May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

The State of California’s Middle School Science Education

Posted: Sunday, April 1st, 2012

by Laura Henriques

What an interesting cross-roads we are at in science education! On the one hand we are told by the President and other elected officials that STEM careers and STEM education provide opportunities for our country to move forward. “STEM” is on everyone’s lips. The economic engines are going to be fueled by a STEM-literate citizenry. Those countries or states that do the best job developing this workforce will be at the forefront of innovation and economic success.

On the other hand we have shrinking budgets for K-16 education. Stakeholders at all levels are fighting for their piece of an ever-diminishing pool of resources. In an effort to reduce the costs of education, the Governor even proposed reducing the high school science graduation requirements to one year, down from two. If a STEM-literate, well educated workforce helps run the economic engines for the state, wouldn’t we want to have students taking more science?

This disconnect is more than political rhetoric and fodder for budget fights. The disconnect also exists between what the citizens of California want and what they get in K-8 science education.

For the past two years, West Ed has been studying science teaching in California. In October, right after the 2011 Science Education Conference, they published High Hopes – Few Opportunities: The Status of Elementary Science Education in California. This report highlighted the state of elementary science education in California. Their findings weren’t surprising to those of us close to elementary science education and science teacher preparation. They found that less than half of elementary principals believe students in their school receive a high-quality science education. Elementary teachers spend little time on science instruction, citing the emphasis on English and mathematics as the primary obstacle. Elementary teachers are underprepared to teach science, most don’t have access to science professional development and they do not have the materials needed to adequately teach science. Those of you who have been members of CSTA for a while will recognize these themes as ones we’ve been talking about for years. We need dedicated time for teaching science, materials to teach science and the professional development/preparation so that teachers can do it well. These are problems CSTA has been working hard to ameliorate through government advocacy, our CSTA publications and conferences.

This past week (March 22, 2012) West Ed released another report, this time about middle school science, Untapped Potential: The Status of Middle School Science Education in California. While middle school science teachers are much more likely to hold a degree or credential in science than their elementary counterparts, there are some similar concerns expressed in this report as the High Hopes report. While elementary teachers and their principals complained about the lack of time and resources to teach science – in large part due to the emphasis on English-Language Arts and math, middle schools are much more likely to have teachers and class periods devoted to the teaching of science. That said, the report indicates that there still isn’t enough time to teach science well. Many teachers teach both math and science, as a core. This results in great pressure for the class to become two periods of math instruction with little or no science instruction. Just as testing at the elementary level emphasizes ELA/math, AYP and API scores at the middle school level do not count science very much.

Challenges to quality middle school science instruction include lack of preparation and interest on the part of students. Based on the data reported in the High Hopes report, we know that most students do not participate in much elementary science. As a result, they come to middle school underprepared. It is unrealistic to think that three years of middle school instruction can make up for six years of missed instruction. Because students have not done science they do not know what it is and are less likely to get intrigued and excited by it. They do not know the rudiments of doing science. This often results in science instruction being reading or worksheet based as opposed to inquiry and field based. The emphasis on testing across the K-12 continuum seems to have taken away the joy of learning and squelched curiosity.

Class sizes at the middle school make doing hands-on, inquiry based science much more difficult. Not only are supplies more difficult to acquire (especially when they are being paid for by the teacher!), the larger classes sizes often make it unsafe to do certain experiments. Management of materials and people is compounded as class sizes grow.

Middle school teachers are more likely to get science professional development than their elementary counterparts. Districts have been providing much of that PD, but as budgets contract the number of district level staff devoted to science instruction is decreasing. Teachers do not get to meet with each other as much as they’d like – either within grade levels or across levels.

What does all this mean to each of us? As members of CSTA we need to band together and make our voices heard. Reports such as the two released by West Ed provide timely data about the current state of science education in our state. We need to be sure that policy makers recognize the importance of quality science instruction at all levels. We cannot ignore the elementary level and assume that we can make up those losses in middle school. Science instruction is important for our students and for our state. A wise use of the data in these reports could help us move forward. Share these reports with your district administrators and your principal. The reports argue for continued professional development, the need for schools and districts to partner with other agencies, and they call for quality science instruction. These are balanced reports without an axe to grind. They may provide us with a starting point to have meaningful, open discussions about what we need to do to improve science instruction in our state.

