Welcome to guest blogger Emily Townsend! Emily has been teaching for a decade to students of all ages, kindergarten to adult. She has a love of language that was born through her first year teaching abroad in Shijiazhuang, China. She has recently discovered that science and language learning are obvious allies, and is delighted in the gains in academic vocabulary scientific inquiry lessons can provide. She currently co-teachs in six push-in English Language Development classrooms and tries to instill a love of both subjects (science and LA) in her students. She is a hiker, camper, and want-to-be bird watcher, and lives with her husband and their dog on the Oregon coast.
“In early childhood education, our textbooks are the materials we offer children…” (Cuffaro 2005).
In May, after a winter of 167 days of rain, with summer in view, in a push-in class of emerging bilinguals, I shared this quote with my co-teachers and took Cuffaro’s advice to heart. A kindergarten physical science unit was born from materials found in drawers, cupboards, and recycling bins. Before any introduction or explanation to the class about force, energy, or machines, we passed out our “text”: cardboard box lids and marbles. Our inspiration was a lesson from Head Start on Science, Section 3: Physical Science (Ritz 2007). This book takes children on investigations with blocks and magnets and, in our case, marbles, to lead them in answering their own questions about the movement and makeup of the world.
To plan our investigation and Engage, the first step in the 5E Model (Barufaldi 2002, Bybee 2014), we asked our young scientists: ‘What can we do with these materials?’ ‘What can we create?’. Motion was on their minds as well, which led to the next round of questioning; ‘How can the marble move?’, ‘In what different ways can the marble get from one side of the box to the other?’. Two lists were generated: speeds and patterns: fast to “not moving much” and zig-zag to curvy.
As students set out to make their marble behave in these ways, one particularly data-driven young mind raised the question, “Can we use a whiteboard to write down what happens?”. Oh, but of course, you can record your findings! Our budding scientists set out for the second ‘E’, Explore, and maneuvered their marble with “different strengths and directions of pushes and pulls” (NGSS K-PS2-1, NGSS Lead States) and, gloriously, take data. When students take the initiative, as this student led her classmates in doing, it moves the lesson from teacher-directed to student-driven. Deeper learning occurs when motivation and desire meet investigation.
We offered guiding questions as students explored, then introduced a new element: paint. By adding a new material we heightened their learning with the opportunity for compare and contrast, and cause and effect. Students already had one experience, so by adding a new way to explore, they were encouraged to observe changes. Students also realized the paint created resistance for the marble where it was thick and it was more difficult to move the marble. The effects of the paint allowed the investigation to blossom into something new.
When whiteboards were full and box lids were decorated, students returned for the next phase of the 5E Model, Explain. They shared their findings, using their data and box lid as proof. We asked, “How did you make a curvy and straight line?” “Did the marble stop or bounce when it reached the side?” “Why?” Students used their own words to define the science they had encountered. We guided the discussion with sentence frames that came up naturally, “It moved…” and “It rolled” were obvious using regular past tense. However, students also used “It drawed..” and “It maked..”, which allowed the organic incorporation of the correct irregular past tense in language frames as the discussion continued.
Another natural connection in language was body parts. In our English Language Development classroom, this vocabulary is explicitly taught and our investigation presented a perfect opportunity to practice. When students described how to make the marble move, they were encouraged to name the body parts used to create the movement; such as elbow, shoulder, wrist, and even waist. Other students could then mimic their movement using the oral descriptions as a guide.
In addition, new science vocabulary was introduced. It provided students with common language to discuss their findings. Ramp, inclined plane, and force were pre-planned content vocabulary for the unit. Other concepts, friction and gravity, were brought up by students when describing problems and successes they encountered. When the need for these words arose in class, they were given in learner-friendly definitions. For example, gravity came up in a discussion of the marble only rolling down the ramps. When asked why, a student explained that things only fall down. The rest of the class agreed that they had had the same experience, so we introduced the idea of gravity, a force that pulls things to the Earth. For objects to move up a ramp, they would need another force, a student’s push. By giving students vocabulary in context of their experience, we provided meaningful exposure. Students now had a link in their brains between their lives and Tier 3 content vocabulary (Beck, McKeown, and Kucan 2002).
Extension, ‘E’ number four, could be done using different sizes and shapes of boxes, by adding obstacles within the box for the marble to maneuver, or by providing students with a goal of creating a picture with the paint. These could be presented whole group or in centers.
The 5th ‘E’, evaluation, came in the creation of roller coasters and machines during exploration with blocks and other recyclable materials to manipulate marbles. Although the goal of the unit was not to have students use simple machines, we found that introducing the everyday uses of these machines allowed students to create and explore the effects of pushes and pulls with common vocabulary. Each simple machine (inclined plane, wheel and axle, screw, wedge, and pulley) was introduced through a similar investigation, where students explored the effects of pushes and pulls on an object. We raided our classrooms for on-hand materials to use in these explorations. A marshmallow, ruler, and pencil were used for a lever, cardboard cylinders and a heavy box for wheels and axles (Ashbrook 2016), and a pencil, spool, and string for pulleys. After each exploration, we named the machines they created and identified their use in our everyday lives. In the end, students combined their knowledge for the 5th ‘E’, evaluation, and created roller coasters, using many simple machines, with blocks and other recyclable materials.
In each exploration, students were given a goal and the necessary equipment to reach it. Each time we were amazed by their scientific and engineering design ingenuity, their curiosity, and ability to apply new knowledge to their current schema. All around the room, among children of all backgrounds and language proficiency levels, we heard, “I love science time!”.
Ashbrook, Peggy. 2016. Chapter 17: “Roll with It!” Science Learning in the Early Years: Activities for PreK-2. Arlington, VA: National Science Teachers Association, 2016. 99-104.
Barufaldi, Jim. 5E Model of Instruction. Austin: CSCOPE, July 2002.
Beck, Isabel L., McKeown, Margaret G., Kucan, Linda. 2002. Bringing Words to Life: Robust Vocabulary Instruction. New York City: The Guilford Press.
Bybee, Rodger. 2014. Guest Editorial: The BSCS 5E Instructional Model: Personal Reflections and Contemporary Implications. Science and Children. 51(8): 10-13
Cuffaro, Harriet K. “Block Building: Opportunities for Learning.” Community Playthings. Community Playthings, 1 Feb. 2005. Web. 21 June 2017.
NGSS Lead States. 2013. Next Generation Science Standards: For states, by states. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
Ritz, William C. Ed. 2007. A Head Start on Science: Encouraging a Sense of Wonder: 89 Activities for Children Ages 3-7. Arlington, VA: NSTA Press