May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Announces 2014 State Finalists for Prestigious National Teaching Award

Posted: Monday, August 4th, 2014

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today nominated six outstanding elementary school teachers as California finalists for the 2014 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST).

The science nominees are Kirsten Johnson, a fifth grade teacher at Ninety Third Street Elementary School in the Los Angeles Unified School District, Los Angeles County; Julie McGough, a first/second grade combination class teacher at Valley Oak Elementary in the Clovis Unified School District, Fresno County; Stefanie Pechan, a fifth grade teacher at Robert Down Elementary in the Pacific Grove Unified School District, Monterey County; and Erica Rood (CSTA Member), a third grade teacher at CHIME Charter School in the Los Angeles Unified School District (charter authorizer), Los Angeles County.

The math nominees are Andrew Kotko, a first grade teacher at Mather Heights Elementary in the Folsom-Cordova Unified School District, Sacramento County; and Sara Norris, a first grade teacher at the Mills College Children’s School, School of Education at Mills College, Alameda County.

“The subjects these outstanding educators teach so well are part of STEM education, an area that is critically important to the success of our students and our state,” Torlakson said. “From these early grades, and with such engaged and inspired instructors, we will be able to encourage more students to pursue science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—the building blocks of learning.”

The California Department of Education (CDE) partnered 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. Each applicant must demonstrate a mastery of math or science, appropriate use of instructional methods and strategies, effective use of assessment strategies, lifelong learning, and leadership in education outside the classroom. Each candidate also was required to submit a 45-minute video lesson in support of their application. State finalists were selected by a review panel of their peers who reviewed each candidate’s content knowledge, pedagogical effectiveness, achievement results, and professional involvement.

Science Finalists

Kirsten Johnson is a fifth grade teacher at Ninety Third Street Elementary School External link opens in new window or tab. in Los Angeles, where she has taught for 21 years and is the Science Lead Teacher. This past school year, she rotated into classrooms once a week and taught science to other fourth or fifth grades. Johnson encourages her students to enter a variety of competitions, such as the Council of Educational Facility Planners International’s School of the Future Design Competition. For the past four years, Johnson’s students have been finalists in the competition. Ms. Johnson has a Bachelor of Arts from Howard University.

Julie McGough is a first/second grade combination class teacher at Valley Oak Elementary School External link opens in new window or tab. in Fresno. She has been teaching for 16 years, including five years in her current position. She incorporates technology in a variety of ways in her classroom. With the help of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, her students raised salmon in the classroom. During the process, students were able to use scientific tools and shared their learning experiences through blogs with families, the school community, and pen pals in Quito, Ecuador. Mrs. McGough collaborates with teachers and parents to write curriculum for the Outdoor Learning Center on campus, is a mentor teacher to pre-service teachers, is an adjunct faculty member at Fresno State, teaching Science and Technology Methods, and serves as committee member of the National Science Teacher Association Committee on Preschool Elementary Science Teaching. Mrs. McGough has a Bachelor of Science in Education from Auburn University and a Master of Education from Hardin-Simmons University.

Stefanie Pechan is a fifth grade teacher at Robert Down Elementary School External link opens in new window or tab. in Pacific Grove, where she is a member of the Instructional Leadership Team. She has been teaching for 13 years, including five in her current position. She uses pencasts/screencasts to provide both a visual and auditory cue for the various learning styles that exist within her classroom. Mrs. Pechan is part of the Education Staff at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which provides opportunities for her to work with teachers at the state and national level. She has been invited by the Monterey County Office of Education to help develop a series of workshops on teaching science. Mrs. Pechan holds a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies with an emphasis in Computer Science and Technology from the California State University, Monterey Bay.

Erica Rood is a third grade teacher at CHIME Charter School External link opens in new window or tab. in Woodland Hills, where she has taught for six years. She has been a mentor teacher to several student teachers. She strongly believes that other content areas can be taught through science. Ms. Rood is leading the implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards on campus. Her teaching has been videoed and photographed for several published books on Co-Teaching. She is currently enrolled in a master’s program, STEM Education in Curriculum and Instruction at California State University, Northridge and the NASA Endeavor Leadership program. Ms. Rood holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Mathematics Finalists

Andrew Kotko is a first grade teacher at Mather Heights Elementary External link opens in new window or tab. in Mather. He has been teaching for 12 years, including four years in his current position. He achieved National Board Certification in 2007. In March 2014, he spoke to members of the U.S. Congress on behalf of the National Board “advocating for increased concentration of certified teachers and mirroring the medical residency model in teacher prep.” He also serves as vice-chair of the California Teacher Advisory Council. He was a California PAEMST finalist in 2012. The topic he chose to teach in his lesson as part of his application was that of the fundamental mathematics concept “base-ten place value.” Mr. Kotko has a Bachelor of Science in physics from California State University, Sacramento.

Sara Norris is a first grade teacher at the Mills College Children’s School External link opens in new window or tab. in Oakland. She has been teaching for 11 years, including six in her current position. She has been highly involved in the Lesson Study Collaboration at Mills College and was a co-presenter of Listening for Learning: Reflections on Two Years of Lesson Study Collaboration in Mathematics at the Conference of the International Association of Laboratory and University Affiliated Schools in Pittsburg, PA in 2011. She was a previous California PAEMST finalist in 2012. She has a Bachelor of Arts from the University of California, Santa Cruz and a Master of Arts in Early Childhood Education from Mills College.


The National Science Foundation administers PAEMST on behalf of The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. PAEMST was enacted by Congress in 1983 and authorizes the President each year to bestow up to 108 awards. PAEMST awards primary and secondary teachers in alternate years. Awards are given to mathematics and science teachers from each of the 50 states and four U.S. jurisdictions including Washington, D.C.; Puerto Rico; Department of Defense Schools; and the U.S. territories.

Since the program’s inception, 86 California teachers have been named PAEMST recipients. Please visit the PAEMST External link opens in new window or tab. Web site for additional information.

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.

Leave a Reply

LATEST POST

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: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/HappyAtoms

Please contact Rosanne Luu at rluu@wested.org 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…

Powered By DT Author Box

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…

Powered By DT Author Box

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.