January/February 2018 – Vol. 31 No. 2

Start Big!

Posted: Friday, January 5th, 2018

by Peter A’Hearn

“The cell is the basic unit of life”

Oh to be a first-year teacher again! I had just spent four (ok five) years getting a degree in Biology and I was pretty sure I could teach everything I knew in one year of high school Biology. In talking to many other teachers and professors, this turns out to be a pretty common first-year teacher delusion. So I don’t feel so bad.

Of course, I followed the very logical path through Biology that the textbook laid out. Start with tiny things like atoms and molecules, go to slightly less tiny things like cells, and work my way from small to big. This made sense to my newly minted Biology major brain. Once students understand atoms, they can understand cells, which will explain organisms, which will make evolution and ecosystems perfectly clear. It was a beautiful and perfectly clear tapestry.

We finished “covering” cells and moved on to genetics. To start the unit I showed a video clip culminating in a single sperm fertilizing an egg. I said,“ That’s how you began! How did you get to where you are now?” Expecting students to apply their deep understanding of cells to the problem of bodies and come up with the concept of cell division. Instead, a student confidently answered, “I got bigger!” After deeper questioning, the student declared that he was a single cell! Half the class agreed! (oh crap- this job is harder than I thought!).

So it turns out that learning about the little parts was not the best way to get students to see the big picture. What was logical to me was baffling to my students. Instead of starting with the world that they knew, I had started with abstract things with bizarre names like mitochondria, endoplasmic reticulum, and phospholipid bi-layer. Brain research tells us that learning has a physical reality – it’s neurons building new connections and strengthening existing connections. Learning sticks when it connects to what we already know. (How People Learn, 2000) Atoms and hydrogen bonds and Golgi bodies are important pieces of the puzzle of how life works. They are, however, very abstract to students and unlikely to connect to what students know about the world. Turns out, that when teaching kids, the parts don’t add up to the whole. I needed a different approach.

Did I really need to sully the beauty of my subject to meet the needs of my students? Yes! Teaching is ultimately about the students. I love science and find it deeply beautiful, but the job is not to teach myself. To get the students to understand I needed to meet them where they were and remember that I got to where I was after “many years’ of Biology courses. My own understanding developed over time.

So I decided to start big. Start with bodies and how they work. Teenagers all have bodies and are deeply interested in how they work and how they are changing. If we dig down into bodies deep enough you will get to cells and all those parts that make them work. One example that comes out of some NGSS work I did a few years ago was to start with the problem of Kidney Dialysis as a route to understanding how membranes function and why they are important at many levels of the organization. Start with the patient and what they struggle with and start digging down to find reasons.

Perhaps you have heard the word phenomenon used when talking about NGSS. This is the idea that learning should start with a question or a problem in the real world that we need to learn science to understand. This needs to be a question that is compelling to kids and builds their curiosity.

What can you see when you look at things at a different scale? (Image courtesy of CrossCutSymbols: https://crosscutsymbols.weebly.com/)

Consider this: The history of biology didn’t start with cells and atoms. It started with bodies and how they were different, diseases and disorders and how to cure them, how to grow food, animals and plants and how they all lived and fit together. As scientists dug in deep and connected their studies to chemistry and physics and Earth sciences the grand picture of small to big came into focus. The modern scientific understanding of scale (my favorite Crosscutting Concept) was hard won, but we started with what we could experience- our own human scale, our observations and our problems. Your student’s learning can take the same path. It’s a path of curiosity and discovery instead of one of abstraction and confusion. Start Big!

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

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

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California Science Test Academy for Educators

Posted: Thursday, February 15th, 2018

California Science Test Academy for Educators

To support implementation of the California Science Test (CAST), the California Department of Education is partnering with Educational Testing Service and WestEd to offer a one-day CAST Academy for local educational agency (LEA) science educators, to be presented at three locations in California from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. As an alternative to traveling, LEA teams can participate virtually via WebEx on one of the dates listed below.

The dates and locations for the CAST Academy are as follows:

  • Monday, April 23, 2018—Sacramento
  • Wednesday, April 25, 2018—Fresno
  • Thursday, April 26, 2018—Irvine

The CAST Academy will help participants develop a deeper understanding of the assessment design and expectations of the CAST. The academy also will provide information and activities designed to assist educators in their implementation of the California Next Generation Science Standards and three-dimensional learning to help them gain an understanding of how these new science assessment item types can inform teaching and learning. The CAST Academy dates above are intended for school and district science instructional leaders, including teacher leaders, teacher trainers, and instructional coaches. Additional trainings will be offered at a later date specifically for county staff. In addition, curriculum, professional development, and assessment leaders would benefit from this training.

