CAST 2011


I went to Dallas for this year’s Conference for the Advancement of Science Teaching (CAST), the annual statewide meeting of the Science Teachers Association of Texas (STAT).

It was fun and exciting to see the vendor booths, attend informative sessions, and to meet and talk with science teachers from all over Texas. I learned a lot from both experienced and novice teachers as they shared with me their various ideas and tips that they took from their teaching toolboxes.

I also attended a luncheon hosted by the Associated Chemistry Teachers of Texas (ACT2), the chemistry affiliate of STAT. They acted as hosts to Jonathan Bergmann, their guest speaker. Bergmann talked about how he, along with fellow Colorado chemistry teacher Aaron Sams, flipped his chemistry classroom in order to provide more class time for student help and less for lecture.

Jonathan Bergmann

Aaron Sams

Teach Like A Champion

I was shown this book Teach Like A Champion during one of my staff development meetings. The book lists teaching techniques to help teachers (especially those in their early years) become effective in the classroom. Unlike many books with a similar intent, this book offers specific and concrete techniques. At the end of each chapter are training activities to help you further reflect and apply the ideas to your own practice. The book comes with a DVD containing 25 video clips of teachers demonstrating the techniques in their classroom. I was impressed enough with the book to go buy my own copy.

Get To Know Your State Education Agency


The Texas Education Agency is a branch of the state government responsible for public education. TEA is responsible for the oversight of public primary and secondary education in the state of Texas, involving both 1,236 individual school districts in the state as well as charter schools, and more than 4.8 million students. TEA responsibilities include serving as a fiscal agent for the distribution of state and federal funds, overseeing development of the statewide curriculum, administering the statewide assessment program, managing the textbook adoption process, and administering a data collection system on public school students, staff, and finances.

The State Board of Education (SBOE) is an elected 15-member board that guides and monitors activities and programs related to public education and is managed by a Commissioner of Education, who is appointed by the Governor of Texas. The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) oversees all aspects of the reparation, certification, and standards of conduct of public school educators. There are 11 members on the board who are appointed by the Governor, and three non-voting members. TEA provides staff support to the SBEC board.

In order to serve the large number of individual school districts and charter schools in Texas, TEA is divided into 20 regions, each containing an Educational Service Center. The 20 Education Service Centers are non-regulatory agencies whose purpose is to aid administrators and teachers by acting as a liaison between TEA and the local school districts and disseminating information, supplying teacher resources, and conducting training and consultation for both federal and state programs. Supported by state and federal funds, as well as by fees assessed for services and tools, they provide professional development in areas such as technology, bilingual education, special education, gifted and talented education, and programs for at-risk students. In addition, they offer alternative teacher, principal, and superintendent certification programs.

The State Board of Education periodically updates the state’s curriculum standards called the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). Textbooks and other instructional materials are then written for children based on those standards. More than 48 million textbooks are distributed by TEA to Texas public school students each year.

In fall 2011, the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) will replace the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS). The STAAR program includes annual assessments for grades 3–8 in reading and mathematics, in writing at grades 4 and 7, in science at grades 5 and 8, in social studies at grade 8, and end-of-course assessments for English I, English II, Algebra I, Biology, and US History.

The Career and Technical Education (CTE) Unit provides direction and leadership to the CTE programs throughout Texas. Career and technical programs are dedicated to preparing young people to manage the dual roles of family member and wage earner. They enable students to gain entry-level employment in a high-skill, high-wage job, and to continue their education. CTE staff assists districts statewide with implementation of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for CTE, collaborates with various professional organizations regarding CTE programs, and assists in overseeing the textbook adoption process for CTE instructional materials.

Taking The TExES For Teacher Certification


The Texas Education Agency requires that everyone interested becoming a teacher in the Texas public school system have an educator certification. This is awarded after satisfactory performance on comprehensive examinations. These examinations are given to ensure that each teacher has the prerequisite content and professional knowledge necessary for an entry-level position in the state public schools.

The examinations are called the Texas Examinations of Educator Standards (TExES) and are criterion-referenced examinations designed to measure your knowledge in relation to an established criterion instead of to the performance of other test takers. All of the tests in the TExES program contain multiple-choice questions. Some tests also have additional types of questions such as open-ended written or oral responses. The foundation for the TExES series are the TExES Educator Standards which, in turn, are based on the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS).


Each TExES exam is administered by a testing vendor, currently the Educational Testing Service. Test takers need to register and get an approval to test. If you want to become certified to teach any science in secondary school, you will need to take exam 160, Pedagogy  and Professional Responsibilities (EC-Grade 12) and exam 136, Science (Grades 8-12). If you want to be certified in a specific science content or want more information about individual exams and their composition, see the preparation manual for each exam.

5E Learning Cycle

Less than a year after the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1, the first artificial Earth satellite, on October 4, 1957, the US Congress passed the National Defense Education Act, which allocated billions of dollars for the purpose of improving math and science education. One result was the establishment of the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study by the American Institute of Biological Sciences. A geneticist, Hiram Bentley Glass, chaired the first Steering Committee. The BSCS, made up of mainly professional biologists, decided to focus on secondary school biology, mainly at the tenth-grade level, and collaborated with high school educators and administrators to develop and implement new curriculum materials.

The BSCS team, led by Principal Investigator Roger Bybee, developed a lesson model based on constructivism to advance the teaching of science. Constructivism proposes that learners need to build their own understanding of new ideas. The model describes a teaching sequence that can be scaled for entire programs, specific units, or individual lessons. They called it the BSCS 5E Instructional Model, with five different stages of a teaching sequence. These stages would be done across several school days and not necessarily in a single class period for each stage. The five stages of the BSCS 5E Instructional Model are designed to facilitate the process of constructivism in students by providing connections among student activities and bringing coherence to different teaching strategies. The five stages are: Engage, Explore, Explain, Extend (or Elaborate), and Evaluate.


The purpose for the engagement stage is for teachers to capture student curiosity about the phenomena and to get them personally involved in the lesson, while assessing the prior knowledge of the students. Students are introduced to the lesson topic and start making connections between their previous and current learning experiences. This lays the organizational foundation for upcoming activities.


The purpose for the exploration stage is to give students a chance to build their own understanding by participating directly in an activity involving the phenomena. As the students work together in teams, they build common experiences through communicating and sharing. The teacher is a facilitator, guiding the focus of the students through questioning and observation as they actively learn through inquiry and engineering challenges. Ideally, the students, through guided exploration, make hypotheses, design their own investigations, test their own predictions, and draw their own conclusions.


The purpose for the explanation stage is to ask the students to communicate what they have discovered so far and to figure out its meaning as they build their understanding of the phenomena. Student discussions allow for the placing of events into a logical sequence and occur between peers. The teacher, as the facilitator, may refine the understanding of students by guiding the discussion topics to include vocabulary in context and to redirect any student misconceptions.


The purpose for the extension (or elaboration) stage is for the teacher to ask students to use their new knowledge in unfamiliar but similar situations. At this stage, their understanding of the phenomena is challenged and deepened as the students expand on the learned concepts and make connections to related concepts. The students apply their understanding to the world around them in new ways as the teacher guides them toward the next lesson topic.


The purpose for the evaluation stage is for both teachers and students to determine how much understanding of the phenomena has taken place. It is an ongoing process where the teacher observes each student’s knowledge and depth of understanding. Assessment should take place at points throughout the continuum of the teaching process and not within its own set stage. Evaluation may include teacher observations and rubrics as well as students demonstrating their understanding with projects, interviews, and portfolios.