May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

Science and Math: Working to Connect NGSS and CCSS

Posted: Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

by Peter A’Hearn

All science people know that there is a strong connection between science and math, so finding the connections between the Next Generation Science Standards and the Common Core Math Standards should be a no brainer. Last year, Palm Springs USD conducted a dozen Science/Math lesson studies to explore the connections. We found many strong connections and also identified some challenges in putting the two sets of standards together.

The math and science teachers used a modified version of the K-12 Alliance TLC lesson study to plan their lessons. There were two teams from grades 6, 7, and 8, and teams for Earth Science/Algebra, Biology/Geometry, and Chemistry/Algebra II. Some of the lessons clicked perfectly, some failed awkwardly, and many lessons were learned about the challenges of implementing NGSS and the Math Common Core Standards.

One of the Biology/Geometry teams focused on data analysis (part of Geometry in the CCSS). They decided to do a science lesson based on HS-LS4-3:

In a pre-lesson, the class acted as predators of two kinds of beans in a cup. When they chose beans without looking they preferentially chose the larger kidney beans over smaller pinto beans. The lesson began with a discussion of the class data:  AHearn_Image1

Students made predictions and then graphed the data to find a best-fit line to generate a prediction for when the kidney bean population would go extinct.

Once students had practiced with this self-generated data, they were given real world data on local populations of mesquite trees.


Students graphed the data and made a prediction about the year when there would no longer be a mesquite-based ecosystem along the San Andreas Fault in Desert Hot Springs, CA.

Lessons Learned – The NGSS standard is really about natural selection, but the real world data we used wasn’t really comparing two competing populations. The NGSS is asking students to interact with real world data sets. We couldn’t find any readily accessible real world data about advantageous vs. disadvantageous traits. The data is out there but much of it isn’t in student and teacher ready to use formats. (Thanks to KD Fleming from the UCR Center for Conservation Biology for the Mesquite Data!) (P.S. The reason for the drastic decline in Mesquite population is probably due to the declining water table due to groundwater pumping)

The 6th grade team decided to focus on the water cycle and real world data. They looked at data on the declining water level in Lake Mead using real time data. AHearn_Image4Based on the trends in the graph, students were asked to predict (based on evidence) what the blue curve would look like for the rest of 2014.

Lessons learned – Most 6th graders have a very hard time using evidence to make a prediction. Many predicted that people would start saving water or that there would be huge rainstorms and had curves that went up ignoring the pattern in the data. Some believed that their graphs had to stay within the boundaries of the page and so couldn’t follow the downward trend of the past two years. Both the Common Core and the NGSS place a strong emphasis on the use of evidence. We learned through the lesson studies we conducted that teachers will have hard work to do to help our students to learn to follow the evidence instead of their opinions and hopes.Teachers need to work hard to find the right questions to ask to help kids look at evidence. They also need to work on helping kids understand what kinds of evidence count in math and science.

By the way – here’s what really happened: AHearn_Image5

Scary huh?

The Chemistry/Algebra II team had a hard time finding standards that provided a strong link between their subjects. They decided to use the change of pH of lemon juice at different concentrations as a model of a log function: AHearn_Image6


Lessons Learned – Probeware gave us some really nice results. There were some good discussions about how much to let kids struggle with figuring out how to do the dilutions. The biggest challenge was that to find a math alignment we had to create a lesson on acid-base chemistry, which doesn’t have an NGSS standard attached to it. Note that it is important to understand that the NGSS is understood as representing the floor, not the ceiling – this means that it is okay to go beyond the standard in teaching. We also decided that acid-base systems are a type of equilibrium system, which is an NGSS Standard.

Other teams created lessons on probability in genetics, graphs of motion, scaling craters on a map, and mathematically modeling the relationship between force, mass, and acceleration.

Trying to create common science and math performance tasks (and even science, math, ELA) presents its own set of opportunities and challenges. We are trying to do this so students spend fewer days testing and so that we can make the connections between the subjects apparent. In the 6th grade teachers in our district teach both math and science, so developing common assessments makes sense.



The challenge is to really understand what both the Common Core and the NGSS are asking for and then find the commonalities. We have discovered that the NGSS assessment boundaries sometimes need to be crossed to bring the math up to grade level. For example this middle school energy standard:

“Construct, use, and present arguments to support the claim that when the kinetic energy of an object changes, energy is transferred to or from the object.” (MS-PS3-5)

… comes with this assessment boundary:

“Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include calculations of energy.”

