As science education becomes increasingly vital, elementary educators find themselves struggling to make time for teaching science during an average school day. While the complexities of this problem will require solutions from school and district leaders, we can at least offer a few convenient ideas that educators can start implementing right now.
Treat Anything Like a Science Activity
An elementary classroom is basically a team of scientists just waiting to get started. In some ways, you only need to show them where the lab is and prepare to be amazed. Insatiably curious, kids are nature’s ideal scientists. They genuinely want to learn about the world around them and they’re constantly investigating the way things work, asking questions at every turn like scientists do. Their enthusiasm for scientific discovery is literally healthy (it helps build strong learning pathways in their young brains) so take advantage of any opportunities to practice scientific exploration or conduct scientific research. Encourage students to question, investigate, and activity, no matter what they’re studying; don’t limit these activities to science class. Foster scientific curiosity and investigative skills at every opportunity. Remember the journey matters as much as the destination.
Foster scientific curiosity and investigative skills at every opportunity. Remember the journey matters as much as the destination.
Focus on Scientific Vocabulary
One thing that’s helpful for doing science anywhere, anytime is being able to talk about it! That means knowing how to use basic scientific vocabulary. Here’s an opportunity to add science time by overlapping or interweaving it with existing class time: during regular vocabulary lessons, reserve time to teach new science vocabulary words that students can use when they’re practicing science. Even just a few minutes of science vocabulary practice each week can create enormous educational gains. Students can keep track of new vocab words in a science notebook. The more they’re able to talk about science, the better they’ll be able to think about, reason through, and comprehend scientific concepts.
Bring Nature into the Classroom for All-Day Science
Seeds growing in pots on the windowsill or plants thriving in a terrarium can be science lessons. Caterpillars becoming butterflies or tadpoles becoming frogs can be science lessons. Present in the classroom all the time, even while other things are happening students are observing these ongoing activities and learning from them.
Do Simple Science Activities
Build a love of science by helping PreK-5 students understand and appreciate fundamental scientific concepts. Students love being involved in the process and learn more effectively when they’re actively part of the discussions, investigations, or decisions. Whenever possible encourage them to use multiple senses and to learn by doing. Provide active, hands-on experiences to keep students engaged and interested.
Taking time for classroom science activities gets kids to listen, observe, question, discover. Practicing science strengthens skills in reasoning, communicating, collaborating, planning, goal setting, and problem-solving. When they’re utilizing these kinds of cognitive skills and critical thinking abilities, elementary students are working like scientists.
The goal of practicing science is not rote memorization but creative thinking.
Encourage their natural curiosity: give them science tools like magnets, magnifying glasses, beakers (for safe items like vinegar and baking soda) and anything else they need to conduct their own investigations and make independent discoveries. They’ll strengthen the valuable critical thinking skills they’re developing. The goal of practicing science is not rote memorization but creative thinking. Remind students as they do their activities: they are scientists! They’re practicing science and doing what scientists do.
Where Can Students Always Go to Learn About Science?
The library! It’s right there, packed with scientific knowledge. Give students access to the library’s science section for their age group and encourage them to read. Books will spark their curiosity and creativity, giving them context in addition to what they’re learning in class. So the next time you’re thinking: if only there could be a quiet place, filled with information about science, where students could just go to soak up science instruction from somebody other than their incredibly busy teacher for a few minutes… remember the library. If going to the library physically isn’t an option, bring science books to the classroom or share them digitally.
What’s the One Thing Kids Should Learn About Science?
If we could break it down to one thing students should learn in elementary school about science, it would be the scientific method. Why do we say that? Because it’s the foundation of science itself. Observe phenomena, ask a question or put forth a problem, form a hypothesis, perform relevant activities, alter the activities as needed, evaluate the results, then form a conclusion (or continue experimenting until you can). Observe, ask, experiment, learn (for short). Encourage students to employ the scientific method wherever and whenever they can, and science will appear throughout your lessons.
When students are actively involved with asking the questions, formulating the hypotheses, and helping solve problems, their brains are learning and retaining knowledge, building skills, and creating healthy connections. Hands-on science activities are powerful exercises to strengthen young brains, and elementary teachers who teach science to their students are helping them in many crucial ways. From animals and plants to cooking, electricity, sound, even the weather, have fun squeezing a few minutes of science into your day. Exploring the scientific method and practicing science enables students to grow, mature, and succeed in academia, their careers, and their lives. By making time for science, educators are giving students the opportunity to improve themselves in profound ways.