Scaffolding science skills

Some of my students have little experience in lab investigations. My colleague suggested I “scaffold” my instruction to help them develop lab skills, but I’m not sure what that would look like.  —C., Virginia

“Scaffolding” refers to guiding strategies designed to help students develop greater understanding of concepts and skills to become more independent learners.

Think of when you were learning to ride a bicycle. Someone first walked along with you, holding onto the seat as you pedaled. Your instructor probably gave you advice and encouragement, then let go for a few seconds until you started to wobble. Eventually you were ready to go on your own, and your instructor kept a watchful eye on you for a while.

One strategy to scaffold your students’ skill learning is with an I do->we do->you do progression:

  • focused demonstrations of the skills, connecting them to what students already know
  • guided practice in a variety of contexts with teacher monitoring and feedback
  • opportunities for students to choose and use the skills independently (even if they make a few mistakes)

I observed an Earth science teacher scaffolding with a “think-aloud” as she demonstrated how to create graphs from a data table. This was a not a “how-to” lecture. She reminded herself of the graph’s purpose and the steps of the process, asked herself questions as she worked, and deliberately made some mistakes (correcting them in real time). It was as if the students could peek inside her mind as she worked through the process. When she paused in her thinking, the students volunteered their own suggestions. In the second part of the lesson, students worked in groups to make graphs as she monitored each group, offering suggestions and feedback.

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4 Responses to Scaffolding science skills

  1. Paula Young says:

    White-boarding is great science scaffolding technique, as well as a good formative assessment. They can be used individually by students to show their thinking, and results in a problem solving situation. You immediately know if they “got it” or not. They can also be used by groups to summarize the steps in in doing a lab before they start, to share their thinking and come to a group consensus, drawing conclusions about data after a lab, presenting evidence, and more.
    White boards can be cut from a 4′ X 8′ sheet of white tile board. Often the home improvement store will make the cuts for you. You can round the corners (sand the rough spots) or put Duck tape over them. You can cut 24″ x 24″ squares and get 6 white boards from one sheet of tile board. For individual work, they can be smaller. There is no set size! Students use them like any dry erase board with dry erase markers. One of a kind socks make great erasers!
    For reviews and activities go to

    • Mary Bigelow says:

      Thanks for the detailed directions! Using these, as you mentioned, can be effective formative evaluation. And now I know what to do with my collection of mismatched socks!

  2. Binta Asabe Muhammad says:

    I wil like to be receiving your post , very educative.

  3. Robert Gill says:

    Quite a remarkable collection you got. You have got quite an uncommon hobby guess we both do. I do have a collection of such papers I accept that they are not as expensive as yours but I collect it for my sake.

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