September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

Using Interactive Tools to Assist High School Students with Difficult Concepts

Posted: Saturday, January 1st, 2011

by Heather A. Marshall

I recently found a website that offers free interactive simulations for teacher use focusing on science topics.  This website:, through the University of Colorado at Boulder, has the sims available for free download.  You can browse by category, by new sims, or by grade level.  They are sponsored by NSF, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and others.  The PhET program is interested in providing research-based simulations of physical phenomena for free to teachers.  These simulations can help students visualize some of the concepts we teach in high school in an engaging way, and help students grasp difficult concepts.  PhET hopes that teachers will use these sims within lectures, as extensions of classroom activities, integrated into homework assignments, and as additions to more traditional laboratory experiments.

One of the simulations is for glaciers.  It allows the user (student) to adjust sea-level and air temperatures and observe the effects on glacier growth and retreat.  It also allows students to measure the thickness of the glacier, create multiple fractures with a drill and observe how the fractures move and stretch through the glacier, and other nifty tools.  The advanced feature allows students to view graphs associated with the data.  Another simulation is for the greenhouse effect, allowing the user to see the differences in temperatures with more or less greenhouse gases, observe photon interactions, and even model the greenhouse effect using glass plates.  Simulations include: Natural Selection, Gravity Force, Buoyancy, a Radioactive Dating Game, and many more.

Another big find of the new year is an interactive flashcard set with terms for a high school earth science class.  The flashcards can be shuffled or not and cover the introductory topics in an earth science class (such as chemical structure, minerals and rocks).  The cards can be manipulated online, printed, downloaded, added to, and more.  The earth science cards are posted here:, and you can even create your own set by clicking the Create Flashcard button on the right-hand side of the screen.  Looks like an excellent tool to share with students or use as a classroom tool for test reviews.  The ProProfs Flashcard site also has links to an online quiz maker, online brain games, and even SAT preparatory tools.

I use another online site for online testing:  For $25.00 a year, I can generate and save all of my unit tests and administer them online (in a computer lab or at home) for all of my 180 students.  It automatically grades the tests for me, and does a great item analysis breakdown.  You create your own standards, so you can completely align the test to your course.  The first test I gave on ClassMarker saved me hours in grading and analysis time.  I have found that short answer tests are incredibly difficult to do, however.  This works best with multiple choice or matching type questions.  I am currently looking for better options to be able to administer online tests with greater variety but still able to do the item analysis.  If you have ideas, please email me and I will gladly report on them here!

Heather Marshall teaches CP geology at Sobrato High School in Morgan Hill and is CSTA’s high school director.

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.

Leave a Reply


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…

Powered By DT Author Box

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…

Powered By DT Author Box

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.