Why Elementary Science Matters (and How You Can Make It Happen)

why elementary science matters

Science matters in Kindergarten, just as much as it matters in High School. With elementary science teachers, high school science teachers have a huge helping hand in teaching and sparking scientific interest in our kids today as well as for our scientists and thinkers of the future.

When I used to think about a science classroom, I thought about high school and college labs with experiments and triple beam balances and hot plates and lab coats. That picture I had in my head for older students, is exactly what I had to set up in order to teach science to 5th graders! I didn’t realize how crucial a strong science curriculum was for elementary, until I was teaching middle school and moved down to 5th grade. In 8th grade, we worked with 7th grade teachers to get students prepared for the rigor of 8th grade science. In 7th grade, we looked to the 5th and 6th grade teachers to prepare our students for building their skills and knowledge for mastery in 7th. In 5th grade, it surprised me. I covered pretty advanced concepts for what I expected elementary science to be. There is a huge jump from the simple observations and concepts in Kindergarten to what students need to know coming into 5th grade. Elementary science is where we build the schema/ background knowledge and skills that our students use in middle school and high school.

stem in the classroom

Why Does Science Matter?

Science Sparks Interest

The mind of a child is interested and curious. I know that at some point you have probably experienced a small child with their endless bombardment of questions. They are interested and want to know about the world around them. Use that curiosity and inquiry to spark a lifelong interest in gathering information, solving problems, and critical thinking. Kids are thinkers. All we need to do is foster that thinking, and grow them into the great minds of the future.

Science Builds Schema

Science is one of those subjects that covers just about everything. When a student has been given the opportunity to study the life cycle of an animal, they will be able to better understand a story about a caterpillar eating and growing and transforming. When a student has been given the opportunity to observe and identify signs of the seasons, they will better understand and imagine an author’s description of a season in a story.  And of course, it builds the schema students need coming into each new grade level’s science class. Learning about plants and watching a flower grow in kindergarten builds a background that helps them learn the life cycle and parts of a plant. The life cycle of a plant and learning the basic plant parts helps build that base so they can learn more plant parts and plant reproduction later on down the road. Knowing plant parts and reproduction will be knowledge they can pull from when learning about genetics and Punnett’s Squares in biology. This knowledge can lead interested students into future science careers and research. A student who wants to be a doctor will need a good base education in science in order to make it to med school. Ensuring the students experience all the building blocks of science education through elementary school will set them up for success in the future.

Science Develops Skills 

Teaching kids to think and process information like a scientist develops critical thinking, problem solving, and nonfiction reading and writing skills. These skills are cross curricular and will continue progress with the student each year. Science, Inquiry Based Learning, and STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) have become a major focus in education. I think that shift in education is wonderful for all content areas. Thinking like a scientist uses predicting, analytical thinking, research, planning, testing, and making conclusions. This way of thinking encourages recognition of cause and effect relationships as well as recording data, writing facts and opinions, and writing instructions when testing a hypothesis.  Research, recording data, and writing conclusions all helps with reading and writing in the non-fiction genre. Measuring and making calculations helps with math skills. Another aspect of teaching kids to think like a scientist is the social skills they acquire. Students in a science class work together, plan together, test hypotheses together, create together, and share opinions and ideas with others. Working together like this prepares students to work together in all the content areas, as well as in real world situations.

hands on science

How Can You Make It Happen?

Build Your Own Science Knowledge

I was fortunate enough to have a strong education in science during college. I changed from an engineering career to a teaching career mid-college, giving me some extra science and math classes. My education program at the university also packed science and math into my teaching degree. I have realized over the years that most teachers did not receive as much science background, and some claim to not even be interested in science.  First let me say that if you are interested in anything at all, you have an interest in science. 😉 Science is the study of the world around us. Do you have a hobby such as hiking? Then, you have an interest in nature and weather. Are you interested in cooking? Then, you would find some chemistry and health sciences interesting. A great place to find your interest in science and build your knowledge is by watching TED Talks. I recently discovered these, and they are fascinating. I have learned about social issues and problem solvers, space exploration, water purification, and my list could go on forever. TED Talks are quick, usually under 20 minutes. The speakers have passion and a world of knowledge to share. I highly recommend finding some TED talks that interest you or pertain to something you teach.  I have found them on Netflix, too! Thanks to  the internet, you can find endless resources to read, watch, and research topics that you teach. Social media has given us an opportunity to connect with scientists and organizations all over the world.

