Science Class: A Place Where Children Should Be Seen and Heard

I recently observed a lesson about how shadows change throughout the day, and I was fascinated by the amount of time the teacher and the class took to listen to and watch one another as they discussed the data. The careful structuring of time for analyzing data in small- and whole-group discussions gave students confidence as they shared. Ms. Hall asked her class to examine the data they collected about the length of a pencil’s shadow in the morning, at noon, and in the afternoon. The teacher also measured the shadow later in the afternoon after class so students could see how it continued to change.

Each small group recorded their data on a foam board so it was easy to see the pattern. The class was asked to develop a claim to answer this question: How do shadows change throughout the day?  In table groups, the students examined the data they recorded and discussed their observations. As the students talked, they observed the slant of the shadows. Ms. Hall asked groups to consider the shadows’ length: “What can you say about the length? Did it change, and why?”

Listening to and watching the students allowed Ms. Hall to direct their ideas and encourage them to explicate their ideas by considering how and why the length changed. The students discussed how the length of the shadow changed because of the position of the Sun. Sophia used her hands to make quotes around “coming up” when she referred to the Sun. By watching Sophia’s hand movements, Ms. Hall was able to determine that Sophia understood that the Sun only appears to move in the sky.

After the groups’ discussions, Ms. Hall asked Sophia to share her observations. Sophia began, “When the Sun was first ‘coming up,’ I guess you could say it made a long shadow in the opposite direction.”

Alex added, “Earlier in the day, the Sun’s over here (uses hand to indicate the Sun on the right), and the shadows are long and casting that way…(uses hands to show the shadow slanting to the left).”

Ms. Hall asked her students to apply the data they had collected to predict where and how long the shadow would be at 8 a.m., before they came to school. As she circulated around the classroom, she could observe students watching and listening to one another as they used their fingers to indicate their predictions of the length and direction of the shadow. Students also calculated the shadow’s length based on the 4:45 afternoon measurement, and it was clear that they saw a pattern: Shadows became longer, long, shorter, long, and then longer again.

As small-group discussions ended, Ms. Hall asked Michael to share his thoughts. He observed, “Since the Sun’s still low, it’s just rising over the horizon, so the shadow will be pretty long.”

Ms. Hall asked, “Can you share more about why you think that?”

“At 10:45 [a.m.], it was over here (points left), and probably at 8 a.m. it would be kind of like the 4:45 [p.m.] one, but on the other side.”

“Do other groups agree with Michael’s prediction?” she asked. Many students nodded their agreement or signaled a “thumbs up.”

Listening to and watching their ideas helped Ms. Hall know that the students understood the pattern and were ready to make a claim to answer the question. She asked the students: “How do shadows change throughout the day?”

Lila responded with this claim: “The shadows were longer, short, then longer than long.”

Ms. Hall prompted, “Why did they get longer?”

Lila replied, “They got longer as the Sun appeared to be lower in the sky, like when we held flashlights low on the pipe cleaner to made a long shadow.”



In classrooms where students are both seen and heard, the teacher

  1. provides sufficient time for analyzing data before constructing claims;
  2. uses small-group discussions to access student understanding and encourage deeper thinking;
  3. listens carefully to ideas, finding ways to use student language in constructing explanations; and
  4. watches the way students use their hands to explain their thinking, which helps to further access their level of comprehension.

In classrooms where students are both seen and heard, students

  1. keep science journals in which they record the data they collect so it’s accessible for analyzing the phenomena;
  2. talk in small groups so they express themselves in a more comfortable setting before sharing with the whole group;
  3. practice both listening and watching as a person speaks so all contributions are valued; and
  1. gain confidence as they increase their skills in the science practices of analyzing data and constructing explanations based on evidence.

Dialogue: What Do You Think?

What do you think of how talk is being used to examine the shadow data?

Have you noticed the importance of watching what your students are “saying” with their hands as they share?

How do you use talk moves in your classroom?

Have you found a way to structure science talks that encourage more students to contribute?


