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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Participate in Chemistry Education Research Study, Earn $500-800 Dollars!

Posted: Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

WestEd, a non-profit educational research agency, has been funded by the US Department of Education to test a new molecular modeling kit, Happy Atoms. Happy Atoms is an interactive chemistry learning experience that consists of a set of physical atoms that connect magnetically to form molecules, and an app that uses image recognition to identify the molecules that you create with the set. WestEd is conducting a study around the effectiveness of using Happy Atoms in the classroom, and we are looking for high school chemistry teachers in California to participate.

As part of the study, teachers will be randomly assigned to either the treatment group (who uses Happy Atoms) or the control group (who uses Happy Atoms at a later date). Teachers in the treatment group will be asked to use the Happy Atoms set in their classrooms for 5 lessons over the course of the fall 2017 semester. Students will complete pre- and post-assessments and surveys around their chemistry content knowledge and beliefs about learning chemistry. WestEd will provide access to all teacher materials, teacher training, and student materials needed to participate.

Participating teachers will receive a stipend of $500-800. You can read more information about the study here:

Please contact Rosanne Luu at or 650.381.6432 if you are interested in participating in this opportunity, or if you have any questions!

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.

2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption Reviewer Application

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

The California Department of Education and State Board of Education are now accepting applications for reviewers for the 2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption. The application deadline is 3:00 pm, July 21, 2017. The application is comprehensive, so don’t wait until the last minute to apply.

On Tuesday, May 9, 2017, State Superintendent Tom Torlakson forwarded this recruitment letter to county and district superintendents and charter school administrators.

Review panel members will evaluate instructional materials for use in kindergarten through grade eight, inclusive, that are aligned with the California Next Generation Science Content Standards for California Public Schools (CA NGSS). 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.

Lessons Learned from the NGSS Early Implementer Districts

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

On March 31, 2017, Achieve released two documents examining some lessons learned from the California K-8 Early Implementation Initiative. The initiative began in August 2014 and was developed by the K-12 Alliance at WestEd, with close collaborative input on its design and objectives from the State Board of Education, the California Department of Education, and Achieve.

Eight (8) traditional school districts and two (2) charter management organizations were selected to participate in the initiative, becoming the first districts in California to implement the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Those districts included Galt Joint Union Elementary, Kings Canyon Joint Unified, Lakeside Union, Oakland Unified, Palm Springs Unified, San Diego Unified, Tracy Joint Unified, Vista Unified, Aspire, and High Tech High.

To more closely examine some of the early successes and challenges experienced by the Early Implementer LEAs, Achieve interviewed nine of the ten participating districts and compiled that information into two resources, focusing primarily on professional learning and instructional materials. 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.

Using Online Simulations to Support the NGSS in Middle School Classrooms

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

by Lesley Gates, Loren Nikkel, and Kambria Eastham

Middle school teachers in Kings Canyon Unified School District (KCUSD), a CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative district, have been diligently working on transitioning to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) integrated model for middle school. This year, the teachers focused on building their own knowledge of the Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs). They have been gathering and sharing ideas at monthly collaborative meetings as to how to make sure their students are not just learning about science but that they are actually doing science in their classrooms. Students should be planning and carrying out investigations to gather data for analysis in order to construct explanations. This is best done through hands-on lab experiments. Experimental work is such an important part of the learning of science and education research shows that students learn better and retain more when they are active through inquiry, investigation, and application. A Framework for K-12 Science Education (2011) notes, “…learning about science and engineering involves integration of the knowledge of scientific explanations (i.e., content knowledge) and the practices needed to engage in scientific inquiry and engineering design. Thus the framework seeks to illustrate how knowledge and practice must be intertwined in designing learning experiences in K-12 Science Education” (pg. 11).

Many middle school teachers in KCUSD are facing challenges as they begin implementing these student-driven, inquiry-based NGSS science experiences in their classrooms. First, many of the middle school classrooms at our K-8 school sites are not designed as science labs. 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 NGSS 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.

Celestial Highlights: May – July 2017

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

May Through July 2017 with Web Resources for the Solar Eclipse of August 21, 2017

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graphs of planet rising and setting times by Jeffrey L. Hunt.

In spring and summer 2017, Jupiter is the most prominent “star” in the evening sky, and Venus, even brighter, rules the morning. By mid-June, Saturn rises at a convenient evening hour, allowing both giant planets to be viewed well in early evening until Jupiter sinks low in late September. The Moon is always a crescent in its monthly encounters with Venus, but is full whenever it appears near Jupiter or Saturn in the eastern evening sky opposite the Sun. (In 2017, Full Moon is near Jupiter in April, Saturn in June.) At intervals of 27-28 days thereafter, the Moon appears at a progressively earlier phase at each pairing with the outer planet until its final conjunction, with Moon a thin crescent, low in the west at dusk. You’ll see many beautiful events by just following the Moon’s wanderings at dusk and dawn in the three months leading up to the solar eclipse. Learn More…

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Written by Robert Victor

Robert Victor

Robert C. Victor was Staff Astronomer at Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs, CA. Robert is a member of CSTA.