September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

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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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.