September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 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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State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Announces 2017 Finalists for Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching

Posted: Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today nominated eight exceptional secondary mathematics and science teachers as California finalists for the 2017 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST).

“These teachers are dedicated and accomplished individuals whose innovative teaching styles prepare our students for 21st century careers and college and develop them into the designers and inventors of the future,” Torlakson said. “They rank among the finest in their profession and also serve as wonderful mentors and role models.”

The California Department of Education (CDE) partners annually with the California Science Teachers Association and the California Mathematics Council to recruit and select nominees for the PAEMST program—the highest recognition in the nation for a mathematics or science teacher. The Science Finalists will be recognized at the CSTA Awards Luncheon on Saturday, October 14, 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.

Thriving in a Time of Change

Posted: Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

by Jill Grace

By the time this message is posted online, most schools across California will have been in session for at least a month (if not longer, and hat tip to that bunch!). Long enough to get a good sense of who the kids in your classroom are and to get into that groove and momentum of the daily flow of teaching. It’s also very likely that for many of you who weren’t a part of a large grant initiative or in a district that set wheels in motion sooner, this is the first year you will really try to shift instruction to align to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). I’m not going to lie to you, it’s a challenging year – change is hard. Change is even harder when there’s not a playbook to go by.  But as someone who has had the very great privilege of walking alongside teachers going through that change for the past two years and being able to glimpse at what this looks like for different demographics across that state, there are three things I hope you will hold on to. These are things I have come to learn will overshadow the challenge: a growth mindset will get you far, one is a very powerful number, and it’s about the kids. Learn More…

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Written by Jill Grace

Jill Grace

Jill Grace is a Regional Director for the K-12 Alliance and is President of CSTA.

If You Are Not Teaching Science Then You Are Not Teaching Common Core

Posted: Thursday, August 31st, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn 

“Science and Social Studies can be taught for the last half hour of the day on Fridays”

– Elementary school principal

Anyone concerned with the teaching of science in elementary school is keenly aware of the problem of time. Kids need to learn to read, and learning to read takes time, nobody disputes that. So Common Core ELA can seem like the enemy of science. This was a big concern to me as I started looking at the curriculum that my district had adopted for Common Core ELA. I’ve been through those years where teachers are learning a new curriculum, and know first-hand how a new curriculum can become the focus of attention- sucking all the air out of the room. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

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

Tools for Creating NGSS Standards Based Lessons

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Elizabeth Cooke

Think back on your own experiences with learning science in school. Were you required to memorize disjointed facts without understanding the concepts?

Science Education Background

In the past, science education focused on rote memorization and learning disjointed ideas. Elementary and secondary students in today’s science classes are fortunate now that science instruction has shifted from students demonstrating what they know to students demonstrating how they are able to apply their knowledge. Science education that reflects the Next Generation Science Standards challenges students to conduct investigations. As students explore phenomena and discrepant events they engage in academic discourse guided by focus questions from their teachers or student generated questions of that arise from analyzing data and creating and revising models that explain natural phenomena. Learn More…

Written by Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke teaches TK-5 science at Markham Elementary in the Oakland Unified School District, is an NGSS Early Implementer, and is CSTA’s Secretary.

News and Happenings in CSTA’s Region 1 – Fall 2017

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Marian Murphy-Shaw


This month I was fortunate enough to hear about some new topics to share with our entire region. Some of you may access the online or newsletter options, others may attend events in person that are nearer to you. Long time CSTA member and environmental science educator Mike Roa is well known to North Bay Area teachers for his volunteer work sharing events and resources. In this month’s Region 1 updates I am happy to make a few of the options Mike offers available to our region. Learn More…

Written by Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw is the student services director at Siskiyou County Office of Education and is CSTA’s Region 1 Director and chair of CSTA’s Policy Committee.