Elementary Science is Essential

Blog post authored by Lisa Chizek

Elementary science is essential if we want our children to be successful in an ever-changing and complex world. Engaging in high-quality elementary science allows children opportunities to ask questions, investigate to find answers, make claims with evidence, and engage in scientific discourse. These experiences in science are necessary in order for children to develop into critical thinkers.  Unfortunately, many elementary schools focus on literacy and math in an attempt to raise test scores while kicking science to the curb. This teacher-directed focus dampens children’s enthusiasm for learning and doesn’t allow them to engage in higher-level thinking. Since children are innately curious about their world and how it works, elementary teachers should capitalize on their enthusiasm for learning. Science can drive learning because children are excited about it and they want to learn more. When they are engaged with scientific phenomena, children are inspired to want to read and write about it and reading and writing become meaningful and important tools for them in their learning.

Elementary Science Ignites an Enthusiasm for Teaching and Learning

            When a group of second-grade students was asked what they liked about doing science, they responded with a whole list of active and authentic learning experiences they enjoyed: discovering, exploring, experimenting, learning new things, figuring things out, doing observational drawings, and building things. Their enthusiasm for doing science came across clearly as they shared what they enjoyed.

            Sharing her perspective for teaching science, one elementary teacher explained how high-quality science is student-directed and thus students are enthusiastic when they have opportunities to engage in science. Additionally, her description illustrated how her students’ enthusiasm for doing science rejuvenated her passion for teaching. “I love teaching science because you can incorporate all areas of the curriculum with very little trouble. Science is already about math and inquiry, but it also includes literacy and social studies depending on the projects you engage your students in. There is a mystery about science that children love.  They love thinking about the way things work and can they make it work a different way.  It’s almost like science is the only time they get to choose how they learn…..we are all about their ideas.  In all other subjects, we give them the way to learn and it’s very black and white.”  

            When additional elementary teachers were asked what they liked about teaching science, they responded in a variety of ways. However, a clear theme emerged illustrating how their students’ energy and enthusiasm for learning science reignited their joy in teaching. In other words, the children’s excitement for learning science revitalizes the teachers’ joy in teaching. To help stress the importance of elementary science, NSTA developed a great resource with their position statement on elementary science education.

NSTA Position Statement on Elementary Science Education

Adopted by the NSTA Board of Directors, October 2018

What would you and your students say about science? Please share your responses in the blog discussion.

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6 Responses to Elementary Science is Essential

  1. Emily Cook says:

    Hi Lisa,

    My name is Emily Cook and I am in my final year at Wartburg College. I am going to school to become an elementary teacher. After reading your post, my opinion about science and teaching science in the elementary classroom completely changed. When I was in grade school, I never was excited about science because I only remember taking notes, reading out of a boring textbook, and doing labs that felt irrelevant to my life. I never felt like I engaged in high-quality elementary science. You helped me realize how important it is to make science one of the main focusses in the elementary classroom because students are curious about the things around them, but it takes a high-quality science lesson to get them actively engaged. Some main takeaways that I found most beneficial to my future teaching career is that science lessons must be student-directed, and the students must be actively doing something. Students will not be engaged or excited about science if they are just taking notes during a lecture or reading out of a textbook. I also took away from your post that the science content must be something the students are interested in otherwise I will lose them from the start.

    A question I have for you is how do I create a science lesson that is interesting to students but still meeting the science standards they need to meet by the end of the school year? For instance, how would I get students excited for learning about rocks if they aren’t interested in the topic of rocks? Another question I have is how much time should I take for a science lesson and is there a subject you would suggest that I could shorten in order for science to become a main focus? I want to make sure I do not teach science like my elementary teachers taught science because I want my students to remember only positive experiences they had and not develop a negative attitude towards science.

    Thanks,

    Emily Cook
    Wartburg College ‘20

    • Lisa Chizek says:

      Hello Emily,
      Your enthusiasm and desire to do your best for your students is wonderful!
      An idea for figuring out what students are interested in about a topic could be to set materials out in a center to explore in their own time and way. You could observe them and note what seems to spark their curiosity. What questions are they asking as they work with the materials? Then you could use that to move forward in your investigations.
      Since students’ curiosity about their world drives their interest in learning, you could integrate reading and writing into science. Students are excited to communicate what they are learning in science and this may be a way for you to incorporate writing lessons. Improving their writing might be more meaningful to them, if they are learning new writing strategies as they are writing to communicate what excites them rather than while writing using a random teacher determined writing prompt. The same might work for reading. Students are excited to read more about things they are curious about and want to learn more about.
      Your future students will be lucky to have you!

  2. Alecia Kimball says:

    Hi Lisa,

    My name is Alecia Kimball. I am a fourth-year at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa. I am going to school to become an Elementary School teacher. While I was reading your post, I started to remember what my science class was like in elementary school. It was boring, we took a lot of notes, and we never participated in the fun labs that some teachers are implementing into their classroom now. I completely agree with you on how important it is for teachers to express how important science education is and how beneficial it is to our everyday lives. I want my future students to love science and be excited when it comes to it every day. I hope to use high-quality science lessons to actively engage my students and One question that I have for you is what is your best advice to change students minds about science?

    With much appreciation,
    Alecia Kimball

    Alecia Kimball
    Wartburg College Class of 2020
    Elementary Education Major
    Reading Endorsement
    Wartburg Women’s Basketball
    Science Methods 385
    Dr. Michael Bechtel

    • Lisa Chizek says:

      Hello Alecia!
      It is wonderful reading your message!
      I think a way to help students change their minds about science is to offer them opportunities to get their hands on materials and to explore. I find that most often students have a negative attitude about science when their experiences learning science were teacher-directed and included lecture, reading about a topic, and memorizing facts.
      Your insights into your own experiences will help you improve the experiences you offer your own students!
      Good luck!

  3. Olivia Klaas says:

    Greetings Lisa!

    My name is Olivia Klaas and I am an Elementary Education major at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa. I totally agree with your statement on science being pushed aside to make time for reading and math in order to improve test scores. I spent 40 hours in a Kindergarten classroom this semester and their day was so focused on reading that they did not have science in their schedule until at least the end of October. This science time included 20 minutes at the end of the day for science instruction. I believe that giving students time every day to engage in the world around them would continue to build their curiosity. Starting to instil this curiosity at a young age will allow for these students to want to continue to learn about science and engage in science activities through the rest of their schooling. I hope to have multiple activities for students to engage in weekly in order to enhance their desire for science learning. Students learn science best through hands-on activities and lessons that will help them remember it for a longer period of time. I want my students to have energy and enthusiasm when it comes to science and if we can start at an early age, our next generation of students will learn to love science.

    Thank you so much for your time and energy you put into this post!

    Olivia Klaas
    Wartburg College Class of 2021
    Elementary Education Major || Leadership Minor
    Math, Reading, and Special Education Endorsements
    Kappa Delta Pi || Kappa Mu Epsilon
    Residents Assistant || Dance Team || NSTA

    • Lisa Chizek says:

      Hello Olivia,
      Thank you for your post. I believe students’ curiosity about their world drives their interest in learning. I appreciate your understanding of that as well as your drive to provide this for your future students! They will be lucky to have you!

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