May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

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.

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:

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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.