May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

Preservice Teachers are STARs

Posted: Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

Far too many science teachers have a handicap: they have never done scientific research.  They know their subjects, but they have never experienced science as a exciting process, or used the scientific method in practice, or worked with scientists.  They are dedicated teachers, but how can they communicate these things to their students?

Four years ago a Lawrence Livermore Laboratory researcher named Laura Gilliam recognized this problem and obtained an NSF grant to do something about it.  Grant in hand, she contacted the California State University system’s chancellor for advice on coordinating the use of it.  The result was STAR, the Science Teacher and Researcher program.

STAR is a summer research internship for aspiring science and mathematics teachers.  Preservice teachers enrolled in CSU credential programs and CSU undergraduates considering STEM teaching are eligible, as are NSF Noyce Scholars.  Recruits are placed as paid interns in cutting-edge California research facilities (which last year included the Lawrence National Laboratories, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the UC Davis Center for Biophotonics.)  Over eight to 10 weeks, they complete a research project, which is presented to their colleagues at a closing conference and may be included in their mentor’s research.  STAR fellows receive a weekly stipend, transportation to opening and closing conferences, and possibly a housing allowance if they relocate.  They are supported by master teachers and research mentors.  Interns at each site are encouraged to spend time together and form a community.

The STAR program is run out of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo as part of its Center for Excellence in Science and Mathematics Education (CESaME).  In 2007, the program’s first year, Gilliam’s NSF grant funded 16 interns.  The next year Cal Poly and the CSU Chancellor’s office obtained funding from the Bechtel Foundation, and for the last three years the program has expanded to 30 interns in 2008, 39 in 2009, and 71 in 2010.  Additional funding comes from the Fluor Corporation and a one-time grant from the NSF Noyce Scholars program that STAR is now seeking to extend.  Based in California, the program now has additional pilot projects in Colorado, Washington, and Maryland.

The STAR program’s effects on its preservice teacher interns are assessed with the Student Understanding of Science and Scientific Inquiry questionnaire, which examines teacher attitudes toward the nature of science, and the Science Teaching Efficacy Beliefs Instrument, which examines teachers’ degree of confidence in their ability to teach science well.  Both instruments consistently show statistically significant improvements in teacher confidence and comprehension of science.  Meeting activities and other program components are assessed by discussion with the interns at the closing confererence, with the following year’s program revised to incorporate findings.

2010 STAR fellows said the program enhanced both their understanding of science and their ability to teach it.  “I have a science degree, but I don’t know that I’d have called myself a scientist before,” said Jessica Potter, whose degree is in plant ecology.

An added benefit: Credibility.  Jamie Vargas spent the summer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory; he has a master of science in physics.  “Because I’ve worked as a scientist, the students ask me questions about getting a science job,” he said.  “And they respect a teacher who’s worked for NASA.”

STAR alumni can return for up to three summers, allowing them to retain ties with mentors and integrate into their science community.  One result can be opportunities for their classes.  After three summers at the NASA Ames Research Center, Ron Hamby, a San Jose middle school science teacher, worked with his STAR mentor to develop a “real-life” science project for his students.  NASA would like to use algae on long space flights to produce oxygen and recycle wastes by photosynthesis.  His eighth-grade classes worked after school to collect data on the effectiveness of different types of algae.  They presented their data to Ames scientists, including Hamby’s mentor, who makes use of it.   They also had a lot of fun.

John Keller, the head of Cal Poly’s CESaME program, would like to see STAR expand to additional states.  He would also like to see programs similar to STAR expand across the country, so that the opportunity need not be limited to CSU students and Noyce scholars.  As he puts it, “Every preservice teacher should have the chance to do research.”

Applications for summer 2011 STAR fellowships are due January 31, 2011.  For more information about STAR, a detailed list of eligibility requirements, and a link to an application, go to:

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.

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CSTA Annual Conference Early Bird Rates End July 14

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Jessica Sawko

Teachers engaged in workshop activity

Teachers engaging in hands-on learning during a workshop at the 2016 CSTA conference.

