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Elementary Science

No Time for Science

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Cybil Richmond Cybil Richmond 750 Points

Hello, I am currently the science curriculum specialist for my entire school district (k-12). This is my first year in this position and the first year they have even had a "science coach." I previously taught on the secondary level for 13 years. Secondary science comes natural to me and it easy to help the teachers because I am so familiar with it and they have plenty of time to teach what is necessary. My problem with elementary science is not so much being unfamiliar with the subject matter but teachers who are afraid of teaching it and NO TIME TO TEACH SCIENCE. My district has been so focused on language arts and math, that there is literally no time to teach science on a daily basis. Now with the CCSS coming, everyone is pulling their hair out. I go into elementary classrooms to observe teachers every week. The classrooms are beautifully decorated with math, reading, and English information. There is little to no science information posted. Each day there is about 40 minutes dedicated to science and that has to be split with social studies. I have actually had teachers to tell me that they MAY get to science 3 times a week. REALLY!!! On top of not teaching science daily, the books that are being used are "as old as Methuselah." When science book were adopted 2 years ago, none were adopted for elementary. In Mississippi, there are state science tests given for 5th grade, 8th grade, and Biology I. This year the 5th and 8th grade tests "go live." I have started a listserv for teachers at the elementary, junior high, and high school levels. I send out all kinds of information that I think will be beneficial to them every week, including info that I find here. But how can I truly help my elementary teachers? How do I foster a change in mindset about science? I spoke with a science specialist from another district/state who told me that she wrote and entire science curriculum, but it took her a year. She told me that for elementary science it included everything (scripts, etc.) for those who were not comfortable with science. I would love to do that, but don't know where or how to start. Another thing I am very interested in is notebooking for all levels of science, but especially for elementary since they need new books. I have all of the Dinah Zike books and other good notebooking information. My question is, how do I sit down with a few teachers at each grade level and get started? I need suggestions on just making it plain for my teachers. Where do I start? How can I put together a basic "notebook" that can be shared throughout the district? What are some good online curriculum resources? I am truly starting from the ground up and I want the foundation to be a good one. PLEASE HELP.

Kathy Renfrew Kathy Renfrew 37248 Points

Cybil, Your questions are important and your issues are real. They are prevalent all over the country so do not feel isolated or alone. And you have come to the right place to ask for help. I along with many others in this community will love to work with you. I have some ideas but I am not quite sure where to start. First of all, the teachers are already feeling overwhelmed so when you approach them with whatever you try, the message needs to be that you are there to help them. You are there to help them solve some of their problems. I think you should start with a small group of teachers. Is there any way you could start small Professional Learning Community that reads some articles or book together that integrates science an literacy. Depending on the grade level of the teachers I would be willing to help you choose something to begin with.a book together, something manageable, You mentioned the CCSS. I think we should use the Common Core State Standards as leverage. I have an idea for helping the 1-2 teachers get started teaching science and they will be teaching literacy at the same time. We created what we are calling a short, shared focused research project for grade 1. It is called the Moon project. We began with a science concept that is difficult to teach hands-on because it is so abstract. The text used are texts that can be found in a library if they cannot be purchased. Working though the project the students work on at least one reading, writing, speaking & listening and language standard. This project, ideally, should be part of a larger unit. Students should be encouraged to observe the moon. if they can't see it at night, they can look at it online. This is just a beginning. I am not even sure if this will be helpful. I will attach the project and the template. If you would like to talk some more, feel free to private message me. Kathy


Betty Paulsell Betty Paulsell 48560 Points

Cybil, I know what you mean about teachers saying there is no time for science. That is a problem across the country. One idea that I did with teachers in my school was to invite them to a short meeting after school where I did a quick science demonstration or experiment. Keep it simple and quick. Then we discussed where it would fit in their curriculum. This meeting took about 15-20 minutes. By giving the teachers an idea that they could go back and use immediately in their classrooms did not require the teachers to take time to research. The idea was there and ready to use. Keep the materials to things they can easily find at home or in the school's science supplies. Even if just a few teachers attend, the idea will spread and more will probably come the next time. You could also do this as a district meeting and supply the materials to each teacher if funds are available. Teachers are more likely to do science if they get the ideas and materials handed to them and can go back and do them quickly in their classrooms. Then hopefully they get hooked on science and want to do more of it!

