May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

Elementary Science: What Is It? Part II

Posted: Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

Tim Williamson

This is the second in a series of columns related to the necessity for the teaching of science in the elementary school.

The elementary grades are a perfect place to build on a child’s natural curiosity about the world they experience.  By instructing these students in “hands-on minds-on” science instruction, teachers can stimulate this curiosity which in turn allows the students to think about and understand the world around them.  This innate and wonderful curiosity soon disappears if science is omitted from elementary classroom instruction.

I asked Eric Brundin, the science curriculum leader of Long Beach Unified School District, to also share his feelings regarding good elementary science instruction.  Eric and I worked together and shared an office in LBUSD when I was the Science Math Resource Center’s head teacher.  We shared many long conversations regarding the teaching of science (or lack thereof) in the elementary classroom.  I knew Eric would be able to share some very valuable insights into this “What is Elementary Science?” question.  I’m sharing his insightful response as it was relayed to me.

Elementary Science – by Eric Brundin

It is often said that children are natural scientists.  Perhaps we overplay that idea because we mistake curiosity for scientific inquiry.  Curiosity is the foundation for inquiry, but it is not the goal.  The goal, I think, is one subtle step beyond that.  If we respond to student curiosity with “the answer,” there is a level of, “Oh, I get it” that creates a certain level of satisfaction in students.  But for most students, it is not enough; it will not last.  Most science content is taught as other peoples’ (professional scientists’) answers to questions other people have asked.  As students and teachers, we sit on the sidelines and try to fit it into our own understanding.  What we really want kids to learn is how to get it.  As much as possible, we want our students to try to figure it out, to make guesses, and to be humble enough to accept what the evidence really tells them.

If only the California science standards had started with the Investigation and Experimentation skill standards and stated that the content standards (life, physical, and earth) are merely the context for learning the I&E skills!  But, alas, it’s up to us to explain that from the grassroots.  Perhaps they were just saving the best for last.

One thing I’ve learned is that we, too, must be humble enough to accept what the evidence is really telling us.  The evidence I’ve seen shows that some teachers can catch fire easier than others.  Years ago here in Long Beach, the K-12 Alliance came and made a tremendous difference with a group of elementary teachers.  One of these teachers still talks about how she turned from being science-phobic to completely excited about science.  She is now among our most experienced and valued science specialists.  And others have caught fire as well, but many teachers have not.  They see or experience great inquiry activities and respond, “Could you come show that to my class?”  How do we help these teachers take it on for themselves?

Some people like to jump right in to a swimming pool.  Others of us prefer to wade in slowly, … inch by inch, … checking to make sure the pulse rate is not too dangerously high, … letting that last inch of skin get fully used to the wet and cold before assaulting the next inch.  And if those jumpy, splashy people get too close, we may just opt for something else, something safer to do.  How many elementary teachers are living this way with science?  How many are tacitly saying that science is just too uncomfortable so I’ll do as little possible?  They are just going to do what they need to do.  One thing we’ve implemented is a system to help the “waders” discover what they really need.  We have created a district level, standards-based assessment system that allows us to get the individual item analysis that is instructionally useful, which the state system does not provide.  It is gives private, teacher level data that individual teachers compare to the district average to find strengths and weaknesses.  Once teachers identify the weaknesses, we help them to focus on the standards/concepts that seem most important.  In collaborative groups with teachers or resource people who know the science, you can develop class activities that will help students experience, understand, and retain understanding.  Lesson study is perhaps the ultimate form of this, but less formal settings can work, too.  The science expert can be someone from industry if they can blend their expertise with the teaching expertise of the teachers.  Or, expertise can come from a middle or high school teacher, or some other resource: either in person or on the web.

We operate in a data-driven world today – sometimes we smother ourselves with it, sometimes we just give it lip service.  The key is to making it work is getting limited, useful data and then acting on it.  Also, avoid the temptation to fix everything.  Remember, the waders need to be brought along slowly.  They probably need to be brought along slowly each time they come upon a new pool.  From a leadership perspective, this calls for tenacious patience, all too rare a quality where science education is concerned.”


Thank you Eric for your well articulated and thought provoking insights regarding this educational dilemma.

Contemplating his words of wisdom allows us to become better prepared to impart scientific literacy to all of our younger charges, preparing them for a successful future for themselves, our state and our nation.

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.

One Response

  1. Well said! The state STAR tests assess science content knowledge, not the ability to deal with the ambiguity and uncertainty of problem statements, hypotheses, and data, which requires analysis, application, synthesis and evaluation. Science isn’t about “getting the answer”, but asking appropriate, meaningful questions that can guide inquiry. We never “arrive” in science; we’re always on a journey to the the next question.

