September 2016 – Vol. 29 No. 1

The “S” in STEM: The Search for Science in STEM TK-2

Posted: Friday, December 11th, 2015

by Valerie Joyner

Young children are naturally curious about their world. Their curiosity engages them in science activities every day as they watch salt dissolve, rain fall, or bubbles float and pop. They build ramps and bridges from blocks and cardboard, and contraptions to solve everyday problems that show their innate ability to engage in engineering. This inquisitive nature is the basis for STEM education in our youngest students and builds the foundation for increasingly more complex problem solving as students move through the grades.

Each time you evaluate a possible STEM activity for your class, ask yourself where the science is. We all know NGSS requires us to teach science across the three dimensions, including DCIs (Disciplinary Core Ideas), SEPs (Science and Engineering Practices), and CCCs (Crosscutting Concepts). I recently attended a kindergarten STEM workshop during which the activity demonstrated was presented as a STEM activity related to the science of weather (K-ESS2-1 and K-ESS3-2). I could see this was an interesting and fun activity for kindergarteners, but the level of science the activity was asking the students to reach was beyond that of the kindergarten standards. The activity also lacked integration of SEPs and CCC connections.

It’s easy for primary students to explore, investigate, and engineer on their own. When young students enter school they continue to do so, but now they must begin to learn about the science behind the work they’re doing. In kindergarten, they may play with yo-yos and discover they go up and down. However, the yo-yo can also teach them about the effects of pushes and pulls on an object (K-PS2-1). In 1st grade, they may design a solution to a human problem by mimicking plant and animal external parts, and they must first learn more about the external parts of living things. In 2nd grade, they may explore different materials that shed water as they design a new umbrella or raincoat, and develop their understanding of properties and their intended purposes. It is critical for us as teachers to make sure that the science becomes explicit as children solve engineering problems.

It is never enough to do a STEM activity simply because it’s fun! If a student in 4th or 5th grade makes a rocket and watches it blast off, they have learned to engineer a rocket, but what science did they learn? Is the activity aligned with the NGSS for their grade level? What SEPs and CCCs did they learn?

The same holds true for kindergarten students. The “S” in STEM is there for a reason, to ensure that the science is present as students investigate. A look at the associated SEPs with weather at this level shows they include Analyzing and Interpreting Data and Patterns. What data will students collect, record and share? Will they see patterns over time? How are the K science standards and their associated 3-Dimensions being addressed?

I encourage all primary teachers to look at the STEM activities you are presenting to your students and make sure the science is present and correct in every project and activity. To present a STEM activity that is not aligned with NGSS does our students a disservice. Look at the Performance Expectations and the Science and Engineering Practices, Disciplinary Core Ideas, and Crosscutting Concepts for your grade level and be sure that each STEM activity/lesson aligns itself with science.

If you have questions or need assistance feel free to contact me.

Appendix I: Engineering Design in the NGSS

National Research Council (NRC) 2012. A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas. Committee on a Conceptual Framework for New K-12 Science Education Standards. Board on Science Education, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

National Science Foundation. (2010). Preparing the next generation of STEM innovators: Identifying and developing our nation’s human capital. Washington, DC: Author.

Valerie Joyner is a retired elementary science teacher and is CSTA’s Primary (grades K-2) Director.

Written by Valerie Joyner

Valerie Joyner

Valerie Joyner is a retired elementary science educator and is CSTA’s Primary (grades K-2) Director.

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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.