May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

Using Beach Cleanups to Enhance Science Curriculum

Posted: Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

by Lori Walsh

Visiting an aquarium can be a powerful learning experience for students, providing them with opportunities to see first-hand the characteristics, adaptations and even habitats of marine animals. But as residents of California, you have an opportunity to help students experience such ecosystems first hand–and even improve them–through a beach cleanup activity. Environmental events happen frequently along the California coastline, offering opportunities to make authentic curriculum connections. Organizations, such as “I Love a Clean San Diego” (ILACSD) and “Heal the Bay” in the Los Angeles area, sponsor monthly cleanups at particular sites and larger, countywide events. Linking a volunteer event with science curriculum has the potential to show students the power of small efforts that can combine to create a massive environmental force.

Marine debris is a problem that affects aquatic species through entanglement, ingestion and habitat destruction. Plastic is one of the most commonly found items on beaches, and it is vital that it is removed as plastic does not biodegrade. The majority of trash in the ocean comes from litter, industry and garbage issues. More information about the marine debris dilemma can be found through the California Coastal Commission (CCC) webpage. This resource provides statistics about debris and videos suitable to use in the classroom. Because the majority of ocean trash originates inland, if you teach near a local park, stream or canyon you can still organize cleanups that will impact ocean health as well.



There are several ways to link a beach cleanup to key science concepts at different grade levels. The most obvious connections relate to understanding habitats, adaptations and individual species. Students can choose an animal to research to see how this species might be impacted by marine debris. Having chosen their animal, students can then document the amount of trash they encounter that could impact their species. A tally sheet can be created to keep track of the kinds of trash found along the beach. This data can then be analyzed in the classroom to determine the most frequently found items and most unusual items.

Weather patterns also connect to a beach cleanup event. The Japanese Tsunami in 2011 has the potential to impact the amount of debris found on California beaches. Brief pre-visit activities might encourage students to predict the kinds of debris that might be found from the tsunami. A tsunami debris field guide can be a great addition to your lesson. There are several useful resources for learning more about tsunamis and debris. The native species of the particular site, erosion and beach creation can also be connected to the beach cleanup. Additional ideas about how to connect curriculum to the event are compiled on the CCC resource page.

Organizing a beach cleanup activity is easy. You can register your class with one of the conservation groups such as ILACSD, who often offer supplies (gloves, trash bags, etc) for volunteers. However, you can coordinate a cleanup simply by picking a location and creating a check in spot on the day of the event. Families should be encouraged to wear closed toe shoes, use sun block and bring water in a reusable bottle to the clean up. Parents should be required to participate with their child, and waivers should be completed on the day of the event. A sign-in table should be placed at the location, and external factors, such as parking and coordination with State Parks, should be considered in advance. All participants should receive safety information at the beginning of the event, such as what to do with hazardous items. Guidelines for beach cleanups can be found at ILACSD page for the Adopt-a-Beach program. Encourage students to bring a reusable container, such as a bucket or milk jug for trash collection and gardening gloves to limit the amount of waste created. Guidelines for Educators planning beach cleanups can be found at the CCC’s page for Educators. Make sure to figure out where trash and recyclables will go after the event and provide hand sanitizer for the volunteers. Additional ideas about how to connect curriculum to the event can be found at the CCC Educator Resource page.

An organized beach cleanup gives students learning opportunities in an informal setting. Volunteering for a beach clean up provides you with the chance to show the importance of environmental stewardship on a local level. Think out-of-the box and use beach cleanups to teach science. These events provide strong curriculum connections while combating marine debris and developing students’ sense of stewardship.

Lori Walsh is Education Specialist at SEA LIFE® Aquarium at LEGOLAND® California Resort. You can reach her at She was invited to write for CCS by CSTA member Laura Henriques.

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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  1. Thanks for the great story! We are proud of our education presentations and love teaching kids about environmental conservation. If any of your readers are in San Diego and would like to schedule one, visit us at


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Participate in Chemistry Education Research Study, Earn $500-800 Dollars!

Posted: Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

WestEd, a non-profit educational research agency, has been funded by the US Department of Education to test a new molecular modeling kit, Happy Atoms. Happy Atoms is an interactive chemistry learning experience that consists of a set of physical atoms that connect magnetically to form molecules, and an app that uses image recognition to identify the molecules that you create with the set. WestEd is conducting a study around the effectiveness of using Happy Atoms in the classroom, and we are looking for high school chemistry teachers in California to participate.

