The Elementary Ali Teaching Model for Teaching Science (It sounds official, but it is just what I have found works best for me)
Each classroom is a diverse environment with varying emotional, mental, social, and motivational needs. A one size fits all model will not work towards effective learning in any classroom. Curriculum standards are the framework for you, as the teacher, to base instruction. It tells you what to teach, but offers little or no insight on how to teach. Over the years, through research and experience, I have developed a model which I think helps build effective teaching.
To reach each and every student, you are going to have to make intentional changes from the old fashion textbook learning to a new and innovative way of teaching. Teaching should be learner centered. You give the guidelines and instructions, and the students take it from there. Let them explore. It is going to get loud and messy, but should not exhaust you or create too much more work for you. I like the idea of working smarter, not harder. When efficient in your new model of teaching, you will be the observer, passing by groups of learners listening and questioning more than talking. You are here to show them the world around them.
Here we go! It is going to sound backwards, but I am going to start this teaching model with homework. This is because I like to start lessons with homework. My thinking behind this originated with the fact that I hated assigning homework knowing that most students wouldn’t have the structure at home to make it helpful. They would either be going home to an empty house with no one to help if needed, completing their homework in the car on the way home from baseball practice, or even worse the parents were doing the work. I can’t tell you how many homework assignments were turned in with the parent’s handwriting. Trust me, I saw these kids’ classwork. There is an obvious difference between the handwriting of an adult and a 5th grade student. Not only that, when these kids were failing, the parents would deny that was their grown-up handwriting on the homework. I wanted to discontinue the use of homework altogether because I had deemed it ineffective and a waste of our time. In many cases, the teachers do not have the power to stop assigning homework. While I was frustrated that my principal required homework for a certain amount of time each night, I am glad I was forced to get creative to make homework useful to me. Not only did I want to find a way to make homework carry an educational value, I also wanted to make it fun. Kids are subjected to being indoors in a seat for far too much of their energetic lives. I wanted my homework to get them outside, exploring and having fun. This brings me to my model of homework. Homework should be a pre-learning activity in which students explore the world around them, building the schema necessary to connect to their learning. I start lessons with homework rather than ending with it. There are many experiences for students to encounter in their world outside of school. When they find elements from their lessons at home or at the park, they have something in which to plug the new information. An example homework assignment for weathering, erosion, and deposition would be to send the students on a scavenger hunt for specific occurrences in nature. Ask them to look for and describe a crack in the sidewalk and tiny pieces of rocks in the dirt. This will give them something tangible to connect with mechanical weathering and sediments during the lesson the following day. Now, you have meaningful results from a simple homework assignment. It can also lead to a class discussion on findings. I would either type the list of scavenger hunt items on a half sheet of paper for students to write on, or have them write the list on notebook paper before leaving class for the day. Students recording their observations will serve as a paper to check for completion of the assignment, and a grade if you are required to take a grade for homework. As it comes time for a test, always give the students and parents study materials to work with at home- More on this later.
Begin each class time with an activity to get them into science thinking mode. I like to use my Daily Science Starters, which is one question each day to answer as everyone gets settled into class. Discussing the question should lead into the lesson for the day, so have the question cover something learned from the previous day rather than earlier in the year. Not only will the Daily Science Starters get their brains going, it will help deter them from walking into the classroom and start visiting with friends.
Before the students walk in the room, have a Science Wall form on their desk to help their learning keep focus throughout the lesson. You can also stand at the door greeting students with their Science Wall form. Science Wall is something I have set up each day for students to complete by the end of class. They will look to define one or two word wall words from the lesson, answer an essential question that is based on the I can statement for the lesson, and complete a diagram with what they learn in class. This Science Wall form doubles as an exit slip that really lets you know what they got out of the lesson. Keep it simple, so they are not distracted from the lesson and it will be a valuable learning and assessment tool.
When planning your lesson think as hands on and as interactive as possible to engage the students. You want a classroom environment where students are inquisitive of the concepts investigated. I find this easy in Science since Science is all about exploring the world around us and using experiments to test ideas. If the concept you are teaching does not lend itself to a lab, play a game! You can’t exactly bring levels of the food web into class to observe how the energy flows, but you can make a card game like War for the kids to see who eats who. To keep it fun and interesting, think about your favorite games you played as a kid. Red Rover, Four Square, Running Relays, Candy Land, and Monopoly can all be recreated to teach and review Science concepts! Even better than making the games to play in science, make them life sized and move the desks aside. The students can be their playing pieces. Think of all the memories you will make for your kids, if you made every day game day in science! Making memories means they are committing the information and experience to memory so they can recall it better when needed. Along the lines of games and fun, test review can be just as engaging for your learners. I always plan one to two review days before a test to bring everything back up to the surface. Review day one is usually making a review poster. We go over all the facts or concepts they will be tested over, and they make a poster displaying all the information- think infographics. Pictures, diagrams, and graphs in one location make the information easily reviewed. This poster can go home with them for studying with a family member or friend. Review day two is usually a game for the students to play either in partners or teams. Review Baseball is a great example of a game to get active and answer test review questions. Students can take turns at bat with a pool noodle as the bat. You can pitch a balloon at them, or rotate student pitchers. If they hit the balloon, they will run the bases around the room answering a question at each base to advance to the next. When they answer all four questions on their run correctly, they score a point. Missing a question is an out and they can return to the batter lineup. You can also play this game as teams. The pitching team can ask the questions from cards you prepare, while the opposing team bats and tries to score runs. Three outs switches innings. So much fun for a class of students.
Now, class time cannot all be games. Kids need practice reading and writing to obtain information. Informational texts paired with graphic organizers and summary writing are a great combination for integrating language arts into science. Each new topic or concept should have a reading passage to accompany the lab or game. At first, you will want to gradually release the responsibility of reading and processing the text to the student. I start off the school year by reading the text as a class, completing the graphic organizer as a class, and writing the summaries as a class. As the students catch on, gradually give them more of the process to complete on their own. Start by giving them the summary to write on their own. Next, the summary and graphic organizer. When they are ready, give them all parts to complete on their own. Some students may need more help than others, so I group students who need more help in the same area. I can easily focus on (or hover over) that area of the room and read aloud if needed without disturbing the independent workers too much. Vocabulary enrichment such as word wall and word wall activities are crucial for learning the complex language of science. Complete a word wall chart as a class, or assign word wall learning sheets for each new word.
I know this is not a one size fits all method, but I hope you can find some takeaways to help you plan for your science classroom! Let me know what works for you and what doesn’t. I’m interested in other teachers’ thoughts!