September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

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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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.