September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

Spring Forward…Teachers Leading the Future of Professional Development

Posted: Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015

by Toby Spencer

Do you think in calendar years or school years? If you’re like me, years are hyphenated and stress levels oscillate inversely to the days remaining until progress reports are due. But at this time of year, I finally raise the periscope and begin pedagogical planning for the future.

Ah, the Future, an exciting blank slate! An opportunity to develop a new student model, revamp the genetics unit, research field trips or even plan our own summer professional development. Visions of delighted students dance in our heads, but where is the vision for NGSS implementation? Who will revolutionize and excite California’s current and future science teachers?  Turns out the answer is – Us. You, me, all the teachers. Every experienced science educator is called to connect and share with other educators, particularly with new teachers and those reluctant to change.

I wanted to do more to support science teachers searching for creative inspiration. But how does one transition from participant to facilitator? For me, it was through a newly forged statewide alliance called the Instructional Leadership Corps (ILC), a teacher leadership partnership between our California Teachers Association, Stanford University, the National Board Resource Center, and our local districts and unions. The 186 seasoned educator-leaders comprising the ILC are trained and supported in our three-year charge to develop and facilitate multiple Common Core and NGSS PDs for our colleagues in our districts and regions. Initially daunting, once you overcome the fear of presenting to adult experts, passions and creativity blossom. Yes, it takes time away from your own classroom lesson planning to invest in collegial learning, but imagine the impacts you’re making on Future generations of science students!

I was honored to present the kickoff science PD for the ILC last October. I facilitated a Structured Academic Controversy, a literacy strategy shown to me by Dr. Diana Hess of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and presented in her book, Controversy in the Classroom: The Democratic Power of Discussion. I kicked off my theme, “Close Encounters with NGSS” with a series of ice-breaking clips from the classic sci-fi movie. Beginning with the metaphor of approaching NGSS: first contact (yes, the truck scene), and then mashed potato musing, I hoped to both amuse my ILC science colleagues and illustrate the brilliant, indelible, effect on our learners as they open up the door themselves to see the light. (The playlist is available on my inculcator YouTube channel). The next segment, the first two minutes of the film “Idiocracy” hooked participants into a 2-on-2 “debate” on the safety of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).  After connecting the NGSS and their engineering practices to the Common Core literacy standards, I presented my favorite definition of rigor (from Strong, et al., 2001): complex, ambiguous, personal, and provocative lessons. For the final portion of the session, I facilitated the structured debate as teachers launched into the literacy activity. The workshop was so successful that I’ve been invited to present it (along with a session on global statistics and social justice) to the CTA Good Teaching Conferences in San Jose and San Diego in February. We’re now taking the same PD back to my district and others in our area. And when it rains it pours: I was also invited to present a Google Earth workshop with UC Davis at the NSTA conference in Long Beach last December! The NSTA workshop showed teachers how to use multiple data layers to analyze their own neighborhoods for relationships of canopy (parks) vs. soil drainage. This approach can expand into a lesson in local civics and social justice, spurring students to think about city planning, land use policies, and global climate change—rigor and student voice!

So, where will you sprinkle your science magic in your peer community?  How will you instill pedagogical curiosity and risk-taking in other teachers? Start with your district science coordinator or PD team leader; they’re always looking for fresh ideas. Ask for an afternoon or a weekend for PD credit or extra pay: mention the new monies for NGSS implementation. Alternatively, CTA and NEA offer teacher grant for educators making change in their profession: apply at or And don’t forget to apply to present at future CSTA and NSTA conferences.

Surely, science teachers will use NGSS materials and lessons of some kind; I submit that yours are better than the corporate publishers’. You–the dedicated lab-meister, the zany superhero, the fun breath of fresh air in your students’ day–should save a breath for your peers.  Take back your profession, believe in your own magic and Spring into the Future with PD action this season!

Strong, R.W., Silver, H.F. & Perrini, M.J. (2001). Teaching what matters most: Standards and strategies for raising student achievement. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Toby Spencer is a Biology Teacher and Leadership Team Member at Rio Americano High School in Sacramento California, the National Education Association (NEA) Science Caucus Chair and the CTA Career Technical Education Subcommittee Chair. He was invited to write for CCS by CSTA member Minda Berbeco.

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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:

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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.