September 2016 – Vol. 29 No. 1

Productive Discussions

Posted: Thursday, March 1st, 2012

by Donna Ross

It is the season for future educators to settle into new placements as student teachers.  As their mentors (guide or cooperating teachers) help them find a home in the classroom, it seemed timely to remind both parties of a few basics that can help smooth the process.  It is worth noting that a critical part of an effective student teaching placement is the opportunity for both the student teacher and the mentor to discuss pedagogy, theory, and practices.  It is not necessary for both parties to share the same views about every topic. 

The growth and improvement in teaching comes from listening, considering different perspectives and approaches, and then analyzing the best choices for one’s individual setting.  A really strong mentor shares the “why” behind his or her actions, so that a new teacher can understand when and how to make effective pedagogical choices.  The following suggestions provide fodder for in-depth discussions, as well as serving as a reminder that student teachers need to consciously address the basics of everyday classroom practice conducted by experienced teachers.

Student and Mentor Teacher Discussion Topics:

These are in no particular order.  They are posed as questions from the student teacher to the guide/cooperating teacher, but they could easily be modified to be initiated by the mentor.

  • How do you decide where the students can sit?  What is your experience with using a seating chart vs. letting students choose their own seats?
  • Have I shared my university course syllabi with you yet?  Are there any readings from my university course that you would like to read?  Are you familiar with my assignments that relate to student teaching?   (One of the first things student teachers and guide/cooperating teachers should do is go over the university calendar and assignments that might influence student teaching.  There shouldn’t be any last minute surprises).
  • I have been thinking about the different views on homework.  What is your experience with the type and amount of homework to assign in science classes?  (Homework brings up issues of equity related to providing adequate college readiness vs. penalizing students who must work after school or who do not have safe places to live.  It can be a divisive topic, but also the basis of a very thoughtful and meaningful discussion.)
  • I know that the system may be different where I find a job next year, but what are common policies on attendance and tardies?  Do you think they should directly affect grades? At what age do you think it moves from the parents’ responsibility to that of the students?
  • What have you found to be effective methods to motivate students?  Do you have different approaches for students who are failing vs. those who do fine in class but appear disengaged?
  • How do you balance the reality of preparing students to do well on science exams without spending too much instructional time doing test prep or vocabulary drills?
  • What supports are provided for struggling students?  What can I do to help them be successful?  And, how can I challenge students for whom the class is easy?  Overall, what have you found to be the most effective ways to differentiate your instruction?
  • What types of professional development does this district offer?  Do you have school or district committee responsibilities?  What types of expectations and opportunities are there beyond the classroom?  (Early in the student teaching placement, the student teacher should have a tour of the building and be introduced to key employees at the school site).
  • Are there teachers at this site who are particularly good at certain aspects of teaching who I should observe while I am here?  (Early in the student teaching placement is the best time to observe in other classes because the student teacher is usually responsible for a smaller portion of the planning and teaching).
  • What strategies have you found most helpful for supporting English learners in science?
  • What do most teachers do about extra credit?  Do you think it is an effective approach?  (Some teachers see extra credit as a method to support struggling students, others see it as a system to discourage turning assignments in on time, others view it differently depending on the quality of the extra credit assignment.)
  • In your experience, what are some areas in which student teachers need to work the hardest to improve?
  • What tips do you have for me for interviewing for teaching positions? (Late in a successful student teaching placement, it is appropriate to ask for job hunting and interviewing advice.)

Donna Ross is associate professor of science education at San Diego State University and is CSTA’s 4-year college director.

Written by Donna Ross

Donna Ross is Associate Professor of Science Education at San Diego State University.

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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.