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Elementary Science

Excited for Science!

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Laura Hepner Laura Hepner 820 Points

I think that teaching science is a bit intimidating however I think that it could be a great opportunity to get the students excited to learn. Teachers hold the key to planning lessons that will get the students excited to learn science as well as creating lessons that will keep the students interested and focused. The more focused the students are, the more information they will retain. Science is a topic that can be incorporated into other subject areas such as language arts and math. This is an important component because time isn't always allotted for science and social studies as well. The more I learn about how to teach science and what it entails, the more I am interested in teaching it. I feel that science is a great way for the students to take part in discovery learning because science is hands on. One of my teaching philosophies to help students to become inquisitive and test their own ideas. I want my students to be confident, independent learners and know that it is ok when they aren't correct. The more the students are confident in asking questions and learning hands on, the more independent they will be. As a student, I wish that I could have done more hands on learning. I also believe that the students take more from hands-on learning versus just listening to a lecture or reading from a book. My goal as a teacher is to create exciting lesson plans to keep my students engaged and excited to learn.

Kathy Renfrew Kathy Renfrew 37248 Points

Laura, You have wonderful goals for your students.. You are an excellent role model for them. I also think it is a bit intimidating to jump right in as you begin to engage your students in inquiry science. You spoke of integration of science with language arts, a very necessary component of science instruction. It would be great if you could share an upcoming science unit and your ideas because there are many teachers who would love to hear what you are thinking about and doing in your classroom. Kathy

Wanda Gordon Wanda Gordon 490 Points

I really got into your words. Your excitement is thrilling, easy to feel, and easy to catch. Please keep digging and finding ways to make teaching happen the way you imagine it. One of my mottos is "If I am bored with teaching, then the students HAVE TO BE BORED." so, I try and approach my lessons from some avenue that excites me. That way I will be feeling excitement in the subject when I present it, and that has to mean something to the kids. It has to improve the atmosphere, and to signify that what I am about to share with them is worth their time and attention. I really do not recall being taught by anyone who was excited about the subject matter they were involved with. The first time I experienced that was in a summer earth science class for teachers. The university professor who led the class was thrilled over the content, and I became fascinated wtih it. You really struck a chord wtih me. Keep it up!!!! Fuel your own curiosity so that you can touch the curiosity in children!!!

Carolyn Mohr Carolyn Mohr 92316 Points

Hi Laura, Kathy, and Wanda, I love what you said, Laura, about feeling the need to be excited yourself in order to pass your enthusiasm on to your students. That is so true! We teachers are so very important in making science contagious and fun. Welcome to the discussion threads, Laura. I hope you will find lots of great ideas embedded here. As Kathy asked, if you can share some information or lesson plan ideas with discussion participants, you will get lots more great ideas for making science fun and interesting for your students. We look forward to hearing from you and others aboutwhat you are working on in the classroom.

Kimberly Grossman Kimberly Grossman 1050 Points

I love what you mentioned Laura! If students are not interested or engaged in science, then they will most likely not retain the information. As a prospective teacher, I am trying to think ahead. I want my students to love science so that learning is a fun experience for them! Last week I taught my fifth grade class a science lesson on friction(I intern for a fifth grade class). Instead of talking at them I asked them many questions about friction. However, I was not simply asking them questions from their seats. Students surrounded a desk where we did an experiment regarding friction. We had three ramps with a different surface material on each. This included course sandpaper, thin sandpaper, and a smooth surface. This was our independent variable. We had three tubs filled with equal amounts of sand in each. This was our control variable. We predicted which ramp surface would allow the tubs to slide down it the fastest. This showed that the more bumpy or irregular the material, the more friction would occur. Students were really interested. They were able to be active learners by predicting, conducting the experiment themselves, discussing the data, and trying out alternative materials. They were bringing up how gravity was affecting the experiment. Students were asking many 'What if' questions as well which got other students thinking. I felt so excited for them. Students who normally don't participate were participating a lot.

The point of this example is that when students were involved in their learning they were engaged. Some students listen just fine from their seats, but some students need to be moving or visually seeing something to make educational connections. I just bought a book at the Science Center (in Baltimore, MD). It is called 100 Science Experiments by Georgia Andrews and Kate Knighton. I am so excited to use these experiments to make science fun!

