Science in elementary school

Dr. Free-Ride has an interesting couple of posts up about elementary school science education. In one post she talks about what looks like a shortage of any decent science in the elementary school level. In the other post she asks what can be done to make science exciting and relevant to the younger set.

My wife is a second grade teacher. I discussed this with her a little bit, and when I mentioned that one possible problem was that teachers shy away from doing science because they have little science knowledge to impart, she got a bit defensive. To her credit, my wife does a great job introducing science into her classroom. She loves science, especially weather related material, and she does her best to find ways to let her kids explore. However, once I calmed her down a bit and got her to take a step back and see her school as a whole, she had to admit that several teachers don’t give near as much focus on science as she does.

Two possible reasons are that either the teachers just don’t care so much about science (due to either a personal dislike or just no good base of knowledge/confidence), or they feel under too much pressure to hammer home reading, writing and math to have to worry about science. The high stakes FCAT testing here in Florida really drives what the teachers do in the classroom. The stakes get even higher when that FCAT ties into rating teacher performace and pay.

Science will count on the FCAT this year, though. So my wife gave me one example of how the entire school is working together to prepare for it. Every grade level will include in their vocablary lists for the kids science-related words that the kids will have to know for the FCAT. Not exciting, I know, but that’s just one example … and we’re talking about a standardized test anyway.

Keep in mind that this was just a general conversation my wife and I had. This is by no means a comprehensive examination of the local situation.

My wife does a big unit on weather, she has the kids do terrariums, she has a cool unit where kids get to watch caterpillars turn into butterflies, and she does an art farm. This year the ant farm was a failure of sorts, though. She tells the funny story of how last year her ant farm setup included a water moat around the farm that successfully kept the ants where they were supposed to be. However, this year she wound up with suicidal ants for some unknown reason. She entered her classroom one day to find the entire colony floating dead in the moat. No idea why!

About Brandon Haught

Communications Director for Florida Citizens for Science.
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