CSTA Classroom Science

New School Year, New Science Opportunities

By: Michelle Baker

As teachers, we often finish the year saying, “Why didn’t I…?,” or “I wish I would have.” Then we begin the school year with “This year I am going to….” Well, here is my “I am going to…!” I am going to teach more science than I did last year! 

But, teaching high-quality science lessons does not just happen on its own. Teaching the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) in the classroom, in an authentic and meaningful way, takes planning. It takes materials. It takes risks. It takes time. So what do you do if you do not have the necessities on the list? Here are some of my ideas.

How do I get Materials?
I recently provided professional development to K-8 teachers in my district. I was impressed with the initiative they were already beginning to take. After a quick investigation, (Does freshwater or saltwater melt an ice cube faster?) the teachers were already talking about the application and extensions for their grade level. The same teachers were also coming up with a plan and timeline to begin asking for funding from their PTO and School Site Council use for their NGSS lessons. This idea quickly caught traction, and other teachers saw the potential of this plan. 

Students will also begin to plan and carry out their own investigations. Making sure they have what they need to carry out investigations is essential. Students might be able to collect items from the school campus or from their own neighborhood. 

Talk to your administration and groups around your school to find ways to get what you need. Keep the materials in a tub, so next year your grade level can re-create the investigation. Make sure to include an inventory list of the consumable items so you can make sure to have them restocked. Are there materials around your campus from a prior science curriculum? Talk to other grade levels to see if they have materials you can borrow. Creativity and determination go a long way when hunting down materials!

When do I teach science?
My schedule is packed!! I have no time in my day! When can I fit science in? Sound familiar? Integration is the only way! Luckily for teachers, NGSS was written with correlated Common Core standards included! The standards included are the tip of the iceberg. NGSS lends itself to many English Language Arts (ELA), math, English Language Development (ELD) and social studies connections. In the past, my 1st-grade students recorded the phases of the moon on a moon calendar. Then we used a picture book, The Moon Book by Gail Gibbons, and read sections of it at a time for the explain portion of the lesson. Then after looking at moon calendars, the students made observations. They came to the conclusion that every month, the moon phases follow the same pattern. They recorded their observations into their science journals, including a model of the moon and its phases. 

I was able to provide an authentic science lesson, ESS1-1, while including all the standards I was responsible for teaching. During this earth science investigation in my classroom, I was able to include a reading passage, writing opportunities in science journals, patterns, and geography. This investigation also gave me several opportunities for formal and informal assessment of my students' progress towards their standards.

You Gotta Start Somewhere!
Make a goal with your grade level to plan to get materials and to store the materials for three investigations. Next year, add three more. Work towards integrating your science with ELA, ELD, and math standards. The Next Generation Science Standards will be around for a while, so your planning will pay off for years to come. 

It is always a challenge to begin teaching quality, hands-on, investigative science at the beginning of 1st grade! However, once we get going, I am reminded of how engaged my students are, how many questions they have and how much their love for science grows.



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Michelle Baker

Written by Michelle Baker

Michelle Baker is a 1st-grade teacher at Onaga Elementary in the Morongo Unified School District, a former teacher leader in the CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative and the Primary Director for the CSTA Board of Directors. Her email is mcbaker626@gmail.com