This month, we mark both Earth Day and Arbor Day, occasions to showcase science and where curiosity and questions can lead us. This piece focuses on Earth and environmental lessons and readings that are appropriate for home or distance learning. It also includes free downloads, links to author-led read alouds, and information on what NSTA Press has done to make online teaching a little easier during these challenging times.
It was my pleasure this past winter to work with a group of educators who provide child care in their family homes. These small business owners met with me as a professional learning community, sharing our experiences and expertise with teaching math and science concepts to young children, from infancy to age 4.
As the facilitator for this Virginia Quality program I was responsible for writing up a syllabus for our eight meetings over 5 months and creating an initial resource list. I included the following resources but this is not the entire syllabus or an exhaustive list.
Online resources for early childhood curriculum and activities in science and mathematics:
Math games designed for children ages 3 to 6-years-old. New resources have been added that include “At School” and “At Home” game directions, http://youngmathematicians.edc.org/games/ . The “At Home” game directions are family friendly with less text and include games to play with your fingers, card games, and board games, including an example video of a 3-year-old playing a dot card game at home.
Value of Blocks in Kindergarten video. August 25, 2016. A kindergarten teacher makes a strong case for how time spent playing with blocks supports mathematical thinking and learning in her classroom. Shape attributes, composition/decomposition, and the concepts of unit and equivalence are all important topics in the Common Core State Standards. Unit blocks are a powerful and developmentally-appropriate tool for young children to explore these ideas and deepen their understanding. https://earlymath.erikson.edu/value-blocks-kindergarten-2/
~Peep and the Big Wide World Science Curriculum, WGBH and 9 Story Entertainment in association with TV Onterio & the National Science Foundation. http://peepandthebigwideworld.com/en/educators/ The videos of children engaging in science activities in real classrooms and family home child care programs portray realistic learning opportunities.
~Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) in Early Learning Series. This 11-part series offers research, practical application for classroom and home and provides examples of experiences that build scientific, technology, engineering, and mathematical learning for older toddlers and preschool children. From the Preschool Development Grant, US Dept of Education. https://pdg.grads360.org/#program/stem-in-early-childhood
~Early Childhood Mathematics: Promoting Good Beginnings. http://www.naeyc.org/files/naeyc/file/positions/psmath.pdf This joint position statement of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) highlights a set of principles for effective early math instruction.
Playing math games for older children and adults helped us understand what it feels like to be challenged and to persist—as well as an opportunity to exercise our social-emotional skills and executive functioning : ).
The professional learning community shared our homemade games and discussed how we adapted the above resources for infants and older children. Family child care providers are educators who are continually upping their understanding of children’s learning and learning new ways to teach science and math concepts.
Between school closures and near-constant news coverage of the coronavirus, I’m sure many of you are just as stressed as I am. My running joke about a school with no kids is a dismal reality across the United States.
Educators, who thrive on the face-to-face interactions and relationships with our students, are devastated. Since the onset of this pandemic, everyone from classroom educators to members of professional associations like NSTA are sharing resources to engage kids while they are at home. Well, what about the teachers?
We have teachers around the country at different academic, technological, physical, social, and emotional levels trying to work within federal and local mandates to provide authentic online instruction. This task is monumental, so it is extremely important that we, as educators, stay FIT.
First, Findan individual workspace so you can separate work from home. Designating a site “for school” will help you provide focused instruction to your students.
Second, Implementat least 30 minutes of physical activity for yourself. Don’t stay on the computer all day! Just as we tell families to create structured schedules for their kids, we must do the same for ourselves.
Finally, Takethis opportunity for professional development (PD). PD specific to science instruction is invaluable. Check out these micro certification opportunities from the National Institute for STEM Education (NISE), https://nise.institute/micro-certification.php. If you ask your administrators, they may be able to cover the cost.
We have to take care of ourselves, so we stay F.I.T. for our students and families!
Body aches, chills, nausea, and fever are some of the worst red flags when it comes to flu season. As with most flu bugs, the symptoms last for a few days and generally start to subside as the virus runs it course. However, when a virus lingers and refuses to go away, a global pandemic can occur, meaning that it is prevalent over a whole country or the world.
Undoubtedly, all are aware of the prevalence of COVID-19 and how it has had an unprecedented impact on the infrastructure and operations of schools, businesses, and virtually all social interactions throughout the world. COVID-19, otherwise known as the Coronavirus, slowly began to take control of China and parts of Italy and has now found its way all over the globe.
