September 10, 2014
High School Science Newsletter # 3

"Sometimes I wonder if there's more to life than unlocking the mysteries of the universe."


As part of the Science Department’s efforts to inform teachers about the upcoming Next Generation Science Standards, we will devote one Spotlight each month to introducing one of the 8 Science and Engineering Practices. The Practices explicitly describe behaviors and habits of mind of scientists and engineers, and are one of three dimensions of the NGSS.

Asking Questions and Defining Problems
Adapted from Appendix F of the Next Generation Science Standards
A scientific question is defined as one that can be answered through empirical evidence. Asking questions is often the first step towards scientific inquiry - students may be driven by their own  curiosity, or a prediction as a result of a previous investigation or experience, or the desire to solve a problem. Through research, investigation and observation students can work towards answering their questions about the world. Students also need to be able to ask questions of and think critically about data and the claims of others.

Much like asking questions is the first step towards scientific inquiry, defining problems is often the first step towards the engineering process. Students need to define a problem or address a human need before they can go about finding a solution. Part of this is also defining the parameters of a given problem - What materials can be used? How much time is given? What systems are involved with the design? Defining problems is an essential skill not only for engineers, but for all citizens. Teachers define problems & work towards solving them countless times a day in their classrooms!

Below is an example of how the practice of Asking Questions and Defining Problems progresses from kindergarten to twelfth grade. 
Below are examples of Engineering performance expectations from the NGSS that incorporate the practice of Asking Questions and Defining Problems
Students who demonstrate understanding can:

K-2-ETS1-1. Ask questions, make observations, and gather information about a situation people want to change to define a simple problem that can be solved through the development of a new or improved object or tool.

3-5-ETS1-1. Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost.

MS-ETS1-1. Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions.

HS-ETS1-1. Analyze a major global challenge to specify qualitative and quantitative criteria and constraints for solutions that account for societal needs and wants.

More Resources:
NSTA article - One page resource with more information about this practice.
NSTA Webinar - Includes a presentation about Asking Questions and Defining Problems, along with other resources.
Bozeman Science video about Asking Questions and Defining Problems - A quick introduction to this practice and its applications.
How to Ask the Right Question - Tedx Youth Talk - Great food for thought about why asking questions is important, and how to ask questions.
Engineering is Elementary - Saving Salila's Turtle - A video of an elementary classroom discussion that uses a read-aloud as a springboard to define environmental problems. An accompanying unit for grades 1-5 is available here.
Exploratorium Snacks - These activities, which are classroom-ready versions of Exploratorium exhibits, can be used to generate questions with students.

K-12 NGSS: Unwrapping the Standards: Make meaning of the new Next Generation Science Standards. The focus will be on reading the document and its organization around the three dimensions: Science and Engineering Practices, Disciplinary Core Ideas, and the Cross Cutting Concepts. Tuesday, September 23, 4:30-6:30pm, SFUSD Science Resource Center. Sign up on Cornerstone.

Secondary Response & Development Group (R&D): The SFUSD Curriculum & Instruction STEM – Science Department is seeking middle and high school science teachers from across the District to join a Response & Development group for the 2014-2015 school year.  The R&D group will develop a scope and sequence for some middle school and high school science courses.  Expectations for the R&D group involve
participating in five release days to: learn about the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), identify the key science experiences for all SFUSD students in grades 6-12, and connect the NGSS with the Common Core State Standards for ELA and Mathematics. The deadline for this opportunity has been extended until September 12th. Release dates are: 10/29, 12/2, 1/21, 3/10 and 5/7.  More information & SHORT application here.

Close Reading in Secondary Science Series Part II: Offered by the SFUSD Humanities Department, this group will continue work from last year to examine strategies to support reading in the science classroom, whether from a textbook, a magazine, a journal or other source. The group will look at strategies that address science text structures, vocabulary development, visual literacy & other components of reading that can facilitate student success in science class. Participants will take part in a cycle of inquiry through planning, implementing & sharing student work focused on reading. Oct 9, Nov 18, Jan 29, Feb 24, & Mar 24, 4:15-6:15pm, 485 Otsego. Application here.