Alicia Krause Alicia Krause 470 Points

I find all these posts great becauase they are so positive and engaging. I feel as though it is important to get involved in your lesson plan, as Laura said, to get excited so they get excited. They follow what the teacher does so I think we should be up-beat while teaching science and hopefully that vibe will go on to our students. A thing I love about science is we can get creative within our curriculum and do fun activities that really engage the students which I think will help the understand the topic better!

Carolyn Mohr Carolyn Mohr 92316 Points

I thought thread readers/participants might enjoy perusing another thread about 'Making Science FUN'. This thread focuses on the teacher and the other one focuses on what the teacher does to make science exciting for the students. Great ideas are bouncing off the posts in both threads!
I don't think anyone will refute the claim that behind an engaged classroom full of students is an enthusiastic teacher!
I learn so much from reading others' great ideas, frustrations, words of encouragement, etc. Thank you!

Susan Grandick Susan Grandick 3870 Points

I am a third grade teacher. I use kit-based inquiry science to get my students and engage and asking questions. Learning (denddrites and synapses) are ready for learning when students have questions through their curiosity in what is going on. If students aren't curious, then they won't retain the information. This is why less "reading" and more engagement in the concept of science you are teaching is crucial. REading about a topic after the students are interested in the topic is a better way to approach the lessons... Good luck with all your science endeavors!

Kathy Renfrew Kathy Renfrew 37248 Points

Susan, Getting students involved in inquiry activities very early in a unit of study is a great strategy. By doing this, we hook our students. This early exploration, spur questions. After doing some hands-on work along with some science notebook, many students will have additional questions. this got me thinking about language. I am thinking about vocabulary . How do you introduce new science vocabulary to your students? Kathy

Carolyn Mohr Carolyn Mohr 92316 Points

Kathy asks, 'I am thinking about vocabulary . How do you introduce new science vocabulary to your students?' From reading many of your other posts, Kathy, I know you have some great ideas you are going to share about this, and I can't wait to hear them. I used to always give the vocabulary first, making my students write out index cards for every term (so they could use them as flash cards to study with). An article that provides an effective way to use direct instruction to teach vocabulary is: Science Sampler: Using direct instructin to teach content vocabulary.
Now that I try to incorporate a constructivist approach to teaching and learning, I use the 5E model for launching an inquiry lesson. The vocabulary becomes embedded in the inquiry. I see my job as one of facilitating learning by encouraging my students to explain concepts and definitions in their own words as they explore a concept. Then, together, we provide scientific explanations and appropriate vocabulary terms. A book chapter from the More Picture-Perfect Science Lessons book provides an excellent explanation of this: BSCS 5E Instructional Model. I find my students are much more excited to learn when they are exploring and discovering meanings for themselves.

Danyelle Hanes Danyelle Hanes 855 Points

I absolutely agree that it is essential for teachers to be enthused about a topic in order for that to translate over to the students. As a preservice teacher, I wonder how to always do that successfully. I know that knowing content material is essential for learning, and that if you as a teacher struggle in an area, it is your job to become an expert before presenting the lesson. However, every person has an area of learning that they may not feel comfortable with, struggle with, or they just plain don’t like. How can teachers get past their own personal struggles in order to make for a more effective lesson for the students? I have heard that students will know automatically if you are not on top of the ball or faking caring about a subject. I can remember in elementary school switching classes for science because my homeroom teacher did not feel comfortable with the material. Is this better because I was given a teacher who truly enjoyed the content, or should the other teacher force themselves to be enthused with an area that they do not favor?

