September 2016 – Vol. 29 No. 1

Using MERLOT Voices to Build Community of Learners

Posted: Tuesday, May 1st, 2012

by Laura Henriques, David Andrews, and Jaime Arvizu

This is the fifth in a series of articles related to using on-line resources to support student learning. Each article highlights a different National Science Digital Library (NSDL) resource used in the Building Locally, Linking Globally project (NSF DUE  0735011).

MERLOT is the Multimedia Educational Resources for Learning and Online Teaching. Highlighted in an earlier eCCS article, MERLOT (  is a free service. There are several things that MERLOT provides. The on-line library of peer reviewed teaching and learning materials (called “learning objects”) is searchable by grade, topic and type. The e-portfolio generator called Content Builder is a free, simple way to create professional portfolios and classroom based websites. Both of these features were highlighted in Jaime Arvizu and Sara Meadows’ article. The feature of MERLOT which we are highlighting in this article is MERLOT Voices. 

MERLOT Voices ( allows groups of MERLOT members (membership is free) to create topic specific discussion groups. Unlike “Facebook” which is really more of a general social network, Voices is a professional social network that tends to have a greater focus on educational matters. A number of CSU campuses have employed MERLOT Voices with students to create private and open forums and discussion boards. In fact, Fresno State used MERLOT Voices as an integral part of a California Department of Education funded program known as “Modeling Science”. There were more than 75 science teachers from the Fresno and San Luis Obispo area who used Voices to post chats and engage in continued dialogue on project-related activities and developments. It was a tremendously successful vehicle for communication and sharing and helped make the two-year project a great success. Voices has also been used with groups of students in special NSF-funded summer institutes and in some cases, within our own science methods courses, to maintain online sharing of ideas and resources. While many users may have access to various discussion board features for courses, this particular forum is open to anyone who is invited and joins. For projects, clubs or groups of likeminded people, MERLOT Voices becomes the place for on-going conversations. Like most discussion boards, members can post and reply to prompts and each other. Working with groups of preservice teachers from different cohorts and different content areas, MERLOT Voices has allowed for at a common, on-line gathering space in which to share ideas about teaching and learning, respond to readings and ask for help. The conversations have threads that are easy to follow.

In addition to threaded discussions, Voices allows users to upload word documents, Powerpoints, and other forms of multi-media files with an almost unlimited storage capacity available. This is powerful advantage over many other bulletin board formats which are limited in text input and storage.

With pre-service teachers, we have used Voices to have candid discussions about teaching issues associated with high-need schools. Topics such as violence in schools, understanding issues associated with poverty, teaching in schools with fewer resources, and managing classrooms are among those discussed. Having these conversations on-line, as opposed to in a given class or course, affords student teachers and credential students alike an opportunity to interact in ways that a traditional credential program rarely offers. Since the discussion board is on-line, users can participate asynchronously. Not surprisingly, the times that students are on-line and posting don’t match our typical working hours!

Another advantage to MERLOT Voices is that the conversations and groups can extend beyond the life of the course or workshop. While many on-line educational management systems include a discussion board feature, they usually disappear at the end of the course, whereas here, these groups will remain intact for a longer period of time.  Additionally, prospective teachers are assured more communication interactions with in-service teachers than is typical. This brings a unique richness to their professional development.

Since MERLOT Voices can be set up as public or private, users can feel secure in posting questions and in seeking help. Mentors who lurk in the background and post prompts are then able to jump into the conversation (either via the discussion thread or via private e-mail) to provide support.

While there may be some existing communities which one might like to join, creating one’s own group and on-line community is a very powerful way to help students to get and stay connected in a professional setting. To get started, you must first be a member of MERLOT (sign-up on Then go to MERLOT Voices and click on Community Conversations. Click on the  + ADD button and get started. It is simple, works well and provides a nice platform for professional development and problem solving.

Have fun and good luck!

Laura Henriques is a professor of science education at CSU Long Beach, the co-chair of the 2011 California Science Education Conference Committee, and president-elect of CSTA.

David Andrews is a professor at CSU Fresno and a Life member of CSTA.

Jaime Arvizu is an associate director/counselor at CSU Fresno College of Science and Mathematics and member of CSTA.

Written by Laura Henriques

Laura Henriques

Laura Henriques is a professor of science education at CSU Long Beach and past-president of CSTA. She serves as chair of CSTA’s Nominating Committee and is a co-chair of the NGSS Committee.

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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.