September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

The Actual Need for a Philosophy of Education

Posted: Thursday, September 15th, 2016

by Joseph Calmer, Ed.D

As the year begins, it is time for science teachers to think about their approach to this coming year. This year is an important one too, because of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The NGSS is in various stages of implementation across the state and among districts. The idea of NGSS is easy, but the actual practice of NGSS is difficult. Hopefully you’ve read the original framework ((NGSS Lead States, 2013). Maybe you’ve been able to read the California Draft Framework. When reading these tomes, you’ll probably find yourself agreeing with the authors. The teaching philosophy and pedagogy that frames the new standards are sound and are commensurate with current thoughts about teaching and learning (Bransford, Brown, Cocking, & ebrary, 1999; Hattie & Yates, 2013). The next step required for teachers is to turn theory into practice.

Transferring theory into practice is the hardest and most important step. Theorizing is fine, but the reality is that theory isn’t ‘taking attendance,’ ‘ordering supplies,’ ‘organizing classrooms,’ or any other of the myriad of things that go into classroom teaching. The reality is that something tangible has to be present for students to do. Creating the environment for learning is more about managing resources than theorizing. The notion of being a ‘reflective practitioner’ may seem more like an optional activity than a required one (Zeichner & Liston, 2013). Where does philosophy actually fit into a teachers’ daily list of tasks?

I enjoyed my credential program and talking about teaching. It seems like credential programs are where ‘educational philosophies’ are exclusively talked about. On the job, the discussions are more about copies, materials, desks, students, etc. The dialogues of philosophy are absent from teacher lounges. I am writing this to say that we need to revisit these talking points and bring them back to the forefront of our dialogues. I have been reading ­The Stone Reader and have been reminded of the interesting and importance of philosophy, especially for notions of teaching (Catapano & Critchley, 2015). The topics covered are succinct and allows for thought provoking inner dialogues. As a teacher, everything I do seems to ultimately relate back to my class. As I read the entries, I thought to myself “Man, I am really thinking here. How could I get my students to think this much?”



For example, here is a sample philosophical statement from W.V. Quine: “scientists (are) in search of an organized conception of reality”. As science teachers, we often talk about science theories, science facts, and the need for accurate data. Philosophy talks about perception and truth, things we take for granted, but really do affect the former. The objectivity of science is really dependent on the subjectivity of our senses and our frame of thought. N.R. Hanson talked about this in his paper about “Observation” (N. R. Hanson & Paul F. Schmidt, 1959). In “Observation”, Hanson explains how Tycho Brahe and Kepler both saw an orange disk in the sky. Kepler saw the Earth moving around the sun, but Tycho Brahe saw the sun move around the Earth. Hanson showed what one already “knows” and learns affects what they see. (It is a great article, and I was only exposed to it in a philosophy course.) To me, it is no wonder that “Natural Philosophy” became “Science”. As science teachers, I think it will serve us well to not forget our philosophical roots. This will allow us to think about our classes and act in accordance to our intended vision; ensuring students learn science.

Philosophy is often over looked as a practical subject and therefore not useful to the practical person. I would vehemently disagree. I think that if one takes the time to use the tools and canons of philosophy, they will be able to find their purposes and meanings of what they do (in the classroom). So, as we get the new year started, with a new set of standards, it’s the perfect time to approach our teaching practices differently. Philosophy is a tool to analyze our thinking. As one works, the “cow paths” of thought and practice are entrenched deeper and deeper (Norman, 2013). One rarely tends to stray from their comfortability of habit. By reading philosophy, one gets exposed to the obvious questions that we can’t see or think to ask ourselves. Philosophy really helps us find purpose, definitions, and meaning to the things we do and the thoughts we think. So, it may seem like a diversion to the litany of tasks that need to be done, but if you sit back and reflect on the purpose and meaning of what you are doing first, you may save time in the long run (and emerge better in the end for it).


  • Bransford, J., Brown, A. L., Cocking, R. R., & ebrary, I. (1999). How people learn: brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington, D.C: National Academy Press.
  • Catapano, P., & Critchley, S. (2015). The Stone Reader: Modern Philosophy in 133 Arguments: Liveright.
  • Hattie, J., & Yates, G. C. R. (2013). Visible Learning and the Science of How we Learn (pp. 368).
  • N.R. Hanson, A., & Paul F. Schmidt, R. (1959). Patterns of Discovery. American Journal of Physics, 27(4), 285. doi:10.1119/1.1934835
  • NGSS Lead States. (2013). Next Generation Science Standards: For States, By States. Washington, D.C.: Achieve, Inc. on behalf of the twenty-six states and partners that collaborated on the NGSS Retrieved from
  • Norman, D. A. (2013). The Design of Everyday Things: Basic Books.
  • Zeichner, K. M., & Liston, D. P. (2013). Reflective Teaching: An Introduction: Taylor & Francis.

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:

One Response

  1. We absolutely need our philosophical science teaching compass! May always be enlightened on our uncharted NGSS journey ahead with wisdom as we embrace new diverse perspectives.

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CSTA Is Now Accepting Nominations for Board Members

Posted: Friday, November 17th, 2017

Current, incoming, and outgoing CSTA Board of Directors at June 3, 2017 meeting.

It’s that time of year when CSTA is looking for dedicated and qualified persons to fill the upcoming vacancies on its Board of Directors. This opportunity allows you to help shape the policy and determine the path that the Board will take in the new year. There are time and energy commitments, but that is far outweighed by the personal satisfaction of knowing that you are an integral part of an outstanding professional educational organization, dedicated to the support and guidance of California’s science teachers. You will also have the opportunity to help CSTA review and support legislation that benefits good science teaching and teachers.

Right now is an exciting time to be involved at the state level in the California Science Teachers Association. The CSTA Board of Directors is currently involved in implementing the Next Generations Science Standards and its strategic plan. If you are interested in serving on the CSTA Board of Directors, now is the time to submit your name for consideration. 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.

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.