May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

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 Annual Conference Early Bird Rates End July 14

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Jessica Sawko

Teachers engaged in workshop activity

Teachers engaging in hands-on learning during a workshop at the 2016 CSTA conference.

Don’t miss your chance to register at the early bird rate for the 2017 CSTA Conference – the early-bird rate closes July 14. Need ideas on how to secure funding for your participation? Visit our website for suggestions, a budget planning tool, and downloadable justification letter to share with your admin. Want to take advantage of the early rate – but know your district will pay eventually? Register online today and CSTA will reimburse you when we receive payment from your district/employer. (For more information on how that works contact Zi Stair in the office for details – 916-979-7004 or

New Information Now Available On-line:

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.

Goodbye Outgoing and Welcome Incoming CSTA Board Members

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

Jill Grace

Jill Grace, CSTA President, 2017-2019

On July 1, 2017 five CSTA members concluded their service and four new board members joined the ranks of the CSTA Board of Directors. CSTA is so grateful for all the volunteer board of directors who contribute hours upon hours of time and energy to advance the work of the association. At the June 3 board meeting, CSTA was able to say goodbye to the outgoing board members and welcome the incoming members.

This new year also brings with it a new president for CSTA. As of July 1, 2017 Jill Grace is the president of the California Science Teachers Association. Jill is a graduate of California State University, Long Beach, a former middle school science teacher, and is currently a Regional Director with the K-12 Alliance @ WestEd where she works with California NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative districts and charter networks in the San Diego area.

Outgoing Board Members

  • Laura Henriques (President-Elect: 2011 – 2013, President: 2013 – 2015, Past President: 2015 – 2017)
  • Valerie Joyner (Region 1 Director: 2009 – 2013, Primary Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Mary Whaley (Informal Science Education Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Sue Campbell (Middle School/Jr. High Director: 2015 – 2017)
  • Marcus Tessier (2-Year College Director: 2015 – 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.

Finding My Student’s Motivation of Learning Through Engineering Tasks

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Huda Ali Gubary and Susheela Nath

It’s 8:02 and the bell rings. My students’ walk in and pick up an entry ticket based on yesterday’s lesson and homework. My countdown starts for students to begin…3, 2, 1. Ten students are on task and diligently completing the work, twenty are off task with behaviors ranging from talking up a storm with their neighbors to silently staring off into space. This was the start of my classes, more often than not. My students rarely showed the enthusiasm for a class that I had eagerly prepared for. I spent so much time searching for ways to get my students excited about the concepts they were learning. I wanted them to feel a connection to the lessons and come into my class motivated about what they were going to learn next. I would ask myself how I could make my class memorable where the kids were in the driver’s seat of learning. Incorporating engineering made this possible. 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 California NGSS k-8 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.

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Unveils Updated Recommended Literature List

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson unveiled an addition of 285 award-winning titles to the Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list.

“The books our students read help broaden their perspectives, enhance their knowledge, and fire their imaginations,” Torlakson said. “The addition of these award-winning titles represents the state’s continued commitment to the interests and engagement of California’s young readers.”

The Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list is a collection of more than 8,000 titles of recommended reading for children and adolescents. Reflecting contemporary and classic titles, including California authors, this online list provides an exciting range of literature that students should be reading at school and for pleasure. Works include fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama to provide for a variety of tastes, interests, and abilities. Learn More…

Written by Guest Contributor

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:

Teaching Science in the Time of Alternative Facts – Why NGSS Can Help (somewhat)

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn

The father of one of my students gave me a book: In the Beginning: Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood by Walt Brown, Ph. D. He had heard that I was teaching Plate Tectonics and wanted me to consider another perspective. The book offered the idea that the evidence for plate tectonics could be better understood if we considered the idea that beneath the continent of Pangaea was a huge underground layer of water that suddenly burst forth from a rift between the now continents of Africa and South America. The waters shot up and the continents hydroplaned apart on the water layer to their current positions. The force of the movement pushed up great mountain ranges which are still settling to this day, resulting in earthquakes along the margins of continents. This had happened about 6,000 years ago and created a great worldwide flood. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for CSTA.