September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

Time for Practices

Posted: Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

by Pete A’Hearn

This is a strange time for those of us who have been following the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) closely.  We are excited and ready to dive in, but there is still a period of public comment and then the California Board of Education won’t make a final decision about adoption until November. Assuming that happens, it will be a few years before there is a California State Framework and assessment plan in place. In the meantime we are still being held accountable for the California State Standards, the CST test this year, and maybe next year. So what do we do now?

It is time to play with the NGSS Science and Engineering Practices and see what you can do in your classroom to move in that direction. This weird 15% of the school year between testing and the end of instruction is the perfect time to try something new. If your experimenting doesn’t work well or maybe falls flat on its face you only have to live with it for another few weeks.

Ways to take the leap:

Get your students to engineer and design as if the future of the human race depended on it (it might)! If you teach Earth science, build earthquake-resistant structures or design a passive solar building. Physics and chemistry teachers can refine designs for alternative energy, 8th grade teachers can launch water rockets to explore gravity, motion, and forces. Fourth grade teachers can help students design circuits or hand pollinators, and/or come up with a way to protect biodiversity in your area.

Consider thinking more deeply about models. We all use them, from the paper double helix to the ball and stick chemical compounds to Styrofoam moons and planets. What can they tell us about the natural world? What does the model distort or ignore? Can we make a better model that represents nature more closely?

Struggle with data. K-12 Alliance has a good process for looking at a set of data, the messier and more self-collected, the better. The process involves:

  • Make observations (without inference)
  • Come up with a visual (we teachers like graphs, but students might need more concrete visuals like pictures and number lines as a scaffold for understanding graphs)
  • Make inferences
  • Ask questions
  • Collect more data

Argue and insist on using evidence to support arguments. Evidence is what makes it science! Otherwise it’s just arguing.

This is going to be a big change. Don’t be afraid to take risks and be willing to fail. I would love to hear about how you are already using the practices and what experiments you are going to try.

Next issue- What’s Up With Those Cross Cutting Concepts?

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for 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


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.