Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Case Studies in Science Education

Elsa — K

Teacher Profile

Name Elsa
Experience 15 years
Grade & Subject(s) Two half-day kindergarten classes; all subjects
Classroom Bilingual classroom
Demographics Elementary school in an urban district
Science Teaching 2 days/week for 30 minutes
Curriculum Specified by district


Module 1 - Introducing the Case

E lsa believes that for many children, what happens in kindergarten affects students' feelings about and learning in school for the rest of their lives. She is beginning to ask questions of herself and rethink her approach to teaching science. Knowing that her students become engaged whenever they are using their senses to explore objects and phenomena, Elsa wants to build upon her students' natural inclination to learn by making their own discoveries. She hopes to extend this type of learning to meaningful expressions of students' understandings.

Seasons Study

To initiate discussion of seasonal characteristics, Elsa reads aloud a picture book. Students are then asked to verbalize what they know about seasons. Finally, students are given paper divided into four sections and asked to draw a picture that represents each season.

Discussion Questions

Given Elsa's interest in having students "participate more" during science activities, what would you describe as the strengths and weaknesses of the seasons study?

What role do you think "free exploration" of objects and phenomena should play in helping students develop basic scientific understandings?

How would you design activities so that students are likely to make scientifically accurate "discoveries?"

Module 2 - Trying New Ideas

Jeff Winokur, an early childhood science educator at Wheelock College, has observed in his teaching practice that young students cherish playing with materials and that this fascination can be put to use to help them make scientific discoveries. During students' discovery of magnets, Elsa takes a "guided discovery" approach by getting students to work with a partner as she circulates through the classroom, helping them move toward making specific discoveries.

After working in pairs, where materials are shared, each student completes a worksheet that reflects his or her findings about materials through which a magnetic force can travel. Later, the class reviews the worksheets together. Elsa believes that when students take their worksheets home, students' understandings are again reinforced when shared with family members.

Magnet Study

After a period where students find out what magnets will and will not pick up, student pairs work together in a guided discovery activity to determine whether magnetic force can travel through various substances such as water, paper, wood, and cloth. Students record their discoveries on worksheets and discuss their findings with the entire class.

Discussion Questions

In comparing the magnet study to the seasons study, what do you consider to be the most important changes with regard to getting students to be more actively engaged?

What meaning does the "discovery method" have for you? How would you contrast "free exploration" with "guided discovery?"

What would you do to help students reach scientific conclusions and represent their learning after a "discovery" activity?

Module 3 - Reflecting and Building on Change

As the year progresses, Elsa is convinced that science has become her students' favorite activity period. As part of her final science unit, Elsa invites her students to mix food coloring in water to find out what happens. This time, pairs of students each have their own materials but are encouraged to share their results.

One of Elsa's goals is that students notice consistent results from mixing certain colors. Another goal is that students develop ways of expressing their findings. Overall, however, Elsa recognizes that this activity allows many different outcomes as students pose their own questions and find their own answers by mixing colors.

Elsa is learning that with discovery activities, even though a scientific concept is not necessarily being discovered, her students are making their own discoveries and beginning to build new knowledge. Having never seen this before, Elsa is elated.

Mixing Colors Activities

Students mix food coloring in water to discover what happens when different colors are combined. Discoveries are shared between partners and with Elsa. Later, students use colored cellophane as overlays to see what other changes in color can result. Both activities are designed to reflect a more "open discovery" approach.

Discussion Questions

How would you compare the purposes and the outcomes of the mixing colors activity with the magnet study?

In your opinion, what is the appropriate balance between free exploration, guided discovery, and open discovery in elementary science? In later grades?

Focusing on a specific science concept appropriate in your teaching situation, how might you integrate more teacher-structured with less teacher-structured activities as a means of fostering scientific understandings?


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