Elementary science connections

Help! At my school, science is a special that my first graders go to once a week. I’m looking for integrated and engaging ideas for science that I could use during regular instruction. As most teachers know, time is precious, but I think it’s vital to pique students’ interests now while they are still curious and excited about science.   

—A., Texas

As I observe elementary classes and read the Science & Children journal, I’m excited to see how enthusiastic and energetic the students are when provided with challenging investigations with guidance and support from the teacher.

Actually, you and your students are fortunate that they have a dedicated science class each week. In many elementary schools, science (and social studies) in the lower grades is put on a back burner while instructional time is spent on math and reading (the tested subjects). And in some schools, science and social studies never even make it to the back burner until the spring testing season is over.

It’s easy to suggest that elementary teachers design interdisciplinary lessons that incorporate math, reading, and science. The fact is that in some schools, math and reading curricula are prescribed and teachers are expected to follow a script. So there’s not much wiggle room to bring in science and social studies concepts. Designing meaningful interdisciplinary lessons that go beyond superficial connections can be a daunting task. Collaborating with your peers on such lessons can be a powerful form of professional development. Could your school provide any time or resources for these collaborations?

Informally, you could consider these for your classroom:

  • A collection of science-related books available for instruction, independent reading, or picture-looking.
  • Learning centers with a science theme and objects for students to explore (such as bones, shells, or rocks), materials they can manipulate and build things with, or a classroom garden or aquarium.
  • Incorporating science practices into math activities, including measuring and graphing.
  • Read-alouds or book talks using science books or biographies of scientists.

But it sounds like you want to go beyond an informal approach to something more planned and purposeful. I realize that the special is probably your planning period for the day, but perhaps you could sit in on a class or two to get an idea of the kinds of things your students do in science.

I would definitely talk with the science specialist/teacher who meets with your students. Find out what topics are being studied (and when) so that you can reinforce or extend them in a timely manner. Ask about the activities your students do and whether they can continue them in the classroom. They probably come back from science all excited, and they’ll be equally excited to do more. For example, if the science topic is plant growth, then your some of your readings and activities could focus that topic (plants, gardens, farming, and so on). I suspect that the science teacher is also frustrated by the constraints of a once-per-week schedule, and I would hope that your colleague would be excited to have you supplement the science activities. He or she may also have suggestions for related interdisciplinary activities and resources to share with your classroom. This could be the start of a great opportunity for your students and a productive collaboration between you and the specialist.

Each month, NSTA’s Science & Children  has several features that you might find useful:

  • Teaching with Trade Books explores a concept with recommended books and investigations. For example, the November 2014 topic is What Goes Up Must Come Down.  The article lists two books (K-2 and 3-5), connections with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), and two lessons in 5E format related to the books.
  • The Early Years features easy-to-use ideas for developing student interest and curiosity. The November 2014 theme is Cause and Effect: Where’s the Evidence?
  • Featured articles related to the monthly theme include lesson plans, connections to NGSS, and related materials. NSTA members have access to both current and previous issues.

I applaud your desire to tap into students’ interests to help them build a foundation for further learning.

Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/benwerd/329570851/



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2 Responses to Elementary science connections

  1. Karen Berens says:

    I’m thinking that you could set up a few science exploring centers in your classroom. Sometimes all that’s needed is a few simple hands on materials for the children and they’ll happily explore, play, talk with each other, and deepen their science skills as well. You might try a take apart/put together area with some simple, safe tools and some old clocks and other gadgets that the kids could explore. Another idea might be to have an area with magnifying glasses and some interesting items to look at.

  2. Mary Bigelow says:

    I like your idea of the take-apart put-together area! I’ve found that children are curious and eager to explore if we give them the opportunity to do so with minimal directions or constraints (of course, safety is a key component!).

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