Free and Compensated
  • Teacher Appreciation Sail: Aquarium of the Bay appreciates all of the amazing things teachers do. To thank you, we invite you and your family to join us aboard Alcatraz Cruises’ Hybrid Ferry for a day of fun out on San Francisco Bay. Explore the San Francisco Bay and get up close and personal with local wildlife. The sail will include a complimentary lunch. This free event will be Sun, Nov 9th 11am-1pm leaving from Alcatraz Landing at Pier 33. RSVP here.
  • Mission Bit Web/Computer Programming Teacher PD: Advance your skill set through programming content acquisition & use this acquired knowledge to create and/or evolve lessons, units or projects for your respective students. After school twice a week starting 9/22. $2500 stipend. Apply here by Friday, September 12.
  • Bay Area Earth Science Institute Workshops: Participants receive two Voyages Through Time curriculum modules, a Galileoscope, and a Kepler Orrery for use in their classrooms. Sign up for one or both days. Both are at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Satursdays 8:30am-4:30pm. Information & registration here.
    • Sept 13: Cosmic Evolution, Telescopes, Infrared Astronomy, & NGSS
    • Sept 27: Planetary Evolution, NASA Kepler Models, The Solar System, & NGSS
  • Climate Change and Sustainability: An online, one-credit, self-paced course for secondary science teachers that will provide content knowledge, resources and strategies to teach climate change in ways that support Common Core and NGSS. 15 hours, optional Geology credit from SJSU. Information here. Course is Sept 15-Nov 21.
  • Inquiry Through Science & Engineering Practices: This online course from Montana State University (Dr. John Graves) provides a focus on inquiry instruction through the use of the NGSS Science & Engineering Practices. Course goals include development and implementation of inquiry-based science lessons using Science and Engineering Practices; exploration of current issues regarding inquiry-based instruction and classroom research; and increased understanding of the role of assessment in an inquiry-based science classroom. Class is until Dec 7. Register here by Monday, September 15.
  • Inspiring the Next Generation of Scientists Through Our Local Waters: Water is essential to all living things, connecting everything on Earth, & is a common thread that flows through all disciplines of science. Discover how to use our local waters as a lens to create meaningful NGSS-ready science curriculum. The first 15 classroom teachers of any grade who sign up for each respective date will receive a stipend. RSVP here for a session. This workshop is available (all sessions are the same):
    • Wed, Sept 24th,  4:30-7:30 PM at the EcoCenter at Heron’s Head Park
    • Thurs, Sept 25th, 4:30-7:30 PM at Aquarium of the Bay’s Bay Theater
    • Tues, Oct 7th, 4:30-7:30 PM, San Francisco Public Library (Richmond Branch)
  • Teacher at Sea: Work, learn, & live aboard a NOAA vessel for 2-3 weeks. Information & application here. Apply by Tuesday, September 30 at 5pm.
  • Captain Planet Foundation Grants: $500-2500 grants available for project-based environmental activities. Apply here by Tuesday, September 30 for spring and summer projects.
  • Target Field Trip Grants: apply for up to $700 for buses, materials, fees, etc. for field trips. Information & application here. Apply by Wed, October 1, 3pm.
  • Synopsys Science Fair Support: Receive up to 300 science fair boards & other supplies. Apply here by Wednesday, October 1, 5pm.
  • Climate Change in the Classroom: Through this workshop, teachers will learn how climate change is affecting the San Francisco Bay Area, discover new ways to talk about climate change with their students, try out a couple of demonstrations, and discuss valuable, effective solutions to impart to the leaders of tomorrow. RSVP here. This workshop is available:
    • Tues, Oct, 2, 4:30-7:30pm at the Bay Model; Sausalito: Marc Holmes, Bay Restoration Program Director of The Bay Institute
    • Wed, Oct 29, 4:30-7:30pm at Crissy Field: Carol Preston, Education and Outreach Coordinator of NOAA’s Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary
  • NEA Grants to Educators: apply here for $2000 (or $5000 for a group) for professional development or for $2000-5000 to pay for student materials or education experiences. Deadline for both is October 15.
