Tailoring professional development to the needs of a small group

I sometimes wish I could have another hour or more with a presenter of a session at a IMG_3691aconference or other professional development program. I want to more-fully explore the ideas presented or a question the discussion raised in my mind. I was able to try to fill this niche for two teachers in an early childhood full-day program for children ages 2-5. They wanted to expand their understanding of physical science and their strategies for teaching it.

We had joint meetings and discussions, participated in hands-on explorations, viewed video of ourselves and did independent reading. I led modeling of lessons. The objective and outline follows and I hope you will comment on it, and also describe professional development that was most beneficial to you, or training that you presented that you think helped early childhood educators understand more about science inquiry and the practices of science and engineering, and teaching them.

An example of a 7-week series about physical science for a small group of educators

Training Objectives:

Through examining their own practice, and the science education standards and position statements based on research into how children learn, participants will expand their knowledge of:

  • the nature of science,
  • selected science content,
  • resources for early childhood science education, and
  • how to implement science inquiry in the context of the program’s emergent curriculum.

We will begin with the understanding that we are learners together, seeking to understand how children learn and how to teach science and engineering concepts in early childhood programs. Hands-on exploration of materials by the participants will reveal ways to engage children and scaffold their understanding of science concepts.

Participants will examine the 2014 National Science Teachers Association’s position statement on Early Childhood Science Education and the standards used by their own early childhood center. Discussion will center on:

  • the practices of science and engineering as described in A Framework for K-12 Education,
  • how “science inquiry” is part of the practices, and
  • what the practices look like in the emergent curriculum of an early childhood classroom.

Through their experience doing hands-on manipulation of materials to make changes, observing model teaching, and through discussion, participants will understand the value of using open-ended productive questions to focus children’s attention on problem solving rather than solely teaching children science facts.

Participants will develop a beginning understanding of physical science concepts or expand upon their current level.

Participants will be able to implement physical science inquiries in their classrooms.

Discussion topics:                                                           Independent reading:

Meet and tour classrooms. Read the NSTA EC Science Education position statement, discuss, and develop questions to follow up. View the EC science inquiry chart in Worms Shadows and Whirlpools and look for connections with the NSTA position statement.

Discuss our goals and interests.

Reviewing the resource list.

Read selections from Worms Shadows and Whirlpools by Karen Worth and Sharon Grollman.

List and briefly describe 3 successful science or engineering moments, lessons or explorations that have taken place in your classroom.

Introduction to: What is engineering?

Discussion: Facilitating children’s problem solving. Favorite science tools.

View video clips from CEESTEM (http://www.uni.edu/rampsandpathways/) and discuss how to implement in our own programs.

Sharing our lists of successes.


Elsteegst, Jos. 1985. The right question at the right time.

Rowe, Mary Budd. 1986. Wait Time: Slowing Down May Be A Way of Speeding Up!

Participants will explore ramp materials without children present.

View and discuss video of teacher-led reflection on child’s ramp exploration.

What are appropriate science and engineering topics for early childhood inquiry? How does the setting change what is appropriate? How is “appropriate” related to “effective”?

View video clips and read materials from Peep and the Big Wide World-Ramps and the Regents Center Ramps and Pathways websites.

Read: Science 101 columns in Science and Children: Why Don’t All Rolling Objects Reach the Bottom of an Incline at the Same Time? and Q-Do Moving Objects “Carry” a Force With Them?

Read:  “Newton’s First Law: Not So Simple After All” by William C. Robertson, Jeremiah Gallagher, and William Miller in Science and Children.

Teachers, try out demonstrations described in readings without children present. Peggy will model introducing ramps to classes of preschool children, or introduce a ramp challenge to a small group that has already been using ramps.

Read selections from Worms Shadows and Whirlpools.

Read “Let it Roll! Exploring motion with young children” by Kathy Cabe Trundle and Mandy McCormick Smith in Science and Children.

Read The Early Years columns: October 2005 and January 2008.

What can children learn about magnetic force? Teachers use materials without children present and discover some answers to this question.

Discuss what vocabulary and concepts are developmentally appropriate.

Read: The Early Years columns: January 2007, March 2007, March 2009, December 2009, October 2012.

Properties of light explorations for young children. Review of a variety of activities to explore light and shadows, and hands-on explore materials for 2 of them.

Prepare to video yourself teaching a science concept—10 minutes of video, in any part of the day and any structure.

View our video and discuss what we will do next in the science or engineering investigations are going on in our classes.

Signing up for the NSTA Learning Center and reading a forum thread.


Share your practice and new knowledge and resources with other educators.

What would you add or omit from this professional development?

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