September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

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.

Leave a Reply


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…

Powered By DT Author Box

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…

Powered By DT Author Box

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.