Posts Tagged ‘Elementary’

What Makes Science Science?

Friday, September 25th, 2015

AUTHOR: Cynthia Holcomb: Education Specialistv – Elementary Science

What does science instruction look like on your elementary campus? Does it occur every day, in every grade level, or is it something that teachers attend to when they have time? Does the entire staff and student body agree on what makes science science?

I once asked a class of third graders at the beginning of the school year to define science. I will never forget the response from Kara, an earnest 8-year old who always thought through her answers carefully. “I guess it’s the opposite of social studies,” she said.

And that’s what some of our students believe. It’s a subject that is addressed when it’s convenient instead of being recognized as a required and important part of our curriculum. School administrators must be advocates for science, especially in the elementary grades, by supporting and monitoring an elementary science program that reflects state standards.

Our science Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills are designed so that students in the primary grades receive concrete, hands-on, tactile experiences. By Grade 3, science content shifts to the abstract. If students don’t receive their initial science instruction as tangible explorations of ideas in grades K-2, they miss building necessary background for understanding more abstract ideas in the later grades.

For students, science is a way of discovering what’s in the world and how things work. Young scientists are motivated to see or figure out something that is new to them. Science helps them make sense of the world. Science is continually refining and expanding our knowledge of our world, and it continually leads to new questions for future investigation.

To encourage students to explore our world, the Texas Education Agency has suggested time for classroom and outdoor investigations as follows:

  • In grades K-1, at least 80% of instructional time.
  • In grades 2-3, at least 60% of instructional time.
  • In grades 4-5, at least 50% of instructional time.
  • In grades 6-8, at least 40% of instructional time.

For all courses that receive science credit in grades 9-12, at least 40% of instructional time.

In addition, the 2010 science TEKS reference three types of investigations for students of grades K-12.

  • Descriptive investigations include questions but no hypothesis. Observations are recorded, but students do not make comparisons or manipulate variables. Examples include finding the mass of a rock, observing and describing animal behavior or weather patterns, and examining an electrical circuit.

 

  • Comparative investigations involve collecting data on different organisms, objects, or events, or collecting data under different conditions to make a comparison. Examples include observing the moon’s appearance throughout the month, recording the changes in plant life during the school year, or comparing different types of leaves.

 

  • Experimental investigations involve designing a fair test. Students identify controlled factors and measure the variables in an effort to gather evidence to support or not support a causal relationship.

(You can view TEA’s entire Laboratory and Field Investigations document: Laboratory and Field Investigations – FAQ, August 2010 )

So what makes science science? It’s providing time each day, in each grade, for students to think like scientists. It’s fostering a sense of curiosity and wonder. It’s providing opportunities to explore the natural world. It’s about students observing, performing experiments, completing investigations, and asking questions. And it’s much more than being just the opposite of social studies.

 

Exploring Integration in Elementary Curriculum, Part 4

Friday, March 29th, 2013

Author:  Lori Reemts, Education Specialist: Elementary Generalist

 

As this series on exploring integration winds down, it is a great time to recap three major areas as well as add a few closing remarks addressing the question “So now what?”  Thinking back to the first installment , we began by creating a common working definition of integration and what that can and cannot mean in terms of classroom instruction. We all want it; we all feel we need it if for no other reason than to address time constraints, but we aren’t all in agreement of what “it” even is.  When considering the three areas of curriculum (written, taught and assessed) the greatest opportunity for true integration can be found within the taught curriculum. What happens in the classroom is key.  Even with the most beautifully written curriculum, connections and true integration simply cannot take place until what is written comes to life through purposeful instruction.  Instructional integration provides the points of intersection, the rich discussion and the multiple opportunities to use knowledge and skill throughout the entire learning day.

 

The second installment then shifted our focus to defining some of the opportunities found within the standards.  Direct (explicit) Support and taking advantage of Purposeful Awareness during instruction provides students more than one discrete opportunity to experience something and often provides multiple contexts in which to do so.  Examples of direct support, such as concepts found within the Social Studies Geography strands and the Science Earth Science strands, can be found throughout all of our standards.  Keeping vocabulary and concepts alive through various contexts is a major benefit of using Purposeful Awareness.  This can be seen, for example, with the term “consumer.” Though the foundational concept is the same, the application within a science lesson on organisms and environments is slightly different than that of a social studies economics lesson.  Knowing and referring to the standards as the starting point of any lesson design is the best way to take full advantage of these two techniques.

