January/February 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 4

New School-Year Science Resolutions: My Top Five List

Posted: Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

by Michelle French

At the end of the last school year, I sat in my first grade classroom, stared at the empty walls, and reflected upon the year.  That time of quiet and uninterrupted peace also allowed me to start dreaming of what my classroom environment and curriculum will look like next year.   As I looked at the wall that displays my students’ work in science, I began thinking about how I could build upon what I did in science this year and make next year even better. So, I narrowed down the five areas where I felt I could use some rejuvenation, research, and refinement.  I thought that perhaps my “Top Five List” of science resolutions might be helpful to others as we start off a new year.

1) Ensure that my classroom environment is a safe place for children to ask questions, take risks, and learn from each other …  not just from me.  Last year, I went over basic classroom survival rules right off the bat: take turns and share, clean-up after yourself, keep all parts of our bodies to ourselves, etc.  This year, in addition to those rules, I would like explore norms for discussion from the start.  I delayed introducing norms for discussion last year, and I felt like I was playing catch-up the rest of the year.  Ready, Set, SCIENCE!  Putting Research to Work in K-8 Science Classrooms (2008) by the National Research Council states, “Proficiency in science entails skillful participation in a scientific community in the classroom and mastery of productive ways of representing ideas, using scientific tools, and interacting with peers about science.”  Even children in K-2 classrooms are capable of engaging in these types of productive content-driven discussions.   By having my students engage in scientific discussions when school begins, I hope to have students understand that it is okay to respectfully disagree with each other, feel safe even if they don’t know something, and know that their peers can help them find answers to questions.

2) I will craft questions and talk stems that: engage students, allow all students to participate, and lead to higher level thinking.  As I went through our adopted science materials last year, I noted that many of the questions were designed to elicit “right there” or “yes/no” answers.  I felt that there were missed opportunities in the curriculum for asking higher level questions.  While reading through Activating & Engaging Habits of the Mind (2000), Arthur L. Costa and Bena Kallick propose that teachers should “…formulate and pose questions that intentionally challenge students’ intellect and imagination.”   They also state that the level of questions that I mentioned finding in my curriculum is important for data gathering.  The next two levels that move students forward in their metacognitive abilities are processing and then speculating, elaborating, and applying concepts.  The authors break down questions in a way that is very easy to follow. In a nutshell, they state to select:

  • First, an invitational stem
  • Next, the cognitive operation (Data Gathering; Processing; or Speculate, Elaborate, and Apply)
  • Then, chose internal content (focus on feelings/emotions, thoughts, or reactions) or external content (focus on the lesson, the event, or the other students, etc).

A sample first grade science question could be “How might we (invitational stem) compare and contrast (processing level) the goldfish and the millipede (external content)?”  Costa and Kallick have provided me a blueprint to help me as I am crafting my own questions/talk stems and analyzing existing textbook questions.

3) I will look for every opportunity to make science meaningful, relevant, and accessible for all of my students.  In Teaching with the Brain in Mind (1998) by Eric Jensen, the author states, “It’s not more content that students want; it’s meaning.”   One of my most eye-opening moments last year actually came during a social studies lesson.  A very bright, inquisitive girl asked me, “Mrs. French, why do we need to know this?”  I obviously hadn’t made the lesson meaningful for her.  Ready, Set, SCIENCE! advocates using “practical or applied problems” to engage students in using what they already know to find solutions.  So, my plan of action to accomplish this will include accessing prior knowledge, creating problems for students to work on in collaborative groups, and scaffolding the science content/process skills that will support the problem.

4) I will attend the 2010 California Science Education Conference in Sacramento, October 22-24.  I am already registered and ready to go.  The last two years I attended the CSEC, I came away excited and more prepared to teach science.  I have looked through the extensive list of workshops that are available to K-2 teachers and have picked the ones that I know will strengthen my teaching.   I also can’t wait to meet with other K-2 teachers from around the state.  This is a great opportunity to hear about what is going on in the world of science education.  The networking alone is reason to attend.

5) I will try not to be so stressed-out.   My self-imposed stress should dissipate because I am going to follow my first four resolutions.  My goal is to work smarter, not harder.  Even though my resolutions will take more time initially, I know that in the long run, time spent with my students will be much more productive.  I will have: predesigned, targeted questions; norms for discussion established early in the year; designed problems that engage and motivate my students; been rejuvenated from attending the CSEC.

I hope that my list of resolutions is helpful to other primary teachers.  If you would like to talk to me about anything I mentioned in this article or anything else that I might be able to help you with, please feel free to contact me at micfrench@sbcglobal.net.  In the subject field, please put that you are emailing me about CSTA.

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. Ms. French,
    Your thoughtful resolutions about the teaching of science concerning your future elementary students are also relevant to middle and high school teachers. If more teachers at all grade levels would consider your resolutions, science would be better understood by students and scientific progress in the world would expand exponentially.

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