For updated information on its spread, Johns Hopkins University offers a map, showing updated statistics.
Justifiably, most people are concerned and are looking for answers on how viruses spread and can by better contained. More specifically, school aged children are looking for explanations and Stem Simulations provides a nice simulator to help teachers simulate the transmission of a flu virus. It is now available for free and is user friendly for teachers who now find themselves working from home.
Image 1: Stem Simulations
What are Stem
Stem Simulations is an educational platform that offers a plethora of simulations for classroom teachers to use in their day to day lessons. Simulations range from erosion control, DNA fingerprinting, and map coloring to water rockets, car crashes, and gram staining. With over 100 simulations available for classroom use, teachers are able to seamlessly integrate technology into their day to day lessons and units. These simulations can be used for students in grades 4-12 with the intent that they will be challeknged to use inquiry methods in virtual worlds. It is also worth noting that the software places students in scenario-based environments where they will be asked to contextualize their prior knoweldge in order to successfully complete the simulation. Additionally, all of the Stem Simulations are aligned with state and national standards, making lesson and unit planning more efficient for teachers of all grade levels. Check out the video link below or scan the QR code to see a simulation on bacteria in action!
It is also worth noting that Stem Simulations provides training to individuals and school districts through face-to-face workshops, embedded coaching opportunities, available through bi-weekly or monthly video conferencing for a small group of teachers. Check out this website below to explore all of their training options!
Website Link 1:
Despite the fact that Stem Simulations is currently offering free simulations for individuals and school districts to use during this difficult time, typically there is a fee to use the service after the period of a free trial has expired According to the pricing listed on the website, a teacher can have full access to the simulations for up to 30 students for $169.
it is our assessment that STEM SIMS is a worthwhile investment to expand your students’ critical thinking abilities. Given this opportunity for free access, take advantage of this window of time to access the free simulator and experience STEM and see how beneficial these simulators can be for your students; especially if remote learning is being implemented in your school district.
Flu Simulation Example
Students should have the opportunity to experience just how
quickly a virus can spread in order to make sure they do their part in terms of
stopping the virus, such as COVID-19, from spreading. Follow the steps below in
order to experience this simulation!
First, go directly to the website (www.stemsims.com) and search for the flu simulation in the search bar at the top right of the screen. Once you have searched for the flu simulation, click on the first simulation at the top.
The challenge tab will give you and your students a brief
overview of what the simulation is about in a way that hooks everyone
involved. Stem also provides a brochure
about the simulation that you can download and print for your students. This particular brochure has a pre-test and a
flu symptom matching activity to complete prior to the simulation.
Toggle to the background tab in order to gather more
detailed information about what the flu is and how the prevention of the flu
can take place. This tab is an excellent
resource for material that your students should be familiar with prior to
working through the simulation.
Click on the methods tool, and perhaps the most
useful! This page gives you a video to
watch on how the simulation works along with a series of seven independent
lessons that can extend the simulation into a mini-unit. Each lesson provides a myriad of materials
for you to use before you and your students work through the simulation.
You are finally to the fun part! The simulation tab is the space where you and
your students will explore the simulation and gather the data necessary to
understanding how humans can proactively stop the spread of the flu virus. It is also true that the simulation will
produce graphs for you and the students to analyze in terms of factors that can
stop the spread of a virus (hand washing, masks, hand sanitizer, and
antibiotics) compared to using nothing at all and what that will do to a
Once the simulation is complete and the data has been
gathered, the assessment tab offers a series of eight objective, multiple
choice questions that your students can submit digitally. This assessment ensures that the students thoroughly
understood the simulation and can apply their knoweldge to real world
experiences, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
Video 2: Flu Simulation Walkthrough Example
Image 2: Stem Simulations Background Information
With the current climate of our world, this simulation is
the perfect tool for you and your students to explore what the flu is and how
the spread can be prevented. Although
the simulation outlined above is more specifically for the common flu, the data
gathered can be applied to the COVID-19 outbreak. The simulation ultimately reveals that using
hand sanitizer, antibiotics, masks, hand washing, and quarantine methods can
significantly reduce the spread of a flu virus.