However, to make a common math/science assessment we do need the students to multiply decimals, which means calories of heat transferred. The key in designing an assessment is to have students show that they understand heat flow in non-mathematical ways as well so they aren’t just memorizing a procedure to get the answer.

The connections between the NGSS and the Math Common Core are strong and we can do great things for our students by working closely with our math colleagues. There will also be hard work and frustration as we try to fit our two sets of standards and two ways of looking at math together.

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for CSTA.

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CSTA Annual Conference Early Bird Rates End July 14

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Jessica Sawko

Teachers engaged in workshop activity

Teachers engaging in hands-on learning during a workshop at the 2016 CSTA conference.

Don’t miss your chance to register at the early bird rate for the 2017 CSTA Conference – the early-bird rate closes July 14. Need ideas on how to secure funding for your participation? Visit our website for suggestions, a budget planning tool, and downloadable justification letter to share with your admin. Want to take advantage of the early rate – but know your district will pay eventually? Register online today and CSTA will reimburse you when we receive payment from your district/employer. (For more information on how that works contact Zi Stair in the office for details – 916-979-7004 or

New Information Now Available On-line:

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.

Goodbye Outgoing and Welcome Incoming CSTA Board Members

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

Jill Grace

Jill Grace, CSTA President, 2017-2019

On July 1, 2017 five CSTA members concluded their service and four new board members joined the ranks of the CSTA Board of Directors. CSTA is so grateful for all the volunteer board of directors who contribute hours upon hours of time and energy to advance the work of the association. At the June 3 board meeting, CSTA was able to say goodbye to the outgoing board members and welcome the incoming members.

This new year also brings with it a new president for CSTA. As of July 1, 2017 Jill Grace is the president of the California Science Teachers Association. Jill is a graduate of California State University, Long Beach, a former middle school science teacher, and is currently a Regional Director with the K-12 Alliance @ WestEd where she works with California NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative districts and charter networks in the San Diego area.

Outgoing Board Members

  • Laura Henriques (President-Elect: 2011 – 2013, President: 2013 – 2015, Past President: 2015 – 2017)
  • Valerie Joyner (Region 1 Director: 2009 – 2013, Primary Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Mary Whaley (Informal Science Education Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Sue Campbell (Middle School/Jr. High Director: 2015 – 2017)
  • Marcus Tessier (2-Year College Director: 2015 – 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.

Finding My Student’s Motivation of Learning Through Engineering Tasks

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Huda Ali Gubary and Susheela Nath

It’s 8:02 and the bell rings. My students’ walk in and pick up an entry ticket based on yesterday’s lesson and homework. My countdown starts for students to begin…3, 2, 1. Ten students are on task and diligently completing the work, twenty are off task with behaviors ranging from talking up a storm with their neighbors to silently staring off into space. This was the start of my classes, more often than not. My students rarely showed the enthusiasm for a class that I had eagerly prepared for. I spent so much time searching for ways to get my students excited about the concepts they were learning. I wanted them to feel a connection to the lessons and come into my class motivated about what they were going to learn next. I would ask myself how I could make my class memorable where the kids were in the driver’s seat of learning. Incorporating engineering made this possible. 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 California NGSS k-8 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.

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Unveils Updated Recommended Literature List

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson unveiled an addition of 285 award-winning titles to the Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list.

“The books our students read help broaden their perspectives, enhance their knowledge, and fire their imaginations,” Torlakson said. “The addition of these award-winning titles represents the state’s continued commitment to the interests and engagement of California’s young readers.”

The Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list is a collection of more than 8,000 titles of recommended reading for children and adolescents. Reflecting contemporary and classic titles, including California authors, this online list provides an exciting range of literature that students should be reading at school and for pleasure. Works include fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama to provide for a variety of tastes, interests, and abilities. Learn More…

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy:

Teaching Science in the Time of Alternative Facts – Why NGSS Can Help (somewhat)

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn

The father of one of my students gave me a book: In the Beginning: Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood by Walt Brown, Ph. D. He had heard that I was teaching Plate Tectonics and wanted me to consider another perspective. The book offered the idea that the evidence for plate tectonics could be better understood if we considered the idea that beneath the continent of Pangaea was a huge underground layer of water that suddenly burst forth from a rift between the now continents of Africa and South America. The waters shot up and the continents hydroplaned apart on the water layer to their current positions. The force of the movement pushed up great mountain ranges which are still settling to this day, resulting in earthquakes along the margins of continents. This had happened about 6,000 years ago and created a great worldwide flood. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for CSTA.