September 2016 – Vol. 29 No. 1

Trying NGSS with Paper Clips and Gummy Worms

Posted: Tuesday, September 15th, 2015

by Joanne Michael

By now, most teachers have heard of NGSS, know that it is not going away, and have realized they will be teaching this new set of standards within the next few years. While some are excited at the possibility of new happenings, others are terrified at the prospect of having to change curriculum that they have spent years fine-tuning and tweaking. A few districts are implementing NGSS early, working out the kinks and creating guides for the rest of the state, but what about the teachers that want to venture out and try the new curriculum without the support of the entire district? It seems daunting, but there are some ways to ease into the NGSS world.

I am not in an “Early Implementer” district, so I have relied on colleagues in other districts, resources online, and various books to help me begin to get a handle on it. I am not fully implementing, but have begun to do individual lessons that overlap both the current science standards and NGSS. It is challenging for me to give the more “open-ended” lessons, as I am so used to holding onto the reins, but once I started seeing the results, it gave me the confidence that this really is helping the students internalize the information.


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One of my first times doing this experience was doing a lesson called “Save Fred.” I did it in my 4th grade classes, giving them the opportunity to work towards the 3-5 Engineering Design DCI’s (defining engineering problems, developing possible solutions, and optimizing the design solution). There are variations all over the place of this activity, but the basic idea is that a group of 4 students (no more, but could be less) have a gummy life saver, a dixie cup with a gummy worm resting on top, and 4 paper clips.

Poor Fred went for a ride in a boat, but it capsized into the lake! Fred DOES have a life saver…but he wasn’t wearing it at the time, and he can’t swim. He was able to climb on top of his boat, but is going to need to wear that life saver around his middle if he is going to be able to get help! There are some issues though- humans’ skin is extremely toxic to Fred, so no students can actually touch Fred with their fingers (or other parts of their bodies!), and any tools cannot hurt Fred (paper clips stabbed through Fred’s middle would not be a good idea to try to save him). If Fred falls into the “water” (touches the table) without the life saver, he “dies”, and everything must be re-started (with the exception of bending the paper clips). Students look at the materials, and draw out a possible solution, explaining what they did, and why they made those decisions. As a table, they compare designs, and either select one design outright, or (most often), create a combined solution. After showing it to me, I give them the paper clips (I hold them back, so they can’t start playing early, but show them what they will be working with when designing solutions), and they get at it!

The most difficult part of this activity for me is seeing the students struggle, and not helping them when they ask for it! The ONLY parameters I give are the ones above, and I have seen some pretty unusual solutions! It gives me an opportunity to see how students interact in groups, their problem-solving skills (both individually and in teams), and the look of elation on their faces when that piece of candy is successfully placed around the gummy worm’s middle is unexplainable! It’s a great introduction to the NGSS world- we’re no longer teaching them straight out what they are to know. Instead, through experiences, opportunities, (and some traditional lessons mixed in), they are learning more about their world, and REALLY ingesting it. Give it a try!


photos taken by Joanne Michael

Written by Joanne Michael

Joanne Michael

Joanne Michael is a K-5 Science Specialist for Manhattan Beach Unified, former CSTA Upper Elementary director, and is a current CSTA member.

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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.