Mary Hannig Mary Hannig 2935 Points

Susan, I have heard of kits for teaching science but didn’t realize that they could be used in the lower level grades. I am more familiar with the middle grades. I agree with you that getting the kids thinking and engaged is a key to increasing their questioning. I like your ideas of getting them interested in the topic before reading. Building their background knowledge first makes sense to me. As a pre-service teacher, there are so ideas out there that it seems overwhelming which ways are best. Mary Kay

Carolyn Mohr Carolyn Mohr 92316 Points

Can we engage our students with a photo or fictional book? I think there are times when an exerpt from a science magazine, fictional book, etc., can actually spark interest and engagement. For example, I took a workshop with the Picture Perfect Ladies while attending the New Orleans NSTA conference. They showed several ways to read a fiction book in order to create interest in a topic/science concept. Here is one lesson that they modeled at the conference and is available as an individual chapter from their book:
Earthlets: Dr. Xargle's Book of Earthlets and Seven Blind Mice
In this lesson, the authors read 'Dr. Sargle's Book of Earthlets' by Jeanne Willis,and used it to engage the students in the process skills of making observations and inferences.
The Picture Perfect Ladies make it easier to include books in the engagement phase by doing the 'grunge' work for us. Their collections cover gobs of science concepts for grades K - 6. What are others' thoughts?

Brenda Ontiveros Brenda Ontiveros 2430 Points

Carolyn, I think photos and fictional books are a great way to engage students in science. As a future teacher I worry about ways in which I can hook my students into a lesson and capture their curiosity. I am learning that one does not necessarily have to go through extravagant measure to engage students. Using fictional books or photos are friendly ways to present a topic and engage students. A good quality book which is relevant to the topic at hand, mixed with the teacher’s enthusiasm can go a long way. I actually read the lesson you have posted above and I found it very valuable. It’s a fun way to teach students about the difference between making observations and inferences. (I actually remember doing the activity on ‘mystery samples’ in a college course.) The lesson teaches students about the importance of making inferences and how inferences further scientific development. I will be doing my student-teaching in a fourth grade classroom, and I hope I will be able to present this lesson.

Carolyn Mohr Carolyn Mohr 92316 Points

Brenda said, "I actually read the lesson you have posted above (Carolyn) and I found it very valuable. It’s a fun way to teach students about the difference between making observations and inferences. . . I will be doing my student-teaching in a fourth grade classroom, and I hope I will be able to present this lesson." That is great, Brenda. I can't wait to hear how it goes. I hope you will come back in a few months after you have presented the lesson, and let us know how it went. I know the Earthling book is out of print, but the NSTA book store sells it special so that we can obtain it for this lesson in the Picture Perfect science lessons series. It sounds like YOU are excited for science! If the teacher is excited, the students are more apt to get excited, don't you think? Carolyn

Kathy Renfrew Kathy Renfrew 37248 Points

I am trying to decide where to start. When i think about vocabulary my instinct is to introduce new words as we meet them in context. I think I might have a word wall already started when so when we meet a word "mixture" I might pass around a container that is holding mixture, so that when students encounter this word they can see a mixture. Maybe the next step could be they would make a mixture. After having this experience, they could write the definition of the word. While I am a total science literacy nut, I think we all need to be careful that the reading part of our lesson is to supplement the learning our student do using investigations. I want to be very careful that reading and literacy activities do not become science. Just a bit to think about ..

Kirstin Berglund Kirstin Berglund 415 Points

I teach a 5th grade special education collaborative class, and in my last co-teacher training meeting, we learned a great vocabulary strategy that helps all kids. The student is given the word and definition, then has to come up with a key word that sounds like the vocabulary word, then draw a picture that incorporates the sound and the actual defintion in it. So, for example, for the word angiosperm (from an earlier unit in the year), the defintion is "a flower whose seeds are protected by fruit." We have a student named Angie in our class, and so the kids made "Angie" the key word (with her permission, of course). For the picture, we drew a picture of an apple with a face on it and a nametag saying "Hello, my name is Angie." Another example was for the word vascular plant. We ended up choosing the word "muscular" as our key word, and the kids drew a plant with arms with big muscles on them. The kids had a great time with the activity and thought was hilarious, and most importantly, they really remembered it!

