March/April 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 6

Elementary Science Can Glue It All Together!

Posted: Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

by Bethany Dixon

Elementary students use a lot of glue. Cutting and pasting develops fine motor skills as well as providing opportunities to assessment learning in the primary grades. Even in my fourth grade classroom, we frequently used glue outside of art to put our ideas together into graphic organizers. Consider, then, the following analogy. Time and funding for science in elementary education have been cut repeatedly. However, what if science didn’t take additional time but instead gave context to your current class work in other subjects? What if science could be the curricular glue that helps elementary students to transition from math and reading into writing and back again?

Time is precious in any classroom, but specific pressure is put on elementary school teachers to meet mandated requirements for reading, writing, and math. According to the 2011 Statewide Science Education Survey of Elementary School Teachers, “Only 10% of elementary students in California experience a pattern of classroom practices that support regular engagement in the practices of science… Across all grade levels, 40% of elementary teachers reported that their students received 60 minutes or less of science instruction per week; indeed, 13% of elementary teachers reported that their students received 30 minutes or less.” Elementary teachers cite lack of resources, professional development, and dedicated class time to teach science. Organizations and teachers are working to improve these statistics by implementing science lessons that are integrated with math, writing, reading, and speaking skills taught through the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

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Putting science into elementary school curriculum is challenging. Because of recent STEM initiatives, including the upcoming STEM Conference in Sacramento and Common Core implementation, now is an excellent time to re-energize elementary science. The CCSS state that K-5 reading students should have the ability to, “Integrate and evaluate content…visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.” It goes on to express that in grade 2, students should, “Participate in shared research and writing projects,” and gives recording science observations as an example. College and Career Readiness anchor standards frequently include conducting research projects in both writing and reading that incorporate different types of texts, presenting knowledge and ideas, and collaborating.

Elementary teachers can begin to integrate science through data collection in their own classrooms: not only monitoring the weather, but taking action to evaluate the practices currently in place to support their science curriculum. Unfortunately, excellent science standards don’t always translate to classroom practices that support science learners, and keeping track of the total time spent on science (versus planned time for science) can be eye-opening for departments. Cross-curricular adjustments of class time are often the most efficient means of including science (the glue!) if your learning day is full. Teachers can make a good start by committing to swap a few fiction books per unit and include a science-content-specific trade book in reading that will enhance your reading lesson (NSTA’s list of Outstanding Science books for elementary students). Using science-specific writing prompts, realia, and demonstrations can link your curriculum – moving from reading to math doesn’t have to be an abrupt end and science can be the bridge one lesson to the next. One example would be to add a seed germination project. After reading a book about seeds and writing about the life cycle of a plant, students put ten radish seeds in a damp paper towel and seal them in a plastic bag. Over a weekend, the seeds will germinate and students can measure the plants as they grow. Students can write and share their ideas about which tools should be used to measure and track the plants, and how the plants could be transplanted. The Great Backyard Bird Count as well as other citizen science projects frequently offer to work with elementary school students and can provide a multitude of opportunities to participate in science.

Local help can also come from middle and high school science teachers. At our school, high school AP biology students served as judges for the 6th grade science fair project and biology students served as “science mentors” to help elementary students research science topics. Our upper-level students create picture books about scientific phenomenon aimed at the elementary school student audience and the highlight of this project is ultimately reading the books to the elementary school students. This cross-grade experience revs students up for science on both levels and provides important scaffolding and connections between the schools.

Other resources are present as well! In California, CSTA includes specific workshops for elementary science teachers at the California Science Education Conference. Local universities often have science clubs that do outreach programs for elementary students at little or charge. Nationally, the American Museum of Natural History offers classes for teachers to improve their content knowledge. Science partnerships are also often easy to find: polling parents and having scientifically-inclined parents speak to the class can be a fantastic opportunity to build a sense of community and teach students about STEM careers.

Elementary science teachers’ encouragement of scientific thinking in the primary grades is critical for improving scientific literacy and building a society of critical thinkers. The emergence of the NGSS and Common Core Standards underscores the idea that science is critical for elementary students. Teachers have been tasked to implement the curriculum based on research, problem solving, investigating, and communicating results through mathematics, writing, and verbal communication. Cutting out these subjects to build a curriculum of separate projects doesn’t make sense, instead, elementary teachers who use science as a tool to further student understanding of other subjects create the capacity for more meaningful curriculum overall. Teaching science isn’t always an easy craft, but elementary school teachers can do wonders with a little “glue.”

Written by Bethany Dixon

Bethany Dixon is a science teacher at Western Sierra Collegiate Academy, is a CSTA Publications Committee Member, and is a member of CSTA.

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Posted: Tuesday, March 14th, 2017

The pre-publication version of the new California Science Curriculum Framework is now available for download. This publication incorporates all the edits that were approved by the State Board of Education in November 2016 and was many months in the making. Our sincere thanks to the dozens of CSTA members were involved in its development. Our appreciation is also extended to the California Department of Education, the State Board of Education, the Instructional Quality Commission, and the Science Curriculum Framework and Evaluation Criteria Committee and their staff for their hard work and dedication to produce this document and for their commitment to the public input process. To the many writers and contributors to the Framework CSTA thanks you for your many hours of work to produce a world-class document.

For tips on how to approach this document see our article from December 2016: California Has Adopted a New Science Curriculum Framework – Now What …? If you would like to learn more about the Framework, consider participating in one of the Framework Launch events (a.k.a. Rollout #4) scheduled throughout 2017.

The final publication version (formatted for printing) will be available in July 2017. This document will not be available in printed format, only electronically.

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

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Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

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Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

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Marian Murphy-Shaw

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Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017

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Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.