Sandra Yarema Sandy Yarema 2920 Points

Another idea that has worked in my district is for the specialist to compile a list of grade-level trade books and story books on science topics that coordinate with assessment objectives. These books could be part of read-aloud or learning centers for teachers to integrate science content with language arts. Teachers could then conduct related activities to go along with the book that explore science concepts along with the story. For example, first graders studying life cycles of organisms could read "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" by Eric Carle, and then proceed to observe a live egg>caterpillar>chrysalis>butterfly with a purchased kit, keep track of observations in a learning log, and also construct a paper plate & pasta model of that cycle to fulfill science objectives.

Maureen Stover Maureen Stover 41070 Points

Hi Cybil, You are not alone in the challenge your district is facing! I'm always look for ways to incorporate science and social studies into my lessons everyday, but with math and language arts as the main focus in most classrooms, this can really be a challenge. One of the best strategies that I've developed is to incorporate science and social studies into my math, reading, and language arts lessons. For instance, for reading, elementary teachers can include high interest, non-fiction reading selections that relate to science or social studies concepts. Teachers can also model and incorporate science concepts in math. For instance, an elementary teacher can teach about plants by reading [i]Tiny Seed[/i] by Eric Carle, [i]Kids Discover[i], etc, planting seeds to learn about germination and life cycle, and then measure and graph the height of the plants in math. Your district is very lucky to have you! As an elementary teacher, I sometimes find it difficult to find logical links between math a science or reading any science. I wish I had an expert like you to help guide me! Here are a few resources in the NSTA Learning Center that I have use to help me locate cross curricular lessons. Hopefully, you'll find them useful, too! [url=]Picture Perfect Science Lessons[/url] [url=]Teaching Sciecne Through Tradebooks[/url] [url=]Activities Linking Math and Science, K-4[/url] (there's also a 5-8 version) [url=]Inquiring Scientists, Inquiring Readers: Using Non-fiction to Promote Science Literacy[/url] [url=]Archive Webseminar: Practices between NGSS and Common Core Math and ELA[/url] Hopefully those resources will help you out! Maureen

Kathy Sparrow Kathy Sparrow 47692 Points

Cybil, I was in a similar situation when I was the Science Supervisor of a large urban district in Ohio. Although, it was a few years ago, the situation is still the same. Elementary teachers are either afraid to teach science and/or are not confident and somehow run out of time to teach science. However, as you and I know, developing those science process skills and having students engage in science is so important in developing critical thinking skills. Research supports the fact students who engage in activity prior to reading about it have much better comprehension that those students who have no actual experience. In my district, there were 40 elementary schools. Here are some suggestions of things that I did that seemed to help: I started a group called Science Network (actually, I had a network group at all three levels). Once a month, elementary teachers would meet together (it was an open invitation). I would provide snacks and initially I would engage them in a science-inquiry activity—one they could do, understand and take back to their classroom and do with their students. Later on, teachers brought and shared a science activity that was successful for them. Teachers enjoyed the sharing part. I started with a small nucleus of teachers who were good at teaching elementary science. You know who they are--or you will. These individuals might be the science “chair” at their building or teachers that stand out who principals can identify for you. This would be the group that you might start your notebooking with. More than likely, these will be the teachers that other teachers respect and may emulate. My group eventually helped write the elementary part of the science course of study and the grade level pacing guides. Through an Eisenhower grant we were also able to sponsor a workshop we called Project Inquiry. [It was patterned after our NSF state initiative called Project Discovery at the time.] I had a physics professor from the local university guide the teachers in inquiry learning activities after school. We met every other week for several months. I do need to tell you that teachers who participated received stipends from the district. That was always a good incentive. I hope some of what worked for me, spurs some successful ideas for you. Kathy

