Science: An Elementary Teacher’s Guide/Challenges to teaching science in elementary schools
Recently, a class of future teachers were asked what they thought their greatest challenges would be in teaching science. They came up with a great list. Here it is:
- Preparing students for state exams while giving students a positive outlook of science
- Keeping students on task in the science classroom. Coming up with activities that will spark imagination and fit the curriculum.
- Change in mindset when moving to a learner-focused teaching method. Changing nature of science based on what is currently known
- Creating effective rubrics that can be used to assess students in a timely and fair manner.
- Tailoring class plans, activities, and scientific language for students of different ages and different skills.
- Increasing pressures on a teacher's “teaching” time, including planning and assessment time. How to fit science into 40 minute periods?
- Lack of institutional commitment to science. Expense, storage and choice of science materials.
Teaching science has both many challenges and rewards. One of the biggest challenges teachers face as science teachers is creating lessons that will not only get students to learn but hold student interest. Students find it easier to stay on task when they can relate to the topic they are studying. This stimulates them to personally involve themselves directly in the activity. Teachers will be more successful in engaging student interest when they themselves understand the material and are excited by it.
For many teachers, hands-on learning in science is completely different from their own science learning experiences. Growing up, science may not have been about “doing” but about the memorization of facts and different vocabulary words. How can the teacher be excited when science was very boring in their own education? Our job as teachers is to get students to learn concepts and skills that they will use throughout their lives, and not just help them memorize facts to pass one test. The scientific process skills of classifying, observing, measuring, communicating, inferring, predicting and experimenting are skills that will help students not only in science class but in all situations they may face in life. We as teachers are getting students to develop higher order thinking skills- being able to analyze situations and then infer what to do next.
We have come very far in the teaching community, many teachers have learned that when students are interested in the topic and are “doing” hands-on activities, they learn best. Hands-on learning gets students involved and responsible for their own learning. Teachers should use problem–centered learning that gets students to draw their own conclusions. In problem-centered learning the teacher acts as the facilitator and may pose the initial question but the students decide what is the best way to go about investigating, exploring and hypothesizing. This also helps students to work the way they learn best. The teacher should scaffold instruction, giving students just the right amount of support and guidance.
These ideas fit well within a constructivist view of education. Constructivists believe in learning through exploration. Hands–on activities and active learning replace textbooks and cookie cutter experiments. Exploration is especially essential in science: memorizing facts about rocks or plants can seem so distant or unimportant but when students are creating their own fossils and seeing the difference between a cast (an imprint of the fossil) and a mold (a replication of the object) they are more likely to remember and understand the differences between these two types of fossils. When students observe and record the phases of the moon they are more likely to remember the phases (the difference between waxing and waning) because of the visual reference they have. When students create the type of parachute that works best or the type of “can” (come back can) that goes the quickest they will be more likely to remember the concepts such as the effect that size of the can or parachute or thickness of the rubber bands have on the speed of the can or the parachute.
Teachers are so lucky to live in this era of technology. We have so many resources at our finger tips. In order to create lessons/ activities that will capture student interest we must first base them on the science standards and the scientific process skills, then use students’ prior knowledge and experiences to come up with hands-on activities. We must have students work together and let their interest drive the learning experience. We must use their questions to lead the experiments. This means looking for or developing activities that work for your class. Every year this may change. As teachers it can be slightly scary to sit back and act only as a facilitator but in the long run students will truly learn skills for life when they have a part in their learning process. We as teachers must learn to be creative with materials, lessons and even developing new activities that are appropriate for our students. Lastly, we must remember we as teachers must show an interest in the concepts we are teaching. Interest and enjoyment are contagious! Students look up to teachers when learning new things everyday, so teachers need to know the material being taught very well in order for students to fully be engaged in the learning process. If the students see that the lesson was well planned then all of them including the teacher will enjoy learning about science too. Science is everywhere, meaning that students can learn anytime about science and even ask why this happens and even create a hypothesis about something that is intriguing them. So let's enjoy this subject as much as possible and why not, even imagine ourselves as scientists!