April 21, 2015
State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Highlights Innovative New Science Standards to Better Prepare Students for California's Changing Economy
GALT—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today lauded the innovative science teaching taking place at Robert L. McCaffrey Middle School in the Galt Joint Union Elementary School District*, one of eight school districts and two charter school associations that are participating in an early implementation program for the Next Generation Science Standards, and serving as models for the rest of the state.
"The Next Generation Science Standards are a crucial part of California's plan to improve classroom learning and prepare students for the 21st century," said Torlakson. "They emphasize hands-on experiments, integrate science disciplines, and encourage students to be critical thinkers and problem solvers."
Torlakson participated in an eighth grade McCaffrey Middle School class taught by Lisa Hegdahl, president-elect of the California Science Teachers Association. Hegdahl divided her class into four-person groups and asked them to work together using a flashlight, a ball on a stick, and a large white board to explain the earth's orbit around the sun and how seasons are created.
Torlakson, who is also a science teacher, said he enjoyed participating in the lesson and was pleased to see how the new standards, taught by Hegdahl, whom he called an "outstanding, innovative teacher and leader," engaged and motivated students.
"I could sense the students' interest in the assignment and their desire to try and figure it out," Torlakson said. "The new standards provide a real push for students to think for themselves. It's a thrill for me, as a science teacher, to see this come alive."
California teachers and scientists played a critical role in developing the new standards, which had not been updated since 1998, six years before Facebook was started and nine years before Apple introduced the iPhone. California adopted the standards in 2013.
"The world has changed, and we needed to change our science standards, too" Torlakson said. "It's no longer rote memorization and filling in bubbles on a multiple-choice test, but rather hands-on experimentation, thinking about problems, and coming up with your own answers and the proof for them."
Prior to the class, students, teachers and administrators met with Torlakson to discuss how the new standards are working out. Several students told Torlakson it made class more fun and the material easier to remember. Sixth-grade teacher Neika Estey said it has prompted her students to question the science behind everything, including why there have been several cloudy days in April.
"My students are in love with science," Estey said.
Galt Elementary and the other seven districts and two charter management organizations received funding from the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation and the Silicon Valley Community Foundation to train teachers and develop a collaborative network to share best practices for teaching the new standards with other districts around the state.
Districts selected as "early adapters" besides Galt Elementary are:
- Kings Canyon Unified School District.
- Lakeside Union School District.
- Oakland Unified School District.
- Palm Springs Unified School District.
- Tracy Unified School District.
- Vista Unified School District.
- San Diego Unified School District.
The two charters management organizations are Aspire and High Tech High.
For more information, go to the California Department of Education's Next Generation Science Standards Web page.
* For a picture of today's school visit, go to the Multimedia Web page.
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Tom Torlakson —
State Superintendent of Public Instruction
Communications Division, Room 5602, 916-319-0818, Fax 916-319-0100