“We want more science!”
When I hear teachers tell me this is what their students say after doing science, I smile and say “Yes” as louldy and as boldly as I can! Kids love science.
I know this next statement may seem a little simplistic and some may not agree with me-that’s okay-we can agree to disagree in a polite manner. If we really want to increase the odds our graduates will graduate with “college and career readiness skills,” then we need to put science back into our early education classrooms (preK-3).
Put science back? Yep, put science back. Take a look at the following schedule. This is an actual 1st grade classroom schedule. What do you observe about this schedule (to view in a larger format, click on the image)?
When I observe this schedule, this is what I see-math (check), language arts (check), writing (check). There is time for reading aloud. Students have time for lunch. You might be saying to yourself “this looks fine.” But did you notice that science is not on the schedule? Even social studies is missing. Now, I see the word integrated content listed in the same box with being a writer, what does this mean? Does this mean in an hour students are doing a hands-on experience and then writing about? Does this mean science is woven into the literacy stations? Or does it simply mean at the station children are engaged in books about various science topics. Hard to tell from the schedule, but my gut tells me more than likely students are reading about various science topics.
Reading about science is not the same as doing science. In order to learn how to become a scientists or develop the ability to think scientifically, students need teachers to engage them in the same experiences as those that real scientists would do. You can do hands-on science in 20 minutes if you are organized and well planned. Experiences can be chunked.
Take for instance one lesson that I did just yesterday at the ACSI Early Education conference. The purpose of the And guess what, when you do hands on science, those experiences where you purpusp-you know, when you pull out a mystery object that looks like an egg but doesn’t really look like an egg (see my post from 2011 here), it is easier to then engage young learners in reading a text for meaning.
Employers want workers who can ask questions and problem solve. Those skills are greatly enhanced when you engage students in doing science. Think about it this way-while learning to read is an important skill for a literate society, some children don’t want to simply jump into a book. When my son was in Kindergarten, he had a teacher who did more language arts experiences than science. Hugh was a good student. But he didn’t want to read. Instead, he wanted to build. He wanted to put stuff together to see what would happen. It was only when his 1st grade teacher did a science experiment about matter, that he wanted to read more about the topic. Science opened up books to my son but only because books served a purpose for his learning.
If we want to get serious about changing education and increasing the odds our graduates will be able to ask great questions or even problem solve, we might want to rethink how we do early education. I know there is not enough time in the day for everything and I know that reading and math tests are still driving schools and I understand the pressure for children to be able to read and do math by 3rd grade is real. Research shows science can improve and increase reading scores in children. Science also gives a context for the skills students are learning in math. What if we designed instructional units around great scientific problems instead of basil programs and reading workbooks. To date I have never had a teacher say to me their students wanted to “do more workbooks” or “read more in the basil.”