Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Physical Science: About This Course

What does a block of wood have in common with a cluster of galaxies billions of light years away? What about a giant sequoia tree in a rare coastal rainforest and the grains of sand found on beaches all over the world? The answer lies in what each is made of: matter. Matter is a fundamental concept in all of the sciences that links the infinitesimal world observed under a microscope to the vast reaches of space revealed by the world’s most powerful telescopes. It is what we and everything else are made of.

Matter is a topic that can be an integral and engaging part of science learning at all educational levels — starting in grades K-6 or even earlier. In the elementary school, a study of matter provides the foundation for understanding the physical nature of all things. Essential Science for Teachers: Physical Science is a content course designed to help K-6 teachers enhance their understandings of matter as one of the “big ideas” in the physical sciences. The main goal of this course is to provide teachers with learning opportunities that will directly inform their own classroom practice. To do this, the course addresses concepts that are appropriate at a variety of grade levels and does so in a cyclic manner, revisiting concepts at more sophisticated levels as the course progresses.

Essential Science for Teachers: Physical Science is one in a series of three video-, print-, and Web-based science courses for elementary school teachers. These courses will help teachers better understand the science concepts that underlie the content they teach. Other courses include Life Science and Earth and Space Science.

Physical Science is composed of eight three-hour sessions, each with a one-hour video program addressing a topic area related to matter that is likely to be part of any elementary school science curriculum. Posing the question “What is matter?”, Session 1 begins the course by generating a working definition of matter, followed by an introduction to the properties of matter and classification. Session 2 focuses on modeling in science by looking at historical models of matter followed by closely examining the model that is used today: the particle model. Sessions 3 and 4 introduce what happens on a molecular level when matter changes state or is mixed with other matter, which leads to a distinction between physical and chemical changes. In Sessions 5 and 6, the particle model is extended to explore why matter rises or sinks. Finally, Sessions 7 and 8 highlight the interplay between energy and matter as heat, forces, and the effects of unusual conditions on matter are investigated.

Essential Science for Teachers: Physical Science also focuses on the ideas that children bring to the classroom about these topics. In order to keep the content grounded at the elementary school level, we interview and observe children in a clinical setting — what we call the “Science Studio” — to uncover their thinking. The research literature shows that their ideas are typical of students in the K-6 age group. The video content is supplemented in print and Web materials by a bibliography that suggests readings from the research literature.

Each program also features one or more elementary school classrooms where a teacher and her students explore the topic using exemplary curriculum materials. A curriculum spokesperson may be interviewed to provide insight into the importance of the topic at the elementary school level. Finally, interviews with one or more scientists and/or science historians offer applications of important concepts to real examples, past and present.

By exploring topics that range from the essential properties of aluminum foil to the plasma that makes up the sun, Physical Science strives to provide participants not only with enhanced content understandings, but also with understandings of how this content connects to the elementary school classroom.