September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

Students Apply NGSS Science Practices in Environmental Stewardship

Posted: Thursday, January 14th, 2016

by Deborah Tucker, Bill Andrews, and Kathryn Hayes

Regardless of the grade level(s) you teach and the ability levels of your students, if you are looking for collaborative projects that get your students excited about learning while applying the NGSS science practices, read on! We surveyed California teachers who participated in a 4-month Environmental Education (EE) Professional Development (PD) institute in Spring 2015 and found they were re-energized and truly inspired as they facilitated student-driven environmental stewardship projects that encouraged student use of NGSS science practices. Based on participating teacher feedback, your passion for teaching may also be renewed and your students will be proud that they made a difference for the environment!

EE Professional Development Institute

Science practices can be taught at all grade levels in a variety of environment-based projects, as evidenced by 28 teachers (K-12) from the Los Angeles area with an average of 13.5 years of teaching experience. The teachers participated in a 4-month environmental education professional development institute and received in-depth content instruction from experts provided by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and the California Environmental Education Foundation (CEEF) in partnership with the CA Department of Water Resources, Sandia National Laboratories, and the Los Angeles Metropolitan Water District. The institute also focused on effective pedagogy (including the 5Es), required teacher facilitation of a student-driven environmental stewardship project, and provided follow-up support from both the local California Regional Environmental Education Community (CREEC) Network Coordinator and a Regional Director with the K-12 Alliance. The teachers were asked to incorporate two NGSS science practices (#6 explaining and #8 communicating) into the student work.

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The students determined the topic and conducted the research. Projects ranged from water conservation and water quality testing to energy audits, school gardens, and campus beautification. Most projects contained a communication component, for example, a local campaign to “pick up your trash,” a parent “Eco” night, or a digital storybook.

Figure 1: Students create a collaborative Google Slide presentation of their research on solving the need to add woodland plants around water-stressed redwood trees.

Figure 1: Students create a collaborative Google Slide presentation of their research on solving the need to add woodland plants around water-stressed redwood trees.

All stewardship projects can be viewed on the CEEF website. This list includes descriptions of the environmental benefits of the stewardship projects, as well as the teachers’ observations of student engagement in the stewardship projects.

Research Conducted on the Institute

The teachers’ shifts in instructional practices while engaged in the institute were the subject of a research study. Pre/post quantitative data analyses demonstrated that teachers made statistically significant instructional shifts in their integration of stewardship, their use of reasoning, explanation, and argument (Science and Engineering Practices 6 and 7), and data collection and analysis (Science and Engineering Practice 3 and 4). Teachers were able to incorporate grade-appropriate science practices into their instruction. (See Appendix C: Progression of the Science and Engineering Practices in Grades K–12 of the draft CA Science Framework), successfully aligning them with several of California’s Common Core (CCSS) anchor standards (e.g., Reading 1, 2, 8; Writing 1, 2, 7, and 8).

Qualitative data analyses of teacher interviews and reflections also demonstrate increase in the use of the NGSS practices and shifts in integrating EE activities and stewardship into instruction. The research indicated the following three key findings:

  • Environmental stewardship is an effective vehicle for science practices, with the inclusion of science practices “legitimizing” EE in schools. From a high school science teacher, “The advantages of integrating the NGSS practices and CCSS into the environment stewardship projects is that you will be teaching the students what needs to be taught at their grade level and at the same time you are helping them learn the importance of taking care of the environment and how they can become advocates…” A high school teacher wrote how essential it is to bring the practices to life. “I think that integrating environmental stewardship strategies into your teaching practice will bring life into the NGSS practices [emphasis added]. So when you have standards like that, they tend to be abstract. But there are things like energy flows [integrating the crosscutting concepts of Energy and Matter: Flow, cycles and conservation], … if you use the framework of environmental stewardship and figure out how to teach the standards…then you can make the NGSS practices come alive for the kids. You’ve got to have something real at the core.” 
Figure 2: Student poster, which is intended to raise awareness of fellow students about water use and waste at their school; communicates student thinking.

Figure 2: Student poster, which is intended to raise awareness of fellow students about water use and waste at their school; communicates student thinking.

  • Students were engaged in and excited about learning and exhibited positive As another teacher stated, “Students have become more aware of their personal responsibilities as stewards of the environment.”
  • Teachers noticed the integration of NGSS science practices was seamlessly applied in the stewardship projects. One grade 5 teacher whose class worked on campus beautification wrote of her students, “Then they actually started tallying, going to different areas of the school to see if they could notice any different trends when there was more litter, to kind of get an idea of what’s happening. Like are the students walking out to the yard and just throwing their trash anywhere?…So they were walking around and tallying and taking notes. Then we brought it back together, talked about the data and why they think the results were the way they were.”
Figure 3: Graphs of student-generated data on campus litter collection; amount of trash (y-axis) and the day and time of the litter collection (x-axis) at an elementary school

Figure 3: Graphs of student-generated data on campus litter collection; amount of trash (y-axis) and the day and time of the litter collection (x-axis) at an elementary school

In the context of this stewardship project, the teacher combined practice 8 (communication) with both practice 3 (Planning and Carrying Out Investigations) and practice 4 (Analyzing and Interpreting Data).

What does this mean for California’s teachers?

Whether you’re teaching science, math, or environmental science, you can incorporate the NGSS science practices into your instruction. Make the science practices an integral part of your curriculum, integrating them into every activity your students do, and consider using environmental stewardship as a means to powerfully motivate your students and recharge your enthusiasm for teaching.

For information about the 2016 EE Professional Development Institute, go to the CEEF website. To apply, download an application.


Bybee, R. W. 1997. Achieving scientific literacy: From purposes to practices. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

CA draft CA science framework (

California Common Core Standards

Loucks-Horsley, S., K. Stiles, S. Mundry, N. Love, and P. Hewson. 2009. Designing professional development for teachers of science and mathematics. 3rd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

National Research Council. 2012. A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

National Research Council. 2013. Next Generation Science Standards: For States, By States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

Deborah Tucker is an Independent Science Education Consultant and a past president of CSTA. Bill Andrews is an Environmental Education Consultant and member of CSTA. Kathryn Hayes is Assistant Professor, Dept. of Educational Leadership, CSU East Bay.

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy:

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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.

News and Happenings in CSTA’s Region 1 – Fall 2017

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Marian Murphy-Shaw


This month I was fortunate enough to hear about some new topics to share with our entire region. Some of you may access the online or newsletter options, others may attend events in person that are nearer to you. Long time CSTA member and environmental science educator Mike Roa is well known to North Bay Area teachers for his volunteer work sharing events and resources. In this month’s Region 1 updates I am happy to make a few of the options Mike offers available to our region. Learn More…

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.