Use this simulation for your students to grow in their understanding in
terms of how they can keep themselves, their family, and their school
About the Authors
Edwin P. Christmann is a professor and chairman of the
secondary education department and graduate coordinator of the mathematics and
science teaching program at Slippery Rock University in Slippery Rock,
Pennsylvania. Marie Ellis is a graduate student at Slippery Rock University
in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania.
With another week of home and distance learning
behind us, it’s time to take a reflective look back and a hopeful – perhaps
even excited – look forward. We shared in last week’s blog how crucial it is to
give our students something to figure out if we want them to engage in science
learning outside of the classroom. This week, let’s consider what it means to do
Making sense of the word – sensemaking – is the
fundamental goal of science. The way students-as-scientists (and engineers)
figure out how the world works is through the science and engineering practices.
The actual doing of science or engineering can also pique students’
curiosity, capture their interest, and motivate their continued study; the
insights thus gained help them recognize that the work of scientists and
engineers is a creative endeavor—one that has deeply affected the world they
live in. (A Framework
for K-12 Science Education, p 42).
Next week, we’ll choose a science and
engineering practice to highlight and offer a vignette that describes what students
engaging in that practice to figure out a phenomenon might look like in home
and distance learning.
Below you’ll find descriptions
of every Daily Do published this week. As you visit each Daily Do or reflect on
one you taught during the week, look for evidence the task provides students
opportunities for sensemaking. Can you identify what students are trying
to figure out (phenomenon)? Can you point to
instructions/guidance that describe how students are figuring it out (science
and engineering practices)? Go one step further – follow the link to
the science and engineering practices
and identify a specific practice students use to
engage in figuring out a phenomenon. How might this inform the design of your
own at-a-distance teaching and learning?
In today’s task, Why does population size change?, students engage in science and engineering practices and use the lens of cause and effect (crosscutting concept) to figure out there is a maximum number of buffalo an area can support based on the living and nonliving components of the ecosystem. This task has been modified from its original design to be used by high school students, families, and teachers in distance and home learning. While students could complete this task independently, we encourage students to work virtually with peers or in the home with family members.
One of the big ideas in life science young students need opportunities to make sense of is animals and plants use their external (outside) and internal (inside) parts to get what they need to grow and survive. (They also use those parts to avoid what they don’t need – like being eaten by someone else!) Today’s task, How do we know if something is alive?, utilizes children’s books and family reading time to invite students to share and build on their ideas about things that are alive and things that are not. Wonderings about living things and what they have in common leads students to engage in science and engineering practices to figure out that living things grow and move. This task is modified from the elementary lesson,”Do You Know Which Ones Will Grow?”, published in Even More Picture-Perfect Science Lessons: Using Children’s Books to Guide Inquiry, K-5. The series of Picture Perfect books was developed to help K-5 teachers integrate science and reading in an engaging, kid-friendly way. The strategies for reading aloud to support students’ sense-making in science can be used at multiple grade levels with any scientific concept.
Today’s Daily Do presents two different – but related – science tasks centered around children’s books.
What Floats in a Moat? (K-2) Students float and sink everyday objects to figure out what makes somethings float and other things sink.
Who Sank the Boat? (3-5) Using aluminum foil and pennies, students figure out how the shape of a boat and it’s ability to float are related through an engineering design challenge.
Although designed for different grade levels, you may choose to do both tasks with your K-5 students (you can adjust the amount of scaffolding in both tasks). Make sure to check out the STEM careers at the end of this Daily Do – Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering!
Today’s task is inspired by the NSTA eBook Home is Where My Habitat Is. The story follows a jumping spider named Kippy in her search for a new place to live. Though her habitat is small, some of the animals that Kippy encounters live in much larger ones. Diversity doesn’t exist just in the types of plants and animals living in a habitat; Kippy journeys through many different types of habitats as well.
In this task, How do living things find a home?, students and their families read the NSTA eBook Home is Where My Habitat Is and use the thinking tools of patterns and cause and effect (crosscutting concepts) to make sense of the science idea animals live in habitats and changes in habitats affects the animals living there. Opportunities to make connections between local habitats and the habitats Kippy encounters inspire appreciation and stewardship of habitats around the world as well as close to home.
Today’s task, Where do new infectious diseases come from?, creates an opportunity for students to look at examples of infectious diseases they might know a lot about and compare them to diseases they want to know more about. Students engage in science and engineering practices – including the use of a simulation (mathematical model) – to figure out how “new” infectious disease-causing bacteria can come from bacteria that have been around for awhile.
