Science Education in Primary Classrooms
by Michelle French
I would like to begin by sharing where the “Photo of the Month” found in this issue of the eCCS came from. Last year, I received one of the best presents I will ever get. Paulina, a first grader in my class, walked into my room first thing in the morning and said, “Mrs. French, I have something for you.” She proudly presented her display of painted Styrofoam and toothpicks, and in a grand gesture, handed it to me. She said, “It’s the solar system. I stayed-up until 10:00 last night, and I made it all by myself for you.” The attached note stated, “Planits is a grat way to lern about siens.” I was blown away by her attention to detail and amount of effort she put into her childlike representation of the solar system.
This gesture by Paulina not only warmed my heart, but it strengthened my resolve to provide my students with the highest quality science education I can offer. Young children crave to explore, ask questions, and begin to make sense of the world around them. It is my job as an educator to provide meaningful experiences in which this happens for my students. I know from talking with people from around the state, that for various reasons, not all teachers, administrators, and districts are able to make this happen. Please understand, I am not pointing fingers. I am in the trenches every day, and I know the pressures and stresses that occur with our job.
In order to fix a problem, we must first identify it. CSTA Region I Director and second grade teacher, Valerie Joyner, discusses in her eCCS article this month, the recently released study High Hopes-Few Opportunities-The Status of Elementary Science Education in California. This study identifies specific concerns of teachers, administrators, and districts. I would like to “piggy-back” on the points that Valerie covers in her article and highlight the key points that are found in WestEd’s Summary Report and Recommendations:
- Less than half of principals (44%) believe it is likely that a student would receive high-quality science instruction in his or her school,
- Nine in ten principals say science education is very important and should start early,
- 85% of teachers say they have not received any professional development in science during the last three years,
- 40% of elementary teachers say they spend 60 minutes or less teaching science each week, and
- Only one third of elementary teachers say they feel prepared to teach science.
As the Primary (K-2) Director for CSTA, I feel compelled to say that we cannot continue to ignore this data. I also need to say that we are at critical crossroads. We can let this data continue to be the norm, or we get off of our rear-ends and DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT! I know times are financially tough, but this is no excuse for the state of science education in California. I know that we cannot allow our students to fail in language arts and mathematics, but we cannot continue to focus on these areas to the exclusion of science (or other curricular areas). I do not see how we can continue to deny students equal access to science, history, or the arts simply because they cannot pass a test on language or math.
Where there is a will, there is a way. This report provides some solid ideas for teachers, administrators, and districts with ways to enact change in schools. Also, as CSTA members, we are part of a network replete with expertise in both science content and pedagogy. In addition to thousands of science teacher/members, Valerie and I are here for you. If you ever have any questions, you may contact us through the CSTA website. I encourage you to reach out to teachers within your school and your district. It is amazing how much help you may find in your backyard. You will find a “comment” section at the bottom of this page. This is a great place to start asking questions. For those that are regularly teaching science, feel free to post ideas and suggestions on how you deal with the common themes of lack of time, materials, support, and personal competency in science.
Valerie also sites another study entitled “A Priority for California’s Future: Science for Students.” This study clearly states that parents and the public believe all students should receive a high-quality science education.
- 65% of respondents believe that students should receive more science education than they received when they were in school, and
- 47% of respondents believe that science education should begin in grades K-2.
Clearly, we have the support of our parents and the public. They mirror the concerns and desires that we do as professional educators. Reach out to them. There are financial resources available through public and private grants and websites like www.donorschoose.org. This site links potential donors with teachers expressing a need for materials. Many of the items we need to perform elementary science activities are found in the home. Parents may be willing to provide those materials and provide time to help with science activities.
For those of you that are regularly teaching science in K-2, keep it up. For those of you that are hesitant, take baby-steps. No one is expecting you to go from 0 to 100 minutes this week. Start off by looking for read-alouds and guided reading materials to expose your students to science content and its wonderful language. Try writing an expository paragraph on students’ hands-on observations of a plant. Dissect one lesson from your adopted science materials, and teach that one lesson well. Make plans to attend the 2012 California Science Educators Conference in San Jose. Valerie and I would love to hear from you on the comments section of this page regarding specific needs that we might address for K-2 teachers during the conference.
All students should receive a high quality education in all curricular areas. Fellow primary teachers, please, know that we provide the foundation for our students, and this includes science instruction. Don’t let the creativity and inquisitiveness of the “Paulinas” of the world slip through our fingers.
High Hopes – Few Opportunities Summary Report: http://www.cftl.org/documents/2011/StrengtheningScience_summ.pdf
High Hopes – Few Opportunities Full Report: http://www.cftl.org/documents/2011/StrengtheningScience_full.pdf
A Priority for California’s Future: Science for Students: http://www.cftl.org/Spotlight__On.htm?prodid=8
Michelle French is a first-grade teacher at Wilson Elementary School in Tulare and is CSTA’s primary director.
by Michelle French
Since the public reviews of the Next Generation Science Standards have come to a close, like many primary teachers, I’ve been wondering what science will look like in kindergarten, first, and second grade classrooms. Learn More…
“SOL Grotto, 2012. 1368 glass tubes, paint. Fabrication: Matarozzi Pelsinger, Rael San Fratello Architects. SOL Grotto is a contemporary take on a grotto or Throeau’s cabin – a spartan retreat that is a space of solitude and close to nature – where one is presented with a mediated experience of water, coolness and light. The SOL Grotto also explores Solyndra’s role as a company S#@t Out of Luck. 1,368 of the 24 million high tech glass tubes destined to be destroyed as a casualty of their bankruptcy, are used in the installation. The tube’s original role as a light concentrating element is extended to transmit cool air into the space via the Venturi effect, to amplify sounds from the adjacent waterfall via the vibrations of the tubes cantilevering over the creek, and to create distorted views of the garden. The form of the electric blue array evokes Plato’s Allegory of the Cave where shadows, light and sounds can call reality into question.”
Responses from Readers:
Peter A’Hearn: Rush hour in little blue circle land.
by Valerie Joyner
Congratulations to CSTA member and STEM Educator, Katherine Schenkelberg, of West High School, in Torrance, CA! Katherine was recently awarded one of the 2013 Vernier/NSTA Technology Awards. An appointed panel of experts selected her for her innovative use of data-collection technology. “The use of data-collection technology in the classroom helps foster students’ interest in STEM education and provides them with engaging, hands-on opportunities for scientific investigation,” said David Vernier, co-founder of Vernier and a former physics teacher. “For ten years Vernier and NSTA have recognized innovative STEM educators through this award and this year’s winners are no exception – their projects and programs truly utilize the power of data-collection technology as part of the teaching and learning process.” Learn More…
by Tim Williamson
Members of the California Science Teachers Association are now in the process of voting for qualified CSTA members to fill the seven openings on the CSTA Board of Directors for the 2013-2015 term.
The election is being conducted electronically and opened for voting on April 16, 2013. Voting will close on May 16, 2013. All CSTA members were sent links to the online ballot. Members for whom we do not have current email addresses or who request a paper ballot have been mailed a ballot and candidate statements. Learn More…