September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

The Next Generation of California Science Standards

Posted: Friday, March 1st, 2013

by Rick Pomeroy

What will California science standards look like at this time next year? At present, we really don’t know. As we saw with the number of changes between the first and second public drafts of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), and with the large number of reviews received by Achieve (thank you to those who were able to take time of out your busy lives to submit a review), this means we  still can’t be sure what the final NGSS will be until they’re released later this month. Even if we knew now, we still do not necessarily know what the California science standards will look like. As explained in last month’s president’s column, the NGSS release by Achieve, Inc. only starts the process. At this time, there is no guarantee that the State Board of Education (SBE) will adopt the NGSS, in their final form. Before the SBE’s final adoption of new standards occurs, State Superintendent of Public Instruction (SSPI), Tom Torlakson, must recommend new science standards that are based on the NGSS between the release of the final version of the NGSS and the presentation of the recommended science standards to the SBE the Superintendent will collect public comment and hear testimony from stakeholders. The SBE will then have four months to review the SSPI’s recommendation and make their own decision to adopt, amend, or reject the SSPI’s proposal. In the end, the version of science standards that will manifest in California is still unknown.

Given this uncertainty, what can we do to prepare for the changes that are bound to occur?  First, we can take a lesson from the standards that have already been adopted – both Mathematics and English-Language Arts have the Common Core State Standards. Though the California implementation of those standards is just beginning, there are several lessons we can already take from them. In math, there is a major emphasis on the practices and applications of mathematics, and it will no longer be sufficient to memorize formulas for solving difficult problems or “find the right answer” without being able to explain what it means. Instead, greater emphasis is placed on the practices associated with using mathematics to understand real world problems. In the same vein, we already know that, regardless their final format, the new science standards will emphasize the realities of science, engineering, and technology and the practices and applications that tie all those subjects together. With this in mind, we can begin engaging our students in modeling and thinking critically. We can work to incorporate real world technology and engineering examples in our classes. We can help our students learn to create mental models of the phenomena that they observe everyday and pursue a deeper understanding of how those models work. For example, rather than just requiring student to memorize the stages of meiosis we must begin to help them build understanding of the connections those processes share with biodiversity, understanding cancer, and disease heritability. In the process, we will better engage our students and may motivate them to pursue further studies in the STEM fields.

Similarly, the ELA Common Core standards contain specific expectations for including more non-fiction reading and technical writing in science classes. Already, their implementation is having a significant impact in our science classes. More and more, teachers are including technical writing in their lessons by setting higher expectations for linking evidence to conclusions. These are excellent tools for improving students’ scientific reasoning and communication skills, which we know will be central to any new science standards that strive to prepare students for college and career. As science educators, we can help improve these skills by incorporating authentic reading and writing as part of the science curriculum to demonstrate the importance of context. By making literacy a key part of the science curriculum instead of a subject all its own, science will be seen as an integral part of the core curriculum.

Although we don’t know what the next generation of science standards will be in California there is no reason to sit idly by waiting for a bolt of lightning from on high to define them for us. There are many things we can already do within the context of the already-adopted Common Core Standards that will support and ease the implementation of new science standards.  Any task that engages our students in critical thinking, problem solving, and the general practices of science, technology, engineering, and math can only serve to better prepare them for the college and careers of their futures.

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Written by Rick Pomeroy

Rick Pomeroy

Rick Pomeroy is science education lecturer/supervisor in the School of Education, University of California Davis and is a past-president of CSTA.

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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.

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…

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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…

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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.