Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Science Teaching Prep and Planning

It takes a lot of time and space to set up a science lab for young children. Setting up the lab requires hours of gathering and organizing materials, hours in a day when most educators are lucky if they have a one-hour prep for all the work they have to do to plan and prepare each lesson, respond to emails, meet with family members and other educators, and keep up on the latest research. The space to store all the equipment is also rarely available in busy, small classrooms that house many children all day as well as supplies for all the other subjects. These are reasons why educators have shied away from lots of science teaching at the elementary level in the past.

That's also why educators' work day typically spills over to their personal lives with multiple hours in early in the morning, after school, and/or into the evening. Also, many educators are funding the supplies needed for science programs in school in order to make those programs more interesting, timely, and hands-on for students. Often, purchasing in school systems are somewhat punitive, inefficient, and unhelpful systems that make getting the materials you need in a timely manner an arduous, painstaking process so teachers, instead, simply use their own money to buy the materials on Amazon or at local shops--this can cost teachers up to $1,000 or more dollars a year. Teachers do this because it makes the lessons more successful, time-efficient, timely, and fun.

Massachusetts launched new science standards just a few years ago. The standards are good, and systems like the one I work in, have put together programs, supports, and materials to help teach these standards. This along with teachers' own purchases and significant time outside of the school day has put our science program on a good trajectory, but there's still more work to do.

As I learn to teach science more effectively, I'm coming up with processes that work well including the following:

  • Tying the science teaching to timely events, good videos, and engaging hands-on activities. Some of the standards and lessons are rather dull on their own, but when you make the time to build those standards and lessons into more meaningful and memorable events, everyone learns more and enjoys the lessons too. Our team has worked at this which has resulted in good results with regard to engagement and learning. 
  • Connecting science lessons under engaging themes helps to enliven the learning too. For example, we put many of the standards under the theme of survival which students are curious about. To make the theme more interdisciplinary we included a survival read aloud, Hatchet, and added a survival theme to students' narrative writing unit. At recent conferences, it was exciting to see students' enthusiasm, pride, and interest as they shared their thoughts about the read aloud, survival stories, and related science explorations. 
  • Making the science come alive with expert visitors and field studies. Demonstrating that good learning happens with wonderful experts and in wonderful places outside of school brings life to a school program and makes the science teaching and learning more memorable and engaging too. 
  • Making space for all those supplies and taking the time to order and take care of good quality supplies makes the planning and prep easier. For example, last year we spent a lot of time ordering and preparing supplies for our watershed model making activity, then this year the supplies were ready which made the prep easier. I am in the process of remaking my classroom yet again to make good space for all those supplies too.
  • Creating lab books that go along with each investigation provides a good guide for students, colleagues, and family members. Guiding packets act as recipes to the science learning by including the materials, steps, and room for thoughtful answers, questions, and reflection. These little booklets are good go-to guides as students and teachers prepare and engage with the explorations, and they are also good guides for children as they use the information to relay what they learned in discussion with family members, answering questions on tests, and project work. 
  • Creating and updating a guiding website. Having a website that includes all of the good resources and keeping that website up-to-date helps all members of the learning team access the information whenever they need or want it. This eventually saves time and supports program development in positive ways. 
Store bought programs can be helpful, but sometimes lack the timeliness and personalization that make learning more engaging, deep, and rich. In many ways, preprepared programs can serve as a launching point for a more engaging, deep, and meaningful program. 

And, as with every curriculum area, the world of science and science teaching is ever changing so it's imperative to make time to update programs regularly to reflect those changes.

Further, as much as any subject, science requires optimal social-emotional learning to learn well. Scientists need to know how to work as contributing team members who can assign and carry out important roles, debate, discuss, and work together to effect a meaningful result. Scientists have to be patient, good communicators, orderly, organized, and creative too. When teaching science, we are always focusing on apt SEL skills and attitudes at the elementary level too. 

There's lots to do to teach science well. Children's enthusiasm for the subject fuels the needed time and energy that's required to do this job well.