September 2016 – Vol. 29 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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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.