Yes! Your Elementary Students Can Engage in Scientific Argumentation!

When I first learned about the NGSS practices, I felt overwhelmed with what was expected of elementary students. One practice in particular, Engaging in Argument from Evidence, seemed particularly overwhelming. Through my own professional development and investigation, I have learned that this practice is absolutely doable with elementary aged students if the proper scaffolding is provided.  

The key to getting your students comfortable with this practice is to give them opportunities to practice this skill using a variety of specific step by step instructions.  

Step 1:  Establish agreed upon rules for argumentation and discussion sessions
Step 2:  Provide sentence starters to help students get started with discussion
Step 3:  Provide "talking chips" to assure that all group members get a chance to share ideas
Step 4:  Require students to restate what the speaker before them said before sharing their ideas
Step 5:  Require students to provide evidence for their claims

In addition to these tips, the key is to find interesting topics that are a little ambiguous. This will allow for evidence to support each side depending on the way the argument question is worded. I've developed my first two argumentation activities and plan to make more. The first one involves debating which is worse, a tornado or a hurricane.This is ambiguous because the word "worse" is not defined and is up for interpretation. The other topic I have developed is Which is worse, an earthquake or a volcanic eruption? Again by using the word worse, it is left up to interpretation and could be argued from every side. Check these products out below:




How does Science Assessment Stack Up?

Testing season is upon us once again, and I thought I'd take this opportunity to reflect on science education at the elementary level with regards to testing.  I am not advocating for giving students more tests, but I have to wonder why science is not given the same amount of attention in elementary school as other subjects.  A good barometer for assessing the value of a subject is the assessments associated with it.  In my state, students are assessed in Reading, Language Arts, and Math from Kindergarten on.  Science, however, is only assessed in 5th grade.

Although some teachers will teach science regardless, many other teachers feel the pressure to perform on the subjects they are accountable for and let science fall by the wayside.  Again, I am not suggesting that we test our students in science in more grade levels, I just want to understand why science is not viewed as important in elementary grades. 

It seems rather ironic that science is left out of many elementary classrooms considering the amount of attention given to STEM and STEM fields in the last few years.  The S stands for Science!  And it's listed first!  Yet, science continues to take a back burner in many elementary schools.

In addition to the STEM focus, elementary students are primed to investigate scientific concepts.  They are so inquisitive and curious at this age; science seems like a natural tool to engage and connect with students.  

What do you think?  How can we change the elementary school culture to prioritize science education in elementary classrooms?

Breaking the Cycle of Traditional Teaching

I enjoy working with college level students who are hoping to become teachers in the near future. In our class for the last few weeks, students have been designing their own lessons of their choice and teaching in small groups.  We've spent most of the semester learning about different theories of learning, reading research on best practices, and experimenting with different student-centered approaches.  After all, the research supports teaching in these ways.  But what surprised me this week was the number of my students that fell back on traditional lecture-style teaching for their mini lessons.  I could see the boredom on the faces of their classmates as they tried to politely listen.  Lecturing is NOT effective.  Who wants to sit and listen to Charlie Brown's teacher mumble "mwa  mwa mwa mwa mwa" ?  Not me;  and chances are not students in K-12 classrooms either.

Research supports the notion that we tend to teach in ways we were taught.  So if we are going to break this cycle, we need to be mindful and purposeful about it.  Student engagement makes a huge difference in learning.  Engage your students by letting them take the reigns of learning.  They should be up and moving, playing with models, discussing and debating with classmates, and using hands on materials.  Today's classrooms should look nothing like the classrooms we grew up in.  No more rows of desks where students are discouraged from talking to one another; no more worksheets of meaningless drill and kill math problems, and no more teacher standing in the front of the classroom going over vocabulary and other mundane facts.

Cycles are hard to break; the first step is to be aware.  We can't deny scientific research supporting best practices for teaching.  I will continue to plug along and encourage my students to step out of their comfort zones and try new teaching techniques.  Hopefully they will see the rewards once they have a chance to see the excitement on their students' faces.

Embracing the Next Generation Science Standards

When your state or school district adopts new science standards, it's initially an overwhelming situation.  You've become comfortable with the science topics you've been required to teach, and now everything is changing.  Here are a few tips to help you become more confident in the new topics you are now required to teach:


1.  Don't try to become an expert in all of the topics the first year.  Pick one unit to really hone in on and do an amazing job with that unit. 
2.  If you teach in a school with several teachers at your grade level, try trading students for each unit so that you can teach the same unit to each class, while your colleagues teach specific units to yours. 
3.  Do as much background/content research as possible.  Teaching a new unit that you are not familiar with can be intimidating.  Use the Internet to find sources to help you build background.  There are many excellent videos and websites out there. 
4.  Enlist the help of your PTA or other school sources to help you purchase the required materials to give your students hands on experiences with the content. 
5.  Look for workshops offered by your school district.  Many districts offer courses or workshops for free.