This task has been modified from its original design in order to be used by students, parents, and teachers in distance and home learning. While students could complete this task independently, we encourage students to work virtually with peers or in the home with family members.
With the extended closing of schools resulting from the coronavirus pandemic, it is possible that some school district may need to be closed for the balance of the academic year. In any case, science teachers need to make sure their biological, chemical and physical hazards are in fact safely attended to as appropriate for an extended shut-down. Teachers may need at some juncture to be able to have access to their labs, storerooms and prep rooms before the summer break begins. In this way, teachers need to contact their administrators for permission to return to their building’s assigned lab areas to make sure they are prepared and safer for summer custodial cleaning. Obviously, this action will depend on the future developments with the virus and governmental mandates relative to employees entering their workplaces.
II. What Needs to be Done?
Before leaving science labs for an extended amount of time, there are a number of actions which need to be taken to address potential laboratory hazards and resulting risks. The following is an abbreviated list of suggested housekeeping actions which should be taken:
A. Chemical Hazards – (corrosives, flammables, toxins, etc.)
• Label all chemical containers fully. Make sure they follow labeling requirements noted in the department’s Chemical Hygiene Plan.
• Properly dispose of chemicals and radioactive wastes. Old and unused chemicals should be disposed of promptly and properly as hazardous waste.
• Provide a specific storage space with signage for each chemical, and ensure all chemicals are removed from the lab and prep. room open areas.
• Store volatile toxins and odoriferous chemicals in ventilated cabinets. Make sure chemical storeroom ventilation is operational during non-occupied time.
• Store flammable liquids in approved flammable liquid storage cabinets.
• Store hazardous chemicals and wastes in secondary containment. Secondary containment capacity must be 110% of the largest container or 10% of the aggregate volume of all containers, whichever is larger
• Never store or place chemicals on the floor.
• Never stack chemicals and always store upright.
• Make sure chemical fume hoods are cleared of all contents: e.g. – chemicals, equipment, etc.
• Request facilities department has fume hoods inspected by a licensed contractor meeting the requirements of NFPA 45.
• Properly secure all compressed gas cylinders.
• Have an up-to-date inventory of the chemical and biological agents in the
laboratory. Include on the inventory the room locations of the materials (such as in a freezer, safety cabinet, or shelf).
B. Biological Hazards – (microbes, plants, animals and genetically modified agents)
• Appropriately disinfect work surfaces.
• Properly dispose of biological waste; e.g. autoclave microbes.
• Sterilize glassware and other equipment used with biological waste.
• Set up schedule for care of live plants and animals during the shut down.
• Address chemical hazards as noted in A. Chemical hazards above.
C. Physical Hazards – (glassware/plastic-ware, projectiles, gas leaks, heating devices, batteries, electrical sources, power tools, etc.)
• Check glassware for star cracks, chips, or cracks, and promptly discard or repair any unsafe glassware.
• Appropriately store all glassware, plastic-ware and other lab equipment in cabinets or on shelving.
• Make sure batteries are stored appropriately.
• Lockout all power sources for power tools and other equipment.
• Use master gas shut down controls to prevent gas leaks.
• Disconnect any extension cords or other power sources.
D. General housekeeping
• Provide direct access to emergency equipment, showers, eyewash stations, and exits.
• Clear all clutter and obstructions from work areas (lab work benches, etc.).
• Properly store all items in the lab, storeroom, prep room, etc.
• Look inside all cabinets for leftover waste and any storage hazards.
• When storing items on shelves, the top of the items should be greater than 18” from the ceiling to ensure adequate coverage by sprinkler heads in the event of a fire (NFPA fire code).
• Keep all aisles, exits, etc. clear of all chemicals and other obstructions.
• Remove all clothing, bags, and other personnel items.
• Clean out refrigerators and dispose of unwanted materials appropriately.
• Make sure all floors and work surfaces are dry. Check for water leaks under sinks, etc.
• Keep all drawers and cabinets closed.
• Check for trip and slip hazards (e.g. oil leaks from pumps, electrical cords, hoses, etc.) across walkways.
• To avoid the presence of noxious fumes arising from the sewer lines, a liter of water should be poured down each laboratory drain at least monthly to ensure that the drain trap is functional.
