feel comfortable with their content, and therefore drew from not only 5th grade NGSS material but also some middle and high school standards.

The next step was to plan the STEM based activities that fit the conceptual flow story line. The difficulty here was not in the number of things that we could try. Because every member of our team had a science background and expertise in pedagogy, the torrent of ideas poured onto sticky notes indiscriminately. The challenge was identifying those activities that not only supported the NGSS and CCSS in our conceptual flow but also integrated STEM elements. We persevered, and with our parameters set, our indiscriminate pile of activity sticky notes became smaller and began to take an organized form. The science element was easiest, given our content background, and the math easily partnered with it. The technology and engineering portions were more of a challenge because most of our content focus was on the fundamental physics and chemistry of matter on the molecular and subatomic scale; interactions that are directly unobservable by the naked eye but leave plenty of evidence in their wake. It was a given that the activities had to be hands-on and inquiry-based, but they also needed to be applicable to real world problems and provide explanations for natural phenomena.

One of our engineering process activities called for the separation of substances in a heterogeneous mixture through the use of some kind of filtering system. Our participants had to plan, design, build and test their filter systems. In the case of exploring phenomena, participants poured cups of liquid nitrogen into trash bags and discussed how the volume change in the bags could be explained by phase changes in matter due to the effect of thermal energy on particle motion and spacing at the molecular level. Using online resources like the University of Colorado, Boulder PhET Interactive Simulations website helped further visualize and clarify these models of molecular movement and spacing. We couldn’t necessarily make each activity meet all our intended STEM elements, so we used activities that met as many as we possibly could.

When planning professional development, I am always terrified that we will not have enough activities for the number of hours we have. There is nothing worse than thinking that you’ll finish what is supposed to be a three-hour session in half the time and being left with a room full of educators staring back at you expecting more. Fortunately, as has happened every single time I have been part of a team like this, we over planned – and that was a good thing, but then the fear became whether we would be able to do all the activities needed to tell the whole story. We wanted to make sure that our participants got the most out of their professional development. We managed to complete most of our activities, and even though we had to sacrifice a few for the sake of time, we would like to think that our participants left that Friday with their brains filled near to bursting with knowledge and eager to start the new school year ready to begin to implement NGSS. We strongly believe that their students will be so much better off because their teachers were willing to spend one week of their all-too-brief summer being students themselves.

As for my team, would we go through the hours and hours of planning again next summer? The answer is a resounding yes!

The process we went through actually mimics what a teacher would have to consider when planning for instruction in NGSS. It works for adults as well as younger students.

  • Who can you collaborate with? Doing this with colleagues makes for a richer product.
  • Consider a story-line format for laying out concepts in a unit (DCI’s, CCC’s, and SEP’s)
  • What phenomenon speaks to the story line and will pique student interest and provide opportunities for hands-on investigations?
  • Consider entry-points for CCSS math and language arts standards that can both support NGSS and provide another context for student learning making for an authentic STEM experience.
  • Find hands-on activities and experiences that match the intent of your story line.

Myra Pasquier is a 7th/8th grade Science teacher at Suva Intermediate School in the Montebello Unified School District and is a member of CSTA. She can be reached at Pasquier_Myra@montebello.k12.ca.us

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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.

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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: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/HappyAtoms

Please contact Rosanne Luu at rluu@wested.org 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.