September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

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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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…

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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…

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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.

News and Happenings in CSTA’s Region 1 – Fall 2017

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Marian Murphy-Shaw


This month I was fortunate enough to hear about some new topics to share with our entire region. Some of you may access the online or newsletter options, others may attend events in person that are nearer to you. Long time CSTA member and environmental science educator Mike Roa is well known to North Bay Area teachers for his volunteer work sharing events and resources. In this month’s Region 1 updates I am happy to make a few of the options Mike offers available to our region. Learn More…

Written by Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw is the student services director at Siskiyou County Office of Education and is CSTA’s Region 1 Director and chair of CSTA’s Policy Committee.