September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 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exciting, and sometimes not so exciting activities, explorations, and experiments with kits, books, realia, and a few outdated textbooks.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 a member of CSTA.

Leave a Reply

LATEST POST

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…

Powered By DT Author Box

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…

Powered By DT Author Box

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.