  • Fostering the Sense of Wonder: Using Exploration to Teach Scientific Practices and Principles: How can we foster the sense of wonder and love of learning in our students? Discover innovative strategies to use exploration and student driven learning to not only inspire life-long learning but to build meaningful and engaging science lessons. Aquarium of the Bay thanks the John and Marcia Goldman Foundation for their support of this workshop. Please note: There will be two sessions of the same workshop, so please select the date and location that work best for you. This workshop is most appropriate for elementary school teachers, but is also open to secondary teachers, school support staff, and informal educators. The first 20 participants who sign up for each respective date will receive a stipend. RSVP hereThis workshop will be available:
    • Wed, Nov 12, 4:30-7:30pm at the EcoCenter at Heron’s Head Park
    • Thurs, Nov 20, 4:30-7:30pm at Aquarium of the Bay
  • Teacher Workshops at the Cal Academy: Information & registration for all workshops here. $15 for most workshops. More workshops on the website.
    • (7-12) Evolution Kit Training: Sat, Sept 13, 8:30am-12:30pm
    • (6-12) Climate Myths: Wednesdays, Oct 1, 8 & 15, 4:30-6:30pm ($35 for series)
  • CA Coastal Clean-up Day! On Saturday, Sept 20, school groups are encouraged to clean up our coast and inland waterways throughout California, as part of the 30th anniversary of California Coastal Cleanup Day. Locations & information here. New this year, schools can also do a cleanup at your school site through the official Schoolyard Cleanup Program! Find detailed lessons and instructions for participating in an international data collection and analysis online here.
  • 17 Days On the Bottom of the Ocean: Underwater explorer & photographer Kip Evans will be sharing tales of his adventures from the deep & from the 17 days he spent living underwater in the Aquarius Habitat during this family friendly event (all children under the age of 12 who register for the event will receive a free gift bag). Information & RSVP here. Saturday, September 13, 9am-12pm, Aquarium of the Bay.
  • SFPUC Water Works Event: Join the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission & city partners for a fun-filled afternoon of hands-on activities, raffles, & workshops to invest in a stronger San Francisco! Information here (extra raffle ticket for RSVPing). Saturday, September 20, 10am-2pm, Southeast Treatment Plant, 750 Phelps Ave.
  • (9th-11th grade) Get to the Coast with YMCA Point Bonita and Coastal Conservancy: This program is intended to provide first time overnight coastal outdoors experiences to Bay Area youth enrolled in Title 1 middle and high schools. This is for a teacher-led enriched or honor class (or science-themed club) of interested students to experience meaningful scientific research. Three days/2 nights will be full of YMCA outdoor education programming with integrated grade-level appropriate guided research with YMCA staff. $50/student with busing included. Apply here for dates in Fall 2014 and Spring 2015. Apply by Sept 30.
  • Cal Academy Field Trips: Sign up now for your 2014-2015 field trips! Visit the California Academy of Sciences before November 30, 2014 to see the new SKULLS exhibit before it closes.  Visit in the spring to bring your grades 3-12 students to the new Planetarium show on ecosystems. To apply for field trip dates, click here.
  • Send your name into space! NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission and The Planetary Society invite you to submit your name for a round-trip ride to asteroid Bennu starting in 2016 and returning in 2023! Submit & get your certificate here.
  • Nobel Laureates' School Visits: How many people have ever met a recipient of the Nobel Prize, much less had a face-to-face conversation with one of these exceptional individuals?  A Nobel Laureate Visit is a highly inspirational science event for the entire school system: the participating students, teachers, parents, and the school administration.  It even inspires the Nobel Laureates. Arrange for a Nobel Laureate to visit by emailing or visiting their website.
