May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

Starting a Robotics Club with Students at the Helm

Posted: Monday, November 4th, 2013

by Tamara Araya

It all started off with an email forwarded from my principal and it read, “Any of you interested in starting a robotics team?  If so, respond to the email below.”  The attached email was from a district employee, Kathy, whose husband and son recently started a robotics club at their high school.  The email asked, “Why hasn’t anyone started a robotics club in our district?”  There are six major high schools in our district and not one had a robotics club, so I naively replied with great enthusiasm, “I would love to!”  Did I mention that I have a biology credential and absolutely no robotics background what so ever? 

That weekend I met with Kathy and her husband at the Los Angeles Regional FIRST Robotics Competition and got to see firsthand what they were so enthusiastic about.  I was in shock.  Never have I witnessed so many students working, laughing, chanting, and crazy about a project like this one.  The support by parents and businesses was nothing I had seen before. This was more than just a group of students interested in computer programming, it was a team of grant writers, fundraisers, accountants, graphic designers, engineers and business people all working together as a team.  I fell in love.

Inspired to include more STEM in my classroom, earlier that month had I transformed my electricity and magnetism unit in my physical science class into a project-based unit where the students built a remote-operated submersible that completed different tasks in the school pool.  I found the project to be stressful and unpredictable. With this experience was fresh in my mind,  I considered Kathy’s question about why no one had started a robotics club in our district.  Is it because of the lack of money, materials, knowledge or time that drives so many teachers away from completing such a task?  I knew I didn’t want another project where I put more time into it than the students, where I would be organizing the meetings and keeping the team going.  I had so much on my plate already.  I am a mother of two young children, an advisor for the solar boat club and was teaching an extra hourly.  The idea of leading another project was just not possible, especially a robotics club.  However, after seeing so many students interested and engaged at the robotics competition, how could I say no?  I told myself it would have to be run and organized by the students and that I would be there to mentor and help find support when needed.  I think this has been the best decision I have ever made.

The students came to the first meeting and immediately started organizing and dispersing tasks to discover what is involved in a robotics club.  From there forward they met once a week to share information about what they found during their research and soon the club was formed.  The natural leaders began to take charge of the meetings and others followed without hesitation.  As we met during the summer to work on robotics, students found their strengths and started running committees.  I supported the students by giving them a room to work in and found mentors from local business and universities to guide the student questions and projects.  Although I could not help answer technical questions, I was good at helping them find the people who could.

Having a student driven club is no easy task.  Most students are naturally unorganized and they have a hard time seeing the future.  They are inexperienced at working with adults and the real world.  But one thing they are good at is getting back on their feet when they fail, and they bring a big desire to learn.  With positive reinforcement, self-reflections and constant critique, students are learning and adapting to their environment.

Open ended and thought provoking problems are often areas of instruction that are difficult to cover in a science class assignment.  Clubs like these give students the opportunity to experience these types of problems on a daily basis.  Students walk away from this experience with leadership skills, improved critical thinking and real life application that no science class assignment comes close to offering.  It is for these reasons that I stepped out of my comfort zone and started the first ever student run robotics club at my school.

My students’ goal is to win, but I have more in mind for them.  I want them to experience an engineering business first-hand and understand how it takes many different types of people to make a project happen.  I want them to experience leading and learning from their mistakes.  I want them feeling safe to try something new and know how to ask for help when needed.  No matter how we do in the FIRST Competition, the students are already showing me, and themselves, that they have met these goals.

Tamara Araya is a CSTA member. She teaches at Long Beach Poly High School. 

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.