September 2016 – Vol. 29 No. 1

STEM Happens

Posted: Monday, April 1st, 2013

by Rick Pomeroy

Just last week, I had the pleasure of visiting several elementary schools and one high school in Maryland that shared the focus of incorporating STEM as a regular part of their daily curriculum. What was most impressive to me was not the science and math courses that the students were taking, nor the fact that the students at all grade levels appeared to use technology effortlessly. Instead, it was the collaboration of the faculty, staff and administrators and their seemingly universal commitment to doing things differently. The efforts to prepare students to work confidently in an increasingly digital world were evident everywhere I visited and there was a definite feeling of dynamic progress. The reason I found this so impressive is that after countless hours spent participating in STEM Task Force Meetings, STEM Summits, STEM-focused conferences, and NGSS review sessions it was clear to me that the most important factor in the success of these programs was not the technology or content, but the people involved.

Borrowing from Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, I am not sure I can tell you exactly what STEM is but “I know it when I see it”. This phrase clearly describes my experiences last week. I could definitely see STEM but I don’t think I could pinpoint any one (or ten) thing(s) that they were doing that would be defined as STEM-specific curriculum.

For example, elementary school students were using a wide variety of technological tools from kindergarten class to sixth grade simply as universal tools for learning. SmartBoards® allowed kindergarteners to drag and drop pictures of objects that started with “B”, and others used tablets to write and hear the sounds of letters. Fourth graders used simple probes to measure the temperature of compost being “cooked” in 2-liter soda bottles during a science lessons in anticipation of starting a composting project in their school cafeteria. In a third grade math classroom, students measured the circumference of different wheels using rulers and sticky spots to decide which would go further in one full revolution. What I didn’t realize until I visited the STEM classroom was that those students were also building little electric cars, trying to make the fastest car using a common set of materials. The math lesson on circles preceded the car-building activity, making the application of what they had learned a simple process. The key to me was not that they were doing a math lesson on circles but that the lesson from math was so easily applied in the race-car building because the teachers collaborated across grades and disciplines.

My visit to the high school was equally impressive. At this school of 2000 students, 100 in each of the four grade levels had chosen to take part in the STEM academy that included participation in a class each year such as STEM policy or community service. In addition, each student was expected to take part in an internship with a local business or local organization where they gained real world experience. Why did this make such an impression on me? Because the lead teachers for these STEM classes were the English and history teachers. Yes, there were math, science, and engineering teachers in the STEM academy, but the collaboration by all of the teachers across the different subject areas made the entire process more seamless than something special. Each of these teachers shared that they taught traditional classes for the entire student body and one class for the STEM academy, and that all of their students benefited from this school wide collaboration.

Finally, in all of the schools the students I met were confident about what they were doing and anxious to continue their pursuits. The high school students had summer internship plans and had applied to and been accepted by various colleges and universities. They had even won a national competition, put on by the Verizon Foundation, to develop a Smartphone App specifically for high school students.

Clearly, STEM can happen systemically, but only through purposeful collaboration across disciplines. Many of the activities that students were doing could have easily been done without the special technology. For example, felt boards could be used for word sorting, thermometers for measuring the heat produced by composting. Students can do internships without any special technology. What made the experience in the Maryland schools different was the sense of utilizing authentic scientific practices and tools to engage in collaborative problem solving in real world situations. The faculty were collaborating to ensure students heard a common message about the importance of collaboration, solving real world problems, and doing so within the specific confines of their own communities. Just as our ever-growing technological world demands experts in all areas, our students need the talents and expertise of all curriculum areas to be successful in their future careers.

Based on my experiences, our typical bureaucratic approach to implementing STEM may be headed in the wrong direction. I’d like to go out on a limb and suggest that making our current curriculum STEM-centric is probably going to be much easier than modifying what and how we currently teach to a new set of Standards based on the NGSS.  To prepare collaborative, problem solving citizens, we first need to develop and model those skills amongst ourselves as educators.

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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.

One Response

  1. Thank you Rick Pomeroy for so eloquently seaming together age-old wisdom with STEM innovation in education. I wholeheartedly agree that the magic of tomorrow is made by working collaboratively today.

    I am delighted that Rick had the opportunity to see the great work happening in Maryland. But in California we have Rick Pomeroy, and many leaders like him who have the vision to allow California to invent the future of STEM education.

    Marcella Klein Williams
    Chief Education Officer
    California STEM Learning Network

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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…

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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…

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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.