May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

Teachers Reach for the Stars to Teach Science

Posted: Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

by Donna Ross

During the recent annual CSTA conference in Pasadena I had the opportunity to participate in the field course to NASA’s Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale.  We learned about SOFIA, a joint project between NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR).  Perhaps most importantly, we learned that the deadline for the next round of educators to partner with scientists on SOFIA flights is November 15.

SOFIA is the largest airborne observatory in the world.  It has a 2.5 meter diameter reflecting telescope (approximately the size of the Hubble telescope) mounted in a modified 747SP airplane.  The plane has a side port that opens during flight to allow the telescope to be used for approximately 8 hours.  On the field course, we were able to tour the airplane and see the modifications.  When the interior modifications are finished, there will even be a work area specifically for educators participating on the flights.   The plane flies at approximately 42,000 feet, above 99% of the water vapor in the earth’s atmosphere. This allows it to make observations that even larger ground-based telescopes are unable to make.  It has advantages over space-based telescopes, too, in that it can be easily moved to view specific objects and inexpensively returned to earth for repairs or upgrades.

SOFIA studies the universe in the infrared spectrum.  This is particularly useful for exploring the formation of new stars and solar systems and for looking through clouds of dust in space.  In addition, it can explore organic compounds in space.  Because the plane lands after each flight, the instruments can be changed to meet the needs of the specific research of the scientists on a particular flight.  Full operations should begin next year with over 120 flights per year for up to 20 years.

During the field course, we met one of the teachers who went on a SOFIA flight.  She shared how she incorporates the experience into her teaching.  She said that one of the most important aspects for her class was the ability to help her students feel proud of the local connection to internationally-known science.  She filmed clips of many different employees who work on the project during her flight and she uses those videos to encourage her students to consider careers that use math and science.

For me, the most exciting part of the field course was the impression that everyone on the SOFIA project was committed to science education.  From the beginning, the design of SOFIA incorporated a plan for educators to connect with current science findings.  There are opportunities for graduate students, teachers, and informal educators to partner with scientists on flights.  In addition, there are outreach programs, such as the field course for CSTA members.

The Educator Ambassador program partners two educators from the same area with scientists for SOFIA flights.  Detailed information can be found on the SOFIA website.  Generally as part of the program, teachers fly on two overnight missions, participate in pre- and post-flight trainings, communicate with scientists, develop a plan to integrate the SOFIA materials into teaching, plan and implement outreach, and take an on-line astronomy course.  The teams must include one full-time science teacher grades 6-12.  The other partner may be a formal or informal educator from the same school or community.  The two educators work on the same outreach plan.  Application information is available on the website.  Applications are due by November 15.

Airborne Astronomy Ambassador Program:

Donna Ross is associate professor of science education at San Diego State University and is CSTA’s 4-year college director.

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.

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  1. […] event featured over 150 workshops, exhibitors, Short Courses, and exciting Field Courses to Dryden Air Force Base to tour SOFIA, Caltech, JPL, and the LA Museum of Natural History. Friday evening featured the Cheesy Science […]

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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.