Many preschool and primary teachers tend to feel intimidated by science. They are responsible for being experts in all different areas, and many of them don’t consider themselves “science people.” Our state standards mandate that we teach science, but they don’t show us how to make it fun. The National Science Education Standards explain the importance of inquiry-based learning as the basis of science education with the following statement: “Inquiry into authentic questions generated from student experiences is the central strategy for teaching science.” So we are supposed to let them figure out the answers to their own questions? That sounds good to me! Not only is this a very effective way to teach science, it allows teachers who might not be as comfortable with some of the topics to learn right along with their students!
Most people, even those who are not “science people” have fun learning new things about how the world around them works. It can be scary to bring an activity into the classroom when you are not sure of all possible outcomes or how you will explain the results that students find. The beauty of inquiry-based science activities is that you and your students can research unexpected findings together to figure out why they happened. In one kindergarten water activity, the students were trying all different objects in the classroom to see if they could float in a tub of water. When certain items sunk, the kids decided to use a plastic lid as a “boat” to help the items float. When that worked, they tried out other objects to see if they would work as boats (some did and some didn’t). This was their own kind of research to figure out what makes things float or sink. After they got some ideas, some of them even started building boats out of aluminum foil on their own. These discoveries were only minimally directed by me, and students were learning all different science concepts though their own experimentation.
The PEEP and the Big Wide World Explorer's Guide from WGBH and PBS shows us how we can do inquiry-based science lessons in classrooms as early as preschool. The activities and printable worksheets can make bringing science into even the youngest groups much less intimidating. The resource, which is a full unit plan of science activities, could be a useful tool for older classrooms, too. They might not want to admit it, but even my high school chemistry students would have enjoyed some of these science activities as an introduction to a new topic. Many of the topics cover basic physical science knowledge that is the basis of what they need to know to understand much of chemistry and physics.
To make the most of students learning, I think it is very important for them to keep their own science notebooks. These can be as simple as a spiral notebook or some pages of paper folded and stapled together. Each time we do a science activity in class, students can write down their discoveries. Students who can’t write can practice drawing their observations and explaining what they learned to their teacher. Looking back through a science notebook can show students how much they discovered and learned on their own. The importance of this discovery learning was summed up in a statement by Carl Sagan, “When you make the finding yourself - even if you're the last person on Earth to see the light - you'll never forget it.”
Simple things like letting your students figure out which what happens when you mix oil and water, or how far they can fly a paper airplane, or how they can change the size and shape of shadows can lead to authentic learning, and a desire to continue that learning and investigation at home. Keeping their ideas together in a science notebook can help them remember all the questions and ideas they came up with during class.
Are you having a hard time figuring out what kinds of science units you can use in your class? I went to The Gateway and brought up all the science resources available. When I refined my search to only include units of instruction, I was given a list of over 500. That should be a good start! There are so many ideas and units out there to help encourage all educators to be “science people” and to include science as a fun and engaging part of their curriculum. Search for yourself to see what you can use with your students. After all, according to Albert Einstein, "The only source of knowledge is experience."…A quote students and teachers alike need to take to heart. We’ll never be “science people” if we don’t make science an enjoyable part of our classroom.
~Peggy's Corner - 7/10/2010~