September 2016 – Vol. 29 No. 1

Reflections on Elementary Science

Posted: Friday, June 1st, 2012

by Valerie Joyner

Today marked the end of my classroom teaching career.  It is hard for me to believe I have been teaching K-6 for over 37 years.  I fondly remember the early days of my career when there were no state standards or federal mandates, and each of us constructed most of our own curriculum for our students. Every elementary teacher had his/her favorite science units they had developed and used year after year.  My science curriculum was no different. I developed exciting, and sometimes not so exciting activities, explorations, and experiments with kits, books, realia, and a few outdated textbooks. There were no Smartboards, computers, or internet websites to go to.  No state adopted texts or testing of science in 5th grade.  It was a simpler time.

In many ways teaching in the 70’s was a free-for-all, lacking scope and sequence, but it was also a wonderful time when teachers were able to share their passion for a particular subject.  My passion was always science, and dated back to my early childhood and my own father’s passion for science.

My classroom was always filled with science stuff.  You know, animals and plants from a boa constrictor to geckos, and cacti to Venus fly traps on every counter. There were the usual magnets, rocks, pulleys, microscopes, and magnifying glasses for students to explore. And of course the posters, student projects and work on display everywhere.   These diverse, and slightly chaotic collections gave the classroom a special feeling, a feeling of excitement, exploration, and adventure.

I believe these simpler times brought about the necessity to reign in education and provide our students with a more cohesive and structured K-12 curriculum. After all, there was no guarantee that students had had any physical science before they hit junior or senior high. If a child had happened on three teachers in a row that all “loved” their butterfly or geology units, then that child was probably proficient in metamorphosis and sedimentary rocks, but may never have had the opportunity to learn about weather, force and motion, or ocean currents. And guess what? Along came state frameworks and standards and testing.

I look back at my classroom in the past decade or two and wonder when that sense of excitement, exploration, and adventure began to change and make way for the greater emphasis and focus on English, Language Arts (ELA), and math.  That’s not to say my curriculum was boring and uninviting, but I found myself fighting the system and wanting to spend more time on science, not less. I went to great lengths to teach science in every subject area I possibly could.  I developed math lessons around science activities and experiments and non-fiction reading units so I could always be sure to have science in the forefront of my student’s minds. As you know, this is not always an easy task when your district mandates certain materials be used and specific time allotted to ELA and math. Nonetheless, I was able to find peace with the structures and mandates and yet allow myself permission to always do what I knew was best for my students.

And here we are, in 2012, the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and Common Core Curriculum are on the starting blocks. Some districts have already begun talking about and trying to implement Common Core which will again change the course of education. Hopefully most of us have been able to review NGSS and realize the profoundly positive effects this will have on our students and science education. As I move out of the classroom and into new possibilities, I am excited to see the new direction science education will be taking.

A special thanks to all our retirees and their dedication to science education and their years of experience and dedication to our science education and out students. Have a wonderful summer!

Valerie Joyner is a retired district science lead teacher for Petaluma City Schools and is CSTA’s region 1 director.

Written by Valerie Joyner

Valerie Joyner

Valerie Joyner is a retired elementary science educator and is CSTA’s Primary (grades K-2) Director.

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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.