CSTA Classroom Science

The Crazy Initiative that Could

By Kathy DiRanna and Jill Grace, CSTA Past President

The K-12 Alliance is well known for a lot of crazy things. We are a group made up of believers, dreamers, and doers. When we gather together enmasse, our openers send the faint of heart into the hallways and our skit nights are so legendary, we sometimes destroy photographic evidence. At our core is the craziest thing of all: this simple notion that a high-quality science education can not only change the life of a student, but it can change the world. We believe that teachers and administrators are everything and the core of that change.

We were at the table when the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) were forming, and every step of the way through the adoption and implementation process at the state level. Knowing that these would be a paradigm shift for many, we worked diligently with our state-wide partners, the State Board of Education (SBE), California Department of Education, County Offices of Education, California Science Project, and California ScienceTeachers Association, to lay out a system of strategic support to ensure we built a community that could support our teachers and administrators and leverage their leadership. But we also knew that more was needed.

In 2014, we had the craziest idea of all - the biggest! What if we could get funding for districts to learn, grow, and become change-makers as they were implementing the NGSS? Luckily, the State Board of Education had two liaisons that were supporting science, and one of them, Trish Williams, was also intrigued with the idea of establishing light-house districts where we could take their stories and their lessons learned and use them to benefit others across the state. From this crazy idea came the CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative - a “fast start demonstration project” involving 8 school districts (funded by the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation) and two charter management organizations (funded by the Hastings-Quillin Fund) where together we learned to leverage their capacity to fully implement the NGSS as a core subject in the elementary grades (K-5) and as the SBE’s preferred integrated model in grades 6-8. The initiative engaged everyone in a deep understanding of policy implications, building teacher and administrator leadership, changing teacher practice, increasing student opportunities to learn science, and disseminating learnings across California and other states adopting the NGSS.

What we all learned from each other helped inspire over six years of action - policy work at the state level, the first ever state science framework aligned to the NGSS, the first ever complete revamp of a subject’s instructional materials review process by the state (CA NGSS TIME), the first ever sequence of statewide professional learning events designed to help everyone grow together, develop a common vision, and shape conversations and work nationwide. Our teacher leaders moved from novice to experienced and boldly stretched themselves to share their learnings with their colleagues, with neighboring districts, and with other California educators through the development of more than 100 sessions for the California Science Education Conferences. They led the development of the CSTA Climate Summit Learning Sequences and the K-12 Alliance NGSS Learning Sequences. Our team collectively authored 55 articles for the California Classroom Science column, NGSS Early Implementers.

This month bookends the 6-year initiative and this, the culminating article in the NGSS Early Implementers column, as we proudly witness our teacher and administrative leaders spread their wings and continue to grow their leadership. We already see many who will take on daring new feats like district science coaches, site administrators, and district office personnel. This month starts a new beginning where they take that crazy idea of science being the thing that can change the world - and stretch it further than we could have imagined.

To all of them - and to all of you, daring to imagine new possibilities for you, your districts, and your students - we will always be here to support you, no matter how crazy or big the idea is.


Kathy DiRanna and Jill Grace are both with K-12 Alliance, a Science and Engineering program of WestEd, and members of CSTA. In July of 2020, after serving 50 years in education, Kathy will transfer the role of Statewide director to Jill, whom she mentored for12 years.


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