Science in the Season
Posted: Monday, December 3rd, 2012
by Rick Pomeroy
I want to start this, my last article of 2012, with holiday wishes for everyone. It has been an interesting year in science education in California and 2013 promises to be filled with a whole new set of surprises and challenges.
As a science teacher for 20 years, I was always challenged to keep my students interested in science with holiday “spirit” and pending vacation plans. As I was thinking about it again today, the day after Thanksgiving, I once again realized that there are some great science lessons all around us at this time of year. Not only are they fun for our students, they also provide us with an opportunity to continue to practice good science teaching.
As I drive around town in the evenings the first things I notice are the holiday lights. Nothing seems to indicate the festivities of the winter season to me more than all of those lights hung on gutters, trees, bushes, windows, and yes, even cars. Did you know that you can help your students learn about circuits by cutting the mini lights out of the long strings with a little bit of both wires still attached to the socket? (Ph Grade 4 #1a, Physics #5a). You can add to that all of the colored lights which can be used in light boxes (Grade 3 #2c, Grade 7 #6), or the evolution of holiday lights from the traditional C-7 incandescent bulbs of my childhood to the LED lights that we are now being encouraged to buy to reduce our carbon footprint.
Next, you can’t help but notice that the weather and climate of the next three to four weeks will be vastly different than it was at the start of the school year, or that it will be by spring break. Depending on where you live, these changes can be significant or subtle but the connection to latitude, elevation, proximity to the ocean and wind patterns is a natural lesson for this time of year. Communications with students in other parts of the world would provide a great lesson in how our weather-based traditions like building snowmen and going ice skating would be meaningless in Australia or Cairo. For younger students, this is a great time to track the daily weather, temperature, rainfall, clouds and wind (Grade K,#3, Grade 1 #3, Grade 7 #4, Biology #6 Earth Science #6). At the middle school or high school levels, you can discuss the effects of climate patterns on issues such as solar energy or wind power, and even the availability of snow run off for irrigation and hydro-electric power (Grade 5 #4, Grade 6 #4). These have significant application to our lives as the year progresses so they can help make the lessons interesting and relevant to the students.
Chemistry has several applications at this time of year, as well. Two come to mind: candy cooking, and snow globes. A little know fact about the chemistry of candy is how cooking temperature affects the final product. Several sites online contain well-written lesson plans and explanations about the chemistry of candy but my short explanation is that the temperature at which the sugar and water solution is cooked determines if the candy will be soft or hard (Grade 5 #1a, Grade 8 #5d, Chemistry #2c, #7, #8). The second is the chemistry behind the snowflakes in snow globes. Snow globes are a childhood favorite and there appear to be snow globes available for just about any holiday you want to celebrate. There are several renditions of snow globe activities from water and glitter, to polar and non-polar solvents (Chemistry 2,6) but the one my students enjoy involves creating a hot saturated solution of benzoic acid in a baby food jar (Chemistry 6).
Not to be forgotten, there are great opportunities for biology lessons at this time of year, too. As the leaves on the trees turned from green to orange and yellow, many teachers guided their students in studies of the pigments in leaves (K 2c, Grade 1, 2e) with paper chromatography (Chemistry 6), but how many looked into the process necessary to produce those bright red poinsettias? Apparently, to achieve the vivid red color, the plants must spend a period of time in total darkness. For a plant that was originally found in Central America, this quirk of its biology makes for an interesting discussion about the adaptation of plants to their environments. One last activity that I always enjoyed was collecting the stump cuts from Christmas tree lots and comparing the ring patterns of the different sized trees. If you collect all of the cuts from one type of tree, it is fairly safe to assume that the trees came from the same tree plantation and if so, the ring patterns should be fairly similar. If you collect stump cuts from a variety of tree species, you can ask the students to use the ring patterns to determine if the growing conditions for the different trees were the same in terms of available moisture. I know that trees grown on plantations are not “natural” but few plantations are irrigated and thus the tree ring patterns do reflect local climate patterns over the 8-15 year life span of the tree. Another advantage of using stump cuts is that they are small and easy to transport and store, and there are not so many rings that counting is difficult.
