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After teaching 1st and 2nd grade for the past 13 years, with a primary focus on developing reading, writing, and math skills, I decided I needed a change. Although I was pretty successful and enjoyed it thoroughly, I realized that sometimes a simple grade change is just the thing for a teacher to stay fresh and happy. Ten years in first Grade was terrific, but I longed for something more. So I requested a transfer to Elementary Science because my undergraduate studies were based on the Science of Nutrition. I have always had a deep interest in health and science topics. Now halfway through my first year as the K-4 Elementary Science teacher, I have roughly 287 students in my weekly Science program, including a lovely Pre-K class. I was initially intimidated by the thought of all my new students, and doubt crossed my mind, but I was determined to bloom where I was planted. To bloom where I planted myself. It was the change I needed, and to be honest, I am grateful for it.
Science Truly Matters
As a teacher, I always felt science was important, but it was often pushed aside in the elementary setting. This year, I realized that teaching science in elementary school is just as important as reading Fairy Tales. As Einstein once said, "If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales." Fairy Tales teach kids the art of using their imagination, and every Science innovation in history began because someone dared to use theirs. So why isn't science as important as Reading, Writing, and Math skills, and how can we make science truly matter in Elementary Education?
Our goal as elementary educators is to prepare our students for academic success. Still, we also need to prepare them for a lifetime of success in whatever they choose to do. According to the National Science Board (NSB), "The U.S. STEM workforce relies on STEM-trained workers with a broad range of educational credentials. STEM education equips Americans with the S&E (Science & Engineering) skills and knowledge needed to participate in the STEM workforce. STEM education also leads to better public perceptions and understanding of science and the broader impact of its role in society." Incorporating STEM and now STEAM in the science classroom will only benefit students later in life.
The lessons of childhood stay with you... always!
I grew up when cell phone and computer innovation were beginning, a time when kids played outside after school and didn't come in until dinner was ready. I now realize that my parents were my first STEM teachers, and their influence enabled me to learn critical life skills that have prepared me for who I am today. I also realize that many kids today do not have that parental influence that I was so lucky to have. Therefore, teaching science in elementary school is critical because it gives all students a chance to learn those life skills. My father taught me many things growing up. Some of my favorites were putting a shingle on a roof, how to tend to a garden, and using tools that are essential for everyday life. By following my dad around and being an inquisitive kid, I learned the crucial yet straightforward skills that everyone needs to live an independent life ultimately. I have always intertwined the knowledge that my parents instilled in me with my teachings over the years. I use that knowledge even more now that I teach science.
As we all know, kids learn best by actively engaging in hands-on science activities. My 2nd-grade students started the year learning about Plant and Animal Relationships. We planted fall bulbs outside our school to make it more engaging and give them a more profound sense of the world around them. We also planted seeds and grew food in our classroom. This was their first experience as "Plant Scientists for most of my students." The experience indeed heightened their curiosity about the wonders of nature both in and out of the classroom. Seeing our seeds grow into seedlings then shoot into unique plants was a wonderful experience for all students in our Elementary Science Program. Digging up the outside garden and preparing the soil for fall planting allowed students to be a part of something extraordinary. They discovered nuts deep in the dirt that squirrels buried in doing so. That discovery led to excitement, deep conversations, and a true wonder about how animals in the wild prepare for the winter months.
I often find that my science lessons always become something more than initially planned. My plans are well-intended but change quickly as my students are very inquisitive. As a result of their curiosity, the learning outcomes are often enhanced and changed for the better. Students from Kindergarten to 4th Grade have displayed genuine excitement that goes hand in hand with their curiosity. As we learn about real-world topics, their engagement is evident as they continuously question and express wonder. Recently, I began taking pictures and videos of my students participating in actual-world science activities. Showing pictures along with models in my classroom honors my student's work. In addition, it gives all students a chance to admire the fantastic Science Phenomena throughout our Elementary Science Program.
A Love of Science
Hands-on Science activities are engaging and fun. They instill a love of learning about the world and the things around us. Instilling a love of science is just as important as instilling a love of reading in elementary school. I once heard Oprah speak about the benefits of "filling your cup" and never letting it go empty. Teaching science is an excellent investment. It allows students to fill their cups with continuous knowledge.
Amy Burke, A. O. (n.d.). Science & Engineering Indicators. NSF. Retrieved January 27, 2022, from https://ncses.nsf.gov/pubs/nsb20221/u-s-and-global-stem-education-and-labor-force