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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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:

Please contact Rosanne Luu at 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.