Here are my favorite resources for gaining more science background for teachers:

  1. TED Talks
  2. Open Yale Courses
  3. Discovery Education
  4. NSTA Learning Center
  5. Twitter – Follow scientists and organizations

Create A Knowledge Rich And Hands On Curriculum For Science In The Younger Grades

This is the part that can stress teachers out. Rethinking your curriculum?! I believe you can make science lessons informative and still make them fun for little ones. I have a selection of resource types that I find important in a science curriculum for all grades K-8. If you have resources like these and set up a nice system to follow, planning and implementing lessons will be a smooth process.

  1. Science Wall. This is a focus point in the room that starts and ends each day. Post learning goals as questions for the students to work for an answer throughout the lesson. Post diagrams the students are learning in each lesson. Post the word wall words of the day. The freebie I linked to here provides students will a recording sheet that they can use to answer those guiding questions and turn in as an exit slip.
  2. Something fun to get students interested and help access their prior knowledge. This can be an activity, a game, a simple experiment, a video clip of the science topic in action, a read aloud, or a craftivity. I don’t usually make this a big, time consuming event, just something fun.
  3. Word Wall. This is a place to focus on science specific words and can help guide students through understanding the new words from each unit. I not only have the cards on the wall, but I have a series of activities that help students process and practice the words.
  4. The Informative (Input). I love using the reading passages and processing pages from Science and Literacy lesson sets to give students the basic knowledge they need before they can experience each topic hands on. With Science and Literacy, they have the opportunity to read informational texts and process them with graphic organizers and writing. Interactive Science Notebooks are another piece in my Informative lesson part. Interactive Notebooks are fun for kids and allow you a place to give them information in an new way. Interactive Notebooks have an Input and Output page, allowing students another way to process the new information.
  5. Exploration. My favorite part of every lesson! And, the students’ favorite part as well. This is the hands on part in which students can observe and explore the topic. These can be activities, games, observations, experiments, labs, teacher directed or student centered, hands on activities. My favorite ways to allow students to explore each topic are in the Science and Literacy lesson sets.
  6. Anchor Charts. Make these with your students as a reference for the information you have learned. Post them around the room, and have students draw their own copy in their notebooks.
  7. Assessment. Formative and Summative assessments are great ways to see how well your students grasped the learning goal of each lesson and unit. I give a formative assessment, which I give as a challenge/ critical thinking assignment, at the end of each lesson. I give a summative assessment, or unit test, at the end of each unit.
  8. Review. Reivew the concepts you covered throughout the year to refresh students memories and give them a deeper understanding. Stations are a fun way to review in the last semester of school. You can also have some review pages and diagrams for the students to work on. Review resources can also work for tutoring lessons.

Set Your Students Up For Success

You may look at an informational text or a lab and worry that it is too much for your students in your grade level. Students are more capable than we realize a lot of the time. We just have to set them up to be able to work  at that level. A gradual release of responsibility is necessary for getting students to higher levels of thinking and production. Start off the year by modeling the work that you will be expecting your students to be capable of handling on their own in the near future. For example, read the first informational text to the students while they follow along. Model how you think and process new words and new information. As you fill out the graphic organizer, think out loud showing them how they might get the answers in their own thinking. Students can follow along with you and copy what you are writing. Use this same modeling process for writing a summary about the reading. If students seem to be understanding the process, allow them to share input as you work through the next informational text. Allow them to share their thinking and contribute to completing the graphic organizers and writing. Repeat this process with the next couple informational texts as well until you can tell the students are going to be successful on their own. Once they are ready to try out the informational texts on their own, allow them to work with a friend and walk around helping the students. Provide feedback and guidance. Eventually, the students will work independently and be successful.

The idea of a gradual release of responsibility is useful in science activities and labs as well. Model working through the scientific process and following directions, ask for student assistance and input while modeling,  provide feedback and support while students work on their own or with others, allow students to work independently or with others without much help or redirection needed. If you provide the right amount of guidelines and boundaries, you will have a classroom of successfully independent scientists.

Modify and Accommodate Learners

When choosing modifications and accommodations, I like to stick to the ones the students will be using on their standardized tests and that are listed in their IEPs. This will help them to be successful when using the modifications and accommodations on those tests and in the classroom the following school years. Additional assistance and lingering a little longer with the gradual release of responsibility with those students will help them to be more successful in the classroom. Here are some of the modifications I use in the classroom based on the needs of each student:

  •  Reminders to stay on task and for behavior
  • Amplification devices and Screen REadiwer
  • Enlarged print – and more space between questions
  • Oral administration of reading passages, assignments, test questions and answers – teacher read or prerecorded onto an audio player
  • Transcribing – writing answers for the student on a variety of assignments and levels
  • Supplemental Aides – blank diagrams students can use in science
  • Extended Time – maybe even an extra day
  • Fewer Questions
  • Fewer Answer Choices
  • Modified Rubric
  • Breaking up assignments into manageable chunks

Thank you elementary science teachers for all you do! Your hard work matters!!

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