 

The third installment highlighted transferrable skills.  Our standards are full of skills that we hope each of our students develop and utilize to be successful in whatever path they take. In essence, these “transferrable skills” comprise the core of we are told to highlight on our professional resumes and the like.  However, it seems they can become lost in all of the standards and even more so when the learning day is segmented.  By identifying these skills across content areas we can better teach them, practice them and help students become aware that they are indeed using them.  The skills themselves are important as they are where that added layer of rigor and application come from, but they also serve as vehicles to obtain the very content knowledge we need students to comprehend within each discipline.

 

Finally, the question “So now what?” comes to mind.  We are now set to take the first steps in the journey to transform and integrate our instruction through these points of intersection but…just what do we do when armed with this information now?  Over time this type of thinking and approach can become quite second nature, but it takes quite a bit of purpose at first. If we do not plan for the connection, the question, the link, the use of vocabulary in another context and the relationship between the standards, they simple do not occur. The frantic pace of the day, the fire drill, the lack of sleep or the unexpected question or result can derail the best of intentions.  Once a point, or multiple points of intersection, has occurred there are decisions that must be made.  Is this the best place to start at this time? Do I have a resource to do this? What do I need to gather?  Is there someone, such as our librarian, who can assist me?  Take the thinking and begin linking it to the tangibles that exist and can exist within a classroom lesson, discussion, and experience.  Be purposeful. Start realistically for yourself.  Manageable pieces lead to a much more satisfying and organic end result.  Begin with just two content areas or one or two skill areas.  Perhaps even begin with one content area finding points of intersection WITHIN that given content. How does this unit connect to the unit we did 6 weeks ago?  Engage in this thinking with your students and don’t be afraid to think out loud or let them do so before it is time to “answer.”  Knowing that there is more time spent up front, it is important to keep the end in mind and realize that the time will be made up two or three times over in the long run, not to mention it is what is best for learning.

 

Interested in a more detailed discussion or information?  Contact Lori Reemts, Elementary Generalist.

Exploring Integration in Elementary Curriculum, Part 3

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

Author: Lori Reemts, Education Specialist: Elementary Generalist

 

In the first two installments, this series visited integration by creating a working definition and common language to guide the reader through the series with the intended understanding.  Descriptions and examples were given to identify both Direct (Explicit) Support and Purposeful Awareness.  These prove to be excellent starting points when seeking points of intersection between disciplines.  This article, now the third in the series, promises to explore the idea of skill building.

As educators we long for our students to be able to apply thinking and learning across and within content areas. We provide experiences within each content area and hope for the moment when the light bulb shines brightly signaling the student experienced some sort of revelation or connection.  We hope that our students continue to build crucial skills in order to be successful not only within their school career but also, more importantly, as adults with knowledge and skills that merge seamlessly enabling them to gain new insight, solve a problem, or make an informed decision.   These areas of success come from the application of transferrable skills rather than any spelling list or set of facts about a science concept.  These transferrable skills are both our hope and joy and our nemesis as educators because these can prove to be quite difficult to identify, teach, and foster within our students.  The new State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) employ such skills to the extent possible through a multiple choice format.  Students must be able to access information previously learned and situations previously experienced and apply this learning to new and novel situations.  These exams are designed to assess a variety of skills along with content specific knowledge.

We have become quite adept at identifying various examples, vocabulary lists, strategies, and techniques within different content areas assessed through STAAR but not as adept in the skill areas assessed through STAAR, not to mention those content areas not assessed through the state program.  The very thing we long for most in our students – the development of real skills – sometimes falls by the wayside if for no other reason than because they are more difficult to identify and teach.  These skills can be found within most any student expectation by reading the verb but this is often still singularly associated with a particular content-focused student expectation.  Every discipline, including Health and Technology Applications, has a focus on skills built within it. It is in our best interest, and more importantly our students’ best interest, to focus on these sets of skills. By learning, practicing, and applying these skill sets students are then far more equipped to access the very content we are struggling to get them to remember and apply.

