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How to Teach Science in Elementary School

Updated on April 17, 2012
It is especially important for Elementary science to have a practical and investigative focus. Here we see Fourth Grade pupils studying Diatoms at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center.
It is especially important for Elementary science to have a practical and investigative focus. Here we see Fourth Grade pupils studying Diatoms at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center. | Source

The Importance of Elementary Science

Science is a fascinating subject that is relevent in a plethora of real world situation. According to a survey of 1,000 scientists by the Royal Society, 28% stated that they first knew that wanted to be a scientist before the age of 11. Science captures the imagination and curiosity of young children, and develops a number of transferable skills including numeracy, literacy, communication, teamwork, problem solving and analytical thinking. Elementary science also fosters a link between children and the world around them - something vitally important in the modern world.

Above all else, science is fun! After all, in what other subject can you (legitimately) set fire to things, cause explosions, analyse your own cells and genetic material, and drop watermelons out of windows!? Science is usually a subject thoroughly enjoyed by my year 7 pupils as they make the transition from Elementary school into Secondary (High) school. In my experience, however, this enthusiasm is (all too often) not matched with mastery of basic science principles and concepts.

The Problems with Elementary Science

A recent report investigating the teaching of elementary science in the UK found that, following the abolition of standardised assessment tests (SATs) at age 10, the profile of science has taken a dramatic downturn. Without external testing to focus the mind, time dedicated to the teaching of science has been reduced - sometimes dramatically. With a focus on numeracy and literacy at the core of elementary education this is understandable - although not laudable.

A major problem is the lack of science specialists employed as elementary teachers. In the UK, only around 6,000 of 189,000 elementary school teachers are science graduates. As such, teachers are often apprehensive about undertaking science lessons - particularly practical lessons.

In the US, the National Science Teachers Association has reiterated that every report into reform of Elementary Education emphasizes the importance of early experiences in science. They also underline the conditions under which Elementary school students learn science best, namely when:

  • Students are involved in practical investigations centred around the scientific method.
  • Content is based around broad themes.
  • Math and communication skills are integrated into science lessons.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Nothing will engage students more than a chance to get their hands dirty. Field Trips to science centres are a great way to raise the profile of science among young peopleBiology and the world around us is guaranteed to fascinate even the youngest of students. Who knows where careful nurturing of this young scientist may lead?
Nothing will engage students more than a chance to get their hands dirty. Field Trips to science centres are a great way to raise the profile of science among young people
Nothing will engage students more than a chance to get their hands dirty. Field Trips to science centres are a great way to raise the profile of science among young people | Source
Biology and the world around us is guaranteed to fascinate even the youngest of students. Who knows where careful nurturing of this young scientist may lead?
Biology and the world around us is guaranteed to fascinate even the youngest of students. Who knows where careful nurturing of this young scientist may lead? | Source

How to Teach Elementary Science

Teaching Elementary science is as much an art as it is scientific. There are several texts packed with information and advice on the subject, as well as websites (included below) with great ideas for lessons. In general, teachers of young scientists should try to incorporate the following into their lessons:

Questions. Science is not about answers; it is about asking questions. Encourage pupils to ask questions of you, and push their learning by asking them challenging questions. Throw some of their questions back at them - next time a child asks why the sky is blue, ask them what they think. Another great idea that engages students is getting them to design their own puzzles to test their friends. The best way of checking understanding is to see if someone can teach or assess another.

Independent Research. If you spoon-feed children they will never learn to find information on their own. Teach pupils how to use the internet, libraries, and books to find information.

The Scientific Method/Investigations. A hypothesis, based on what is currently known, is investigated using a fair test. The results are recorded, displayed and analysed. We then decide whether to accept our hypothesis or change it based on our data. Young scientists should have experience in:

  • Creating sensible Hypotheses about the world around them.
  • Creating, with help, experiments to test these hypotheses.
  • Conducting said experiments and recording data in a logical way.
  • Displaying data (graphs etc.) and drawing conclusions based on these.

Evidence-based Debate. Debates are a great way of teaching children respect for differing opinions and views, as well as how to back up their own arguments with evidence. It also teaches the importance of taking turns and develops communication and listening skills wonderfully - particularly if you quiz them on what was said during the debate.

Topical Issues. If there is an earthquake nearby (or far away), or if the local zoo has had a new arrival, then bring this up in your science lessons. This makes science more relevant to the pupils, and to society. To maximise engagement, teachers of science must make their topic relevant to the children's everyday lives wherever possible

Field Trips. Science learning centres, zoos, national parks and many other institutions have dedicated education wings. These allow young children to experience aspects of science closed to them in a standard classroom. Trips are much easier to arrange than you think (discuss requirements with your school) and a second-to-none at maximising pupil engagement and enjoyment of science.

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    • TFScientist profile image
      Author

      Rhys Baker 6 years ago from Peterborough, UK

      Thanks to all for the comments

      @Marcy: My research leads me to believe that there are similar issues facing the US system, but due to the differences from state to state it was difficult for me to get a specific picture.

    • SouthernHoney profile image

      SouthernHoney 6 years ago from Woodinville, WA

      Thank you for this hub – it’s so important that this topic is discussed. Science is central to our job market and our advancement as a species . . . and yet I never learned anything beyond photosynthesis until high school. There are programs and products out there that help the hesitant teacher dive in to the subject, but the challenge is having the resources to purchase them. Which is why articles like yours are so wonderful!

      I actually used to work for the LASER (Leadership and Assistance for Science Education Reform) program at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle. I’m no longer with them, but they are another excellent resource for science teachers who need some support.

      Voted up!

    • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

      Marcy Goodfleisch 6 years ago from Planet Earth

      This is a good commentary on the issues we face in education (I'm guessing the US systems are similarly deficient), and it offers concrete ideas for tackling the problems.

      Voted up, useful and interesting!

    • profile image

      summerberrie 6 years ago

      What a wonderful hub and filled with loads of information for the science teacher to use in his/her classroom. I loved teaching 4th graders science. Thanks for the useful ideas.

    • alliemacb profile image

      alliemacb 6 years ago from Scotland

      Excellent hub. I can still remember the excitement of my first science lessons when I was in elementary school and I think it's so important for kids to learn in a fun and accessible way that captures their imagination. Voted up and awesome.

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