May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

Science Teacher Does Big Things

Posted: Monday, November 1st, 2010

by Valerie Joyner
Introducing S.T.R.A.W. —Students and Teachers Restoring a Watershed
It all started with one student asking a simple question, “How can we save an endangered species”?  Who would know that this question would lead to a powerful project-based watershed project that has restored over 20 miles of creeks banks, planted over 25,000 native plants, and served more than 25,000 students?  The STRAW (Students and Teachers Restoring a Watershed) Project began in 1992 when the students in Ms. Laurette Rogers’ fourth grade class saw a video on endangered species.STRAW - girls working

The video naturally led to a discussion on what her students could do and how she could empower them to become good stewards of the land.  Ms. Rogers knew immediately that her students needed to do something big!

The class looked for an endangered species they could adopt and investigate. It wasn’t to be a warm cuddly mammal, but the small California Freshwater Shrimp, a native endangered invertebrate living in the Stemple Creek Watershed area of Sonoma and Marin counties.  The students found that the numbers of this tiny species were rapidly declining in their local watershed.  In some areas of the creek there were only 100 shrimp left, so how to save the shrimp was the bigger question Rogers and her students began to explore.

The class worked together on a plan to repair their local watershed.  Their investigations and research showed them a lack of protective shelter and higher water temperatures were impacting the survival of the shrimp.  The students decided to plant native trees and other plants along Stemple Creek.

To save their endangered species the students knew they needed to improve the shrimp’s natural habitat, but the plan came with a challenge.  With 90 percent of the watershed land owned by local ranchers and farmers, the creek beds they wanted to restore might not be accessible. New community  partnerships had to be developed with the ranchers and farmers, so the students would be able to work on the privately owned land. Initially, the ranchers were skeptical of student ideas, but soon came to realize that their land would benefit.

Finally, the long awaited watershed restoration day arrived.  The students armed themselves with shovels, hoes, gloves, and native plants.  They learned how to plant willow branches and willow wattles (woven willow branches).  They spent their day outdoors planting and wondering what impact their studies and work would have on their adopted shrimp.  Five months later when they returned to the creek they found the willows budding, soon to make shade and prevent erosion along the banks and encourage the shrimp and other riparian species to multiply.

This was just the beginning of STRAW, a successful project-based environmental education project that arose from one student’s question.  Today STRAW operates as an educational program of The Bay Institute, and it bring students, teachers, scientists, and community members together to restore local watersheds in Sonoma, Napa, Solano, and Marin Counties.  To date there have been over 275 watershed projects.  STRAW continues to grow each year with new projects and partnerships.

STRAW Summer Institute

Every summer the Bay Institute STRAW Project provides its network teachers with a free three day Summer Institute.  The institute helps teachers restore their passion for teaching by presenting learning as it would be presented to students.  There’s an essential emphasis on fitting required curriculum standards into project-based learning and connecting the smaller current picture to the wider future vision.  The course is designed to provide STRAW teachers with opportunities to experience firsthand watershed-based centers for students, expert speakers, field trips, and networking opportunities.  This past summer STRAW teachers gathered on a boat on the San Francisco Bay to look for invertebrates and later learn more about it at the Aquarium of the Bay.

The Bay Institute’s STRAW Project Website ( showcases previous projects, and shares the goals and history of the project, as well as resources, partners, and opportunities. Another great way to get acquainted with STRAW is through the short video Taking Root: Students and Teachers Restoring a Watershed (

The STRAW experience is so inspiring, a 35 minute documentary called A Simple Question: The Story of the STRAW Project ( has won five awards, most recently the ‘Spirit of Activism Award’ at the Wild and Scenic Environmental Film Festival in January of 2010.

Valerie Joyner is a second grade teacher in Petaluma and is CSTA’s region 1 director.

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.

One Response

  1. What an outstanding and meaningful program…
    bringing the children to the mud and the shrimp…

    If now, only the whole world will pick-up a shovel
    and begin to restore, and to HEAL good ‘ol Mother

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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.