One example is related to data. Students are bombarded with input on a daily basis; much of which is subconsciously stored for later.  However, there are also times when we purposefully seek data.  There are many reasons that a person may need to gather some information, evaluate the source and the information, manage the information, and somehow make sense of it in order to follow this acquisition with application of some form or fashion, such as planning, communicating, or making an informed and thoughtful decision. Consider the following student expectations:

 

 

These skills found within each of the content areas all deal with data collection / information management. In total, there are at least 23 Student Expectations between these 6 areas of study that relate directly to the skills of obtaining data, evaluating the source and the data itself, and somehow managing the information. While the context is different because of the different disciplines, the core skill remains intact.

 

Just as using Direct (explicit) Support and Purposeful Awareness can serve as starting points to locate potential points of intersection, so can a skill set.  By unifying “how” students work within different contexts throughout the day, a classroom teacher can actually capitalize on the potential to connect through skills.  Students not only have more practice on the identified and planned-for skill, but also they are able to see it in a variety of situations, identify what they are doing, and use the skill to make connections within and across content areas.

 

Take a moment to look through the Student Expectations for each content area and you will see skill sets that naturally merge with skills sets from other content areas. They essentially group themselves into manageable categories making at least the identification of these thinking skills far more obvious than they would be as they exist separately.   After a scan, you will see skills related to:

  • Planning & Development; Problem-Solving & Decision-Making
  • Tools and Technology, including text features
  • Data Collection and Information Management
  • Analysis, Inference, Justification, and Making Conclusions
  • Communication
  • Making Connections

 

As this spring semester progresses, we are working on a tool enabling teachers, administrators, parents, and even students to identify skills that group themselves into broader ideas and applications.  It is sometimes amazing to see what is actually built into our state standards, right before our eyes, which can so easily turn into missed opportunities.  Interested in seeing what this looks like completed?  Keep an eye on The Scoop for more information later in the semester.
In the meantime, take some time to consider making connections and points of intersection for your students through the sheer application of a skill within different contexts throughout the entire learning day.  Both you and your students will benefit!

Exploring Integration in Elementary Curriculum, Part 2

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

Author:  Lori Reemts – Education Specialist: Elementary Generalist

 

Part 1 of this series focused on laying the foundation and seeking common language when referring to integration. There are as many ways to connect and integrate ideas as there are ideas themselves.  By defining differences between Curriculum Integration, which can be found described on documents and the like, and Instructional Integration, which can be artfully woven into the course of learning over time, we are able to identify what we can control and how that influences student success in our classroom. This series focuses on these choices: Instructional Integration.

As promised, this installment continues the conversation and begins the process of identifying key points of intersection within the curriculum by exploring two key ideas: Direct Connection and Purposeful Awareness.

There are times when different subject areas align with one another through TEKS that are directly linked. Meaningful links may be found in a direct relationship between two concepts, such as money in Math with the economics in Social Studies.  A direct connection might also be found within the language or concept of the Student Expectations themselves. Consider the 3rd Grade standards below.

 

Science

Earth and Space. The student knows that Earth consists of natural resources and its surface is constantly changing.  The student is expected to:

3.7b       investigate rapid changes in the Earth’s surface such as volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and landslides

3.7c        identify and compare different landforms, including mountains, hills, valleys, and plains

 

Social Studies

Geography. The student understands how humans adapt to variations in the physical environment.   The student is expected to:

3.4c        describe the effects of physical processes such as volcanoes, hurricanes, and earthquakes in shaping the landscape

3.4a        describe and explain variations in the physical environment, including climate, landforms, natural resources, and natural hazards

 

Direct (Explicit) Support

As a third grade teacher looking at any one content area it may be easy to miss. However, a third grade teacher looking across content areas should be able to identify two direct connections within the above sets of TEKS.  In third grade, students investigate rapid changes to the Earth’s surface (Science) and the effects these changes have (Social Studies).  These do not need to be separate and isolated ideas, nor should they be.  Looking at the other pair of standards listed, another direct connection between studying landforms in Science and landforms in Social Studies is easily identified.  These are connections found no further than the TEKS themselves and points of intersection that teachers can use not only to save themselves the time spent in isolated planning, but also to make authentic and meaningful content  connections in a way that benefits all learners.

