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

Ingrid — Grade 1

Teacher Profile

Name Ingrid
Experience Two years
Grade & Subject(s) Grade 1; all subjects
Classroom 21 students
Demographics Suburban elementary school
Science Teaching 50 minutes, twice per week
Curriculum Life, earth, physical science; district specified
Other Child psychology major


Module 1 - Introducing the Case

The issue that Ingrid shares with us involves how to use students' ideas to frame her teaching. She would like to build on each student's prior knowledge, combined with questions students have, to help them construct scientifically accurate ideas. As part of a unit on air, water, and weather, students are exploring states of matter. When students begin exploring water, Ingrid uses methods such as full-class brainstorming and inventive spelling in journals to help students express and share what they already know and what they want to learn about water. At present, Ingrid accepts all questions and hopes to use future activities to help answer these questions. Ingrid wonders how she can attend to the diversity of ideas and questions students have without losing focus on the core concepts about water that are part of the goals for this unit.

Balloon Activity

Ingrid's students explore the properties of solids, liquids, and gases by using balloons containing frozen water, water in its liquid state, or air. Pairs of students make observations and record their ideas on a lab sheet. During the class discussion that follows, students share their conclusions. Ingrid continues trying to help her students understand that air takes up space by blowing into a balloon.

Discussion Questions

How would you describe Ingrid's approach to managing students' ideas in science?

Even after well-planned activities, why do you think students retain scientifically inaccurate ideas?

How might teachers help students work with their prior knowledge to construct scientifically accurate ideas?

Module 2 - Trying New Ideas

Ingrid expresses to Rick Duschl of Vanderbilt University her concerns about full-class discussions where students' ideas and questions, while useful as starting points, may not be easily incorporated into activities focusing on key concepts. Rick suggests that Ingrid start discussions by using demonstrations as a way to help students focus their thinking and connect their ideas with a scientific concept. Ingrid demonstrates by using a tuning fork to introduce the concept of vibration. She then uses a ruler to demonstrate the relationship between the speed of vibration and pitch. When all students are given the opportunity to observe the same event, students express varying ideas and predictions. Ingrid uses these ideas and predictions as the basis for building consensus, with a view toward students' understanding that scientific ideas are grounded in evidence. To follow up on the demonstrations, partners stretch rubber bands on geoboards, and then pluck the rubber bands. As students participate in this activity, they are guided to discover more about the relationship between the tension of a rubber band and pitch. Using invented spelling and drawing, students process their experiences by recording their ideas and observations. Ingrid uses this student work as a springboard for dialogue with students, both written and verbal.

Sound Activities

As a way for students to learn more about sound, Ingrid first engages her students in discovering how parts of their bodies vibrate when sound is produced. To help students understand that vibration and sound are related, Ingrid demonstrates the sounds made by a tuning fork. She then uses different lengths of rulers plunked on a desktop to encourage students to consider the relationship between speed of vibration and pitch. Students explore sound with one another by plucking stretched rubber bands on their geoboards.

Discussion Questions

What impact do you think the demonstrations had on students' ability to make sense of difficult ideas involving sound?

What are the tradeoffs between activities focused on teachers' objectives and those allowing students to explore their own ideas?

How might teachers use the outcome of an activity, such as a demonstration or guided exploration, as a way of continuing to focus on specific goals for science learning?

Module 3 - Reflecting and Building on Change

Ingrid reviews students' journals and identifies three of the most common ideas that also can be linked to goals for student learning. After reviewing what students believe about sound, she challenges pairs of students to select one of the three ideas to test. As teams test these ideas by using geoboards and rubber bands, Ingrid observes and asks probing questions as a way of focusing students' investigations. Later, Ingrid revisits the three ideas to help students build consensus about the results of their experiments. As a means of assessing what students have learned about sound, students construct sets of drums and explain how they made the drum sounds vary, based on the science that students have learned. Ingrid shares with us her evidence that even primary grade students can connect ideas, formulate questions, think critically, make observations and predictions, and then test them and begin to make generalizations based on evidence.

Drum Activity

As a culminating activity for a unit on sound, Ingrid challenges students to build sets of drums that produce different pitches.

Discussion Questions

How would you describe Ingrid's approach to assessing students' ideas at the conclusion of the sound unit?

How would you interpret a situation where, at the culmination of a unit, consensus among students is reached regarding a difficult idea in science? Where consensus is not reached?

What issues did Ingrid's case raise for you about science teaching and learning in early childhood?


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