Lorrie Armfield Lorrie Armfield 51438 Points

Kirstin, I have taken several courses involving building academic vocabulary. I am certified to teach Science, Mathematics, ESOL, and Special Education, and thus I often look for strategies that will benefit my diverse scholar population across the board (in all academic disciplines). What I have discovered about vocabulary is that there are six essential steps for teaching new terms: 1. Provide a description, explanation, or example of the term (interactive word walls are great for this); 2. Ask students to restate the description, explanation, or example in their own words (Kagan Strategy, Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol Strategy); 3. Ask students to construct a picture, symbol, or graphic representing the term; 4. Periodically engage students in activities that help them add to their knowledge of terms in their notebooks; 5. Ask students to discuss the terms with one another; and 6. Involve students in games that allow them to play with terms ('Name that Category', 'Talk A Mile A Minute', 'Jeopardy', etc.). LA

Kathy Renfrew Kathy Renfrew 37248 Points


Thank you for sharing the vocabulary strategies. This reminded me of a presentation I did recently providing professional development on the Common Core Mathematical Practices, attention to Precision.

Precision in mathematics is much more than just accurate alculations. Anyway part of the work we did was around Isabel Mckeown's research: Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3 words.

Tier 1 words are the everyday words that we usually do not need to teach. Tier 2 words are wordds that have multiple meanings and can be usedin many different contexts. These words are difficult for students. Brain research says that students prior knowledge creates interference and makes learning these words even more difficult. An example of a tier 2 word might be square. Are you square with that? Can we play four square? You are really square. Tier 3 words are the content specific words which have their own levels of difficulty. Students need lots of practice with all of these. Square is also a Tier 3 word. draw a square. 3x 3 = 3 squared.

Anyay Lorrie, I am very glad you shared. One caveat, I am pretty sure that what we don't want to do is front load the students with 10 new vocabulary words to define, use in a sentence, etc.


Peggy Ashbrook Margaret Ashbrook 10973 Points

Those Tier 3 words must need a lot of practicing to become familiar. This discussion about acquiring vocabulary reminds me of how a single student facilitated the acquisition of the word “sphere” in his preschool classroom. In an activity about bubbles, I (visiting science specialist) introduced the word “sphere” by a series of activities. First, the four-year-old children cut out a circle from a paper square by cutting off the corners, one by one, until there are no corners left, while we talked about the shapes. We also compared the shapes of tortillas and plates to oranges and balls, and handled cube-shaped blocks and ping-pong balls, again talking about the shapes. The third part of this lesson was to blow bubbles in a variety of ways, and observe and name the shape of the bubble. The word “sphere” is difficult to pronounce, and even many adults say “spear” instead. The Spanish “esfera” is easier for many people and this class in particular. The class was composed predominately of children of Central American immigrants, and taught by a lead teacher from Mexico and an African-American assistant teacher, both with many years experience. The child’s parents are from West Africa. I was very interested to find out how this child made the practice of using the word “sphere” the norm in this culturally rich classroom. A few months after the bubble activity I was in that classroom again and overheard children using the word “sphere” to talk about a game they were playing with a ball. This surprised me because in the other preschool classrooms in this program, which had done the same series of activities, children and teachers had continued to use “ball” and “round” to indicate the shape of a sphere of any kind. I wanted to find out what was different in this classroom so I could be sure to implement the same strategy in future lessons so children and teachers would think about the distinction between 2-D and 3-D shapes, and be able to use the more specific vocabulary. The teacher told me that after the lesson, this child had simply begun using the word “sphere” to refer to all ball-shaped objects, and then other students began using the word, and would sometimes correct the teacher. As someone who was exposed to many languages, was he particularly open to new vocabulary? The change came from within the classroom (although I provided the information to expand the child’s vocabulary). This insight also applies to how I feel about the job of science specialist in a preschool setting. Unless the classroom teachers or students embrace the practice of science, my work as a facilitator of a science activity for a class will not be sustaining in the way that I hope for. Peggy

Lorrie Armfield Lorrie Armfield 51438 Points

Peggy, I wholeheartedly agree that classroom teachers and students must embrace the practice of science; inclusive of new vocabulary terms. I can only imagine how great it felt to hear even young scholars using terms that you introduced to them. Science vocabulary can be very abstract, but you made it tangible for them, and thus their willingness to harness the power of vocabulary. Sphere and not Ball....that says it all. LA

