November/December 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 2

So Many Questions

Posted: Monday, October 23rd, 2017

by Debbie Gordon

Whenever I think about teaching science in my second-grade classroom, I think about how curious my students are. And all the questions they ask. My favorite astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson, has said, “There is always a place I can take someone’s curiosity and land where they end up enlightened when we’re done. That’s my challenge as an educator. No one is dumb who is curious. The people who don’t ask questions remain clueless throughout their lives.”

That led me to think about the questions we are asking as teachers, principals, and administrators regarding science education for all students. As a leader in the CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative, these are the questions I hear most often:  How do I find the time?  Where do I get the materials? Will it be tested? Won’t it be messy and noisy? What if I don’t have a science background?

In my opinion, these questions lead to one big circle of inaction and deflection. “I Can’t Possibly Teach Science” might as well be a bumper sticker. To be sure, teachers have an incredible amount of plates in the air, and all the plates are important. But can we, with good conscience, limit the number of plates when it comes to science and scientific literacy for our students? I propose taking up the challenge of Dr. Tyson and rewording the questions we have been asking so that we may not remain clueless.

Instead of asking: “Where can I find the time for science?” We should be asking:  “How can I not find time for science?” A scientifically literate public is a requirement to fully participate in human culture and democracy. The cost of uninformed decision-making on our nation and the world is just too high. It is on teachers, including or maybe especially, elementary teachers to believe all children must have the chance to explore their world through inquiry and phenomenon and find the time to include it in their day.

Instead of asking: “Where do I get the materials?” We should be asking the caregivers and the community to help. My supply list for the beginning of the year included pencils and crayons. It also included aluminum foil or rubber bands, a bag of marbles, and paper towel tubes.  Teachers need to get creative, dig their own dirt, and share with each other. School sites and districts must budget for supplies to support the explorations of their students.

Instead of asking: “Will it be tested?” Ask: “When can my students show what they have learned?”

Instead of asking: “Won’t it be messy or noisy or hard to manage?” We should ask: “Won’t it be fun to see kids getting messy, talking to each other, and moving around instead of sitting in one seat all day?” As teachers, we are used to being in control and might be afraid of not having control over the experience we have carefully set in motion.  I felt the same way until I tried it. Then there was no going back. The look of awe when the boy who is just learning English, or the girl who never raises her hand, gets it and smiles from ear to ear because they understand a science concept is priceless and worth a little mess. Get a better vacuum.

Finally, instead of asking: “What if I don’t have a science background?” We might try, “Where can I find the information I need to guide my students on this journey of science learning?” There are videos on every topic. A short background reading will give the information needed to teach most concepts. Teaming up with someone who knows more, bringing in TOSA’s, enlisting parents who are doctors or engineers, are a few ways to bridge this gap. But, more important is to believe in you as an educated, awesome teacher. You can teach a child to read! That is amazing, right there. You CAN teach science, and if you don’t know something there is always Google!

The smallest of children are trying to make sense of the world around them. They play in puddles, stir cake batter, and watch butterflies on flowers. California’s Next Generation Science Standards start our kindergartners off on this journey to discover their world. Every year they build and expand on the previous understandings. Every year children find more questions to ask. Every year we, as teachers, take their hands, open our hearts, and ask, “What else do you wonder about?”

Debbie Gordon is the Elementary Science TOSA and Co-Project Director for the CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative for Palm Springs Unified School District and a member CSTA.

Email: dgordon@psusd.us

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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.

One Response

  1. Great article Debbie! I love how you turned the question around.

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