Early in the month of August, pre-kindergarten teacher Gail Laubenthal begins planning for the young children who will soon be entering her classroom. As a guest blogger she is sharing her ideas on how to start the school year by setting goals for herself and her children. Gail teaches pre-kindergarten at Sanchez Elementary School in the Austin Independent School District in Austin, TX. In the coming year she will communicate with families and other teachers on her Laubenthal’s Ladybugs website and a classroom blog which will highlight classroom activities.
Gail Laubenthal writes:
My goals began with this one for science vocabulary and language development:
By the end of the school year, my children will be able to look at a variety of materials from their environment and use descriptive language to describe the materials’ differences and/or similarities. In the fall, I will ask the children to sort objects into groups that are alike and see if they can tell me why they sorted them in that manner. The results of this task will be useful and will guide my teaching for the rest of the school year.
The May 2011 draft of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) for Physical Science states that by the end of second grade (Grade Band Endpoints for PS1.A) students will understand that there are “different kinds of matter (e.g., wood, metal, water), and many of them can be either solid or liquid, depending on temperature. Matter can be described and classified by its observable properties (e.g., visual, aural, textural), by it uses, and by whether it occurs naturally or is manufactured.”
I had the children use their senses to explore and then verbally describe “matter” in their environment by “Exploring with Magnets” and “Exploring with Our Senses”. In the draft NGSS, investigating patterns in the forces between two magnets is for grades above the early childhood years. However, the statement “builds on K-2 experiences” is part of every standard above early childhood so it is appropriate for children to do some work with magnets.
Exploring with Magnets
At the very beginning of the school year I put magnets in the Science Center.
- Children are amazed that they can pick up other objects or move objects around without even touching the object. There was lively interest for weeks for going on Magnet Hunts to test for attraction.
- Wonderfully rich vocabulary words can be used while exploring magnets: alike, same, different, compare, sort, group, magnet, attract, repel, magnetic, nonmagnetic, predict, graph, and count. Children began to use these words to describe their experiences and later were observed making connections to these early explorations when given other materials to investigate. For instance, when they realized that some of the rocks (lodestone and hematite) in a basket of assorted rocks and minerals were magnetic, they began testing other rocks to see if they were “attracted” to metal things.
Exploring with our Senses
In September, we began purposefully using our senses to explore our environment.
- Our eyes focused on the shapes of objects, like doors, tables, windows, swing set poles, slides, sidewalks, ceiling tiles, balls and classroom materials and equipment. We played “I-Spy” with our eyes, both indoors and outdoors.
- But with our hands, we really began to compare and contrast items, using only our sense of touch at first by describing something in a mystery bag. Later, we used all of our senses and that’s when the descriptive language began to grow.
In October I gave the children the initial sorting task with a tray of objects to sort or group things that might go together—things that are alike. I recorded their observations and used them as data for planning science explorations for the rest of the year.
During the school year I planned experiences to encourage the children to increase their ability to examine, compare, contrast, and discuss the properties of objects in their environment. They continued to use their senses as they learned about food they ate, toys they played with, and animals and plants, both in and out of the classroom.
Using letter and word walls, thematic word banks, non-fiction and fiction books, local experts, field trips, and hands-on materials, ensured that the science topics were fully developed and integrated across the curriculum. For instance, we used a word web to record everything that the children already knew about pumpkins, and then continued to add onto it as they discovered and learned more. Some of the experiences were guided, but many of them were independently carried out with other children. I kept a notebook handy to record their conversations, wonderings, and “Ah-ha” discoveries, as well as a camera ready to film (both still and video) their experiences.
Final Properties of Matter Activity and Assessment:
As a culminating activity in our rock and fossil unit of study in April, I set up pairs of rocks for the children to compare by color, luster, weight, texture, and patterns. In small group discussion, the children used the descriptive language that we had been using all year in the previous compare and contrast activities as they examined the pairs of rocks with loupes, hand lenses, a SmartScope digital microscope (and laptop for viewing). The children described the differences, similarities, and additional properties.
The children were able to look at a variety of materials from their environment and use descriptive language to describe the materials’ differences and/or similarities. The children surpassed the individual goals that I had set for them, as well. One child, who initially described a group of objects as “soft”, now described a pair of river rocks as “smooth” and “hard”, but also as “this one is large and this one is small.”
Being able to use their senses to describe, compare and contrast matter is a skill that will continue to develop as they grow and mature as learners and as scientists. My children came a long, long way and the high-interest level of science activities gave them a “voice” to use new and rich vocabulary to communicate their exciting discoveries.
By setting goals for myself and for the individual children at the beginning of the year, I was able to keep my work focused, kept working towards the goal and was able to celebrate the successes at the end of the year.