Wendy Ruchti Wendy Ruchti 24875 Points

I would have to second a lot of the comments already made, and in addition, wonder if you might be able to find an ally at the university level? I am a faculty member (Science Education) and we actually have trouble sometimes finding willing partnerships with districts. I have written several grants for teacher professional development, and have to look hard for those districts really dedicated to improving science education who are wiling to commit to long term partnerships. Of course, many of my challenges are similar -districts want to focus on PD in mathematics and ELA...CCSS.

Patty McGinnis Patricia McGinnis 25635 Points

Could you try creating a wiki and gathering sources for lessons for your teachers? I am thinking perhaps you could send out a weekly lesson to the teachers complete with references, video links, etc. to make it easy for them.

Here is a link to science notebooks. Perhaps by using the Common Core Standards as leverage, teachers will be more willing to use the notebooks.
Here are some other places you can get information about science notebooks:

Kendra Young Kendra Young 17180 Points

I've kind of tried Patricia's suggestions with the elementary teachers I've worked with this year with very limited success - okay - it bombed. I think, and this is purely speculation on my part, that it's because teachers perform best when they're invested in the lessons they're expected to teach. So how do we do that? How do we get them to invest in science for their students?

Natalie Hepting Natalie Hepting 610 Points

Hello everyone, I totally agree to not having any time for science. I am a co-teacher in 5th grade. We do have about 40 min to 1 hour a day for either science or social studies. But sometimes one or the other have to give. Especially during assessments. I also find that a lot of the fun hands on experiments are cut out when it comes to time crunching. In my opinion reading science articles to patch the lesson takes the essence out of science. I hope that with common core and a greater focus on close reading we will be able to integrate more of our social studies into our language arts block, so the time allotted for those two won't have to be shared as much. I really appreciate all your attempts and help that you provide to the teacher. It is just simply difficult due to the fact that a school day is only so long, and whatever extra or new is put in causes something else to come out. I as a teacher, and I am sure many others share your passion on continuously trying to improve children's education. Natalie

Peggy Ashbrook Margaret Ashbrook 10963 Points

Joanne K. Olson’s 2008 article, Making Time for Science: Strategies to Increase Instructional Time for Science, in Science and Children, Vol. 46, No. 3 November 2008 (pgs 50-53), offers seven suggestions for increasing science instruction in elementary schools.
It is available in the NSTA Science and Children archives, but they happen to be briefly unavailable so I’m sharing a different link:
See also, Olson and Corey Drake’s “The Home Connection: Helping parents and families help your students” in Science and Children, March 2009 (pgs 52-54). Making connections with families can increase children’s time in open-ended exploration of the natural world and develop questions to pursue in the classroom.

Donald Bryan Donald Bryan 1700 Points

WOW! I share your concern for kicking the can. Many administrators are doing just that to history and science in lieu of language arts and math. The focus and emphasis is on the big 2 for now and I think they will just allow others to deal with it down the road. I know now why we are so far behind the rest of the world in education. We do share teaching science and history by our pacing guide at our school. We do two weeks of science, then 2 weeks of history. There is a rumor of taking science and history SOL tests out and focusing just on the big 2. What do we do then?

Melissa Palmore Melissa Palmore 4310 Points

How will we know if a child is gifted in a particular area if we don't teach it? Melissa P.

Maureen Stover Maureen Stover 41070 Points

Thanks to Peggy for including the links to the great science resources! Donald, I share your concern for the future of education in the US (and our current international ranking). While I am a huge proponent of including science and history instruction into our daily schedules, I think it is equally important that we continue to focus on math and reading. Being able to read is critical to every subject. If students are able to read, and comprehend, nonfiction texts, then they are set to understand material as they move through their educational journey (and beyond). For instance, students who can read, comprehend, and interpret technical writing can read a calculus or physics book and understand the material. Math is also very important because students need to develop and practice math skills so they are second nature when they move into advanced math. For instance, students who have a strong grasp of arithmetic can concentrate on learning the problem solving processes when they get to algebra (and they don't get caught up trying to multiply, divide, add, and subtract). I think the real key is finding ways to include critical math and reading skills into science and history instruction. By integrating subjects together, we are able to prepare our students to success. Maureen

Dorothy King dorothy king 2415 Points

Make a notebook for each grade level. Have each group review and input.

