September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

Sky Events in April 2012

Posted: Monday, April 2nd, 2012

by Robert Victor

During the first week of April, Venus and the Pleiades star cluster (the Seven Sisters) appear in the same field of view of binoculars. The moon will appear close to Mars and the star Regulus on Monday and Tuesday evenings, April 2 and 3. On Friday, April 6 the moon, just past full, will appear close to the star Spica and the planet Saturn. After that, the moon rises later each night, and will return to the early evening sky in late April when it will appear as a crescent near Jupiter very low in the west-northwest at dusk on April 22, and near Venus on April 24. On April 30, the moon for the second time this month will appear near Mars and Regulus, and on May 3 and 4, the moon will appear near Saturn and Spica. The moon will be full on May 5. 

In late April, Venus attains greatest brilliance, bright enough to spot in a clear daytime sky, especially just before sunset. Approaching Earth, the planet grows large enough to reveal its thinning crescent phase when viewed through steadily held binoculars. On Tuesday June 5, Venus will pass directly in front of the sun and will appear in transit as a tiny black dot only 1/32 of the sun’s apparent diameter. After June 5, it’ll be more than a century until the next transit of Venus, on December 10, 2117. So don’t miss this one! But you must use a safe filter, such as a number 14 welder’s glass suitable for naked-eye viewing, or a solar filter.

Get your filter in time, and you can use it to observe the solar eclipse on Sunday, May 20. Or you can view a projected image of the eclipsed sun. One way to do this is to put together a “pinhole projector” made from a long cardboard box, a postcard with holes punctured by a ballpoint pen placed over a large hole cut out of one end of the box, and a sheet of white paper (to function as a screen) taped to the inside of the opposite end of the long box.

April’s events are illustrated on the Abrams Planetarium Sky Calendar, available at

Five Spectacular Months for Planet-watching: April-August 2012

In April-August 2012, students, parents, and teachers can enjoy: The moon passing as many as four bright planets and five stars of first magnitude or brighter in the evening sky each month; Venus in crescent phases this spring, culminating with its rare transit across face of the sun on June 5; Mars in April, although faded some from its peak brilliance in early March, is still brighter and closer than it’ll be again until its next approach to Earth in April 2014; four bright planets Jupiter-Venus-Mars-Saturn visible simultaneously each evening during most of April; Saturn and the star Spica visible all night in mid-April and paired more closely in spring and summer 2012 than they’ll be again until 2041; a major solar eclipse before sunset on May 20; a partial lunar eclipse before dawn on June 4; and a compact rendezvous of Mars, Saturn, and Spica at dusk just after Curiosity lands on the Red Planet in August.

These items may help students visualize and enjoy these events:

The April 2012 Sky Calendar and evening sky map, now available at

A 48” x 36” poster depicting sky events during February through August 2012, a 24” x 24” poster of planetary orbits including a data table for plotting the planets during 2012-2013, and a problem set on predicting planetary visibility from Earth and seasonal visibility of stars are all available by scrolling down at

The two posters without the problem set are available separately at and

A PowerPoint slide show of sky events during January through August 2012 is available at

Details for California sky watchers of the May 20 solar eclipse and the June 5 transit of Venus with safe viewing methods will be provided in the May issue of California Classroom Science.

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.

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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.

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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.