May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

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.

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:

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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.