Finding some good resources to help you teach the NGSS is also important.  Unfortunately when districts adopt new standards, there's often lag time before resources are purchased to support teachers.  Check out these entire year bundles available in my store:


 

 


Enjoy your year of Science!


Celebrate Earth Day on April 22nd

I remember my first experience of Earth Day more than 30 years ago in my early college days.  I lived in San Diego and volunteered at a huge Earth Day festival in Balboa Park.  I was in charge of the Face Painting Booth with a friend of mine.  The irony was that I was not an artist by any means.  But somehow we came up with some simple designs for kids to choose from, such as little Earths, or colorful butterflies. 

Now, more than any other time in history, it's important for us to continue the message of Earth Day.  As populations sore, issues that negatively impact our Earth are compounding exponentially.  When I taught 5th grade, I remember doing a mini unit on the 3 R's.  Several of my students actually got their parents to start recycling from this unit, and I felt that I had made a difference, even if it was a tiny one. 

Some tips to get the Earth Day message out to your students this month:

*Gather information about local recycling resources
*Invite a guest speaker from your cities recycling program
*Engage your students in community projects designed to spread the message of Earth Day

I have a few products available in my store that can also help enlist the next generation of Earth Day activitists.  Check them out here:


Happy Earth Day Everyone!

Get Those Students Up and Movin'!

It's already the middle of February, and I'm finally getting a blog post going for 2018.  I've been inspired for this post through my job of supervising college students while they observe and teach in 4th-9th grade classrooms.  One thing I have noticed lately is how teachers are getting their students up and moving during the teaching and learning process.  This is another positive sign that student centered learning is becoming more of a priority in classrooms.  In one classroom, the teacher had 2 big signs taped to opposite walls of the classroom; one said True, and the other said False.   As she displayed some truths/non truths about water and water usage, the students moved to the side of the room with either True or False.  She then asked them to share why they chose what they did.  This was a great way to get kids engaged in the lesson, and get debate and discussion going. More importantly, it also helped to break up the monotony of information delivery.  In another classroom students were moving around the room solving math problems and discussing their answer choices with a partner.

The specific practice of student movement in the classroom is supported by research.  This article is one I have my college students read that reveals some of the brain science of our limitations for paying attention.  When you've got some extra time, this article is definitely worth the read.

This idea of getting students moving has inspired an idea for some new products in my TpT store.  These products are scavenger hunts with a mystery puzzle built in.



The teacher simply displays the problem and answer cards in pairs around the room.  As students solve a problem, they walk around the room to find the answer and then write down the mystery letter that corresponds with each answer.  They continue to solve all of the problems and collect all the letters that spell out the mystery word.  I think this is a much more engaging way for students to practice math skills rather than doing a boring worksheet.  They are up and moving, blood pumping, and fully engaging in the activity.  So far I only have 2 topics, but I plan to make many more.  Leave me a comment on what topics you would like to see.  I'd also love to hear some ideas on how you get your students up and moving throughout the day.   I encourage you to get those students moving;  they will thank you for it!

The Eclipse for Back To School

What an amazing opportunity we have for Back To School time this year!!! The Great American Solar Eclipse is only weeks away, and I couldn't be more excited! For me, the event falls on the actual first day of school, and to top it off, we are about a 45 minute drive from the Path of Totality.  Did you know that he last time a total eclipse was visible from coast to coast in the United States was 1918?  This event truly is a rare occurrence, and one you definitely don't want to miss!

 Even though I am teaching at the college level now, the buzz around this event is definitely picking up steam. The university where I work has decided to cancel all morning classes, and will host an Eclipse Party in the quad instead.

As teachers, it is our responsibility to teach something to our students about this once in a lifetime event. I've got a great product in my store currently that can help you do just that. I've worked hard to integrate math and language arts in to this engaging unit. Of course there are also inquiry science activities as well to help your students become pros on eclipses. Check it out here:  




Even if you don't go back to school just yet, I'm sure the eclipse will be fresh on students minds when they return to your classrooms. Use this amazing opportunity to get students excited about science!