How many of us have heard teachers say, “Don’t smile until Thanksgiving?” Their recommendation suggests that a stern visage and rigid rules are necessary for developing appropriate student behaviors (one recommendation that I ignored). Although establishing routines is important, especially in a science lab, it was my philosophy that a classroom should be a pleasant and safe environment for learning. This issue has many suggestions for not only starting the year positively with your students but also for emphasizing science throughout the year.
In Managing Your Classroom for Success, Harry Wong and his colleagues state that “Activities are fine, but they are of no value in a classroom that is in disorganized chaos.” They describe the value of having procedures in place and provide examples of well-managed classrooms. Whether this is your first or your twenty-first year of teaching, you’ll get some ideas here.
In addition to the usual first week of school activities, the authors of Collaborating for Communication suggest starting the school year with a science challenge. They also have a chart summarizing process skills across disciplines. Similarly, Setting the Stage for Science describes trade books to engage students in the excitement of science. There are lesson ideas on the nature of science: What Is Science (K-2) and What Do Scientists Do? (3-6). Mystery Box Marvels has variations on this popular activity (and I’m thinking–wouldn’t it be interesting to have students make the mystery boxes? During all of these beginning of the year activities the teacher has the opportunity to observe students to determine their science and communication skills, cooperative behaviors, and experience level. [SciLinks: Nature of Science]
Many elementary teachers use Circle Time or a morning meeting as discussion time for their classes. This article suggests that science topics are a natural for this time and includes a “Teach and Tell” lesson idea for young students. What Does It Mean to Know? describes a unit designed to help elementary students learn about scientific evidence. If you think that children are too young for this level of thought, check out the examples of student work provided by the authors.
Several articles describe a year-long focus on science. Building a Community of Learners describes “Ideas for starting off the school year with a focus on science and continuing all year long” rather than trying to squeeze in some science when there’s time. The author of The Larger View describes how she starts the year with activities in which she models skills in observation and documentation and provides many opportunities for students to practice and apply these skills. The examples of student work in the article track the development of these skills. [SciLinks: Insects]
What, Exactly, Is Acceleration? My students struggled with this concept, and I must admit that sometimes I had to stop and think myself. This Science 101 article has a discussion of the concept, including a self-quiz. [SciLinks: Acceleration] Where Did the Water Go? describes a formative assessment probe on the concept of condensation, as well as a discussion of how formative assessment relates to the three dimensions of the new Framework: scientific and engineering practices, crosscutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas. Regardless of what you teach, this discussion is work a read. [SciLinks: Water Cycle]
Many of these articles have extensive resources to share, so check out the Connections for this issue (Summer 2012). Even if the article does not quite fit with your lesson agenda, there are ideas for handouts, background information sheets, data sheets, rubrics, and other resources.