September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

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 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.

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.