  • BayMobile - Bringing the Bay Your Way! During a visit from the BayMobile, your students will dive into the science of climate change & meet some of Aquarium of the Bay’s animal ambassadors, all without leaving the classroom. Through experimentation & demonstration, your students will engage in scientific practices & gain a better understanding of one of the most important issues of our time. All courses are aligned with the NGSS, & are taught by our talented education team. We look forward to bringing the Aquarium & climate change education to your school!  Click here for information & to request a reservation.
  • Aquarium of the Bay Field Trips: Reservations for all our FREE field trip programs (Exploration Tour, Sea Lion Center Classroom Program, or Self Guided Tour of the Aquarium) are now available via our online reservation form. The days & times offered for these programs have changed, so be sure to check out the program descriptions on our website before you book.
  • Food to Flowers Lunchroom Composting Program! Is your school composting? Need help? Call the SF Department of the Environment! Our support includes dynamic assemblies, compost monitor trainings, aprons, curriculum, posters, and bins. Contact AeJay Mitchell at 415-355-3713 or Information here.
  • “Giant Sweep/Stop Litter” Assembly! This popular 30-minute assembly teaches students the problems with litter, the causes of litter, and what we can do to help stop litter. Contact Tamar Hurwitz (SF Department of the Environment) at 415-355-3763 or Information here.
  • “Litterati” Photo Project + Assembly/Presentation: Litterati is a phenomenal photo-sharing project that uses Instagram to clean the planet one piece of litter at a time.  As you and your students participate, Litterati gathers data which identifies areas where litter is appearing and also the most commonly found items.  If you’ve already had the “Giant Sweep” Assembly, this is an excellent follow-up!  Contact Jeff Kirscher at for more information (sponsored by the SFDPW).
  • San Francisco Public Utilities Commission  “Our Water” Presentation or Assembly: Due to the severity of the drought, this presentation is now being offered as an assembly for all grades.  Students will learn the history of San Francisco’s water supply and a variety of water conservation strategies.  Contact Tamar Hurwitz (SF Department of the Environment) at 415-355-3763 or
  • HI-USA's Outdoor Hostel Adventure: An environmental education program that fosters youth appreciation, exploration & stewardship of the natural world, and facilitates cooperation, team building, & intercultural understanding. Discover wildlife, tide pools, native plants & starry skies during day or overnight trips at three locations: HI-Marin Headlands, HI-Point Reyes and HI-Point Montara Lighthouse. Learning with our skilled staff, youth gain an appreciation & respect for nature, an understanding of basic principles of ecology & human impact on the environment, & a sense of place that fosters stewardship and ecological responsibility in their own lives. Cost ranges from $8-$24 per student & $5 for chaperones. Information here.
  • The 2014 Bay Area Science Festival will return this fall from Oct 23 - Nov 1. This year’s festival promises to be the best yet! There will be 50 events over 10 days concluding with a day full of free hands-on science at Discovery Days in San Francisco at AT&T Park on Saturday, November 1, 11am – 4pm. This year, SFUSD is hosting a number of hands-on science and engineering booths highlighting many exciting STEM programs happening across schools. For more information visit:
The Science Team at C & I is here to support your science education needs.  In addition to centrally-located professional development opportunities, we are available to provide on-site individual and department-wide support in:
  • Common Core Literacy Standards for Science
  • Next Generation Science Standards
  • Integrating science inquiry
  • Data-based inquiry to inform your science instruction 
  • Content and Language Objectives in Science
  • Strategies for English Language Learners
  • Curriculum development
  • Coaching
Dawn Rege, STEM High School Science Content Specialist, Division of Curriculum & Instruction
Katie Tobin, STEM High School Science Content Specialist, Division of Curriculum & Instruction
Eric Lewis, Science Content Specialist, LEAD - High Schools Division
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Copyright © 2014 SFUSD Office of Curriculum & Instruction, STEM - Science Department. All rights reserved.

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