September 2016 – Vol. 29 No. 1

Recruiting Students into High School STEM Classes

Posted: Monday, April 1st, 2013

by Laura Henriques

It’s that time of year when students start to think about which high school classes they will take next year, and teachers and professional organizations are joining in the effort to help recruit students to take physics. Dean Baird, an award winning physics teacher from the Sacramento area, has put together some fliers and the AAPT has created a poster, “Top 10 Reasons to Take Physics,” which can be useful for recruiting students. For those students who are already thinking about college admission and college readiness, the A-G requirements help guide their planning and guidance counselors, teachers and parents also play a role in helping students decide whether to take a fourth year of math or a third (or fourth) year of science. Intuitively we already know that taking more math or science will help students be successful, and there is much data to support this idea. More high school math and science correlate with increased success in college, regardless of major, and STEM fields are employing candidates at higher rates (and the pay is pretty good!). These can be strong selling points when trying to convince students and their parents that a year of physics or another year of math really will be good for them.

In our slowly recovering economy, the prospect of employment after school (high school or college) is a concern for many. High school dropouts have a 31.5% unemployment rate, recent high school graduates are unemployed at 22.9% and new college grads have 8.9% unemployment levels (Carnevale, Cheah & Strohl, 2012). Interestingly, the Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW) at Georgetown University examined college majors, unemployment levels and earnings. The report, Hard times: College majors, unemployment and earnings – Not all college degrees are created equal, found that employment levels and salaries were higher for graduates of STEM fields than other fields. When experience and graduate degrees are added to the equation the difference was even greater. Both high school students and their parents will be interested in this data. “Majors with high technical, business and healthcare content tend to earn the most among both recent and experienced college graduates (p 6).” Perusing the charts and tables of this report might provide some ideas as we try to recruit students to take an extra science class.

Getting a job and making a good salary is important. However, if a student doesn’t finish college the salaries and employment options are severely impacted, and we know that high school STEM increases their chances for successful completion. White and Cottle did a study to see how well states were preparing high school students to succeed in STEM careers. (California doesn’t do all that well, by the way.) They found that students’ high school math and science-taking patterns are tied to success in college for all degrees, especially for STEM degrees. Students who pass Algebra 2 are college ready but kids who successfully pass trigonometry, pre-calculus or calculus are even better prepared for college. Success in calculus is a strong predictor for success in STEM majors. In addition, students who take biology, chemistry and physics are much more likely to be successful in college, and students who take a second year of physics or chemistry are more likely to be successful in STEM degree programs than those who stopped at physics. This is not particularly earth-shattering news to us. Students who take calculus and a fourth year of high school science are usually oriented towards STEM fields already. In other words, passing calculus in high school is no guarantee that you will finish college or major in STEM, but there is a strong link.

As we try to recruit students into our courses we need to appeal to them on all levels. College and career readiness, potential employment and course relevance are all areas where we can focus our efforts. Not only will we get more students for our classes, we will be helping prepare a more scientifically literate, employable citizenry.

Carnevale, A.P, Cheah, B and Strohl. (2012). Hard times: College majors, unemployment and earnings. Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. Available online at

White, S. & Cottle, P. (2011). Preparing your students for careers in science and engineering: How is your state doing? The Physics Teachers, Vol. 49 (418-420).

Written by Laura Henriques

Laura Henriques

Laura Henriques is a professor of science education at CSU Long Beach and past-president of CSTA. She serves as chair of CSTA’s Nominating Committee and is a co-chair of the NGSS Committee.

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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.