September 2016 – Vol. 29 No. 1

Preparing for New School Year: Supporting High School Students’ Science Motivation

Posted: Friday, August 19th, 2016

by Sandra Simpkins and Yangyang Liu

When science teachers prepare for a new school year, they often think about how they can teach their students science concepts and principles in an interesting way. Not only is it important to spark students’ initial interest in science, but is also key to help maintain students’ interest in science. Without that continued support, students who were once interested in science run the risk of losing that interest (Renninger & Hidi, 2016). In fact, 45% of 10th grade students interested in pursuing a STEM career (that is, a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics career) lost that interest by the end of high school (Aschbacher, Li, & Roth, 2010) – making high school a critical time for science. High school is often the first time when students can opt out of science coursework as most states require less than four years of science coursework to graduate. When students lose interest in science, they are less likely to take elective science courses – which hinders their college science prospects.

Science teachers are not the only ones who can support students’ science interest. Teachers can help support students’ interest by getting them connected with exciting science opportunities at their school or community, such as clubs and museums. One goal of our research has been to study the importance of family support in students’ motivation in a variety of areas including science, math, English, sports, and music. With funding from the National Science Foundation, we have spent several years studying whether family support is important for the Latino high school students’ science motivation.

The typical narrative around parent involvement in high school, particularly for ethnic minority and low-income families, is that parents are not involved. It is true that high school parents typically are less involved in their children’s schools than elementary and middle school parents. But, the focus of many of these studies is on parents’ contact with teachers and involvement in school opportunities, such as the PTA. Many parents have hectic work schedules that make meeting with teachers challenging. And, for some cultures parents believe they should defer to the school and focus their support within their home. While parents may be pulling back from being on the school campus, many parents are still doing things at home.

CCSAdBOur research suggests that parents’ home-based support of their 9th grade students in science is related to how much students believe they are good at science and their value of science in 9th grade and increases in students’ motivational beliefs from 9th to 10th grade (Simpkins, Gaskin, & Kloberdanz, 2016; Simpkins, Price, & Garcia, 2015). Parents’ support predicts students’ motivational beliefs even after we take into account students’ science course grade and whether they are in honors or basic science, which suggests this relationship is not because students who are doing well in science have strong motivational beliefs and supportive parents. So, what were parents doing at home?

In our study, we have parents and high school students report how often parents provide general positive support, engage in science-related activities and conversations, as well as support their student in their science coursework. Positive general support includes things such as telling teenagers they are good at science and helping their teenager feel better when science is hard. Parent-adolescent co-activity includes watching science TV shows, talking about science-related current events, and talking about science careers/majors. Last, support around science coursework includes behaviors like checking if their teenagers’ homework is completed and encouraging them to work with friends or other family members who are good at science. Importantly, many of these parent behaviors do not require parents to be science experts. Some parents hesitate to help their children with science-related schoolwork because they feel the subject matter is too complicated or surpasses their level of education. However, our study suggests that parents can engage in other meaningful ways that do not require mastery of science facts in textbooks and still help their teenagers’ motivation in science.

As part of one paper, we tested whether there were differences between White boys, White girls, Latino boys, and Latina girls. White students and male students received more support and had higher motivational beliefs in science than Latino students and female students. As a result, White boys often had the highest science resources whereas Latina girls had the lowest science resources. However, we found that many of ethnic differences were partially explained by family background such as parent education and parents’ language preference. In other words, Latino students may have lower parent support and science motivation than white students, in part, because Latino families often have more limited parental resources, such as education. In addition, Latina girls continued to be at a disadvantage compared to other groups. Teachers might consider providing additional resources to Latina students or students whose parents have more limited education. As part of teachers’ planning for the upcoming year, it might be helpful to think about how they can help parents support their children at home.

Sandra Simpkins and Yangyang Liu are a part of the School of Education at the University of California, Irvine. They can be reached at


Aschbacher, P. R., Li, E., & Roth, E. J. (2010). Is science me? High school students’ identities, participation and aspirations in science, engineering, and medicine. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 47: 564–582.

Renninger, K. A., & Hidi, S. E. (2016). The power of interest for motivation and engagement. New York: Routledge.

Simpkins, S.D., Gaskin, E., & Kloberdanz, E. (2016, March). Does the expectancy-value models hold for Latino parents of high school science students? In J. Fredricks (chair), Individual and contextual influences on adolescents’ STEM motivation and engagement. Paper presented at the Society of Research on Adolescence Biennial Meeting, Baltimore, MD.

Simpkins, S. D., Price, C. & Garcia, K. (2015). Parental support and high school students’ motivation in biology, chemistry, and physics: Understanding differences among Latino and Caucasian boys and girls. Journal for Research in Science Teaching, 52, 1386-1407.

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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.