Early childhood science in preschool—a conversation on Lab Out Loud

Lab Out Loud logo radio tower broadcasting a signalListen in on a conversation between early childhood educator and researcher Karen Worth and the science teachers hosts of Lab Out Loud, Dale Basler and Brian Bartel, as they delve into the new NSTA Early Childhood Science Education position statement, in Episode 108: Science in Early Childhood Education. This conversation is a mini-course on what children are capable of at ages 3-5 years old, and how to best support their science learning. It is a compelling statement on how intentional science teaching in preschool builds on children’s non-focused exploratory play.

Photo of Karen WorthWorth describes the NSTA Early Childhood Science Education position statement as directed to teachers and educators of all kinds who work with young children, and for parents. She explains that science learning “doesn’t all start in kindergarten, it starts much earlier than that.” I appreciate her support for the professionalism of early childhood educators: “Part of the importance of this is to really push the acknowledgement or awareness that the professionals who work with very young children are very serious professionals who also should be treated as members of National Science Teachers Association and as significant players in the education of our kids.”

Here are a few more of Worth’s statements from the conversation, but don’t deny yourself the pleasure of listening to the entire podcast, perhaps more than once, to gain insight on strengthening your science teaching.

“One of the important overall message here is that in many ways we significantly underestimate the capabilities of very young children to reason in a scientific way, to reason scientifically and to develop ideas about the natural world around them that are based in their experiences in that reasoning.”

“This is a time when they are very curious, very open to making sense of the world around them, so it is a fertile opportunity, or rich ground on which to begin the process of turning that natural curiosity and those abilities into the beginnings of more rigorous scientific inquiry and conceptual understanding.”

EDC Foundations water 2“You first explore a phenomena in a rather open way. The children need to have that exciting, non-directed exploration of the materials and phenomena. As they become familiar, they then move into what one might call little more focused work.” Worth encourages teachers who feel unprepared to teach science to use materials common in early childhood classrooms, and their knowledge that children need to interact with materials,

Teacher and child discuss their exploration of foam.

but to engage children in a more scientific way. She suggests encouraging children to reason because they can think abstractly and do have ideas, about natural phenomena, using their limited experience in a rational way.
Ask, “What is your evidence—what makes you think that?” Teachers can ask questions and focus children’s attention, not through lectures but through guidance. Worth discusses recording results, documentation, as both an instructional strategy and to help children think more deeply about what they are doing.

“One of the things we want to underscore is not to let a formal position statement in any way imply that children’s play is not important – that there is now something separate from the exploratory play and the constructive play that children do. Play is fundamental, that’s the way children learn. We just want to put materials and adult engagement in there, so that that play can become more purposeful. And in the teachers’ head, intentional in terms of building science understanding.”

See the resources that go beyond the “science activity book format” on the Lab Out Loud website to find out how to provide a series of activities that build conceptual understanding. Share this conversation with your colleagues and the parents of your children! Listening to it and discussing after will make great professional development at a teachers’ meeting or pre-service class.

Lab Out Loud is a podcast, supported by the National Science Teachers Association and hosted by two science teachers, that discusses science news and science education by interviewing leading scientists, researchers, science writers and other important figures in the field. You can listen online at http://laboutloud.com/2014/02/episode-108-science-in-early-childhood-education/#play or download the mp3 directly, or find Lab Out Loud on iTunes.

Co-host Dale Basler was a teacher of science for the Appleton Area School District from 1998 to 2012 where he primarily taught physics and physical science. In the fall of 2012, Dale stepped away from teaching science to take on a new position as Technology Curriculum Integration Specialist for a portion of the Appleton Area School District’s K-8 schools.

Co-host Brian Bartel taught biology and chemistry at Appleton West High School from 1999-2013. In 2013, Brian left the classroom to pursue a new position as Technology Curriculum Integration Specialist for a portion of the Appleton Area School District’s K-8 schools.

Karen Worth was on the committee that wrote the position statement and serves as faculty member and chair of the Elementary Education Department at Wheelock College where she teaches courses in elementary education and science education to pre-service and in-service teachers. For many years she directed National Science Foundation early childhood science grants at Education Development Center, Inc. Her book, Worms Shadows and Whirlpools, is my go-to-guide for understanding and implementing science teaching in early childhood.

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2 Comments

  1. Lauren Jonas
    Posted February 25, 2014 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    Hi Peggy, This is a great blog post! It’s getting quite a bit of attention on Facebook (here’s a link: https://www.facebook.com/NSTA.FB/posts/781336648561251), and is even being shared internationally. Kudos! Lauren

  2. Peggy Ashbrook
    Posted March 2, 2014 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    Thank you Lauren. Lab Out Loud and the NSTA members’ listservs are two ways I keep informed about topics that aren’t usually part of my early childhood work. But I’m delighted that early childhood is being included in both forums!
    http://laboutloud.com/
    http://www.nsta.org/membership/listserver.aspx

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