May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

The Seven Science Practices: Practices Five and Six

Posted: Monday, April 1st, 2013

by Bethany Dixon

The College Board has released seven science practices that will be shared through the disciplines. (Note: these are not to be confused with the NGSS “Science and Engineering Practices” from the Framework for K-12 Science Education.) The new Advanced Placement Curriculum Framework for AP Biology began this year, with plans for revamping AP Chemistry (2013-2014) and AP Physics (2014-2015) on the horizon. The new frameworks give students a chance to hone their skills at the lab bench, which is crucial for their success with the new AP Science Examinations and the upcoming transition to NGSS. Here is the third installment of the seven practices overview, with use-them-now tips for your classroom. The first four science practices can be found in our February and March issues of eCCS.

PRACTICE 5: Perform DATA ANALYSIS and evaluation of evidence.

As you consider this practice, the AP Biology Teacher Community is an invaluable resource for seasoned and new teachers alike. Here, you can gain insight from course veterans and AP Biology superstars like Paul Anderson of Bozeman Biology and Ann Brokaw of HHMI resource fame, just to name two of the hundreds of talented teachers who contribute.  Last spring with the new curriculum on the horizon, the teacher chat boards lit up with questions about “The New Math,” or more specifically, how to best incorporate statistics into their newly designed courses. Teachers from all over the nation weighed in and have been assembling resources at an impressive clip. A valuable addition that came out midway through the year is the new College Board “Quantitative Skills Guide.” This 114-page document provides teaching strategies and underscores the mission of the new curriculum. The Guide recommends instruction that ensures students are “able to recognize which data support a conclusion and are able to assess experimental validity and possible sources of error and propose explanations for them,” (College Board, 2012). It further cites Bio2010, the seminal 2003 report on undergraduate biology education aimed at enhancing and integrating science education.

But pedagogic revolution aside, what can WE do as teachers to increase student learning in regards to Data Analysis? The short answer is provide practice, which requires less number-crunching than a general statistics class and more working toward a deep understanding of setting up a valid experiment, especially understanding the concept of rejecting or failing to reject the null hypothesis. This comes back to articulating what reliable data looks like and how scientists talk about data. Crunching the formulas won’t be enough for student success. Using statistics on bad data is like doing an autopsy to try to find a medical cure: we can find out where the experiment died, but we can’t fix it. Students must go into their investigations understanding what they plan to measure and why they plan to measure it. The new grid-in questions on the AP Biology exam will require students to display their ability to use data analysis to determine standard deviation, standard error, mean, and chi-square, but the multiple-choice questions may ask students to determine whether errors in analysis or measurement may have taken place. The Guide breaks this down into teaching Graphing, Data Analysis, Hypothesis Testing, and Mathematical Modeling.

If your last statistics class was years ago and you weren’t in a stats-heavy field such as ecology or systematics, I highly recommend the free-to-download, “Handbook of Biological Statistics,” from John McDonald at the University of Delaware. His biology-friendly guide is a breath of fresh air and comes with the kind of patient, understanding tone that I hope to emulate with my students. Data analysis is intimidating for some students, but we mustn’t allow AP Biology to be a haven for math-a-phobes: mathematics is quickly becoming biology’s most powerful tool. Ensure that your students have the data analysis tools that they need for success both within and beyond the course by introducing statistics early, often, and with enthusiasm.


The new curriculum does an exemplary job of involving students in scientific inquiry, and science practice number six is what students can use to connect their laboratory investigations and content standards. After their experiments, when data has been carefully analyzed, students will need to have plenty of practice making the jump from analyzed data to scientific explanations and theories. This frequently begins with giving students the opportunity to make scientific claims, link their claims to evidence, and then explain the reasoning that led them from evidence to claim.

One of my favorite strategies is the, “What I see, What it means,” graph-labeling technique from BSCS. Students label key points on their graphs and explain specifically what is occurring. For example, “What I see is that the prey population declines first and predator population later shows a decline, and what it means is that the relationships between the two populations are related, with predator population limited by the amount of prey.” I like to have students use sticky notes to use “What I see, what it means,” on both their own graphs and those from other students to see if they come up with the same claims based on identical evidence.

Students frequently feel that once they’ve graphed their data the results are obvious, and they move to writing conclusions before they’ve carefully considered their data, jumping to show what they believed “should” have happened in the lab instead of accurately reporting what DID happen.  Using student-made graphs for peer review provides more practice on data interpretation for their exam. It’s fascinating, (and frequently entertaining), to watch different groups of highly intelligent students make different conjectures based on the same evidence. In lab discussions it’s the group with the best ability to link their reasoning to the claim and the accepted scientific theories that we’re studying in lecture that is best able to come up with ideas to support their claims further. Watching young scientists go back to their textbooks to find ideas to support their claim and look for further opportunities to test their findings and see them validated by classmates brings electricity to the laboratory. Questions about how to “take it further” can engage your students in the excitement of research.  (What evidence would you need to convince you that the other group’s claim was correct? To refute your claim? Design an experiment and let’s test it!)  Teaching students to articulate their reasoning and link their claims to evidence is only half of the game, though. Students must next be able to explain what Big Ideas of biology are embedded in their results. What major theories are supported by their work? How does their work fit into the spectrum of the class? Does anything in their results seem to go against the accepted body of knowledge, and if so, what factors might attribute to this? Most importantly, students should be encouraged to investigate WHY theories have become what they are and to notice where science still has open questions. It’s invigorating to see how many questions that biology currently has open. Emphasize to students that there are exciting opportunities in biology and that these questions can be answered by actively pursuing research. AP Biology students frequently come into the subject wide-eyed about the exciting material they will study in our course; it’s up to teachers to sustain that initial enthusiasm and extend it to the process of science as well as the content so that students leave the course empowered with the understanding that not only can they understand biology, they can add to it.

Written by Bethany Dixon

Bethany Dixon is a science teacher at Western Sierra Collegiate Academy, is a CSTA Publications Committee Member, and is a member of CSTA.

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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.