September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 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!

kids

photos taken by Joanne Michael

Written by Joanne Michael

Joanne Michael

Joanne Michael is a K-5 Science Specialist for Manhattan Beach Unified and is a CSTA member.

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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.