September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

With the Uncertain Status of New Standards for California, What Do I Do Right Now?

Posted: Thursday, August 1st, 2013

by Rick Pomeroy

“What do I do right now?” Whenever I talk to science teachers about NGSS and the proposed California science standards, this is the first question I get.  With the pending-approval status of new California standards, this is an important and pressing question that needs an answer sooner rather than later. To quell their concerns, my answer is, “Focus on the Science and Engineering Practices.” Although this may seem a bit flippant, in reality it is something that every teacher has control over. It is also a strategy that will resonate with the expectations of the Common Core Standards that are being implemented throughout California this year.

I am not so concerned right now that teachers begin changing their curriculum to address the new set of Disciplinary Core Ideas because many of those are similar to the current California Standards. They may be written in a different format and there may be different applications of the content in question, but essentially, the Disciplinary Core Ideas represent the content of science, something that teachers have gotten quite proficient at sharing. I am also not concerned right now with a heavy emphasis on the Cross Cutting Concepts. Deep down in their souls, most science teachers know certain concepts permeate all of areas science. For example, the ideas that scale can impact function or that energy exists in biology, chemistry, physics, and earth and space science are not foreign to science teachers. In our current “silo” approach to the sciences, however, we may talk about these cross cutting concepts using different terms or calculations and we seldom emphasize that they are the same ideas. Clearly there is work to be done and although we will ultimately need to focus on our use of the specific Disciplinary Core Ideas and the Cross Cutting Concepts outlined in the NGSS/CA science standards, for now the focus needs to be on the practices.

In our current standards, the “practices” (Investigation and Experimentation) are relegated to a separate chapter at the end of all of the content. Consequently, these “practices” are often taught for the sake of the practice, devoid of a connection to meaningful content and in some schools not taught at all. In the NGSS, the “practices” are integrated into every Performance Expectation. It will no longer be sufficient to do one lab activity to validate the concepts in a chapter or to provide a framework for demonstrating vocabulary prowess. Instead, teachers will be asked to engage their students on a daily basis in the “practices” of science and engineering. Teachers will need to rethink and redesign their lessons to include modeling, argumentation, analyzing data, and drawing conclusions on a daily basis. This is a major shift from the “business as usual” lecture, practice, test format that we sometimes see today. In many ways, science teaching is coming full circle. For those who have been teaching for more than 20 years, it almost looks like the pendulum is swinging back.

So, in response to the “What do I do right now?” question, my recommendation to focus on the practices makes sense. We should put all of our energy into incorporating new ways of teaching to engage students in authentic science practices, building their abilities to think critically, to analyze data and observations, and to communicate effectively. Building these strategies and skills into lessons now will prepare both the teacher and the student to make the next leap when new standards are approved. Instead of building an entirely new curriculum structure, the key practices piece will already be in place allowing teachers to focus in the content and concepts and how they will be integrated into a vibrant dynamic teaching philosophy.

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Written by Rick Pomeroy

Rick Pomeroy

Rick Pomeroy is science education lecturer/supervisor in the School of Education, University of California Davis and is a past-president of CSTA.

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CSTA Is Now Accepting Nominations for Board Members

Posted: Friday, November 17th, 2017

Current, incoming, and outgoing CSTA Board of Directors at June 3, 2017 meeting.

Updated 7:25 pm, Nov. 17, 2017

It’s that time of year when CSTA is looking for dedicated and qualified persons to fill the upcoming vacancies on its Board of Directors. This opportunity allows you to help shape the policy and determine the path that the Board will take in the new year. There are time and energy commitments, but that is far outweighed by the personal satisfaction of knowing that you are an integral part of an outstanding professional educational organization, dedicated to the support and guidance of California’s science teachers. You will also have the opportunity to help CSTA review and support legislation that benefits good science teaching and teachers.

Right now is an exciting time to be involved at the state level in the California Science Teachers Association. The CSTA Board of Directors is currently involved in implementing the Next Generations Science Standards and its strategic plan. If you are interested in serving on the CSTA Board of Directors, now is the time to submit your name for consideration. 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.

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.