• Hallway doors of all laboratories must remain closed and locked to maintain the proper negative airflow from the hallways into the labs and general security.
• Inspect faucets to see that they work properly and do not drip.
• Make sure that hose/tubing connections on faucets and other items are secure, and that hose/tubing is not brittle. Immediately have any old or degraded hose/tubing replaced.
• Store items so they do not block access to the fire extinguisher(s), safety equipment, and electric panel boxes.
• Make a list of items like engineering controls (eyewash, shower, fume hood, fire extinguishers, etc.) that need to be repaired and submit a work order to the facilities department.
• Recycle paper and cardboard properly where it will be promptly removed.
• Unused or spare equipment should be stored in a designated storage room.
III. In the End
This blog has focused on specific housekeeping areas needing attention during summer or other extended shut downs. Check out another resource by the International Technology and Engineering Educators Association (ITTEA) “Technology and Engineering Teacher” Journal’s “Safety Spotlight” column for April 2020 titled: “Preparing Makerspaces and STEM Labs for Summer Break: The OAH Approach.” (See page 26: https://www.iteea.org/Publications/Journals/TET/170479.aspx). This safety column includes additional administrative and organization considerations as well as housekeeping that are applicable when shutting down science lab operations for extended periods of time.
Submit questions regarding safety to Ken Roy at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave him a comment below. Follow Ken Roy on Twitter: @drroysafersci.
Two new editions to the STEM Road Map Curriculum Series (NSTA Press) make science and technology more applicable to students’ lives. The books provide lessons that will allow students to roll up their sleeves and conduct stimulating experiments while learning to solve real world challenges.
With the “Physics in Motion
Module,” students will explore cause and effect through roller coaster design. In
the module, students collaborate to investigate energy, gravity, friction, and
The module guides
students in learning to demonstrate awareness of important concepts. They will use
technology to gather research, while also developing theories and testing them.
Students will learn about careers associated with roller coaster design and
construction, and they will design, construct, test, and evaluate the success of
their own marble track roller coasters.
The module outlines
prerequisite key knowledge, how the knowledge can be applied, and how to
differentiate lessons for students needing additional support, as well as
identifying commonly held misconceptions specific to the lesson content that
educators should address.
For Grade 1, the new book Influence of Waves continues the series by challenging students to create instruments they can play in their own “Show Me the Waves” musical production.
Students will discover
that there are different types of waves (water and sound), that come from
different sources and travel in various waves. They will explore the ways that
eyes, ears, and skin respond to sound and light.
Students will also have
rich opportunities to conduct experiments and collect data about how people
experience and interact with sound and light differently, and they will work as
musical engineers, musicians, stage hands, and set and lighting designers for
their classroom production.
Physics in Motion
and Influence of Waves add to STEM Road Map curriculum series, which
includes 16 books that address topics that include wind energy, car crashes,
bridge design, solar energy, amusement park design.
Edited by Carla C.
Johnson, Janet B. Walton, and Erin Peters-Burton, each book in the series can
be used as a whole unit or in part, and the lessons are anchored in the Next Generation Science Standards,
the Common Core State Standards, and
the Framework for 21st Century Learning.
We know we can’t recreate the science classroom in our students’ homes, but we can continue to give our students experience with relevant, intriguing phenomena to create the need to engage in science learning to answer their questions about what they’ve observed. If we want our students to do science outside of the classroom, we’ve got to give them something to figure out! Each Daily Do presents a phenomenon students will be motivated to explain. These natural phenomena, observable events that occur in the universe and that we can use our science knowledge to explain or predict, shift the focus of the learning from knowing about a topic to figuring outhow or why something happens. This phenomena-based learning results in deep, transferable understanding that can be applied to families’ everyday lives. Imagine being able to notice something interesting or curious and having a way to share ideas with each other and figure it out as a family.
Because science is a social process, we need to get creative during this time of distance and home learning. Students can share and build on each other’s ideas in real time through meeting platforms (Zoom, Google Hangouts, etc.) or over the phone, and asynchronously through email, shared documents (Google Classroom, Schoology, etc.) or web-based apps like Go Formative. Students can also grab a family member and use the discussion prompts in each Daily Do to have conversations that support students’ (and families’) sensemaking of science ideas needed to explain the phenomenon.
