September 2016 – Vol. 29 No. 1

Teaching Physics Through the Crosscutting Concepts

Posted: Monday, February 8th, 2016

by Joseph Calmer

I have been teaching science for 10 years. During that time I have taught biology, anatomy/physiology, chemistry, and physics. When the NGSS began to trickle down to us teachers, I began to see the light at the end of the science education tunnel. The authors of the NGSS seemed to grasp the interrelatedness of the different disciplines of science and were trying to explicitly demonstrate that interconnectedness through the new standards. As a science teacher and a person who has studied science for a long time, the connections between science fields are painfully obvious, but to a new learner, the obvious may not be so obvious.

In the book, Developing a Pedagogy of Teacher Education, John Loughran identifies the notion of “making the tacit explicit” (Loughran, 2006). The idea of making the tacit explicit is at play with the crosscutting concepts. To science teachers and experts in science, the transdiciplinary nature of science is clear. To us, chemistry, biology, physics, etc, are not separate and distinct fields, they are simply permutations of different examples of science. Our students, being novices, probably do not see the panoply of science like we do, despite being exposed to the “scientific method” and “the scientific process” throughout their education. It is not their fault; they may never have had the teacher say, “Well, this is the biology and the chemistry and the physics…(of a phenomena)” They have always learned the aforementioned subjects in isolation. The curriculum has always been structured that way, but now it will be different.



The NGSS has set to rectify this. As patrons of science, we can see the patterns, cause and effect, systems, etc. in a scientific story. Often the experts forget the novices’ perspective. To a student, that same story may only appear to be about a cellular respiration (which is from biology). They may not see the chemistry (molecular structure…) or the physics (thermal energy, entropy…). The NGSS has done an excellent job of creating seven items that span all of science. The work will be integrating them into our pedagogy and classrooms. The SEPs and DCIs are very comfortable to use. They are guidelines for objectives that are familiar to us. The CCC are new, but they are ingrained in the Nature of Science. Below, I point out some of the concepts that can connect to the CCC and can serve as a place for you to start.

This list is not meant to be exhaustive, but is a place to help you start making the tacit explicit to your students. Also, Peter A’Hearn has developed a site for educators to use the CCC and integrate them into lessons (A’Hearn, 2015). I hope this list will help make the tacit explicit:

  • Collisions: can be used as lesson on patterns
  • Newton’s Laws: can be used as lesson on cause and effect
  • Vectors: can be used as lesson on Scale, Proportion, and Quantity
  • Thermodynamics: can be used as lesson on systems and system models
  • Waves: can be used as lesson on energy
  • Circuit: can be used as lessons on structure function
  • Conservation of energy or momentum: can be used as lesson on stability and change

There are a myriad of directions the CCC can take a lesson. The existence of the CCC is by definition to integrate everything, so we can literally place any learning objective into a crosscutting concept. The only limit is creativity. As teachers, we can be seen as experts in both pedagogy and science, so we need to practice making lessons that help students see the obvious transdiciplinary nature of science.

The goal of teaching (implicitly) is making the tacit explicit to our students. The NGSS is a paradigm shift in science education. This shift has been a long time coming; Herbert Smith described a dilemma in science education that could be fixed when science is taught in its true interdisciplinary form along with its connection to humanistic roots (Smith, 1969). Despite the gravity of the shift (pardon the pun), I think that the CCC are a great place to start making a change in your lessons.


A’Hearn, P. (2015). Crosscut Symbols.   Retrieved from

Loughran, J. (2006). Developing a Pedagogy of Teacher Education (Kindle Edition ed.). New York: Routledge.

Smith, H. A. (1969). Science: Trends and Dilemmas. In D. G. Hays (Ed.), Britannica Review of American Education (Vol. 1). Chicago, Il: Britannica Reviews.

Joseph Calmer, Ed.D, is a Physics and Chemistry Teacher at Lawndale High School.





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California Science Assessment Update

Posted: Wednesday, October 12th, 2016

by Jessica Sawko

In June 2016 California submitted a waiver application to discontinue using the old CST (based on 1998 standards) and conduct two years of pilot and field tests (in spring 2017 and 2018, respectively) of the new science assessment designed to support our state’s current science standards (California Next Generation Science Standards (CA-NGSS) adopted in 2013). The waiver was requested because no student scores will be provided as a part of the pilot and field tests. The CDE received a response from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) on September 30, 2016, which provides the CDE the opportunity to resubmit a revised waiver request within 60 days. The CDE will be revising the waiver request and resubmitting as ED suggested.