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CSTA Annual Conference Early Bird Rates End July 14

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Jessica Sawko

Teachers engaged in workshop activity

Teachers engaging in hands-on learning during a workshop at the 2016 CSTA conference.

Don’t miss your chance to register at the early bird rate for the 2017 CSTA Conference – the early-bird rate closes July 14. Need ideas on how to secure funding for your participation? Visit our website for suggestions, a budget planning tool, and downloadable justification letter to share with your admin. Want to take advantage of the early rate – but know your district will pay eventually? Register online today and CSTA will reimburse you when we receive payment from your district/employer. (For more information on how that works contact Zi Stair in the office for details – 916-979-7004 or

New Information Now Available On-line:

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.

Goodbye Outgoing and Welcome Incoming CSTA Board Members

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

Jill Grace

Jill Grace, CSTA President, 2017-2019

On July 1, 2017 five CSTA members concluded their service and four new board members joined the ranks of the CSTA Board of Directors. CSTA is so grateful for all the volunteer board of directors who contribute hours upon hours of time and energy to advance the work of the association. At the June 3 board meeting, CSTA was able to say goodbye to the outgoing board members and welcome the incoming members.

This new year also brings with it a new president for CSTA. As of July 1, 2017 Jill Grace is the president of the California Science Teachers Association. Jill is a graduate of California State University, Long Beach, a former middle school science teacher, and is currently a Regional Director with the K-12 Alliance @ WestEd where she works with California NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative districts and charter networks in the San Diego area.

Outgoing Board Members

  • Laura Henriques (President-Elect: 2011 – 2013, President: 2013 – 2015, Past President: 2015 – 2017)
  • Valerie Joyner (Region 1 Director: 2009 – 2013, Primary Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Mary Whaley (Informal Science Education Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Sue Campbell (Middle School/Jr. High Director: 2015 – 2017)
  • Marcus Tessier (2-Year College Director: 2015 – 2017)

Learn More…

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.

Finding My Student’s Motivation of Learning Through Engineering Tasks

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Huda Ali Gubary and Susheela Nath

It’s 8:02 and the bell rings. My students’ walk in and pick up an entry ticket based on yesterday’s lesson and homework. My countdown starts for students to begin…3, 2, 1. Ten students are on task and diligently completing the work, twenty are off task with behaviors ranging from talking up a storm with their neighbors to silently staring off into space. This was the start of my classes, more often than not. My students rarely showed the enthusiasm for a class that I had eagerly prepared for. I spent so much time searching for ways to get my students excited about the concepts they were learning. I wanted them to feel a connection to the lessons and come into my class motivated about what they were going to learn next. I would ask myself how I could make my class memorable where the kids were in the driver’s seat of learning. Incorporating engineering made this possible. Learn More…

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Written by NGSS Early Implementer

NGSS Early Implementer

In 2015 CSTA began to publish a series of articles written by teachers participating in the California NGSS k-8 Early Implementation Initiative. This article was written by an educator(s) participating in the initiative. CSTA thanks them for their contributions and for sharing their experience with the science teaching community.

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Unveils Updated Recommended Literature List

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson unveiled an addition of 285 award-winning titles to the Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list.

“The books our students read help broaden their perspectives, enhance their knowledge, and fire their imaginations,” Torlakson said. “The addition of these award-winning titles represents the state’s continued commitment to the interests and engagement of California’s young readers.”

The Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list is a collection of more than 8,000 titles of recommended reading for children and adolescents. Reflecting contemporary and classic titles, including California authors, this online list provides an exciting range of literature that students should be reading at school and for pleasure. Works include fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama to provide for a variety of tastes, interests, and abilities. Learn More…

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:

Teaching Science in the Time of Alternative Facts – Why NGSS Can Help (somewhat)

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn

The father of one of my students gave me a book: In the Beginning: Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood by Walt Brown, Ph. D. He had heard that I was teaching Plate Tectonics and wanted me to consider another perspective. The book offered the idea that the evidence for plate tectonics could be better understood if we considered the idea that beneath the continent of Pangaea was a huge underground layer of water that suddenly burst forth from a rift between the now continents of Africa and South America. The waters shot up and the continents hydroplaned apart on the water layer to their current positions. The force of the movement pushed up great mountain ranges which are still settling to this day, resulting in earthquakes along the margins of continents. This had happened about 6,000 years ago and created a great worldwide flood. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for CSTA.