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

Jennie — K

Teacher Profile

Name Jennie
Experience 20 years
Grade & Subject(s) Kindergarten; all subjects
Classroom 70% white; 30% non-white
Demographics Elementary school in an urban area
Science Teaching 3 hours per week/half day
Curriculum Specified by district


Module 1 - Introducing the Case

J ennie thinks of her young students as curious, eager, natural scientists. As such, she would like them to look at their world and begin to understand the types of changes that take place throughout the seasons. As part of the study of fall, Jennie hopes that students' curiosity and powers of observation will help these young scientists make associations between various fallen leaves and the trees from which they came.

Jennie's issues regarding her science curriculum derive from determining what is developmentally appropriate for her students. Should Jennie let misconceptions about a science concept go unresolved? Is it enough for students simply to explore at this age, with less emphasis on developing precise scientific understandings? Can the state framework and national standards help Jennie determine what understandings are appropriate for her students?

Fall Walk Activity

Students visit the same location in the school neighborhood during each season. During their fall walk, Jennie encourages them to notice the changes that take place during this season. After bringing leaves from home, Jennie explains how to classify them according to shape. Jennie's students then place their leaves on a large classroom graph, according to the tree from which they came. The class discusses some of the characteristics of the leaves.

Discussion Questions

What issues do Jennie's approach to and ideas about science teaching and learning raise for you?

On what basis do you think a teacher should decide on goals for science teaching and learning?

How would you address broad curriculum goals, such as those found in many state and national guidelines, to increase the chances that students will build specific scientific understandings?

Module 2 - Trying New Ideas

Fennie meets with Anita Greenwood, a science educator at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. They discuss the value of identifying the depth of understandings that students bring to class and build upon ,and linking those understandings to one another.

When designing activities around specific content and process goals, Jennie can refer to Benchmarks, state frameworks, and national standards. Each is a useful barometer that Jennie can use to evaluate her curriculum, having the confidence to know that what she is teaching is developmentally appropriate.

Jennie is well aware that reading and mathematics are considered as disciplines where differences in students' developmental levels are expected. She begins to think that educators should consider science in the same way. Jennie decides that she will put more emphasis on involving students in exploring science with careful attention to specific content and process goals.

Winter Walk Activity

As part of their winter walk, Jennie's students collect snow. Continued study of the seasons provides a context for students to develop understandings about solids and liquids and how matter changes state. Students discuss outside what will happen when the snow is brought into the building. Students share their ideas and predictions. Jennie and her students put samples of snow near the heater, in the freezer, in the refrigerator, on the steps outside, and in the middle of the room at the science center, then observing what happens and comparing the results to their predictions.

Discussion Questions

Which aspects of the winter walk activity do you think help make it possible for students to develop scientifically accurate ideas? Which allow for developmental differences?

What do you consider to be the benefits of using references such as Benchmarks, state frameworks, or national standards when developing and evaluating a science curriculum? What are possible hindrances?

How might adopting a long-term vision that recognizes the developmental nature of science learning affect your approach to teaching? How might it affect your students?

Module 3 - Reflecting and Building on Change

Spring brings the study of seeds and plants to Jennie's classroom. Recognizing that less is more, Jennie is less concerned about each student's knowing the parts of a seed and the details of a plant's life cycle, being more concerned about the larger concept of like seeds producing like plants.

As a way of coordinating between grades, Jennie meets with Pat, a first grade teacher in the school. Together, they reflect on what Jennie's students have done this year in kindergarten and how their understandings will serve them next year in first grade. Jennie learns that the drawings students are making in their science notebooks help build the foundation for future science learning. Furthermore, Jennie feels more comfortable with activities that serve to confirm through scientific processes the knowledge that students bring with them.

Seeds and Plants

Groups of students familiarize themselves with seeds by sorting them. Later, students select a seed that they would like to grow and draw the plant that they believe will sprout from this particular seed. To test their predictions, students plant seeds, observe their growth, draw the plants as they sprout and grow, and then place them into groups based on leaf similarities.

Discussion Questions

In your opinion, what made it possible for Jennie to determine the extent of her students' understandings about seeds and plants?

What do you think can make it possible for students to extend their scientific understandings beyond those focused on in a classroom activity?

How would you coordinate your science curriculum between grade levels?


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