Chrysantha Norwood Chrysantha Norwood 1705 Points

Hello All, Thanks for all of the great information. I really love science and I think my students are more engaged because I get excited. I make signs to announce up-coming units that read "Coming Soon..." The information on vocabulary instruction was very helpful also. I read an awesome article in the January issue of Science Scope titled “The Science Text for ALL” on pg. 56. The article highlights the Textmasters strategy that is designed to help students access written science content. The strategy utilizes a Role Sheet during group meetings. The Role Sheet has an excellent advanced organizer, Vocabulary Enricher, which helps students identify important, puzzling or unfamiliar words. The students have to identify the page number, word, meaning, example and a sketch. I will definitely incorporate this strategy into my lessons. If you get a chance check out the January issues of Science Scope it has several great articles. Thanks for reading, Chris

Donna Wall Donna Wall 3635 Points

In response to Carolyn's post regarding the Picture Perfect Science Ladies - How lucky you were to have the opportunity to attend one of their workshops! One of the first books I bought from NSTA Press was [Picture Perfect Science Lessons[/u].I haven't done the lesson on Dr. Xargle because I'm having difficulty finding the book. But I have done two of the lessons with Eric Carle books, and the kids loved them.

Margaret Hunter Margaret Hunter 1655 Points

In response to Kathy's post about reading and science, I have had to react to our district's policy to demand and enforce a set amount of reading and math instruction minutes per day and to spend extra time with those students who are struggling in reading and math, which often doesn't leave much time for science or any other subjects for that matter. So in response to that I have started using nonfiction materials to teach reading and vocabulary. This is new for me, but students' reading scores on DIBELS and the STAR reading assessments have improved and I have been able to link their reading instruction with inquiry science activities we are engaged in. Not only are students getting more science time, but they are excited about the nonfiction reading part, they are comprehending nonfiction books, and they are retaining vocabulary understanding. I also use the vocabulary strategies from Beck, McKeown and Kugan's book Bringing Words to Life. It's easy to find easier nonfiction books for my students who are struggling readers, and nonfiction tends to be very high interest in my classroom.

Doris Padilla Doris Padilla 3345 Points

Laura, your enthusiasm for teaching science is very encouraging. Just like you, I want to be able to be excited about teaching science even though it is not my favorite subject. I know that if I seem bored and not motivated when teaching science, my students will see it and feel it. As a future teacher, I will try to make science fun by incorporating the 5e's and doing fun experiments, I will motivate my students by becoming involve, and if I'm not sure and don't understand a concept that I need to teach, I will do research on my own in order to better understand the concept. Making science for our students is very important but we first have to worry about us teachers transferring our excitement to our students when teaching.

Stephanie Salazar Stephanie Salazar 3580 Points

Laura, I agree with you, I find science to be very intimidating. Before taking a science course at my university I was a wreck (very nervous about teaching science). But now I feel very confident in the subject. Granted I do not know everything there is to know about science but I feel like over time I will master the content knowledge. Thankfully my professor had us (her classes) create an account with NSTA and let me tell you this has helped me a lot. I have been able to use many things from this site in my teaches at my field school (the kids loved it!). I also feel that science should be fun; it should be a window that shows students that learning is fun. I understand that in today's world there are standards and pacing guides that must be followed but the way I see it is that everything that has to be covered in science is fun and can be made just about going the extra mile for the students (who will benefit so much). I am not yet in a classroom so I do not know how I will feel about it then but my hope is that I can keep the same mentality.

Carolyn Mohr Carolyn Mohr 92316 Points

Laura in her first post said, 'I think that teaching science is a bit intimidating however I think that it could be a great opportunity to get the students excited to learn.'
Laura I just came across a website devoted to engineering for children. It has lots of fun ideas to engage students. It is called Engineer's Playground
Under 'Fun Stuff' it reminded me that games like Jenga, Pick-Up-Sticks, and Battleship can be used in engineering curricula. Pick-Up-Sticks help students to see how items come together to make a structure - students develop an instinct about which pieces are needed. Jenga requires players to identify essential components of a structure, etc. Although it is a commercial site, I picked up some 'fun ideas' by perusing it.

Kendell Blake Kendell Blake 335 Points

I also thought teaching science was intimidating. As a future teacher, the thought of teaching middle school science worried me. But as I refresh my memory and explore science more, I remember how much I always loved it! I think that one of the best parts of being a science teacher is going to be seeing the student's excitement when they do science activities.