Additional information about each of the topics listed in this article are available online. CSTA does not recommend or support any external websites where additional information on these activities can be found. Please share your favorite winter science lessons or ideas in the comments section below.
Posted: Tuesday, March 14th, 2017
The pre-publication version of the new California Science Curriculum Framework is now available for download. This publication incorporates all the edits that were approved by the State Board of Education in November 2016 and was many months in the making. Our sincere thanks to the dozens of CSTA members were involved in its development. Our appreciation is also extended to the California Department of Education, the State Board of Education, the Instructional Quality Commission, and the Science Curriculum Framework and Evaluation Criteria Committee and their staff for their hard work and dedication to produce this document and for their commitment to the public input process. To the many writers and contributors to the Framework CSTA thanks you for your many hours of work to produce a world-class document.
For tips on how to approach this document see our article from December 2016: California Has Adopted a New Science Curriculum Framework – Now What …? If you would like to learn more about the Framework, consider participating in one of the Framework Launch events (a.k.a. Rollout #4) scheduled throughout 2017.
The final publication version (formatted for printing) will be available in July 2017. This document will not be available in printed format, only electronically.
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
The 2017 Award Season is now open! One of the benefits of being a CSTA member is your eligibility for awards as well as your eligibility to nominate someone for an award. CSTA offers several awards and members may nominate individuals and organizations for the Future Science Teacher Award, the prestigious Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, and the CSTA Distinguished Contributions Award (organizational award). May 9, 2017 is the deadline for nominations for these awards. CSTA believes that the importance of science education cannot be overstated. Given the essential presence of the sciences in understanding the past and planning for the future, science education remains, and will increasingly be one of the most important disciplines in education. CSTA is committed to recognizing and encouraging excellence in science teaching through the presentation of awards to science educators and organizations who have made outstanding contributions in science education in the state and who are poised to continue the momentum of providing high quality, relevant science education into the future. Learn More…
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
CSTA is now accepting applications from regular, preservice, and retired members to serve on our volunteer committees! CSTA’s all-volunteer board of directors invites you to consider maximizing your member experience by volunteering for CSTA. CSTA committee service offers you the opportunity to share your expertise, learn a new skill, or do something you love to do but never have the opportunity to do in your regular day. CSTA committee volunteers do some pretty amazing things: Learn More…
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
by Marian Murphy-Shaw
If you attended an NGSS Rollout phase 1-3 or CDE workshops at CSTA’s annual conference you may recall hearing from Chris Breazeale when he was working with the CDE. Chris has relocated professionally, with his passion for science education, and is now the Executive Director at the Explorit Science Center, a hands-on exploration museum featuring interactive STEM exhibits located at the beautiful Mace Ranch, 3141 5th St. in Davis, CA. Visitors can “think it, try it, and explorit” with a variety of displays that allow visitors to “do science.” To preview the museum, or schedule a classroom visit, see www.explorit.org. Learn More…
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
by Joseph Calmer
Probably like you, NGSS has been at the forefront of many department meetings, lunch conversations, and solitary lesson planning sessions. Despite reading the original NRC Framework, the Ca Draft Frameworks, and many CSTA writings, I am still left with the question: “what does it actually mean for my classroom?”
I had an eye-opening experience that helped me with that question. It came out of a conversation that I had with a student teacher. It turns out that I’ve found the secret to learning how to teach with NGSS: I need to engage in dialogue about teaching with novice teachers. I’ve had the pleasure of teaching science in some capacity for 12 years. During that time pedagogy and student learning become sort of a “hidden curriculum.” It is difficult to plan a lesson for the hidden curriculum; the best way is to just have two or more professionals talk and see what emerges. I was surprised it took me so long to realize this epiphany. Learn More…