January/February 2018 – Vol. 31 No. 2

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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Accelerating into NGSS – A Statewide Rollout Series Now Accepting Registrations

Posted: Friday, January 19th, 2018

Are you feeling behind on the implementation of NGSS? Then Accelerating into NGSS – the Statewide Rollout event – is right for you!

If you have not experienced Phases 1-4 of the Statewide Rollout, or are feeling behind with the implementation of NGSS, the Accelerating Into NGSS Statewide Rollout will provide you with the greatest hits from Phases 1-4!

Accelerating Into NGSS Statewide Rollout is a two-day training geared toward grade K-12 academic coaches, administrators, curriculum leads, and teacher leaders. Check-in for the two-day rollout begins at 7:30 a.m., followed by a continental breakfast. Sessions run from 8:00 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. on Day One and from 8:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Day Two.

Cost of training is $250 per attendee. Fee includes all materials, continental breakfast, and lunch on both days. It is recommended that districts send teams of four to six, which include at least one administrator. Payment can be made by check or credit card. If paying by check, registration is NOT complete until payment has been received. All payments must be received prior to the Rollout location date you are attending. Paying by credit card secures your seat at time of registration. No purchase orders accepted. No participant cancellation refunds.

For questions or more information, please contact Amy Kennedy at akennedy@sjcoe.net or (209) 468-9027.



MARCH 28-29, 2018
Host: San Mateo County Office of Education
Location: San Mateo County Office of Education, Redwood City

APRIL 10-11, 2018
Host: Orange County Office of Education
Location: Brandman University, Irvine

MAY 1-2, 2018
Host: Tulare County Office of Education
Location: Tulare County Office of Education, Visalia

MAY 3-4, 2018
Host: San Bernardino Superintendent of Schools
Location: West End Educational Service Center, Rancho Cucamonga

MAY 7-8, 2018
Host: Sacramento County Office of Education
Location: Sacramento County Office of Education Conference Center and David P. Meaney Education Center, Mather

JUNE 14-15, 2018
Host: Imperial County Office of Education
Location: Imperial Valley College, Imperial

Presented by the California Department of Education, California County Superintendents Educational Services Association/County Offices of Education, K-12 Alliance @WestEd, California Science Project, and the California Science Teachers Association.

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.

The Teaching and Learning Collaborative, Reflections from an Administrator

Posted: Friday, January 19th, 2018

by Kelly Patchen

My name is Mrs. Kelly Patchen, and I am proud to be an elementary assistant principal working in the Tracy Unified School District (TUSD) at Louis Bohn and McKinley Elementary Schools. Each of the schools I support are Title I K-5 schools with about 450 students, a diverse student population, a high percentage of English Language Learners, and students living in poverty. We’re also lucky to be part of the CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative with the K-12 Alliance. 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.

2018 CSTA Conference Call for Proposals

Posted: Wednesday, January 17th, 2018

CSTA is pleased to announce that we are now accepting proposals for 90-minute workshops and three- and six-hour short courses for the 2018 California Science Education Conference. Workshops and short courses make up the bulk of the content and professional learning opportunities available at the conference. In recognition of their contribution, members who present a workshop or short course receive 50% off of their registration fees. Click for more information regarding proposals, or submit one today by following the links below.

Short Course Proposal

Workshop Proposal 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.

CSTA’s New Administrator Facebook Group Page

Posted: Monday, January 15th, 2018

by Holly Steele

The California Science Teachers Association’s mission is to promote high-quality science education, and one of the best practice’s we use to fulfill that mission is through the use of our Facebook group pages. CSTA hosts several closed and moderated Facebook group pages for specific grade levels, (Elementary, Middle, and High School), pages for district coaches and science education faculty, and the official CSTA Facebook page. These pages serve as an online resource for teachers and coaches to exchange teaching methods, materials, staying update on science events in California and asking questions. CSTA is happy to announce the creation of a 6th group page called, California Administrators Supporting Science. 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: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.

Find Your Reason to Engage

Posted: Monday, January 15th, 2018

by Jill Grace

I was recently reflecting on events in the news and remembered that several years ago, National Public Radio had a story about a man named Stéphane Hessel, a World War II French resistance fighter, Nazi concentration camp survivor, and contributor to the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The story focused on a book he had published, Time for Outrage (2010).

In it, Hessel makes the argument that the worst attitude is indifference:

“Who is in charge; who are the decision makers? It’s not always easy to discern. We’re not dealing with a small elite anymore, whose actions we can clearly identify. We are dealing with a vast, interdependent world that is interconnected in unprecedented ways. But there are unbearable things all around us. You have to look for them; search carefully. Open your eyes and you will see. This is what I tell young people: If you spend a little time searching, you will find your reasons to engage. The worst attitude is indifference. ‘There’s nothing I can do; I get by’ – adopting this mindset will deprive you of one of the fundamental qualities of being human: outrage.  Our capacity for protest is indispensable, as is our freedom to engage.”

His words make me take pause when I think of the status of science in the United States. A general “mistrust” of science is increasingly pervasive, as outlined in a New Yorker article from the summer of 2016. Learn More…

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Written by Jill Grace

Jill Grace

Jill Grace is a Regional Director for the K-12 Alliance and is President of CSTA.