May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7


Posted: Sunday, July 1st, 2012

by Rick Pomeroy

What is STEM? Besides the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), STEM is the hot topic in science education circles. Representing an ethereal notion of teaching that integrates Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, STEM, as the next big idea, has taken on a life of its own. As science educators and science professionals, we live in an increasingly STEM-centric world. Political leaders and pundits alike tout STEM as the wave of the future, the elixir to return California to an age of prosperity, and the solution to what ails public education. STEM will engage and motivate students, increase the number of people entering post-secondary education with majors in science, technology, engineering, and math fields, and create a new reality in schools. Unfortunately, defining STEM education, identifying what STEM will look like in schools, and distinguishing it from current instructional practices are extremely difficult tasks.

Those of you who have been following the development of the new standards will recognize the similarity between the goals and dreams of STEM and the desired outcomes described in the Framework for K-12 Science Education, the document developed by the National Research Council and used to guide the development of the NGSS. Similar in concept, the Framework and ultimately, the NGSS provide a detailed view of what the educated member of society should know and be able to do, whereas the current conversations about STEM focus more on defining what a STEM classroom will look like, the kinds of things STEM-enabled students will be able to do, and the format of STEM instructional practices. Are these two mutually exclusive or are they two different ways of describing the same desired outcome?

Over the past three months, I have attended no less than four STEM summits, conferences, and meetings designed to fuel the flames of excitement about STEM. At these meetings, we have been shown videos of students designing and programming robots, we have seen how technology engages students, and we have heard that digital technology in the classroom will promote collaboration. There have even been whole meetings on how to prepare teachers to “teach STEM.” Each conference has included its share of descriptions about what is wrong with the current system, statistics about where California ranks nationally and internationally on assessments and per pupil spending, and attempts to develop definitions, lists of resources, and policy changes that need to be made to enact a STEM enabled curriculum. Each meeting has introduced industry partners who have a tool or technology that is “perfect” for enabling STEM education. We have used collaborative decision making software, blogged our conversations, created collaborative documents, and seen tablets and notebook computers that promise to be the tool of the future. Each of these has been a powerful demonstration of what can be. The videos of students in action have been inspirational and the collaborative research projects give me ideas for great things to do with my students.

Through all of these experiences, a definition of STEM that teachers can use as they plan future learning experiences for their students has been elusive. This may be changing. While attending the Superintendent of Public Instruction’s STEM Task Force meeting, a wide range of science education stakeholders were asked to define STEM education. Gleaned from the descriptors of those definitions, the “Wordle” below shows the relative frequency of terms associated with STEM education. The similarity of descriptors between the STEM Wordle and the Science and Engineering Practices included in the Framework cannot be overlooked. Are we talking about the same things? If NGSS is adopted in California, can we also say that we are moving towards a STEM-enabled curriculum? Furthermore, will students who study science, math, engineering, and technology as defined by the Common Core Standards, and the NGSS be competitive in the post-secondary environments of college and careers? At this time, it is difficult to answer this question.

Click image to enlarge:

Subsequent meetings have given more meaning to this random collection of words with key elements emerging. For many, STEM education is grounded in a real world context. It prepares future citizens and decision makers with the skills necessary to be successful in the 21st century. It is focused both on preparing more people to enter STEM fields through post-secondary colleges and universities, as well as equipping those who forgo higher education with the knowledge and skills necessary to contribute to society. From these components, I believe a final definition of STEM will emerge. From there, we can begin to address the resources, training, and policies that will be necessary to truly say that STEM has arrived in California classrooms. Equipped with the structure and content of the Framework and the NGSS, and a commitment to grounding science instruction in a real world context, we have a much better chance of enacting a new vision for STEM education. We should not approach this as an all or nothing reform of every classroom. The implementation will look different in different contexts. Some schools will become STEM centers, others will integrate the tools and strategies developed as STEM emerges, and still others will tweak what they have for something that they want. In the end, our goal should be an education for our students that prepares them for the future, not more knowledge about the status quo. We should be preparing students now with the knowledge, skills and tools to develop solutions for problems that don’t yet exist (paraphrased from Linda Darling-Hammond, The Flat World and Education, 2009).

Rick Pomeroy is science education lecturer/supervisor in the School of Education, University of California, Davis and is CSTA’s president.

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Written by Rick Pomeroy

Rick Pomeroy

Rick Pomeroy is science education lecturer/supervisor in the School of Education, University of California Davis.

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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.