As part of the study, teachers will be randomly assigned to either the treatment group (who uses Happy Atoms) or the control group (who uses Happy Atoms at a later date). Teachers in the treatment group will be asked to use the Happy Atoms set in their classrooms for 5 lessons over the course of the fall 2017 semester. Students will complete pre- and post-assessments and surveys around their chemistry content knowledge and beliefs about learning chemistry. WestEd will provide access to all teacher materials, teacher training, and student materials needed to participate.

Participating teachers will receive a stipend of $500-800. You can read more information about the study here:

Please contact Rosanne Luu at or 650.381.6432 if you are interested in participating in this opportunity, or if you have any questions!

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.

2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption Reviewer Application

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

The California Department of Education and State Board of Education are now accepting applications for reviewers for the 2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption. The application deadline is 3:00 pm, July 21, 2017. The application is comprehensive, so don’t wait until the last minute to apply.

On Tuesday, May 9, 2017, State Superintendent Tom Torlakson forwarded this recruitment letter to county and district superintendents and charter school administrators.

Review panel members will evaluate instructional materials for use in kindergarten through grade eight, inclusive, that are aligned with the California Next Generation Science Content Standards for California Public Schools (CA NGSS). 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.

Lessons Learned from the NGSS Early Implementer Districts

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

On March 31, 2017, Achieve released two documents examining some lessons learned from the California K-8 Early Implementation Initiative. The initiative began in August 2014 and was developed by the K-12 Alliance at WestEd, with close collaborative input on its design and objectives from the State Board of Education, the California Department of Education, and Achieve.

Eight (8) traditional school districts and two (2) charter management organizations were selected to participate in the initiative, becoming the first districts in California to implement the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Those districts included Galt Joint Union Elementary, Kings Canyon Joint Unified, Lakeside Union, Oakland Unified, Palm Springs Unified, San Diego Unified, Tracy Joint Unified, Vista Unified, Aspire, and High Tech High.

To more closely examine some of the early successes and challenges experienced by the Early Implementer LEAs, Achieve interviewed nine of the ten participating districts and compiled that information into two resources, focusing primarily on professional learning and instructional materials. 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.

Using Online Simulations to Support the NGSS in Middle School Classrooms

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

by Lesley Gates, Loren Nikkel, and Kambria Eastham

Middle school teachers in Kings Canyon Unified School District (KCUSD), a CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative district, have been diligently working on transitioning to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) integrated model for middle school. This year, the teachers focused on building their own knowledge of the Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs). They have been gathering and sharing ideas at monthly collaborative meetings as to how to make sure their students are not just learning about science but that they are actually doing science in their classrooms. Students should be planning and carrying out investigations to gather data for analysis in order to construct explanations. This is best done through hands-on lab experiments. Experimental work is such an important part of the learning of science and education research shows that students learn better and retain more when they are active through inquiry, investigation, and application. A Framework for K-12 Science Education (2011) notes, “…learning about science and engineering involves integration of the knowledge of scientific explanations (i.e., content knowledge) and the practices needed to engage in scientific inquiry and engineering design. Thus the framework seeks to illustrate how knowledge and practice must be intertwined in designing learning experiences in K-12 Science Education” (pg. 11).

Many middle school teachers in KCUSD are facing challenges as they begin implementing these student-driven, inquiry-based NGSS science experiences in their classrooms. First, many of the middle school classrooms at our K-8 school sites are not designed as science labs. 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 NGSS 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.

Celestial Highlights: May – July 2017

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

May Through July 2017 with Web Resources for the Solar Eclipse of August 21, 2017

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graphs of planet rising and setting times by Jeffrey L. Hunt.

In spring and summer 2017, Jupiter is the most prominent “star” in the evening sky, and Venus, even brighter, rules the morning. By mid-June, Saturn rises at a convenient evening hour, allowing both giant planets to be viewed well in early evening until Jupiter sinks low in late September. The Moon is always a crescent in its monthly encounters with Venus, but is full whenever it appears near Jupiter or Saturn in the eastern evening sky opposite the Sun. (In 2017, Full Moon is near Jupiter in April, Saturn in June.) At intervals of 27-28 days thereafter, the Moon appears at a progressively earlier phase at each pairing with the outer planet until its final conjunction, with Moon a thin crescent, low in the west at dusk. You’ll see many beautiful events by just following the Moon’s wanderings at dusk and dawn in the three months leading up to the solar eclipse. 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.