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 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 zi@cascience.org.)

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: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.

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.