September 2016 – Vol. 29 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.

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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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California Science Assessment Update

Posted: Wednesday, October 12th, 2016

by Jessica Sawko

In June 2016 California submitted a waiver application to discontinue using the old CST (based on 1998 standards) and conduct two years of pilot and field tests (in spring 2017 and 2018, respectively) of the new science assessment designed to support our state’s current science standards (California Next Generation Science Standards (CA-NGSS) adopted in 2013). The waiver was requested because no student scores will be provided as a part of the pilot and field tests. The CDE received a response from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) on September 30, 2016, which provides the CDE the opportunity to resubmit a revised waiver request within 60 days. The CDE will be revising the waiver request and resubmitting as ED suggested.

At its October 2016 North/South Assessment meetings CDE confirmed that there will be no administration of the old CST in the spring of 2017. (An archive of the meeting is available at 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.

Some ways to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in your classroom

Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

by Carol Peterson

1) To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, Google has put together a collection of virtual tours combining 360-degree video, panoramic photos and expert narration. It’s called “The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks” and is accessible right from the browser. You can choose from one of five different locales, including the Kenai Fjords in Alaska and Bryce Canyon in Utah, and get a guided “tour” from a local park ranger. Each one has a few virtual vistas to explore, with documentary-style voiceovers and extra media hidden behind clickable thumbnails. Ideas are included for use in classrooms. 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.

2016 Award Recipients – Join CSTA in Honoring Their Accomplishments

Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

CSTA is pleased to announce the winners of the 2016 CSTA Awards for Distinguished Contributions, Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, 2014 and 2015 PAEMST-Science recipients from California, and the 2016 California PAEMST Finalists. The following individuals and organizations will be honored during the 2016 California Science Education Conference  on October 21- 23 in Palm Springs. This year’s group of awardees are truly outstanding. Please join us in congratulating them!

Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award

John Keller

John Keller

The Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award honors an individual who has made a significant contribution to science education in the state and who, through years of leadership and service, has truly made a positive impact on the quality of science teaching. This year’s recipient is John Keller, Ph.D. Dr. Keller is Associate Professor, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Co-Director, Center for Engineering, Science, and Mathematics Education, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. In her letter of recommendation, SDSU science education faculty and former CSTA board member Donna Ross wrote: “He brings people together who share the desire to make a difference in the development and implementation of programs for science teaching. Examples of these projects include the Math and Science Teaching Initiative (MSTI), Noyce Scholars Program, Western Regional Noyce Initiative, and the Science Teacher and Researcher (STAR) program.” Through his work, he has had a dramatic impact on science teacher education, both preservice and in-service, in California, the region, and the country. He developed and implemented the STEM Teacher and Researcher Program which aims to produce excellent K-12 STEM teachers by providing aspiring teachers with opportunities to do authentic research while helping them translate their research experience into classroom practice. SFSU faculty member Larry Horvath said it best in his letter:“John Keller exemplifies the best aspects of a scientist, science educator, and mentor. His contributions to science education in the state of California are varied, significant, and I am sure will continue well into the future.” 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: Making Your Life Easier

Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

by Peter A’hearn

Wait… What?

NGSS is a big shift. Teachers need to learn new content, figure out how this whole engineering thing relates to science, and develop new unit and lesson plans. How could NGSS possibly make life easier?

The idea that NGSS could make our lives easier came to me during the California State NGSS Rollout #1 Classroom Example lesson on chromatography. I have since done this lesson with high school chemistry students and it made me think back to having my own students do chromatography. I spent lots of time preparing to make sure the experiment went well and achieved the “correct” result. I pre-prepared the solutions and organized and prepped the materials. I re-wrote and re-wrote again the procedure so there was no way a kid could get it wrong. I spent 20 minutes before the lab modeling all of the steps in class, so there was no way to do it wrong. Except that it turns out there were many. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the K-12 science specialist in the Palm Springs Unified School District and is Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Celestial Highlights, September 2016

Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graph of evening planet setting times by Dr. Jeffrey L. Hunt 

Our evening twilight chart for September, depicting the sky about 40 minutes after sunset from SoCal, shows brilliant Venus remaining low, creeping from W to WSW and gaining a little altitude as the month progresses. Its close encounter within 2.5° N of Spica on Sept. 18 is best seen with binoculars to catch the star low in bright twilight. The brightest stars in the evening sky are golden Arcturus descending in the west, and blue-white Vega passing just north of overhead. Look for Altair and Deneb completing the Summer Triangle with Vega. The triangle of Mars-Saturn-Antares expands as Mars seems to hold nearly stationary in SSW as the month progresses, while Saturn and Antares slink off to the SW. 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.