A $100 registration fee will be charged for each person attending the in-person training. Each virtual team participating via WebEx will be charged $100 for up to 10 participants through one access point. Each workshop will have the capacity to accommodate a maximum of 50 virtual teams. Each virtual team will need to designate a lead, who is responsible for organizing the group locally. Registration and payment must be completed online at http://www.cvent.com/d/6tqg8k.

For more information regarding the CAST Academy, please contact Elizabeth Dilke, Program Coordinator, Educational Testing Service, by phone at 916-403-2407 or by e‑mail at caasppworkshops@ets.org.

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.

Accelerating into NGSS – A Statewide Rollout Series Now Accepting Registrations

Posted: Friday, January 19th, 2018

Are you feeling behind on the implementation of NGSS? Then Accelerating into NGSS – the Statewide Rollout event – is right for you!

If you have not experienced Phases 1-4 of the Statewide Rollout, or are feeling behind with the implementation of NGSS, the Accelerating Into NGSS Statewide Rollout will provide you with the greatest hits from Phases 1-4!

Accelerating Into NGSS Statewide Rollout is a two-day training geared toward grade K-12 academic coaches, administrators, curriculum leads, and teacher leaders. Check-in for the two-day rollout begins at 7:30 a.m., followed by a continental breakfast. Sessions run from 8:00 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. on Day One and from 8:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Day Two.

Cost of training is $250 per attendee. Fee includes all materials, continental breakfast, and lunch on both days. It is recommended that districts send teams of four to six, which include at least one administrator. Payment can be made by check or credit card. If paying by check, registration is NOT complete until payment has been received. All payments must be received prior to the Rollout location date you are attending. Paying by credit card secures your seat at time of registration. No purchase orders accepted. No participant cancellation refunds.

For questions or more information, please contact Amy Kennedy at akennedy@sjcoe.net or (209) 468-9027.



MARCH 28-29, 2018
Host: San Mateo County Office of Education
Location: San Mateo County Office of Education, Redwood City

APRIL 10-11, 2018
Host: Orange County Office of Education
Location: Brandman University, Irvine

MAY 1-2, 2018
Host: Tulare County Office of Education
Location: Tulare County Office of Education, Visalia

MAY 3-4, 2018
Host: San Bernardino Superintendent of Schools
Location: West End Educational Service Center, Rancho Cucamonga

MAY 7-8, 2018
Host: Sacramento County Office of Education
Location: Sacramento County Office of Education Conference Center and David P. Meaney Education Center, Mather

JUNE 14-15, 2018
Host: Imperial County Office of Education
Location: Imperial Valley College, Imperial

Presented by the California Department of Education, California County Superintendents Educational Services Association/County Offices of Education, K-12 Alliance @WestEd, California Science Project, and the California Science Teachers Association.

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.

The Teaching and Learning Collaborative, Reflections from an Administrator

Posted: Friday, January 19th, 2018

by Kelly Patchen

My name is Mrs. Kelly Patchen, and I am proud to be an elementary assistant principal working in the Tracy Unified School District (TUSD) at Louis Bohn and McKinley Elementary Schools. Each of the schools I support are Title I K-5 schools with about 450 students, a diverse student population, a high percentage of English Language Learners, and students living in poverty. We’re also lucky to be part of the CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative with the K-12 Alliance. 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.

2018 CSTA Conference Call for Proposals

Posted: Wednesday, January 17th, 2018

CSTA is pleased to announce that we are now accepting proposals for 90-minute workshops and three- and six-hour short courses for the 2018 California Science Education Conference. Workshops and short courses make up the bulk of the content and professional learning opportunities available at the conference. In recognition of their contribution, members who present a workshop or short course receive 50% off of their registration fees. Click for more information regarding proposals, or submit one today by following the links below.

Short Course Proposal

Workshop Proposal 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.

CSTA’s New Administrator Facebook Group Page

Posted: Monday, January 15th, 2018

by Holly Steele

The California Science Teachers Association’s mission is to promote high-quality science education, and one of the best practice’s we use to fulfill that mission is through the use of our Facebook group pages. CSTA hosts several closed and moderated Facebook group pages for specific grade levels, (Elementary, Middle, and High School), pages for district coaches and science education faculty, and the official CSTA Facebook page. These pages serve as an online resource for teachers and coaches to exchange teaching methods, materials, staying update on science events in California and asking questions. CSTA is happy to announce the creation of a 6th group page called, California Administrators Supporting Science. 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: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.