5 Tips for a Great Year of Science!

I don't know about you, but there is something very special about the Back to School season. Fresh pencils, fresh starts, and new smiling faces in your classroom. Establishing routines and sharing expectations are an integral part of the start of the school year. Here are some tips to help you get your year of science off to a great start.



1.  Practice using common science tools before diving into any units or experiments. Young scientists need time to practice using science tools such as pipettes, digital scales, graduated cylinders or even goggles. One way to do this is to set up science tools centers around the room and let students practice using the tools you plan to use throughout the year. This will save oodles of time and frustration.


2. Give Your Students Science Notebooks.  Have students decorate their own science notebook. A simple single subject notebook or composition book will work well. Science notebooks help make your students feel like real scientists, and give them a place to write observations or glue artifacts from experiments. The notebooks also serve as a great review tool for students to study for tests.


3.  Preview Science Units.  Give students a glimpse into the different topics and units they will be learning about this year. This will get them excited about science and give them plenty to look forward to.

                                            

4. Introduce Your Students to the Wide Variety of Science Careers.  Many young students are not aware of the wide variety of science fields. Brainstorm different kinds of scientists with your students and find books or internet resources that depict the wide variety of science fields. This can get students excited about science and perhaps encourage them to pursue a science career in their future.


5. Round Up Resources for Science Units:  Research supports a hands on approach for teaching and learning science. Finding inexpensive (or free) science resources is essential. Try finding community partners such as grocery stores or small business that can donate to your science lessons. I get meat trays from the local grocery store for free that work great for many science experiments. Use crowd funding platforms to fund your science materials; Donor's Choose is a good one, but there are many more. Ask your school PTA to help you pay for science supplies. If your district allows, you could also send home lists of needed supplies to parents if they are things parents might have at home.

I do have a few resources in my store to help with the tips above.  I have a Science Experiment Tools product that has center activities for many common science tools. I have a free Science Notebook Starter Pack that can help your students get started with setting up notebooks. I also have a Science Careers Bundle that gives students a chance to learn about 5 different science careers. Each career has a hands on activity that simulates what each type of scientist might do as part of their jobs.

Here's to wishing you a fantastic year of science!!!!


Why You Need to be Teaching Science to Kindergarten and First Grade Students

Kindergarten and First Grade teachers have the challenging task of acclimating their students to learning in school and focusing on literacy and math skills.  It's understandable that some teachers of the Littles feel too pressed for time to squeeze science in.  But I'm here to tell you why you need to be teaching science to those young students.

1.  Science is an engaging topic for young and old alike.
2.  Young children are fascinated by the world around them and always are wondering "why?"
3.  Literacy and math skills are an integral part of doing science
4.  The Next Generation Science Standards documents are linked to Common Core ELA and Math
5.  Students exposed to science at a young age are more likely to choose a science career
6.  Students exposed to science at a young age are more likely to have a positive attitude towards science.

There are many more reasons I could add to this list, including the fact that we live in a STEM society, and many jobs of the present and future are STEM related.  As an advocate for girls and STEM, girls that are exposed to science and STEM at young ages are much more likely to become interested in science and STEM careers as they enter junior high and high school. 

I challenge you to find time to fit science into your day.  Your students will thank you!

Be sure to check out my entire year science bundles.  Language and math skills are integrated into many of the activities allowing you to teach to a variety of standards with one lesson.



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!