NGSS Standards: Earth’s Place in the Universe

Disciplinary Core Idea

The orbits of Earth around the sun and of the moon around Earth, together with the rotation of Earth about an axis between its North and South poles, cause observable patterns. These include day and night; daily changes in the length and direction of shadows; and different positions of the sun, moon, and stars at different times of the day, month, and year. (5-ESS1-2)

5-ESS1-2: Performance Expectation

Represent data in graphical displays to reveal patterns of daily changes in length and direction of shadows, day and night, and the seasonal appearance of some stars in the night sky

3–5 NGSS Science and Engineering Practices

Analyzing and Interpreting Data

  • Analyze and interpret data to make sense of phenomena

Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions

  • Use evidence to construct or support an explanation

Kimber Hershberger recently retired from 31 years of full-time elementary teaching but she continues to share her passion for teaching science through leading professional development workshops and traveling to South Africa and Rwanda to teach science lessons and storytelling in elementary schools. She taught 3rd grade for 23 years in the State College Area School District (SCASD) in Pennsylvania where she served as a co-instructor for the methods science methods course and as a mentor teacher for the Penn State- SCASD Professional Development School Partnership. She co-authored the book What’s Your Evidence? Engaging K-5 Students in Constructing Explanations in Science with Carla Zembal-Saul and Kate McNeill. She has written articles for Science and Children about using the KLEWS chart: “KWL gets a KLEW” and “Methods and Strategies: KLEWS to Explanation Building in Science.” Kimber continues to be a frequent workshop presenter at the NSTA National Conference. She holds a M.Ed. in science education from Penn State University.

Note: This article was featured in the November issue of Next Gen Navigator, a monthly e-newsletter from NSTA delivering information, insights, resources, and professional learning opportunities for science educators by science educators on the Next Generation Science Standards and three-dimensional instruction.  Click here to sign up to receive the Navigator every month.

Visit NSTA’s NGSS@NSTA Hub for hundreds of vetted classroom resourcesprofessional learning opportunities, publicationsebooks and more; connect with your teacher colleagues on the NGSS listservs (members can sign up here); and join us for discussions around NGSS at an upcoming conference.

The mission of NSTA is to promote excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all.

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7 Responses to Science Class: A Place Where Children Should Be Seen and Heard

  1. Lena Green says:

    I really enjoyed reading this article and agree with the author and teacher about the importance of talking about what is happening. Is this a lesson that is available for others?

    • Kimber Hershberger says:

      Lena, Thanks for your response to the blog. The lesson on shadows was a great way to encourage students discourse about the data they collected. I’d be happy to share what we have written in our Content storyline. Here is my email:
      Send me a note and I’ll get back to you with the lesson outline.

  2. Gretchen Kimball says:

    Ms. Hall teaches a powerful lesson. We often expect kids to learn and evidence their learning through writing. Too often we skip over the necessary time for students to engage in first draft thinking with their peers. This is where they make meaning of what they’re learning, adding on and clarifying, disagreeing with evidence, and coming to consensus. Ms. Hall clearly understands the importance of providing kids time to engage in this discourse and is a wonderful role model. Not only will her students think and behave more like scientists, they will become adults who routinely engage in civil discourse.

    • Kimber Hershberger says:

      Thanks for sharing your insights and observations. I agree it’s so important for us a community of science teachers to acknowledge and share strategies for engaging our students in productive talk.

  3. Annette Brown says:

    Thank you for sharing! Science discourse is such a powerful leverage for learning and understanding science concepts and learning with and from others. To be implemented well, it must be part of the classroom culture from day one.

    • Kimber Hershberger says:

      Thanks for sharing your insights and observations. I agree it’s so important for us a community of science teachers to acknowledge and share strategies for engaging our students in productive talk.

  4. Kimber Hershberger says:

    Yes! Discourse is crucial for meaning making to occur. The teacher in this blog and I will be doing a workshop on science discourse for NSTA in St. Louis this year. We think that building that classroom culture is so important.

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