Don’t miss your chance to register at the early bird rate for the 2017 CSTA Conference – the early-bird rate closes July 14. Need ideas on how to secure funding for your participation? Visit our website for suggestions, a budget planning tool, and downloadable justification letter to share with your admin. Want to take advantage of the early rate – but know your district will pay eventually? Register online today and CSTA will reimburse you when we receive payment from your district/employer. (For more information on how that works contact Zi Stair in the office for details – 916-979-7004 or

New Information Now Available On-line:

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.

Goodbye Outgoing and Welcome Incoming CSTA Board Members

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

Jill Grace

Jill Grace, CSTA President, 2017-2019

On July 1, 2017 five CSTA members concluded their service and four new board members joined the ranks of the CSTA Board of Directors. CSTA is so grateful for all the volunteer board of directors who contribute hours upon hours of time and energy to advance the work of the association. At the June 3 board meeting, CSTA was able to say goodbye to the outgoing board members and welcome the incoming members.

This new year also brings with it a new president for CSTA. As of July 1, 2017 Jill Grace is the president of the California Science Teachers Association. Jill is a graduate of California State University, Long Beach, a former middle school science teacher, and is currently a Regional Director with the K-12 Alliance @ WestEd where she works with California NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative districts and charter networks in the San Diego area.

Outgoing Board Members

  • Laura Henriques (President-Elect: 2011 – 2013, President: 2013 – 2015, Past President: 2015 – 2017)
  • Valerie Joyner (Region 1 Director: 2009 – 2013, Primary Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Mary Whaley (Informal Science Education Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Sue Campbell (Middle School/Jr. High Director: 2015 – 2017)
  • Marcus Tessier (2-Year College Director: 2015 – 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.

Finding My Student’s Motivation of Learning Through Engineering Tasks

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Huda Ali Gubary and Susheela Nath

It’s 8:02 and the bell rings. My students’ walk in and pick up an entry ticket based on yesterday’s lesson and homework. My countdown starts for students to begin…3, 2, 1. Ten students are on task and diligently completing the work, twenty are off task with behaviors ranging from talking up a storm with their neighbors to silently staring off into space. This was the start of my classes, more often than not. My students rarely showed the enthusiasm for a class that I had eagerly prepared for. I spent so much time searching for ways to get my students excited about the concepts they were learning. I wanted them to feel a connection to the lessons and come into my class motivated about what they were going to learn next. I would ask myself how I could make my class memorable where the kids were in the driver’s seat of learning. Incorporating engineering made this possible. 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 California NGSS k-8 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.

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Unveils Updated Recommended Literature List

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson unveiled an addition of 285 award-winning titles to the Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list.

“The books our students read help broaden their perspectives, enhance their knowledge, and fire their imaginations,” Torlakson said. “The addition of these award-winning titles represents the state’s continued commitment to the interests and engagement of California’s young readers.”

The Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list is a collection of more than 8,000 titles of recommended reading for children and adolescents. Reflecting contemporary and classic titles, including California authors, this online list provides an exciting range of literature that students should be reading at school and for pleasure. Works include fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama to provide for a variety of tastes, interests, and abilities. Learn More…

Written by Guest Contributor

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:

Teaching Science in the Time of Alternative Facts – Why NGSS Can Help (somewhat)

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn

The father of one of my students gave me a book: In the Beginning: Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood by Walt Brown, Ph. D. He had heard that I was teaching Plate Tectonics and wanted me to consider another perspective. The book offered the idea that the evidence for plate tectonics could be better understood if we considered the idea that beneath the continent of Pangaea was a huge underground layer of water that suddenly burst forth from a rift between the now continents of Africa and South America. The waters shot up and the continents hydroplaned apart on the water layer to their current positions. The force of the movement pushed up great mountain ranges which are still settling to this day, resulting in earthquakes along the margins of continents. This had happened about 6,000 years ago and created a great worldwide flood. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for CSTA.