May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

Thoughtful Use of Computer Simulations

Posted: Friday, May 5th, 2017

by Lisa Hegdahl

More teachers than ever before are making the transition to the CA NGSS and there are many resources available now to make that transition a smooth one. While we should embrace new ways of teaching our students, we should also be thoughtful consumers of the new information and technologies that come our way.

Computer simulations are a wonderful tool for facilitating CA NGSS instruction. Not only do they allow students to use 21st Century technology, but they also often allow students to explore scenarios that would not be possible in the traditional classroom. And, since the California Science Test (CAST) will be computer based, it makes sense that our students become comfortable with manipulating data with computerized platforms.

With that said, teachers should use computer based science simulations with prudence. In the early years of the CA NGSS adoption, I had the opportunity and honor to have an informal conversation with Helen Quinn. The conversation eventually turned to this very topic of utilizing computer simulations in the science classroom. While all for their practical uses, Dr. Quinn did express concerns that simulations are often too neat. Among others issues, the data that is produced often comes out too perfect (real world data is often messy) and there are limitations as to the variables that can be manipulated which can mislead students.

I recently expMiddle School Matter imageerienced just such a situation. While exploring the organization of sedimentary layers and what their organization can tell scientists about fossils, my students played the Layers of Time Fossil Game. While engaged with the game, students discovered that fossils will be found in consecutive sedimentary layers, much like columns, and these columns will not be broken. In other words, fossils will not appear in a layer, skip a layer, and then reappear in the next. Students used this understanding to reorganize fossil layers they had previously arranged in their science journals. A few days after experiencing the simulation, my students were writing a claim, evidence, reasoning paragraph about the order of a new set of sedimentary layers that contained fossils. The concepts developed from the game were to be used for the reasoning. During a conversation with a student, I realized that she thought fossils needed to literally appear in a “column”. She thought any fossils that weren’t perfectly, vertically aligned within the fossil record needed to be adjusted within the sedimentary layers. With further inquiry, I became aware that many students had this same perception. A class discussion ensued about the strength and weaknesses of the computer model after which we were able to move on.

I had a similar situation last year that was produced by a simulation where a virtual person pushes a cart on a track and then lets go. After the person let go, the cart moves across the track for an infinite amount of time at a constant speed. It definitely makes it easy for the students to gather data because the data freezes on the screen, but students do need to consider what will really happen over time to the speed of a cart on a real track on Earth.

Don’t misunderstand me. My students and I love computer simulations for the reasons previously stated, and I will continue to use them, even the ones I mention in this article. I am grateful to the many innovators out there who take the time to create the simulations – a feat way outside my skill set. And, as mentioned previously, their limitations have provided me and my students with the opportunity to discuss their benefits and drawbacks which ultimately leads to deeper understanding. However, I have learned that I need to look at them with a critical eye, watching for anything that has the potential to derail student understanding.

 

 

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Written by Lisa Hegdahl

Lisa Hegdahl

Lisa Hegdahl is an 8th grade science teacher at McCaffrey Middle School in Galt, CA and is President for 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: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/HappyAtoms

Please contact Rosanne Luu at rluu@wested.org 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.