D B Dionne Octavius 6395 Points

i totally agree and its great to see that not only you are trying teach your student you also trying to make them have fun while they learning. and that's something i learn in my teaching elementary science you have to design a lesson plan where the students are having fun and learning at the same time because most students don't like science.

Edline Blanc Edline Blanc 3935 Points

Growing up, I never enjoyed science until I started going on this website. I grew to love science and is eager to teach it in my classroom someday. These post bring out positive and things to engage with the students. These things on this website teaches many concepts on how to teach and this will defiantly give the students and teacher a great relationship.

Veralyn Ulep Veralyn Ulep 1010 Points

Hi Laura, When I was in elementary, I don't remember doing much for Science. I think the only thing I remember doing was a 6th grade ecosystem shoebox project. That's pretty embarrassing if you ask me. When I entered intermediate, my interest in science did not get any better. Although we did more experiments, I despised writing up lab reports. It wasn't until high school did I start getting excited about science. I was in charge of my own experiments, deciding the variables and factors that will affect my outcomes, and I felt like I could connect with what I was learning. I hope that my students don't take as long as I did to finally get excited about learning science. Yes, students should understand specific concepts. However, students should see how science works in the world around them. I really like how you mentioned that students should feel okay if they aren't correct. Teachers, even myself included, are often looking for the "right" answer all the time. Science, as well as other subjects, should be about exploring and challenging the students' thinking. It shouldn't just be right or wrong answers. Instead, it should be about how students misconceptions or misunderstandings transform to learning and growing as an individual. Rather than giving up and feeling upset for not getting the right answer, students should feel curious and not to give up trying to find the right answer. Great post and very refreshing to read!

Kendra Young Kendra Young 17180 Points

I also want to commend Laura for openly stating that teaching science was, well, intimidating. But she's right, it's also SO exciting! I'm so glad to see educators stepping out of their comfort zone and getting excited about teaching and learning. We're six days from state testing in my district and everyone is holding on by a thread. It's kind of sad though, because we're just now busting through new barriers in my classroom and I dread stopping this momentum for a bubble-in test. But such is the nature of the beast... Kudos to all of you for loving what you do and for reaching out to one another through NSTA. I honestly don't know what I would have done without the amazing resources from NSTA. Happy teaching! Kendra

Jessica Lopez Jessica Lopez 2995 Points

I think that teaching science is a challenge for all teachers. After learning about different techniques and ways to teach science, I can't help to think that it will be the most exciting class in my future classroom! There are so many activities and hands on experiments that students can do for themselves that can get them up front and personal with what science is all about. I think it is important to relate science concepts to the real world, meaning events and objects that students deal with every day.

Yvette Ponzoa Yvette Ponzoa 3455 Points

I can honestly say that I don't remember one single science lesson from elementary school. I can remember every other subject, and I can remember my science classes after elementary. I often wonder whether I was even taught science in elementary, though I can't believe that would be true. I know for a fact that if we had participated in hands-on activities and inquiry learning, those memories would be there. Learning science can be such an exciting experience, particularly in those early years when everything is so unknown, mysterious, and wondrous. As teachers, it is definitely our duty (and pleasure) to make learning science as memorable as possible for our students.

Catherine JeanPaul Catherine JeanPaul 805 Points

Wanda, I think your comment on the teacher being "bored" is extremely accurate. If students feel that we aren't engaged and interested in what were teaching, there is no way that they could be. Not only can they sense if we are aren't bored, student commute that to it not being important. If you feel as if your science lessons are stagnant, quite, and has large amounts of writing and reading, your students more most likely bred. Students need o be active learners in science class most especially. Sharing ideas through inquiry based lessons is the best way to keep students active and engaged. I love that the NSTA provides more than enough resources to ensure students are getting the most out of their science classrooms.

Cesia Ramirez Cesia Ramirez 930 Points

Laura, I agree with your philosophy, teachers hold the key of knowledge and they hold the key in knowing how to write a great lesson plan. I know growing up, my classmates and I would look forward to a hands on activities. Instead of hands on activities, what had textbook work. To be honest, textbook work is never fun. So science, should be implemented some way in the day or week so that students can have a feel for it.

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