September 2016 – Vol. 29 No. 1

So You’re Going on a Field Trip. What Will the Students Accomplish?

Posted: Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

by Jeff Orlinsky

Field trips can be a great learning experience for everyone. Most museums, zoos, aquariums, or “parks” have lesson plans or activities. Some have developed thematic lessons for use on site, as well as in the classroom. These are tried and true lessons, almost foolproof, and may already fit your lesson plan completely. You may also choose to use a teacher-created lesson; these are our pride and joy. Most teachers have been to the field trip destination previously and developed a lesson that may be a better fit with what they’re doing in the classroom.

Regardless of the developer, such activities can vary from scavenger hunts; fill in the blanks, to collection of data. The observations in the field are brought back to the classroom for discussions and incorporated into the curriculum.

With the Next Generation Science Standards, teachers have the opportunity to make science teaching more meaningful and can tie in well with field trips. Recall that there are 8 science and engineering practices:

  • Asking questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering)
  • Developing and using models
  • Planning and carrying out investigations
  • Analyzing and interpreting data
  • Using mathematics and computational thinking
  • Constructing explanations (for science) and designing solutions (for engineering)
  • Engaging in argument from evidence
  • Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information

Here are some ideas of how to combine these NGSS Practices with your field trips.

Visiting a zoo or an aquarium?

Visit Sportsman’s Paradise Online or simply Google search for any wild animal webcam or zoo-cam.

The goal of this inquiry lesson is for students to develop a scientific protocol to compare organisms from two or more different places and use current BYOD (Bring Your Own Devices). Once at the zoo or aquarium, the students will answer the question: are the animals we see on our field trip doing the same behaviors that we previously saw on the web cam? To prepare:

  • Have student watch animals on the web cam before your field trip.
  • Help students focus on a type of behavior they wish to compare.
  • Have the students brainstorm ways to collect the data once they are in the field.
  • While on the field trip, have the students make observations of the animals. If possible, have them form groups of two or three. One person views the webcam on their phone or tablet and makes observations while the others are observing the animals in the enclosure.
  • Upon the return from the field trip, debrief. Have the students discuss ways to improve their data collection and observations skills.
  • If you make this trip yearly, have the next field trip build on the work of the previous year’s data and observations.


Heading to a Park?

The goal of this inquiry lesson is for students to compare their school grounds to the park you are visiting. This works great if you can identify the plants around your school campus. Ask the district’s groundskeepers for help.

  • Have the students develop and then use a protocol to count and measure the different types of plants and animals around campus. If you have the equipment, soil, air, and water tests provide more opportunities for students to develop laboratory skills.
  • Repeat the data collection process at the park you are visiting. It’s best to check with the park beforehand to make sure that you can sample and run experiments before doing this activity.
  • Upon your return, discuss the similarities and differences between the two locations.
  • The next time you go, use the previous year’s observations and data as the stepping stone to monitor changes over time.

On your way to the Museum?

Build a museum display. After your students have completed your lessons, have them pick a display and begin to critique the display in terms of building science literacy.

  • What is the purpose of the display?
  • What are the main scientific concepts that are being used in the display?
  • Does this display correct any misconceptions? Does it create misconceptions?

I hope these ideas have given you some ways to make your next field trip a different type of experience.

Written by Jeff Orlinsky

Jeff Orlinsky

Jeff Orlinsky teaches science at Warren High School and is CSTA’s High School Director.

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California Science Assessment Update

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 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.

Some ways to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in your classroom

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. 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.

2016 Award Recipients – Join CSTA in Honoring Their Accomplishments

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

John Keller

John Keller

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…

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.

NGSS: Making Your Life Easier

Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

by Peter A’hearn

Wait… What?

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…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the K-12 science specialist in the Palm Springs Unified School District and is Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Celestial Highlights, September 2016

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…

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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.