September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

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.

What Kind of Mind Do You Have?

Created and used with permission by Reid Wilson @wayfaringpath
icon from thenounproject.com

A growth mindset goes a long way. It’s really not healthy to be in a position of angst every day. In fact, the number one thing I still remember from my days of working as a marine biologist – stressed animals don’t survive. In contrast, despite hard circumstances, those that can show some resilience will be ok and may even thrive. The teachers I see thriving are doing so because they are willing to be open to change, open to growing, open to learning. Not one of these teachers has wiped the slate clean. In fact, as teachers, we come to the table with a tremendous background, education, and expertise.  We know our kids. We know what good teaching looks like and what it doesn’t look like. We all want to make sure our students leave our room prepared for the future. The teachers who are thriving are the ones who, in addition to this, are open to that next step – realizing there just might be something new to learn. You discover that in opening yourself up, not only do you grow as an educator, but it has a positive impact on the growth of your students too.

I learned a long time ago that one is a very powerful number. It’s powerful because, when faced with an onerous task at hand, “one” can make a difference. I first realized this when I would have teachers bring their high school students to an aquarium I worked at. We would be able to provide field experiences they couldn’t get within the walls of a classroom. For every interaction we had with students, we would try to help give students a perspective of their impact on the environment – whether they lived at the beach or miles away. It was high school kids, especially, that were the hardest bunch in this regard. These clever creatures would quickly realize the “problem” was quite large. Arms would fold, heads would tilt, and if I pressed, I would be told, “I’m just one person, I can’t possibly make a difference.” I would always smile and admit that I once attempted to pick up all of the trash I encountered from the door of my car to the door of the aquarium. It was hard, but it felt great until I was ready to go home that same night, and the path was filled with new trash. It would have been really easy to just give up and feel that the problem was too big. But then I had a crazy idea, what if I just did one thing? I would just pick up one piece of trash. Would that make a difference? We would all laugh that and admit that maybe it might not get tangled on or consumed by an animal, so maybe it might make a difference to just that animal but it was so small it couldn’t have much impact. Then I would admit that I had been doing that for a whole year. Each day, I picked up just one piece of trash a day. For 365 days. Did that make a difference? The kids eyes would widen. You see, I could handle “one” thing. If I forgot today, I’d pick up two tomorrow and not feel overwhelmed. So one person doing one thing – could actually made a dent and do so in a way that wasn’t overwhelming. I kept up that behavior and the next year I decided to stop using paper lunch bags – I could handle making one change. When that felt manageable, I weaned myself off plastic water bottles and switched to a reusable. Each time I got a handle on making one change, I knew I was ready for the next. It’s pretty uncomfortable and difficult to completely change everything right away. Applying this thinking to your classroom, it’s ok to just make one change today (maybe try to have your students engage in the practice of modeling, or see what happens to student thinking when Crosscutting Concepts are embedded in instruction), and when you feel you have a handle on that, try something else. Don’t forget about the power of one. It lets you move forward without feeling overwhelmed.

It’s important to remember that this is all about the kids. You teach students. Outside of parenting, I really can’t think of a more noble profession that one can undertake. You have the very special honor of being a trusted adult in the lives of kids who get to spend a whole year or a semester with you. You help shape their character, their worldview, their minds. It’s a very special relationship. You teach students. To students, science isn’t settled. To students, science isn’t necessarily important to their life. In fact, it’s hard for anything to feel more important than friendships, lunch, or even having to go home and help take care of siblings while Mom and Dad work two jobs. You have the unique opportunity to give the students you teach experiences where they can begin to develop and understand the importance of scientific thinking, can appreciate how science ideas come to be, and start to see the relevance of science in THEIR life. There will be those that fall in love and eventually jump onto a STEM-bound train and we will all celebrate and welcome them into our posse of geekdom. But for the rest, there is much at stake. When we solely view our profession as teaching science, and we forget to take into account the central notion that we teach students science and especially that we teach all students science, we run the risk of having a population grow up into adults with important roles (like parent, voter, employee of the month, or, dare I say, politician) that were just going through the motions in school, giving the answer the teacher wanted to hear, and never felt a part of the scientific enterprise or experienced science as a human endeavour to understand our world. For many of these individuals, they don’t just misunderstand but reject scientific thinking outright. I’ll let you use your imagination to fill in the rest…

There’s nothing easy about change. Watching teachers implement the NGSS these past couple years, I have seen the struggle. However, I have also seen amazing things happen when those same teachers are open to growing and learning, willing to make meaningful changes (even if it’s just one step at a time), and understanding that this isn’t about “me” or the science – it’s about the kids. These teachers are experiencing the greatest rewards. Data on student content understanding will eventually come once we have an operational assessment in place. Until then, I can share that one of the biggest outcomes has come in the form of increased student engagement.

Student engagement is powerful.

“A rich science education has the potential to capture students’ sense of wonder about the world and to spark their desire to continue learning about science throughout their lives. Research suggests that personal interest, experience, and enthusiasm—critical to children’s learning of science at school or in other settings—may also be linked to later educational and career choices” (NRC, 2012, pg 43)

We don’t need to wait for the state assessment to tell us that engaged students are more likely to engage in rigorous work, learn more, and close achievement gaps. This increase in student engagement has been so profound and widely described by teachers in the CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative, that evaluators from WestEd will be studying it through the course of this academic year.

Keeping a growth mindset, remembering the power of one, and keeping it about the kids will get you far. The change is worth it, the payoff is beautiful, and I’m seeing kids engaged students generating solid knowledge constructs like never before. So to all of you this year, I applaud you for your hard work, dedication, and perseverance. I know your students do as well.

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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.

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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

Cal

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.