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: 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 http://www.cde.ca.gov/ta/tg/ai/infomeeting.asp.) Learn More…
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. https://www.engadget.com/2016/08/25/google-offers-360-degree-tours-of-us-national-parks/. Learn More…
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
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…
Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016
by Peter A’hearn
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…
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…