September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

STEM and Service – Content in Context

Posted: Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

by Marian Murphy-Shaw

Districts across the nation and California are turning their attention to this thing called STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – both for its college and career readiness implications and for the funding that supports it at all levels of education, pre-K to university. While there are many “definitions,” the basic idea is that STEM is any of the four subjects in the acronym, alone or combined, taught with contextual application at the core.  While a biology class may teach STEM-related topics it’s the agriculture/natural resources class that is applying them. When teachers from these classes collaborate and delve into problem-based projects with their instruction, students are better prepared for higher level courses and/or jobs in any of the STEM fields. STEM is something more than either class can accomplish alone.

Congratulations are due to teachers and after school programs in five regions spanning California. They were awarded grant funds to move their understanding of STEM forward this spring by using service learning as a teaching strategy to apply STEM content  to a local community issue  or need.  These educators are being supported with STEM Service Learning Initiative funds through regional grants funded by the California Department of Education and CalServe Funding from Learn & Serve America.  The projects these teachers will develop with their students will be both examples of the applied use of learning that is at the core of STEM education and the consideration of solutions to local problems that is at the core of Service Learning. Using science, technology, engineering, and/or mathematics students in these classes will develop and implement a project that meets a real need. One example might be in a math or physical science class where students learn how to use watt meters and measure energy use at home or school. They make calculations, analyze the data, and formulate recommendations on ways to save energy which are then communicated through public service announcements, outreach and lessons for younger students, or policy/purchasing recommendations to their school district. In addition the grant supports the teachers’ access to STEM and Service Learning professional resources, events, and partnerships that can enhance what Service Learning accomplishes in schools.

Ideally these projects enrich content students are expected to learn and then make it necessary for students to use the skills they learn to apply that knowledge. Districts that are working on the alignment of curriculum, instruction, and assessment know what their essential learnings are and what they to intend to assess. A problem-based service project can become that instruction and assessment vehicle by incorporating some of the skills and knowledge identified in essential standards. The rigor of problem-based curriculum demands students understand in depth, rather than superficially, what they are accountable to know and do at their grade-level. Finally what students learn by “doing” they retain. The discipline they learn by showing up on time for a public event, the products they produce that need to be publishing quality, and the communication with adults from project partnerships are all work-place skills that California and global employers want employees to have. They are the qualities communities want their future members to have.

Visit and preview some of the partners CDE and the participating county offices have connected with to support this work:

Additional  information about the California Department of Education related programs can be found at:

Marian Murphy-Shaw is student services director for the Siskiyou County Office of Education and is CSTA’s secretary.

Written by Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw is the student services director at Siskiyou County Office of Education and is CSTA’s Region 1 Director and chair of CSTA’s Policy Committee.

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CSTA Is Now Accepting Nominations for Board Members

Posted: Friday, November 17th, 2017

Current, incoming, and outgoing CSTA Board of Directors at June 3, 2017 meeting.

Updated 7:25 pm, Nov. 17, 2017

It’s that time of year when CSTA is looking for dedicated and qualified persons to fill the upcoming vacancies on its Board of Directors. This opportunity allows you to help shape the policy and determine the path that the Board will take in the new year. There are time and energy commitments, but that is far outweighed by the personal satisfaction of knowing that you are an integral part of an outstanding professional educational organization, dedicated to the support and guidance of California’s science teachers. You will also have the opportunity to help CSTA review and support legislation that benefits good science teaching and teachers.

Right now is an exciting time to be involved at the state level in the California Science Teachers Association. The CSTA Board of Directors is currently involved in implementing the Next Generations Science Standards and its strategic plan. If you are interested in serving on the CSTA Board of Directors, now is the time to submit your name for consideration. 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.

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Announces 2017 Finalists for Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching

Posted: Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today nominated eight exceptional secondary mathematics and science teachers as California finalists for the 2017 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST).

“These teachers are dedicated and accomplished individuals whose innovative teaching styles prepare our students for 21st century careers and college and develop them into the designers and inventors of the future,” Torlakson said. “They rank among the finest in their profession and also serve as wonderful mentors and role models.”

The California Department of Education (CDE) partners annually 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. The Science Finalists will be recognized at the CSTA Awards Luncheon on Saturday, October 14, 2017. 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.

Thriving in a Time of Change

Posted: Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

by Jill Grace

By the time this message is posted online, most schools across California will have been in session for at least a month (if not longer, and hat tip to that bunch!). Long enough to get a good sense of who the kids in your classroom are and to get into that groove and momentum of the daily flow of teaching. It’s also very likely that for many of you who weren’t a part of a large grant initiative or in a district that set wheels in motion sooner, this is the first year you will really try to shift instruction to align to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). I’m not going to lie to you, it’s a challenging year – change is hard. Change is even harder when there’s not a playbook to go by.  But as someone who has had the very great privilege of walking alongside teachers going through that change for the past two years and being able to glimpse at what this looks like for different demographics across that state, there are three things I hope you will hold on to. These are things I have come to learn will overshadow the challenge: a growth mindset will get you far, one is a very powerful number, and it’s about the kids. Learn More…

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Written by Jill Grace

Jill Grace

Jill Grace is a Regional Director for the K-12 Alliance and is President of CSTA.

If You Are Not Teaching Science Then You Are Not Teaching Common Core

Posted: Thursday, August 31st, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn 

“Science and Social Studies can be taught for the last half hour of the day on Fridays”

– Elementary school principal

Anyone concerned with the teaching of science in elementary school is keenly aware of the problem of time. Kids need to learn to read, and learning to read takes time, nobody disputes that. So Common Core ELA can seem like the enemy of science. This was a big concern to me as I started looking at the curriculum that my district had adopted for Common Core ELA. I’ve been through those years where teachers are learning a new curriculum, and know first-hand how a new curriculum can become the focus of attention- sucking all the air out of the room. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

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

Tools for Creating NGSS Standards Based Lessons

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Elizabeth Cooke

Think back on your own experiences with learning science in school. Were you required to memorize disjointed facts without understanding the concepts?

Science Education Background

In the past, science education focused on rote memorization and learning disjointed ideas. Elementary and secondary students in today’s science classes are fortunate now that science instruction has shifted from students demonstrating what they know to students demonstrating how they are able to apply their knowledge. Science education that reflects the Next Generation Science Standards challenges students to conduct investigations. As students explore phenomena and discrepant events they engage in academic discourse guided by focus questions from their teachers or student generated questions of that arise from analyzing data and creating and revising models that explain natural phenomena. Learn More…

Written by Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke teaches TK-5 science at Markham Elementary in the Oakland Unified School District, is an NGSS Early Implementer, and is CSTA’s Secretary.