At its October 2016 North/South Assessment meetings CDE confirmed that there will be no administration of the old CST in the spring of 2017. (An archive of the meeting is available at 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.

Some ways to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in your classroom

Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

by Carol Peterson

1) To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, Google has put together a collection of virtual tours combining 360-degree video, panoramic photos and expert narration. It’s called “The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks” and is accessible right from the browser. You can choose from one of five different locales, including the Kenai Fjords in Alaska and Bryce Canyon in Utah, and get a guided “tour” from a local park ranger. Each one has a few virtual vistas to explore, with documentary-style voiceovers and extra media hidden behind clickable thumbnails. Ideas are included for use in classrooms. 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.

2016 Award Recipients – Join CSTA in Honoring Their Accomplishments

Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

CSTA is pleased to announce the winners of the 2016 CSTA Awards for Distinguished Contributions, Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, 2014 and 2015 PAEMST-Science recipients from California, and the 2016 California PAEMST Finalists. The following individuals and organizations will be honored during the 2016 California Science Education Conference  on October 21- 23 in Palm Springs. This year’s group of awardees are truly outstanding. Please join us in congratulating them!

Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award

John Keller

John Keller

The Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award honors an individual who has made a significant contribution to science education in the state and who, through years of leadership and service, has truly made a positive impact on the quality of science teaching. This year’s recipient is John Keller, Ph.D. Dr. Keller is Associate Professor, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Co-Director, Center for Engineering, Science, and Mathematics Education, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. In her letter of recommendation, SDSU science education faculty and former CSTA board member Donna Ross wrote: “He brings people together who share the desire to make a difference in the development and implementation of programs for science teaching. Examples of these projects include the Math and Science Teaching Initiative (MSTI), Noyce Scholars Program, Western Regional Noyce Initiative, and the Science Teacher and Researcher (STAR) program.” Through his work, he has had a dramatic impact on science teacher education, both preservice and in-service, in California, the region, and the country. He developed and implemented the STEM Teacher and Researcher Program which aims to produce excellent K-12 STEM teachers by providing aspiring teachers with opportunities to do authentic research while helping them translate their research experience into classroom practice. SFSU faculty member Larry Horvath said it best in his letter:“John Keller exemplifies the best aspects of a scientist, science educator, and mentor. His contributions to science education in the state of California are varied, significant, and I am sure will continue well into the future.” 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.

NGSS: Making Your Life Easier

Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

by Peter A’hearn

Wait… What?

NGSS is a big shift. Teachers need to learn new content, figure out how this whole engineering thing relates to science, and develop new unit and lesson plans. How could NGSS possibly make life easier?

The idea that NGSS could make our lives easier came to me during the California State NGSS Rollout #1 Classroom Example lesson on chromatography. I have since done this lesson with high school chemistry students and it made me think back to having my own students do chromatography. I spent lots of time preparing to make sure the experiment went well and achieved the “correct” result. I pre-prepared the solutions and organized and prepped the materials. I re-wrote and re-wrote again the procedure so there was no way a kid could get it wrong. I spent 20 minutes before the lab modeling all of the steps in class, so there was no way to do it wrong. Except that it turns out there were many. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the K-12 science specialist in the Palm Springs Unified School District and is Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Celestial Highlights, September 2016

Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graph of evening planet setting times by Dr. Jeffrey L. Hunt 

Our evening twilight chart for September, depicting the sky about 40 minutes after sunset from SoCal, shows brilliant Venus remaining low, creeping from W to WSW and gaining a little altitude as the month progresses. Its close encounter within 2.5° N of Spica on Sept. 18 is best seen with binoculars to catch the star low in bright twilight. The brightest stars in the evening sky are golden Arcturus descending in the west, and blue-white Vega passing just north of overhead. Look for Altair and Deneb completing the Summer Triangle with Vega. The triangle of Mars-Saturn-Antares expands as Mars seems to hold nearly stationary in SSW as the month progresses, while Saturn and Antares slink off to the SW. 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.