Why can't your elementary teachers use science books (NSTA Press: Teaching with Tradebooks) in their reading/literacy classes? Why can't math lessons involve science investigations, labs, reading science data or making math data tables with science data (bar graphs with sticky notes using science data for one example). These ways of integrating brings in more science, shows the real-world integration and application and for students who may struggle with reading or math. Lots of opportunities to engage students in "important" content using science. (Please know I personally believe all topics and content can be taught using science as the springboard.) Reading and writing taught using science notebooks. . . Lots of opportunities to integrate!

Rita Hulsman Rita Hulsman 235 Points

While reading and writing about science isn't the most ideal way to really learn science skills and concepts, it's better than simply waving the white flag and not doing science at all. I was thrilled to see in the most recent release of the CCSS that there are sections devoted to literacy in science and technical subjects, so I'm hoping for a more balanced approach in the next few years. One way I think we can find more time to include reading in science and technical subjects and even some hands-on science work in our science classrooms is to rely less on frequent formal written assessments and more on discussions and observations, reflective journaling, and the like. As with any change in classroom procedures, moving more toward these ways of demonstrating understanding, there is a big front-load in terms of teaching and modeling behaviors, but they pay-off comes with more engaged students.

Alexis Kunde Alexis Kunde 1150 Points

These are all great ideas!

Maureen Stover Maureen Stover 41070 Points

Rita wrote, "I was thrilled to see in the most recent release of the CCSS that there are sections devoted to literacy in science and technical subjects, so I'm hoping for a more balanced approach in the next few years." I couldn't agree more!! It can be difficult to find time to "fit" everything into a school day. By integrating science and social studies into math and science teachers can devote time to all subject areas while making learning relevant to our students. I think it's also important that we, as teachers, consider how and why our students will read in the future. As they continue through school and eventually out into the workforce, our students will be reading technical and informational texts. Teaching them strategies to read informational texts and providing opportunities to practice the strategies will better prepare our students to effectively read informational texts. Thanks for the great conversation! Maureen

Kendra Young Kendra Young 17180 Points

Rita said, "While reading and writing about science isn't the most ideal way to really learn science skills and concepts, it's better than simply waving the white flag and not doing science at all. I was thrilled to see in the most recent release of the CCSS that there are sections devoted to literacy in science and technical subjects, so I'm hoping for a more balanced approach in the next few years." This is so very true. I've seen a few teachers try to incorporate science/social studies through their guided reading lessons. And while this isn't ideal and it certainly doesn't have students "doing science" it's certainly an admirable start. My advice would be to meet elementary teachers where they are, just like we do our students. And right now, they're chained to the guided reading table. Start by offering NSTA's trade book lists, and maybe even starting a science trade book library. From there, I'd add small hands-on materials or demos that teachers can use as hooks while at the guided reading table. It's not ideal, as Rita already pointed out, but it's a start.

Dana Corcoran Dana Corcoran 400 Points

Unfortunately this needs to be an administrative priority. School district leaders needs to see the importance of science in the curriculum and encourage the teaching of it! They need to provide teachers with, and guide them in their abilities to integrate science with other subjects.

Maureen Stover Maureen Stover 41070 Points

Dana wrote: Unfortunately this needs to be an administrative priority. School district leaders needs to see the importance of science in the curriculum and encourage the teaching of it!

Dana, I couldn't agree more. Do you have any advice for ways to approach admin? In today's world of high stakes testing in math and reading, it can be difficult for teachers, and administrators, to find the time to teach science and social studies. I've tried to integrate science and social studies into my literacy block, but it's not always easy to do.

