May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

Science Education Opportunities at the San Francisco Botanical Garden

Posted: Monday, December 3rd, 2012

by Annette Huddle

For over 40 years, the San Francisco Botanical Garden Society has been committed to providing opportunities for city children to explore and learn in the SF Botanical Garden, located in the heart of Golden Gate Park. We’ve grown tremendously from our earliest days when a small core of committed volunteers created guided walks for school groups and now serve more than 10,000 children a year with a variety of programs throughout the seasons. However, our emphasis has remained consistent as we strive to connect children with the natural world and take advantage of their innate curiosity to increase their engagement and understanding. In addition to direct service to children, the Youth Education Program also provides professional development opportunities for teachers, building their interest, commitment and skills in working with children outdoors, whether in our garden, in a school yard or a near-by park.

“This is better than TV!”

Our programs range from traditional once-a-year field trips to multi-visit experiences that span seasons and school years. While our programs are standards-based and content-rich, we know that in many cases the most important and fundamental impacts of our programs are on attitudes and awareness. Urban children who may be more familiar with sidewalks, telephone poles, and the World Wide Web are exposed to winding paths, towering trees and spider webs, and their reactions vary widely. Excitement and enthusiasm are common, but so are anxiety and uncertainty about the unfamiliar setting, making our programs an important tool for developing appreciation of the natural world. Once the children’s natural curiosity is ignited, their attitudes toward the world outdoors begin to shift, and learning follows naturally.

“It’s like stepping into our science book!”

The biggest strength of our programs lies in the fact that the experiences children have in the Botanical Garden literally bring science to life. Here in the garden they can observe all sorts of natural processes at work, from bees pollinating poppies in the native garden, to decomposers reducing needles to soil in our redwood grove, to rainbows appearing in the sprinklers as the children scream with delight (in our outdoor classroom, noise is not always bad!). Usually the experience correlates with and confirms concepts they have been exploring in the classroom, making real what was otherwise a list of vocabulary words. We watch comprehension dawn in the eyes of students and teachers alike as we show the progression from bud to flower to fruit, a pattern repeated over and over again in the varied specimens in our collection. Children see the concepts of predator and prey played out in real life when a hawk swoops down to snag a gopher in the meadow. Our guides keep their eyes open to the lessons the garden shares, as the natural world is not always predictable, in and of itself an important lesson for children to learn.

“Watch what happens when I shake this branch” “Hey, those seeds are spinning!” “I wonder if that flat part makes it do that?” “Maybe we can find some other ones with flat parts!” “Over here, look! Let’s try!” “It does spin!” “Let me try too!”

As science educators, we know that science is a valuable tool for exploring and making sense of the world around us. When visiting the garden, children make observations, ask questions, suggest answers, then observe some more – this is the scientific process at work. The children’s direct experiences with the world drive their questions, and our guides help them explore possible paths to find the answers they seek in the garden. If this proves beyond the scope of their visit, a guide helps children think about further possibilities to search for answers, whether through repeated observations, setting up an experiment at school, or doing research on-line or in the library. Teachers frequently report to us that questions raised during the course of their garden visit lead to rich classroom conversations and explorations, enthusiastically pursued by students and teachers alike.

“I do feel less intimidated!”

While children are the main focus of our programs, we put a lot of energy into working with teachers as well, recognizing a variety of factors that make this role essential. First, our school programs are oversubscribed every year, and we leverage our resources effectively by training teachers to bring their students to the garden on their own, outside of our structured programs. In addition, we know that connecting children with the natural world must be an ongoing activity, and teachers can learn how to make use of their schoolyards and nearby parks as outdoor classrooms so even a single visit to the Botanical Garden is embedded in a larger context of outdoor learning. We’ve also recognized that elementary teachers in particular are often ill-prepared to teach science, so we have developed programs designed to help even science–shy teachers become successful science educators. We find that when we share the natural world with teachers, they get just as excited and engaged as their students, making it easy to persuade them to introduce more science into their classrooms. To meet these needs and make the most of our resources, we collaborate actively with several other local institutions to present professional development programs for pre-K through middle school teachers, as well as for garden coordinators and parent volunteers.

“I wish I could LIVE here!”

The San Francisco Botanical Garden is a place where everyone can appreciate, enjoy, explore and learn about the natural world. We look forward to providing even more opportunities for children, teachers and families in the years to come.

For more information, please see our website,

Annette Huddle is the Director of Youth Education at the San Francisco Botanical Garden Society, the non-profit support organization for the San Francisco Botanical Garden. The mission of  SFBGS is to build communities of support for the Garden and cultivate the bond between people and plants.

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:

One Response

  1. Wish this could be required reading for a faculty meeting at inner city schools. Annette has done a marvelous job describing a wonderful program!

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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.