January 2015 – Vol. 27 No. 5

Getting Your Primary Classroom Ready for Science!

Posted: Tuesday, August 5th, 2014

by Valerie Joyner

It’s hard to believe summer vacation is almost over and it’s time to plan for a new school year. As primary teachers, you know the importance of building the foundations with your young students during the year to support their futures as students, lifelong learners, and informed citizens. A critical component of these educational foundations is science! But, where do you start?

There are many questions to consider as you plan for a successful year of science learning. What initial steps will you take with NGSS? When is the best time of year to cover life science, physical science, and earth science? When will science fit into your school day? How will students record and share what they observe, do, and learn? How will you manage science hands-on activities and realia in your classroom? Will you plan a field trip to enrich and enhance students’ science learning? What routines will you need in place for “Science Talk?” The list goes on!

With so many questions, possibilities, and of course circumstances specific to each school, workable, effective plans will vary widely. Ultimately you’re the best judge of what works for your situation, so here are some ideas and options to consider, combine, and adapt as you plan.

Classroom Set-Up
Giving thought to your classroom set-up now will allow you greater access to making science successful through the year. Science-ready classrooms include a corner or table where you and your students can share science related realia, specimens, and books to support a unit of study. Plan where to keep your science supplies, materials, and resources. You might also consider seating arrangements geared for science. Since early explorations are often with partners and small groups, some teachers like clustered seating or table groups. Figure out where “Science Talk” will take place at the end of each science lesson.

Science Routines
Establishing classroom routines is also a vital component to successful science experiences and learning. These routines fall into three categories: 1) hands-on science experiences, 2) recording/sharing science learning, and 3) “Science Talk.”

Routines to establish for students’ hands-on activities include establishing who will gather materials, who will perform the activities, and who will cleanup materials. Some teachers use a card or job system to establish who will be the “Getter,” “Recorder,” and “Worker.”

Recording and sharing science experiences and learning begins with a science journal or notebook, so determine what your science journals/notebooks will look like. Some options are teacher-made individual unit journals or whole class booklets or charts. It can even be binders or three-ring pocket folders for older primary students. The choice you make will set the groundwork for the remainder of the year.

The routines you set for science notebooks should include rules for making entries. For example, they should always include the date, and drawings should be accurate (e.g. no pink butterflies just because they like pink) and labeled. Of course developmental abilities of the students must always be taken into account. For a kindergartener entries may involve dictation, sentence strips, stamped dates, or content printed on self-stick labels. Establishing the routine is the critical part, one that can be built upon through the years.

A third routine to plan for is “Science Talk,” where students share what they experienced and begin to make claims based on evidence. A second grade student might say, “I noticed the ice melted and became water (liquid), and became ice (solid) again when I froze it” and “When we cooked the egg, it went from a liquid to a solid, but we couldn’t make it a liquid again. Therefore I think some changes made by heating and cooling can be reversed and some cannot” (NGSS 2-PS1-4).
Expectations and rules about taking turns, making comments about other student’s statements or ideas, and how to use evidence to support claims need to be established in the very first “Science Talk” and practiced throughout the school year.

CSTA believes science should be taught to every student, every day, every year. While that is our goal, we understand that the real constraints placed on you – by your principal,parents, district, and state – have a direct impact on your ability to teach science. Thedesire to teach science as often as possible, combined with a thoughtfully set-up room and practical routines established at the outset, will help you to find time for science in the classroom more effectively and frequently

Written by Valerie Joyner

Valerie Joyner

Valerie Joyner is a retired elementary science educator and is CSTA’s Primary Director.

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