Laura Henriques is a professor of science education at CSU Long Beach and president-elect of CSTA.

Written by Laura Henriques

Laura Henriques

Laura Henriques is a professor of science education at CSU Long Beach and a past-president of CSTA.

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CSTA Annual Conference Early Bird Rates End July 14

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Jessica Sawko

Teachers engaged in workshop activity

Teachers engaging in hands-on learning during a workshop at the 2016 CSTA conference.

Don’t miss your chance to register at the early bird rate for the 2017 CSTA Conference – the early-bird rate closes July 14. Need ideas on how to secure funding for your participation? Visit our website for suggestions, a budget planning tool, and downloadable justification letter to share with your admin. Want to take advantage of the early rate – but know your district will pay eventually? Register online today and CSTA will reimburse you when we receive payment from your district/employer. (For more information on how that works contact Zi Stair in the office for details – 916-979-7004 or

New Information Now Available On-line:

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.

Goodbye Outgoing and Welcome Incoming CSTA Board Members

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

Jill Grace

Jill Grace, CSTA President, 2017-2019

On July 1, 2017 five CSTA members concluded their service and four new board members joined the ranks of the CSTA Board of Directors. CSTA is so grateful for all the volunteer board of directors who contribute hours upon hours of time and energy to advance the work of the association. At the June 3 board meeting, CSTA was able to say goodbye to the outgoing board members and welcome the incoming members.

This new year also brings with it a new president for CSTA. As of July 1, 2017 Jill Grace is the president of the California Science Teachers Association. Jill is a graduate of California State University, Long Beach, a former middle school science teacher, and is currently a Regional Director with the K-12 Alliance @ WestEd where she works with California NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative districts and charter networks in the San Diego area.

Outgoing Board Members

  • Laura Henriques (President-Elect: 2011 – 2013, President: 2013 – 2015, Past President: 2015 – 2017)
  • Valerie Joyner (Region 1 Director: 2009 – 2013, Primary Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Mary Whaley (Informal Science Education Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Sue Campbell (Middle School/Jr. High Director: 2015 – 2017)
  • Marcus Tessier (2-Year College Director: 2015 – 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.

Finding My Student’s Motivation of Learning Through Engineering Tasks

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Huda Ali Gubary and Susheela Nath

It’s 8:02 and the bell rings. My students’ walk in and pick up an entry ticket based on yesterday’s lesson and homework. My countdown starts for students to begin…3, 2, 1. Ten students are on task and diligently completing the work, twenty are off task with behaviors ranging from talking up a storm with their neighbors to silently staring off into space. This was the start of my classes, more often than not. My students rarely showed the enthusiasm for a class that I had eagerly prepared for. I spent so much time searching for ways to get my students excited about the concepts they were learning. I wanted them to feel a connection to the lessons and come into my class motivated about what they were going to learn next. I would ask myself how I could make my class memorable where the kids were in the driver’s seat of learning. Incorporating engineering made this possible. 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 California NGSS k-8 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.

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Unveils Updated Recommended Literature List

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson unveiled an addition of 285 award-winning titles to the Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list.

“The books our students read help broaden their perspectives, enhance their knowledge, and fire their imaginations,” Torlakson said. “The addition of these award-winning titles represents the state’s continued commitment to the interests and engagement of California’s young readers.”

The Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list is a collection of more than 8,000 titles of recommended reading for children and adolescents. Reflecting contemporary and classic titles, including California authors, this online list provides an exciting range of literature that students should be reading at school and for pleasure. Works include fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama to provide for a variety of tastes, interests, and abilities. Learn More…

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:

Teaching Science in the Time of Alternative Facts – Why NGSS Can Help (somewhat)

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn

The father of one of my students gave me a book: In the Beginning: Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood by Walt Brown, Ph. D. He had heard that I was teaching Plate Tectonics and wanted me to consider another perspective. The book offered the idea that the evidence for plate tectonics could be better understood if we considered the idea that beneath the continent of Pangaea was a huge underground layer of water that suddenly burst forth from a rift between the now continents of Africa and South America. The waters shot up and the continents hydroplaned apart on the water layer to their current positions. The force of the movement pushed up great mountain ranges which are still settling to this day, resulting in earthquakes along the margins of continents. This had happened about 6,000 years ago and created a great worldwide flood. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for CSTA.