Below you’ll find descriptions of every Daily Do published this week. As you visit each Daily Do or reflect on one you engaged with during the week, think about how the phenomenon and discussion supports create opportunities for students to engage in meaningful science learning even at a distance from school.
The COVID-19 global pandemic has led to major changes in our everyday lives. The biggest changes for students are likely staying home from school and no longer being able to spend time with extended family and friends.
Elementary Task. Why do we all have to stay home? engages students and their families in the practice of Developing and Using Models and discussion to figure out how social distancing (and shelter in place) slows the spread of the coronavirus. This task is part of a coronavirus lesson for elementary students which can be found here.
Secondary Task. This activity for secondary students (also relying heavily on the Washington Post virus simulator) is written for students to use independently, with prompts to engage in individual and shared thinking about the effect of social distancing on slowing the spread of the coronavirus. Families (including students’ parents and guardians) or pairs/groups of students in touch virtually (by internet or phone) could also complete the activity together
Today’s task explores something many students and families are familiar with – eggs! This task, What’s in an Egg?, engages students in the practices of Asking Questions and Planning and Carrying Out Investigations to figure out why some eggs produce chickens (or other living things) and some do not. This task has been modified from its original design in order to be used by students, parents, and teachers in distance and home learning. While students could complete this task independently, we encourage students working virtually with peers or in the home with family members. The complete collection of supporting resources for this task can be found on the NSTA website.
“What’s the weather like today?” Most of us think about the weather every day. It informs the choices we make like what to wear and how we’re going to get to school, work or the store (walk, bike, take the bus). We might not notice it, but we think about climate a lot, too. We may make a plan to visit someplace new at a particular time of year to help ensure we’ll experience the weather we want or wait excitedly for warm months to swim and play outside.
In today’s task, How do we find patterns in weather?, students and their families read the NSTA eBook Thinking Like a Scientist: Investigating Weather and Climate which engages them in science and engineering practices and the use of patterns as a thinking tool (crosscutting concept) to figure out science ideas about weather and how patterns of weather determine the climate of an area.
Shadows are very popular in children’s literature. Characters try to reconnect with a shadow like Peter Pan; or, the Boy Who Wouldn’t GrowUp, try to lose a shadow which is difficult when Nothing Sticks Like a Shadow, and watch Shadows that break loose, unwind, stretch, stir and branch out upon waking. Young people – and likely many adults – are intrigued by shadows.
In this task, Why is my shadow always changing?, NSTA Press author Page Keeley shares strategies for using formative assessment probes to engage students in productive talk and science and engineering practices to figure out why shadows change size. These strategies can be used in the classroom and at home to make students’ thinking visible which can both drive students to investigate their own ideas and question and guide educators in planning instruction.
I recently came across an activity where a spinal cord was represented using candy. I can only imagine how excited the students must feel while completing this project, but I am wondering if it truly led to a better understanding of the material for the students? —F., North Dakota
You asked the most important question when evaluating lessons ideas: Will this activity lead to a better understanding for your students?
If you just wanted students to understand the layout of the spine and spinal cord then perhaps arranging candy in a pattern that mimics this anatomy might work. But if you needed them to have a better understanding of how the form and function of the spine work together then I believe that colored clays or other durable and inedible material would be more appropriate. The students would have more flexibility to make the models more life-like and allow you to display or handle them for longer periods of time without worrying about decay or hungry critters (or your students).
Another way to approach this model-building is to have students brainstorm conceptual models. How could you represent the spinal cord by its purpose? If students understand the idea that nerves send signals to transfer information and control an organism’s body, they may decide to represent a spinal cord using bundles of wires.
While I was known for handing out treats, I didn’t use candy or other foods for hands-on activities primarily because students will eat some, raising many concerns: Are their hands, the containers, and all work surfaces hygienic? What would students do with morsels that fell on the floor? Should alternatives be provided to students who can’t eat these treats due to allergies, health issues, and so forth, so they don’t miss out?
Save the candy for treats. Use something else for models.
Science is about making sense of our natural world, and this is something that children naturally do long before they begin school. Children acquire information from many sources: interacting with their environment, conversing with their families and friends, and picking up ideas in books and from the media. Children are constantly taking in new information and trying to make sense of it. For elementary-age children, parents and teachers can be guides and facilitators in supporting children in their wonderings and in helping them develop their ideas about science. In this video, I introduce you to tools we have developed in the Uncovering Student Ideas in Science series that you can use at home or through online learning to help students get their ideas out and share them as they explore phenomena and science concepts.
