May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

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exciting, and sometimes not so exciting activities, explorations, and experiments with kits, books, realia, and a few outdated textbooks.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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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: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/HappyAtoms

Please contact Rosanne Luu at rluu@wested.org 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.