November/December 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 2

Science Education in Primary Classrooms

Posted: Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

by Michelle French

I would like to begin by sharing where the “Photo of the Month” found in this issue of the eCCS came from. Last year, I received one of the best presents I will ever get. Paulina, a first grader in my class, walked into my room first thing in the morning and said, “Mrs. French, I have something for you.” She proudly presented her display of painted Styrofoam and toothpicks, and in a grand gesture, handed it to me. She said, “It’s the solar system. I stayed-up until 10:00 last night, and I made it all by myself for you.” The attached note stated, “Planits is a grat way to lern about siens.” I was blown away by her attention to detail and amount of effort she put into her childlike representation of the solar system.

This gesture by Paulina not only warmed my heart, but it strengthened my resolve to provide my students with the highest quality science education I can offer. Young children crave to explore, ask questions, and begin to make sense of the world around them. It is my job as an educator to provide meaningful experiences in which this happens for my students. I know from talking with people from around the state, that for various reasons, not all teachers, administrators, and districts are able to make this happen. Please understand, I am not pointing fingers. I am in the trenches every day, and I know the pressures and stresses that occur with our job.

In order to fix a problem, we must first identify it. CSTA Region I Director and second grade teacher, Valerie Joyner, discusses in her eCCS article this month, the recently released study High Hopes-Few Opportunities-The Status of Elementary Science Education in California. This study identifies specific concerns of teachers, administrators, and districts. I would like to “piggy-back” on the points that Valerie covers in her article and highlight the key points that are found in WestEd’s Summary Report and Recommendations:

  • Less than half of principals (44%) believe it is likely that a student would receive high-quality science instruction in his or her school,
  • Nine in ten principals say science education is very important and should start early,
  • 85% of teachers say they have not received any professional development in science during the last three years,
  • 40% of elementary teachers say they spend 60 minutes or less teaching science each week, and
  • Only one third of elementary teachers say they feel prepared to teach science.

As the Primary (K-2) Director for CSTA, I feel compelled to say that we cannot continue to ignore this data. I also need to say that we are at critical crossroads. We can let this data continue to be the norm, or we get off of our rear-ends and DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT! I know times are financially tough, but this is no excuse for the state of science education in California. I know that we cannot allow our students to fail in language arts and mathematics, but we cannot continue to focus on these areas to the exclusion of science (or other curricular areas). I do not see how we can continue to deny students equal access to science, history, or the arts simply because they cannot pass a test on language or math.

Where there is a will, there is a way. This report provides some solid ideas for teachers, administrators, and districts with ways to enact change in schools. Also, as CSTA members, we are part of a network replete with expertise in both science content and pedagogy. In addition to thousands of science teacher/members, Valerie and I are here for you. If you ever have any questions, you may contact us through the CSTA website. I encourage you to reach out to teachers within your school and your district. It is amazing how much help you may find in your backyard. You will find a “comment” section at the bottom of this page. This is a great place to start asking questions. For those that are regularly teaching science, feel free to post ideas and suggestions on how you deal with the common themes of lack of time, materials, support, and personal competency in science.

Valerie also sites another study entitled “A Priority for California’s Future: Science for Students.” This study clearly states that parents and the public believe all students should receive a high-quality science education.

  • 65% of respondents believe that students should receive more science education than they received when they were in school, and
  • 47% of respondents believe that science education should begin in grades K-2.

Clearly, we have the support of our parents and the public. They mirror the concerns and desires that we do as professional educators. Reach out to them. There are financial resources available through public and private grants and websites like This site links potential donors with teachers expressing a need for materials. Many of the items we need to perform elementary science activities are found in the home. Parents may be willing to provide those materials and provide time to help with science activities.

For those of you that are regularly teaching science in K-2, keep it up. For those of you that are hesitant, take baby-steps. No one is expecting you to go from 0 to 100 minutes this week. Start off by looking for read-alouds and guided reading materials to expose your students to science content and its wonderful language. Try writing an expository paragraph on students’ hands-on observations of a plant. Dissect one lesson from your adopted science materials, and teach that one lesson well. Make plans to attend the 2012 California Science Educators Conference in San Jose. Valerie and I would love to hear from you on the comments section of this page regarding specific needs that we might address for K-2 teachers during the conference.

All students should receive a high quality education in all curricular areas. Fellow primary teachers, please, know that we provide the foundation for our students, and this includes science instruction. Don’t let the creativity and inquisitiveness of the “Paulinas” of the world slip through our fingers.

Resource links:

High Hopes – Few Opportunities Summary Report:

High Hopes – Few Opportunities Full Report:

A Priority for California’s Future: Science for Students:

Michelle French is a first-grade teacher at Wilson Elementary School in Tulare and is CSTA’s primary director.


Written by Michelle French

Michelle French is a STEM Curriculum Specialist at the Tulare County Office of Education and is a member of CSTA.

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Priority Features of NGSS-Aligned Instructional Materials

Posted: Wednesday, November 29th, 2017

Recommendations for Publishers, Reviewers, and Educators. The California Science Teachers Association and the science teachers associations of three other Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) west-coast states, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington, have co-authored a white paper on priority features of NGSS instructional materials. This is the first time our states have collaborated to convey a common vision on an issue of great importance for the implementation of the NGSS. We understand all too well that for meaningful shifts to happen and to support the full vision of the NGSS, strong K-12 Instructional materials are required. 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 Board Moves Forward Two Key Pieces Supporting CA NGSS Implementation

Posted: Wednesday, November 29th, 2017

by Jessica Sawko

CSTA President Jill Grace provides public comment at the November 8, 2017, California State Board of Education meeting.

On November 8, 2017, the California State Board of Education (SBE) took action on two items of import relating to the implementation of the California Next Generation Science Standards (CA NGSS). One item was relating to the California Science Test (CAST) and the other to instructional materials. CSTA provided both written and oral comments on both items along with providing input on what CSTA and many other advocates view as a critical component of our state’s emerging accountability system – student access to a broad course of study. 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 – Early Attempts and Later Reflections from an Early Implementer Teacher

Posted: Thursday, November 23rd, 2017

by Christa Dunkel

  • There are so many acronyms! Where do I start?
  • What “baby step” should I take first? 
  • How can I make this happen in my elementary classroom?

All of these thoughts and more swam through my head over three years ago when I began my journey into NGSS. I was fresh from a week-long institute with the K-12 Alliance as part of the CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative. Much of the week was spent on digging into the NGSS architecture – how the standards are set-up, how to read the standards, what each of the three dimensions meant. Now that I knew how to read them, I needed to figure out how to implement them into my classroom of 24 eight-year-olds. With some guidance from the K-12 Alliance leaders and my own district-level NGSS team, I began the process with some easy “baby steps.” 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.

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.

Updated 7:25 pm, Nov. 17, 2017

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.

Expanding Your Definition of Informal Science Education

Posted: Wednesday, November 15th, 2017

by Lori Walsh

When deciding on a field trip, zoos, aquariums and science centers typically come to mind. These facilities offer students hands-on opportunities to make science observations using inquiry. Teachers can schedule standards aligned workshops or self-guided visits. If your students have already visited these facilities, you can broaden your options by exploring the larger world of Informal Science Education. Nature centers, non-profits, and environmental groups often also offer NGSS aligned programs in the natural setting. Your students can discover the local environment while making memorable experiences. Learn More…

Written by Lori Walsh

Lori Walsh

Lori Walsh is the Education/Operations Supervisor at SEA LIFE Aquarium at LEGOLAND California Resort and Informal Science Director for CSTA.