Energize science activities for kids! How? Above all, let kids get their hands on science. Then try these simple strategies. They’ll transform instruction. First, ask for generalizations. Second, encourage inquiry. Third, use the fair test.
Ms. Sneed Improves Science Activities in Her Classroom
Our favorite fourth grade teacher, Ms. Sneed, sat in a planning meeting with her mentor. “Let’s talk about some ways to encourage thinking,” said Mrs. Brown. “In science, activities should focus on processes.”
“But we do experiments…” Ms. Sneed began.
“Okay. But how much thinking is really going on? You’re studying light, aren’t you? Let’s see if we can strengthen your science activities.”
Mrs. Brown launched into her first point. “Turn observations into generalizations. With this approach, kids discover the concepts themselves. Here’s how it works. As usual, the teacher provides an activity. In the end, however, kids figure out what it all means. Let’s try this on your next planned activity.”
“Okay,” said Ms. Sneed. “Our next experiment deals with transparent, translucent, and opaque materials.”
She continued with the process. “First, I explain the terms. Then I distribute materials. Kids shine flashlights on materials. They list each as transparent, translucent, or opaque.”
“Hmm,” said Mrs. Brown. “To encourage kids to make generalizations in science, you need to take one more step. Simply ask, ‘What can we conclude?’ Kids think about the materials. Then they form generalizations. In this activity, for example, they would explain the differences in the three types of materials.”
Mrs. Brown smiled. “See? This requires only a small change. Ask, don’t tell. Consequently, students do the thinking.”
“I can’t believe it’s that easy,” said Ms. Sneed. Her eyes brightened. “I’ll try it!”
“What’s your next activity?” asked the mentor.
“It’s super fun,” gushed Ms. Sneed. “First, I show how to create white light. The kids use flashlights and colored cellophane to try it themselves.”
A small sigh escaped Mrs. Brown. “Let’s talk about inquiry. Kids start with a messy problem. Then they find the solution. Surprisingly, almost any science activity can become scientific inquiry. Just ask kids to set it up themselves.”
Ms. Sneed tapped her pencil nervously. “I think I understand how to use scientific inquiry. Tentatively, she continued, “I don’t explain. Instead, I just give kids the materials and let them figure it out themselves.”
“Exactly. Inquiry makes kids think. Consequently, they become scientific problem solvers. For more inquiry in your classroom, let kids figure out how to set up science activities.”
Ms. Sneed perked up. “I’ll try this too. I’m a little worried about setting my lab groups loose without my direction, but…” Mrs. Brown sent an understanding look across the table.
“For a full-blown experiment,” said Mrs. Brown, “kids use the fair test. They compare two (or more) things. All other variables are controlled. Asking students to measure and repeat seals the deal. The fair test is also part of the traditional scientific method.
“Not only does this encourage thinking, it’s also a part of our science standards.”
“Okay,” said Ms. Sneed. “Our next experiment involves separating ink into different colors. First, I explain what to do. After that, kids put black ink on coffee filters. Then they dip the filters in water and wait. Consequently, the black ink spreads into many colors. It’s a chromatography activity.”
“Exactly,” said Mrs. Brown. “It’s an activity, not an experiment.”
“What?” frowned Ms. Sneed.
“Here’s how to use a fair test:
- Ask, ‘Which color of ink will separate into more colors?’
- Before experimenting, discuss the independent variable. In this case, it’s the color of ink.
- All other variables must be controlled. Ask kids to name them. Here, the cups; amount of water; filter type, size, shape, etc. must be controlled, or kept the same.
- Let kids hypothesize.
- Each group sets up multiple cups.
- After waiting, they record results and compare.
- Finally, each student draws a conclusion.”
“I remember the scientific method from my science course at the university,” said Ms. Sneed. “Question. Hypothesis. Experiment. Conclude.”
“Yes, but don’t forget about the fair test. Compare. Control. Measure. Replicate.”
“I get it,” Ms. Sneed replied. “My kids need to use these scientific processes to conduct an experiment.”
“And to pass the state science test,” smiled her mentor.
Ms. Sneed Improves Science Activities in Her Light Unit
The National Science Teaching Association (NSTA) advocates a three-dimensional teaching and learning strategy:
- Engage students in science.
- Integrate science and engineering practices, core disciplinary concepts, and crosscutting topics.
- Use observable phenomena to drive learning.
Over the course of her career, Ms. Sneed realized that there were 6 steps to enjoy teaching. In order to survive, she had to organize, plan, and simplify. Then, to thrive, Ms. Sneed needed to learn, engage, and finally – dive in! Follow the Fabulous Teaching Adventures of Ms. Sneed and learn how you can enjoy teaching too.