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

Patricia — Grade 1

Teacher Profile

Name Patricia
Experience 20 years
Grade & Subject(s) Grade 1; all subjects
Classroom 75% white; 25% non-white
Demographics Elementary school in a suburban town
Science Teaching 2 hours per week
Curriculum Specified by district


Module 1 - Introducing the Case

Pat wants her students to feel like scientists when doing science. That is why students don name tags of famous scientists when activities begin. As the class begins a unit on fish, these young scientists are encouraged to use all of their senses when making observations.

With science, Pat likes to break away from paper and pencil tasks that are often the primary emphases in other subject areas. She wants her students to experience science in a hands-on way that they can talk about, as well as write about. The issue this raises for Pat is increasing the extent to which learning is active and student-centered in her classroom.

Fish Activity

In preparation for a field trip to the local aquarium, students offer questions regarding fish and their behavior. Next, groups observe goldfish without and with magnifying lenses and share observations. After viewing an overhead transparency of a fish with its external parts labeled and their functions described, Pat asks volunteers to color given parts on a large chalkboard diagram. Finally, students label and color individual fish diagrams.

Discussion Questions

What do you consider to be the strengths and weaknesses of Pat's use of the fish activity with regard to actively involving each student in science learning?

How do you think that moving from individual to group-oriented work might increase the physical and mental involvement of students in science activities?

How would you redesign this fish activity to maximize the extent to which learning is student- centered?

Module 2 - Trying New Ideas

Pat meets with Anita Greenwood, a science educator at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. They discuss the strategy of using group work as one way to encourage student-centered science learning and the fact that children need to learn the skill of working together just as they learn any other skill.

Pat begins by asking students to work in pairs as the class starts a unit on the human heart. Pat observes that shy, more reticent students seem more willing to share their ideas with a peer than the full class. Later, as students begin exploring their heart rate and its change with increased activity, Pat asks her students to become involved by measuring their own pulses or each other's and recording the results. This activity-based learning is encouraging to Pat because the activity is something that students did and interpreted themselves. Pat looks forward to moving from partner to larger working groups.

Heart Study

When beginning the unit, Pat elicits from students their prior understandings about the human heart. Pairs of students then use cardboard rolls, funnels with tubing, and stethoscopes to listen to one another's heart beat. Later, students take their pulses during three levels of activity: while seated, while walking, and while jumping in place. Each time, students record and discuss their results as a full class. Finally, each student uses crayons on a large cut out of the human body to make distinctions between parts of the heart and the blood flow to and from it.

Discussion Questions

How do you think that Pat's use of partners in the human heart activity contributed to her goal for more actively involving her students?

If you were the classroom teacher, how would you assess students' group skills as they worked on the heart activity?

Once students are successfully working with a partner, how would you begin the process of working in larger groups?

Module 3 - Reflecting and Building on Change

Pat's students can be seen actively working together and can be heard sharing their findings. Groups of students collaborate to observe, sort, and classify seeds. Sprouting lima beans in plastic bags and charting the seedling's growth is a long-term project that enables students to see for themselves what happens to the roots as well as the sprout.

Students dissect seeds to identify the various parts. Finally, students make clay models to show their understandings of the physical characteristics of a sprouting seed.

Through watching her students work together in small groups, Pat continues to see the value of using cooperative group work to foster a student-centered science curriculum.

Seeds and Plants

Groups of three sort and classify seeds according to type, size, shape, color, and texture. As part of an ongoing activity, each student sprouts a lima bean in a plastic bag. Students observe this example of a sprouting seed and record its growth on individual graphs and write about the sprout in a seed journal. Students dissect different types of seeds, identify their parts, and apply appropriate scientific terminology. As a culminating activity, students make clay models that show their understandings of the parts of a bean sprout.

Discussion Questions

In your opinion, what are the most significant changes evident in Pat's classroom with regard to making science teaching and learning more student-centered?

What do you think are the challenges a teacher faces when using cooperative group work as a strategy for making science more student centered? How would you address these challenges?

In what circumstances is small group work most appropriate? When and why would you use individual and full class work within science lessons?


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