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5 Tips to Make Way for Science in the Elementary Classroom

Thursday, October 22, 2015 -- Madison Michell

Let’s face it—in the world of elementary education, teaching science isn’t always a top priority. Between carving out time for reading instruction, writer’s workshops, and math practice, you’re left with little time for anything else. Even the best intentions of working in a science lesson or experiment can easily be derailed by a fire drill, last-minute assembly, or behavioral meltdown. So, how do you make time for meaningful science instruction today and every day? Here are five tips:

Keep materials in check

No other subject requires quite as many materials as science. Keep them organized, labeled, and accessible to empower your students and regain precious minutes in your day.

Organization: Everyone has his or her own methods of organizing. One effective strategy is using plastic drawers organized by student groups. One student from each group grabs all of the materials by pulling out the drawer, and you’re all set to begin!

Labels: Labeling is incredibly important for students in the elementary grades. Label tools and storage bins with such things as group numbers, images of supplies, and identifying words to help guide your students to the supplies they need—and help maintain your organization scheme!

Accessibility: In terms of materials, accessibility can take two forms. First, make sure that your materials are physically available by allocating space in your classroom dedicated to science. Second, make the list of required materials public knowledge by posting a clearly displayed “you need” list for easy student reference.

Build cooperative groups

Particularly at the elementary level, teaching students how to work together productively can feel like an uphill battle. Spend time putting in the legwork up front to build a sense of community and establish group work expectations before you ever introduce content. Build and display anchor charts, model, and practice! While this can feel like a loss of instructional time in the beginning, you will quickly regain valuable minutes in your day otherwise spent putting out fires.

For your youngest learners, frustrations regarding group work are also often caused when dividing responsibilities. Assign students specific jobs such as group leader, materials manager, time keeper, and technician so that they understand the roles they play in the process.

Prep for lessons without the headache

Sometimes the problem isn’t in making the time in class but in putting the prep time in on the backend to ensure that you have a means to capture meaningful learning output. If this sounds familiar, reusable graphic organizers and recording sheets are your friend. Whether you use them to help your students understand vocabulary, record scientific observations, or summarize their understanding, these sorts of organizers allow students to portray knowledge in a meaningful way that brings clarity to their ideas and helps them draw important connections. Once you’ve assembled a pool of valuable organizers to pull from, you can avoid spending extensive amounts of time searching for just the right exit ticket or classroom assignment. Plus, once you’ve taught your students how to use the organizers, you’ll save time that was formerly spent giving instructions.

Break down complex concepts

Hands down, the best part of science is experimentation. Whether you are doing virtual or live investigations, effective science experiments bring complex concepts to life by allowing students to see these concepts unfold in front of their eyes.

Check out this comprehensive list from Lemon Lime Adventures that includes a full year of science experiments for kids to see how you can take household objects and apply them to science concepts. When assembling the parts and pieces to conduct a live experiment isn’t in the cards, virtual experiments can also help students explore science topics. EducationCity’s pre-K through 6th grade science subject includes open-ended virtual manipulatives called Topic Tools that can be used on your interactive whiteboard for whole-class or small-group instruction.

Encourage deep thinking

Asking the right questions can make or break your lesson. In science, most topics leave room for divergent questioning. A recent ASCD article described this as encouraging “each student to ‘diverge’ into different thinking paths rather than ‘converging’ on the single right answer. This type of questioning allows students of varying learning styles and levels to ponder the same issue, develop different answers, and not necessarily be wrong.”

When time is of the essence, divergent questioning can become an effective formative assessment strategy. EducationCity offers one tool for divergent questioning with open-ended, critical thinking questions known as ThinkIts, which stimulate discussion and assess knowledge.

Interested in learning more about effective teaching strategies to tackle science and other STEM subjects with young learners? Join us for our live webinar on Developing Science, Math, & Technology Skills in the Elementary Classroom.