Learning About Light and Shadows
So let’s explore shadows with two probes called “Shadow Size” and “When Is My Shadow the Longest?” The first probe, “Shadow Size,” helps children develop ideas about how light interacts with objects and forms shadows. The second probe, “When Is My Shadow the Longest?”, helps children recognize how shadows change throughout the day based on where the Sun is. These probes are from Uncovering Student Ideas in Primary Science, Volume 1. Use these downloadable sheets or view them on a computer/ tablet to start a conversation with the children. How would you make the shadow larger if you were the child in the illustration? When do you think your shadow outside will be the longest—early morning, late morning, or noon?
Tips for Talking With Children About the Probes
The activities I discuss below illustrate how probes are
used in three steps:
Activate children’s preconceptions.
Engage them in experiences during which they
acquire evidence and new information.
Have them use what they discovered to revisit
and revise their initial thinking.
Throughout this process, it’s important that parents and teachers focus on letting children get their ideas out. Try not to comment on whether an idea is accurate or “good.” Don’t correct children when they share a misconception. Instead, use comments like “tell me more about that” or “what else do you think about ___.” These open-ended prompts can invite more detailed discussion.
Explore Shadow Size
Pull out a flashlight and a few paper cutouts of simple shapes like a star, heart, or triangle affixed with tape to a pen or craft stick. In a darkened room, let children explore how to make the shadow larger or smaller. Does their observation match their prediction? Guide them in looking for cause-and-effect relationships such as “when I move the flashlight closer to my paper shape, the shadow _____; when I move the flashlight farther away from my paper shape, the shadow ____.” Challenge the children to make the largest shadow they can with their paper shape and then make the smallest shadow. Ask the children to explain what makes a shadow. What pattern do they notice? After exploration and discussion with the children, revisit the probe again, providing them an opportunity to use their observations to explain the phenomenon.
Children can also explore shadows formed by the interaction of light from the Sun with an object. After making a prediction and sharing their reasoning, take children outside on a sunny day and have them observe their shadow at the different times mentioned in the probe. Pull out the chalk and mark where they’re standing and where their shadows end. Without looking directly at the Sun, guide children in noting where the Sun is in the sky (low, higher, overhead) in relation to their shadow measurement. Encourage children to describe the pattern of shadow length. Guide them in completing cause-and-effect statements about the length of shadows such as “When the Sun is lower in the sky, my shadow is ______; when it is higher in the sky, my shadow is ______.” Using their observations as evidence, children can revisit the probe and revise their initial explanation.
Children love to talk about their ideas, and you’ll find that the research-based questions in the Uncovering probes can help you encourage that conversation and foster a strong desire to learn about science and figure things out.
Background for the Parent and Teacher
The “Shadow Size” probe for teachers and parents provides background information and context on the purpose of the probe and the research summaries of the commonly held ideas in this area of science. The probe is designed to elicit young children’s ideas about how light interacts with an object to form a shadow. It helps reveal children’s ideas about the size of a shadow in relation to its distance from the light source. However, sometimes children’s preconceptions can affect how they think about a phenomenon. For example, one study found that some children think the size of a shadow depends solely on the size of the object, failing to recognize the role of light.
The “When Is My Shadow the Longest?” probe for teachers and parents is designed to find out children’s ideas about shadows and how they think shadows change from sunrise to noon. Research has found that some children think their shadow stays the same shape and size throughout the day. The background information also provides suggestions for further instruction. For example, you can extend the probe by having children make measurements throughout the day.
As the renowned educator and scholar Eleanor Duckworth said in her classic book, The Having of Wonderful Ideas (Teachers College Press, 2006), “The more we help children to have their wonderful ideas and to feel good about themselves for having them, the more likely it is that they will someday happen upon wonderful ideas that no one else has happened upon before.” These probes provide an opportunity for children to share their wonderful ideas in a nonjudgmental way and to discover for themselves when to modify their thinking.
Try It and Share With Us
Try out these probes and share with us what you did and how the conversations went! Share your comments below, or tweet your photos and comments @NSTA and @CTSKeeley. We’d love to hear about your children’s wonderful ideas about shadows.