I've learned several great ideas from this forum, but I'm always on the lookout for ways to integrate subjects so I can ensure my students gaining knowledge across the curriculum.


Ashley Behringer Ashley Behringer 425 Points

Hi Cybil, I am afraid I am facing the same problems you are. Currently, I am in a fifth grade classroom for my field study. I have noticed that the students do not learn science everyday; even though there is time set aside for science and social studies each day. What I have noticed is the teacher using this time for whatever they did not get to in language arts. I do think this has become an issue due to CCSS. However, there are plenty of ways to incorporate language arts into a science lesson. I will be student teaching in less than a month. I was wondering if anyone had any advice on how I can teach more science to a class that does not receive a lot of science instruction.

Kathy Renfrew Kathy Renfrew 37248 Points

Ashley, You are talking about reality in many places. There are ways to plan science and meet the CCSS at the same time. I am going to share some work I did around a book that was a NSTA Outstanding Trade Book. maybe looking through these piece , you will be able to see how you can teach science and meet the Common Core Standards ELA

Carmen Cruz Carmen Cruz 2125 Points

Science has to be learned, when I was a teacher I crossed curriculums to get my science in. There are some great reading books- for example when I was teaching circuits we would read the chapter in Dear Mr. Henshaw- lunchbox alarm and that would take us straight into our closed circuit alarm lab integrating our writing into our journals. Now you have Reading, Language Arts, Science, and your English Language Proficiency Standards all in one lesson. Just an idea, but science is the future and we must allow students to make real world connections that will inspire creativity and allow them to build their problem solving skills.

Maria Cieslak Maria Cieslak 2535 Points

I totally understand how you feel. For a few years my school had funding for a science specialist who serviced our Kindergarten to 5th grade students.Our administrators support science - that is the key to a successful program. Our Title 1 school is always at district or above district averages on the 5th grade state test even though our science specialist no longer serves our students in that capacity. This is because both I and my colleague make sure that science is always on the staff development agenda every single year. One way our school incorporates science is through our 1 acre school garden, which is open all year long to students- even on Saturdays. Our students have a strong desire to explore plants and animals in the garden and ask teachers to visit the garden. This interest for the outdoors motivates teachers to create lessons for life science, earth science, and physical science. Teachers also say that they don't do science because they don't have materials. This is why we also have FOSS kits for each grade level to share. There is really no excuse for not incorporating some kind of science into the ELA curriculum or math curriculum. The Common Core State Standards require students to look at real world applications. After all, nonfiction is half of the reading test. Students need to be exposed to science materials as much as they are exposed to social studies texts because our students are required to do well in both areas on the tests. As more states move to the SBAC assessment system, it is crucial that all students, including ELL and economically disadvantaged students are exposed and taught how to access science concepts through experiments and reading material.

Kathy Renfrew Kathy Renfrew 37248 Points

Thank you Maria for sharing. You are a woman after my own heart. Your school is demonstrating that science is an important piece of curriculum necessary for ALL students! Kathy

Maureen Stover Maureen Stover 41070 Points

Carmen and Maria, Thank you so much for your comments! As you both highlighted, science can be incorporated into the school day; sometimes it just takes some creativity! I think two keys to effectively integrating subjects are admin support and good planning. When the admin thinks that teaching science is important, and supports teachers in teaching science, it is much easier to find the time to teach. I've also found that when I take the time to evaluate all of the lessons I plan to teach each year, I am able to see logical ties between science, social studies, math, and reading. This really enables me to plan lessons in math and reading that incorporate science or social studies. It does take a little more time over the summer to plan this way, but the benefit is that I am able to integrate lessons across curriculums. Maureen

