How to Teach Science in Elementary School
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.
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.
Where Next? Elementary Lesson Plans
- Primary School Science - Lesson Plans
Free worksheets, lesson plans, clipart, animations and resources for use with Interactive Whiteboards - aimed at UK KS2 teachers
- Hot Chalk - Lesson Plans
More science lesson plans for teachers arranged by PreK-1, 2-3, 4-5, and 6-7.
- Lesson Plans | Discovery Education
Free lesson plans arranged by age group.