September 2016 – Vol. 29 No. 1

Three Examples of Science Education Leaders (at least by my definition of leadership)

Posted: Monday, June 20th, 2016

by Joseph Calmer

Whenever I think about leadership I mentally cut away to various scenes in Office Space. I think too often ‘leadership’ and ‘boss’ are mistakenly used interchangeably. It is probably too common in schools to simply tell teachers what to do (i.e. the old standards) rather than build support of a vision that teachers will (collectively) work towards (i.e. the NGSS standards). For too long science teachers were simply told what to teach.

The problem is, that is not leadership (at least not in my mind). For me, I can differentiate titles from leadership. Yes, there is a chain of command that gives guidance and structure to an organization. But I think that a person who simply has more power than me is not necessarily my leader. The difference between authority and leadership isn’t often thought about or discussed; maybe they are too often even mistaken for the same thing.

I have worked for a long time in education. I think this has mainly occurred because I am compliant. I have always had a boss and I have always done what has been asked of me. As more years have passed, I have taken on more jobs and have had many more persons to work under. Upon reflection, I don’t know if I would call them “my leader.” I would agree with what their visions were and follow them and their directions…

That begs the next question: who would I call a leader? To me, I think a leader is a person that has influenced me and motivated me to perform better. I would think of a leader as a person who has an idea and a vision that is attractive to their followers that enables one to complete work and tasks to perform that vision. An example that quickly comes to mind is Richard Feynman.

The name “Richard Feynman” has a lot of recognition. I have read and listened to many of his books, lectures, and books about him (Burkhart, 2013; Feynman, 1985; Feynman & Ebrary, 2011; Feynman, Leighton, & Sands, 1965; O’Brien). I have found that he has a deep passion for solving puzzles and figuring things out. Almost equally, he has a passion for having students learn science. Despite being a physicist, he was very interested in the process of scientific thought and how people understand science (and the nature of things). I absorb his every word and sat in his famous Cal Tech lecture hall (for different lectures) in a state of awe and understanding of his historical significance.

Feynman is a person I would call a leader because of his ideals and how they and how they have permeated science teaching. At least for me, he is a leader of science instruction because his ideas and influenced have endured. I think he ought to be given a chance by those who have only heard about him and maybe judge him on those stories (out of context). Often his off-beat jokes and trickster-like nature have overshadowed his true impact and legacy.

Along those lines, Norwood Russell Hanson wrote a book called Patterns of Discovery ((N. R. Hanson & Paul F. Schmidt, 1959). In that book, he wrote chapter called “Observation.” That chapter gives a story Brahe and Kepler discussing their observation of the sun. Since they are geocentric and heliocentric, respectively, they do not “see” the same thing; one sees the sun moving around the Earth and the other sees the Earth moving around the sun. His text has permeated my thoughts since my undergrad years. NR Hanson has had a long lasting impact on my thoughts about science and education. He clearly told me about perspectives, now we understand the nature of learning and recognize terms like “prior knowledge,” “conceptual frameworks,” “metacognition,” and “constructivism.” To me, he was the first, but he didn’t explicitly talk about science education, but he sort of was because, unlike other subjects, to learn science, you have to do science. He was helping scientists learn to do science.

Another leader that comes to mind is my late Philosophy of Science professor, Dr. Paul Tang. I was unable to share my thoughts with him, since his teachings and insight affected me more after his class and I was reintroduced to the ideas of science that he originally gave me. Dr. Tang could take a written sentence and spend the next 45 minutes giving the context, history, and purpose of those written words. For example, a sentence could read: “The Eddington Experiment found…” and he would begin talking about the expedition, the set up, what they were looking for, how it affect Relativity, and on and on. Despite these tangents, his class was never boring. It will probably be the only time I write a final about confirmation, crows, and Popper (Popper, 1968). Since I can’t remove his teachings and enlightenments from my everyday science teaching experience, he is a leader by my definition.

So, I think leadership comes not from those with titles and constructed their authority by compliance. I think leaders are people with ideas that simply motivate and cause effects through their words and actions. Often, the people whose sole tool is thought that cause actions and motivate thinking are teachers, specifically science teachers. The words and actions we use will cause a cascade of events that will influence future pupils to act, create, and change things. To me, leadership is not a title, but a sphere of influence that permeates those who choose to follow and work towards that vision. This where NGSS falls into perspective, the Framework has created a vision for science teachers to work towards.


  • Burkhart, J. F. (2013). Feynman, Richard P.: Feynman’s tips on physics: reflections, advice, insights, practice: a problem-solving supplement to The Feynman lectures on physics (Vol. 51, pp. 119): American Library Association CHOICE.
  • Feynman, R. P. (1985). QED: the strange theory of light and matter. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press.
  • Feynman, R. P., & ebrary, I. (2011). Six not-so-easy pieces: Einstein’s relativity, symmetry, and space-time. New York: Basics Books.
  • Feynman, R. P., Leighton, R. B., & Sands, M. (1965). The Feynman Lectures on Physics; Vol. I. American Journal of Physics, 33(9), 750-752. doi:10.1119/1.1972241
  • N.R. Hanson, A., & Paul F. Schmidt, R. (1959). Patterns of Discovery. American Journal of Physics, 27(4), 285. doi:10.1119/1.1934835
  • O’Brien, M. (Producer). (11/22/2015). Richard Feynman: Fun to Imagine. Fun to Imagine Collection. Retrieved from
  • Popper, K. R. (1968). Conjectures and refutations: the growth of scientific knowledge. New York U6 – ctx_ver=Z39.88-2004&ctx_enc=info%3Aofi%2Fenc%3AUTF-8&rfr_id=info:sid/ U7 – Book: Harper & Row.

Joseph Calmer, Ed.D, is a Physics and Chemistry Teacher at Lawndale High School.

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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.