September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

The “S” in STEM: The Search for Science in STEM TK-2

Posted: Friday, December 11th, 2015

by Valerie Joyner

Young children are naturally curious about their world. Their curiosity engages them in science activities every day as they watch salt dissolve, rain fall, or bubbles float and pop. They build ramps and bridges from blocks and cardboard, and contraptions to solve everyday problems that show their innate ability to engage in engineering. This inquisitive nature is the basis for STEM education in our youngest students and builds the foundation for increasingly more complex problem solving as students move through the grades.

Each time you evaluate a possible STEM activity for your class, ask yourself where the science is. We all know NGSS requires us to teach science across the three dimensions, including DCIs (Disciplinary Core Ideas), SEPs (Science and Engineering Practices), and CCCs (Crosscutting Concepts). I recently attended a kindergarten STEM workshop during which the activity demonstrated was presented as a STEM activity related to the science of weather (K-ESS2-1 and K-ESS3-2). I could see this was an interesting and fun activity for kindergarteners, but the level of science the activity was asking the students to reach was beyond that of the kindergarten standards. The activity also lacked integration of SEPs and CCC connections.

It’s easy for primary students to explore, investigate, and engineer on their own. When young students enter school they continue to do so, but now they must begin to learn about the science behind the work they’re doing. In kindergarten, they may play with yo-yos and discover they go up and down. However, the yo-yo can also teach them about the effects of pushes and pulls on an object (K-PS2-1). In 1st grade, they may design a solution to a human problem by mimicking plant and animal external parts, and they must first learn more about the external parts of living things. In 2nd grade, they may explore different materials that shed water as they design a new umbrella or raincoat, and develop their understanding of properties and their intended purposes. It is critical for us as teachers to make sure that the science becomes explicit as children solve engineering problems.

It is never enough to do a STEM activity simply because it’s fun! If a student in 4th or 5th grade makes a rocket and watches it blast off, they have learned to engineer a rocket, but what science did they learn? Is the activity aligned with the NGSS for their grade level? What SEPs and CCCs did they learn?

The same holds true for kindergarten students. The “S” in STEM is there for a reason, to ensure that the science is present as students investigate. A look at the associated SEPs with weather at this level shows they include Analyzing and Interpreting Data and Patterns. What data will students collect, record and share? Will they see patterns over time? How are the K science standards and their associated 3-Dimensions being addressed?

I encourage all primary teachers to look at the STEM activities you are presenting to your students and make sure the science is present and correct in every project and activity. To present a STEM activity that is not aligned with NGSS does our students a disservice. Look at the Performance Expectations and the Science and Engineering Practices, Disciplinary Core Ideas, and Crosscutting Concepts for your grade level and be sure that each STEM activity/lesson aligns itself with science.

If you have questions or need assistance feel free to contact me.

Resources:
Appendix I: Engineering Design in the NGSS

National Research Council (NRC) 2012. A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas. Committee on a Conceptual Framework for New K-12 Science Education Standards. Board on Science Education, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

National Science Foundation. (2010). Preparing the next generation of STEM innovators: Identifying and developing our nation’s human capital. Washington, DC: Author.

Valerie Joyner is a retired elementary science teacher and is CSTA’s Primary (grades K-2) Director.

Written by Valerie Joyner

Valerie Joyner

Valerie Joyner is a retired elementary science educator and is a member of CSTA.

2 Responses

  1. As a child that great up with a dad that had his Masters in Biology and taught it in high school, I completely agree that students should know the “why.” However, as a first grade teacher, I am struggling with finding workshops, conferences, or other events that target first grade. I usually go to an event very excited and hopeful. However….once I leave I realize most of the topics and demonstrations are not for the younger kiddos. Concrete and kid friendly of what you are talking about would be greatly appreciated. Can you please suggest a few resources that I can access? I am hopeful that my district might be able to support me on this journey, but I am not sure about the financial pocket!

  2. Dear Carole,

    Thank you for leaving your comment. I have a couple of suggestions for you.
    1) Join our Facebook group for elementary science teachers – you will find this group both friendly and resourceful. I believe the group members would be able to help you: https://www.facebook.com/groups/515472468554988/
    2) CSTA offers a primary pathway program at our annual conference. This 6-hour course is designed for TK-2 teachers. Information will be available in June. This year’s event will be held in Sacramento, October 13-15.
    3) Check out these articles from the CA K-8 NGSS Early Implementation Initiative: http://www.classroomscience.org/practical-tools-to-begin-implementing-the-ngss-in-a-first-grade-classroom (email addresses for the teachers who wrote the article are at the bottom of the article, I am sure they would welcome a message from you).
    http://www.classroomscience.org/kindergarten-teachers-take-on-the-next-generation-science-standards-ngss
    http://www.classroomscience.org/second-grade-seed-dispersal-engineers
    http://www.classroomscience.org/sensemaking-notebooks-making-thinking-visible-for-both-students-and-teachers
    4) The CA Science Framework – the second draft is available online, the pre-publication version should be available in the next week or two. http://www.cde.ca.gov/ci/sc/cf/
    5) Achieve has released sample bundles for 1st grade: http://www.nextgenscience.org/resources/bundling-ngss. “Bundles” are groups of standards arranged together to create the endpoints for units of instruction. Bundling is just one step in a curriculum development process. Bundling is helpful step in implementing standards because it helps students see connections between concepts and can allow more efficient use of instructional time.

    I will also contact our primary director to see if she has additional suggestions.

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