 

Purposeful Awareness

While not as overtly apparent as Direct Support, the use of Purposeful Awareness is key in applying knowledge and skills to new and novel situations.  These transferrable skills are the very things we seek to build in our students so that they continue to grow and learn throughout their lives while being productive and contributing citizens in the process.  Furthermore, it is precisely this type of thinking that STAAR requires as well.  This type of thinking is more difficult to “teach”, as it must be consistently modeled and practiced using a myriad of examples and scenarios. The beauty of employing Purposeful Awareness lies in the world of possibilities and potential connections that exist within students’ minds. There is no reason that the teacher need be the expert in the room as the goal is to expand student thinking beyond what may be easily apparent or written on a worksheet.  Purposeful Awareness may often come through the use of vocabulary in new contexts to strengthen the comprehension of the language.  Other areas such as big ideas, (i.e. human impact, conservation), relationships, and skills also provide breeding ground for cross-content connections.  Consider the following vocabulary words as examples.

 

Interdependence

– A standard concept and vocabulary term in Science, this term can apply in other contexts with very little change to the working definition.  To understand the concept is to be able to apply it to new and novel situations.

– Language Arts:  interdependent characters, parts of speech, cause/effect relationships

– Social Studies: global economics, countries, opposing sides of conflict, money

– Math: sides of an equation, factors/multiples

 

Consumer

– Basic definition in science: an animal that cannot produce its own food and eats plants and other animals (as opposed to a producer–which makes its own food)

– Basic definition in Social Studies: A consumer is a person who buys and uses goods and services. A producer is a person who makes goods or provides services.

– “to consume”

 

There are obvious differences when applying these example concepts in different content areas but the core meaning remains the same.  It is the context which changes. Too often we label concepts as “terms” to be used in a particular class or within a particular scheduled part of the day.  Although we have the best of vocabulary intentions, we may inadvertently silo language in such a way that students are not readily and easily applying concepts across areas. A student identifying a word as a “science word” may easily not be able to transfer the actual comprehension of that word/concept when viewing it in a new context.  Whether units occur during the same grading period or not, using Purposeful Awareness keeps these connections alive, albeit in smaller chunks than stand-alone units.  When working in the social studies context of “consumer,” for example, we need to purposefully connect back (or forward) and point out the similarity to other areas.

 

Well-placed questions and quick tie-ins are another way to utilize Purposeful Awareness. Consider the following example. As a teacher you may be introducing the accomplishments and contributions of various citizens in Social Studies. This is actually a standard in all levels of Social Studies. One such person may be Robert Fulton, credited with inventing the first operational steamboat. This invention opened the waters of the Mississippi, which in turn had great impact on the U.S. economy and growth of the day.  During instruction, the teacher may ask questions such as those that follow.

 

  • What type of landform is the Mississippi River? River
  • Is it salt or fresh water? Fresh
  • What landform is created when it meets the ocean? Delta
  • What Earth processes are at play and shape the earth? Weathering, erosion, deposition

 

The kinds of questions enable the student to concentrate on the Social Studies message at hand, while simultaneously connecting it with concepts from science. This is done in a low-intrusive manner requiring nothing more than planned questions to tie things together. Often the best approach to these connections is simply to plan to ask the students how things may connect to one another.  Something as basic as “How does this ______ in our current unit connect with _______, our previous unit?” can be very effective in forcing students to think beyond what is in front of them and to remember previous concepts in the process.  There is always a connection to be made.

 

This process takes time. A solid knowledge of the TEKS, or a consistent referral to them, remains, as always, the starting point.  While everyone has the ability to see connections, some people may seem to see them more quickly or more easily.  While we desperately seek these points of intersection, it seems we have somehow trained ourselves not to.  Of the two techniques listed here, begin with seeking Direct Support within the standards themselves.  From there, be comfortable opening your mind to what may be less obvious.  The more this is practiced the easier it becomes.  Don’t be afraid to bring your students into this thinking journey with you. It can actually be quite fun when taken together!

 

The next installment will focus on the area of skill building.  All of the core content areas, health and technology standards include similar skills.  When we view these as a whole, in addition to the student and the learning day, we are able to better capitalize on the intent of the standards while fostering deep and critical thinking for ourselves and our students.