Lisa Liss Lisa Liss 230 Points

As an elementary teacher for 26 years, I absolutely sympathize with you. We are told to focus mostly on LA and Math. As such Science suffers drastically. Now, as you said, since common core is coming, they are suddenly thinking that we should be teaching more Science. One small thing that can make a huge difference, is if all elementary teachers would start with a Science Journal. Daily have one small Science fact that the kids learn about. For example, teach one element in the Essential Elements chart a day. It keeps it simple and exposes kids to Science. Obviously this isn't the only way to teach Science, but it is a small start that you could implement tomorrow in all classes K-12. Good luck, Lisa

Richard Varner Richard Varner 955 Points

When I worked with NASA's AESP project I had the opportunity to work with elementary teachers who were trying to add science to their curriculum through very creative means. Many of them were actually ‘prohibited’ from teaching science due to underachievement on standardized testing and a pure focus on reading and math skills. Content mapping is not a new concept and has been through as many gyrations as any other educational paradigm. When I taught middle school in Northern Florida, we created “interdisciplinary units” where we thematically interlaced our content to best utilize our planning efforts, reduce the amount of duplication between independent classes, and provide a comprehensive experience for our students. Through the NASA Educational Guides one of my favorite activities involves launching paper rockets using very basic office materials. The water rocket activity, Project X-51, is designed for water rockets, yet is easily adapted for the much less involved paper or straw rockets. If the ‘budget’ of the activity’s materials and services becomes the focus, the primary standards are easily identified with mathematics. Putting an ELL spin on the program would include drafting and presenting proposals and regular reports on the progress of the project for continued funding. There are many elementary level articles and children’s books on rockets and space travel to ensure the reading skills are specifically met. When orchestrated with the Common Core requirements, this project meets the necessary areas of study, yet is an amazing instrument to deliver the Next Generation Standards in Science through the forces and motion concepts and engineering design processes. My daughter and I will be presenting this unit in Boston in the spring as a session on Friday and during the Aerospace Shar-a-thon poster sessions on Saturday.


NASA's Rocketry Educators Guide (External Website)

Rocket Research 101 (External Website)

Saturn V Soda Straw Rocket (External Website)

Daphne Henry Daphne Henry 520 Points

This is a very difficult situation, for teachers all over the US, but with persistence and a creative mind frame something must be able to shift. I know, as a pre-student teacher, that you go into teaching filled with excitement and dreams about all the fun science projects, experiments, and explorations that you and your class will take, but reality is so different. At the school I'm observing, the PTA hired one full-time science teacher for all the classes to share. The students receive science instruction about once a week for twenty minutes. Although it is an improvement from having no science teacher, it is very sad. My hope is that with Common Core rolling out, teachers will be encouraged to look at their curriculums differently. I also hope that the schools will rally around the teachers and support them as best they can, during this shift.

Kathy Renfrew Kathy Renfrew 37248 Points


Your posting made think of two of the mathematical practice standards.
Standard 1 'Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them'The problem: The perception that there is no time for science instruction during the school day. As elementary teachers who know science instruction is critical to a student's learning,we must persevere in solving this problem.

Standard 3 ' Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others' Many of our principals and superintendents have reasons why no science instruction occurs in the classroom. When voiced the reasons usually sound something like 'We are striving for high test scores in literacy and mathematics, therefore we must spend all our time on those subjects.' We,elementary teachers must be able to construct a viable argument to be able to rebut those voices, whatever the reason. Elementary teachers need to be able to critique the reasoning of those voices,and have the research and evidence to support our voices.

Writing this has spurred me on to do something about this situation. I am going to start by making a collection of resources that will provide some evidence that supports the need for science instruction in the elementary classroom. Maybe the collection will help elementary teachers give themselves permission to teach science?? I have started a collection that I hope others will add relevant evidence.Collection attached.

We Must Make Time for Science Collection (5 items)
- User Uploaded Resource
- User Uploaded Resource
Jillienne Ault Jillienne Ault 820 Points

I think its awesome that they have added you to this school! In every elementary building I have been in so far Science has been neglected. Im glad they have taken the steps to make science more important for elementary students!

Tori Popoloski Tori Popoloski 1500 Points

These all are such great ideas!!!

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