May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

Taking on Tech: From Daunting Task to Indispensable Tool

Posted: Tuesday, May 5th, 2015

by Chelsea Poma and Jill Grace

Where does a second year science teacher start? Still getting used to a school and its students, families, and colleagues, we are still very much in survival mode. We find ourselves needing to re-vamp lessons from the prior year, wrap our heads around NGSS, and try to take care of ourselves so that we can bring our A-game – because isn’t that what every kid deserves? The cherry on top here in California has to be the added layer of BTSA (Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment). Designed to support new teachers and provide mentoring, BTSA also requires a lot of new teachers, adding another layer on to their to-do list.

Enter an unexpected partnership between us: Chelsea and Jill. My second year has, as a whole, been far more successful than my first… who’s wasn’t, really? I feel I owe that to the collaborative spirit of my colleague, Jill. Getting to pick her brain all year has been a privilege for me beyond measure; I guess I was blessed by the fact that she has had to valiantly take on a section of 6th grade science this year, which enabled this meeting of the minds to occur. There has also been some, if I may say, courageous dabbling in NGSS, something I never would have attempted without the opportunity to collaborate. Although I have a great BTSA mentor (a beloved retired language arts teacher with mad classroom management and organizational skills), I sometimes just need a science teacher to bounce ideas off of. (Jill will would like to add that I also graciously agreed to provide some support to her this Spring term, helping out with lessons for her many sub days as she is a part of the state’s NGSS Roll Out #2 team.)

When I initially found out that the focus of my final BTSA inquiry was to involve technology in the hands of the students, my heart dropped. A tech-focused inquiry coinciding with three solid weeks of computer-based testing during which virtually all usable tech would be unavailable? I started to feel Sisyphus-level futility sinking in. But, as all teachers do, I soldiered on.

As Jill and I mapped out our earthquake and volcano unit, I explained my plight. We quickly realized the solution: ”bring your own device”! Fortunately, our school has been forward thinking and recently adopted a “bring your own device” policy, allowing students to have mobile devices, tablets, etc. with them in class. Not all students have these, of course, but with some creative student grouping, we thought it would be fun to incorporate use of the United States Geologic Survey earthquake app into a lesson. Using the USGS earthquake app on their own devices, the use of a traditional classroom computer was unnecessary. Not only did this solution bring the lesson into the 21st century, but it also allowed us to integrate some NGSS critical-thinking and argumentation skills into the lesson plan.

Screen shot of the USGS Earthquake app

Screen shot of the USGS Earthquake app

We also decided that this would be a great time to challenge ourselves to play around a bit with NGSS. We quickly realized that Performance Expectations MS-ESS2-2 and MS-PS3-5 melded well with the 1998 standards we are currently teaching. Following the model for 5E lesson plan that is featured in California NGSS Roll Out #2, we began by teasing out the concepts we wanted to target in the lesson, followed by identifying what teachers and students would be doing.

5E adapted from Roger Bybee, Achieving Science Literacy, 1997. Modified by K-12 Alliance at WestEd with Addition of Concept Column.

5E adapted from Roger Bybee, Achieving Science Literacy, 1997. Modified by K-12 Alliance at WestEd with Addition of Concept Column. Click on image to enlarge.



*Sample Claim-Evidence-Reasoning table can be found in the “Output Arsenal” discussed in this article.  Please note that these students have been practicing these all year.  This would take more direct instruction/scaffolding if a new task for students.



As a result, we took care of three birds with one stone: BTSA technology integration, practice with NGSS, and a collaborative effort from which both of us were able to benefit. Further, for me, more exposure to the 5E model has bolstered my ability to use this thorough and useful tool that supports student thinking. It’s exciting to practice guiding students to discover new ideas. Thus, an initially daunting and seemingly impossible prospect became an enriching and eye-opening opportunity to really play around with the new standards, incorporating technology as a tool to deepen student understanding and underscore the real purpose of NGSS: to shape learners (i.e. future voters) to become critical thinkers who can effectively use data in explanation, argumentation, and understanding. By no means is this a perfect NGSS lesson, but we thought it would be good to start trying. Truly, these are the exciting moments we as educators–veteran and untested alike–live for.

We are curious to know the ways you have discovered to incorporate technology into your lessons. Join our conversation on our California Middle School Teachers Facebook Group. (Not a member of the group? Send us a join request then check your “other” message box for verification)

Chelsea Poma is a second year 6th grade science teacher at Palos Verdes Intermediate School who bravely agreed to tackle this article as she was working on her final BTSA inquiry! Her colleague, Jill Grace (also a middle school science teacher at PVIS and the CSTA Middle School/Jr. High Director) was her cheerleader on the side.

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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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.