September 2016 – Vol. 29 No. 1


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.

Powered By DT Author Box

Written by Rick Pomeroy

Rick Pomeroy

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

Leave a Reply


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…

Powered By DT Author Box

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…

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.