Making Time for Science: All Science Wednesdays
by Heather Rodriguez and Brad Schleder
Why science Wednesdays?
Science Wednesdays started because I felt like I never had enough time to get to science. I am a third-grade teacher and, while I aim to teach all content areas, it seemed like science was put on the back burner for so long that it rarely was given any time in my classroom and in many of my colleagues’ classrooms. We were able to have 15 or 20 minutes a day if we were lucky. The strong focus on ELA and Math meant that science was often overlooked. Furthermore, 15 to 20 minutes was not meaningful to the students. By the time the students got out their materials and did the activity, it was time to clean up. This left little or no time for engaged student discourse or for me to adequately assess whether they understood the concept being taught. We had to wait until later in the week. Science felt very fragmented. However, when we did have science time the students were very curious and had many, many questions. In a number of instances, I actually took time out of math to answer their questions. I realized that this wasn’t doing the students justice. In our district, we have early release on Wednesdays, allowing time for staff meetings, teacher collaboration time, and professional development. Because the day is shortened and the schedule much different than the other days of the week, I thought, “Why not just have science the whole day?”
How did you get started?
As I became more familiar with NGSS through my role as a Core Lead Teacher in the CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative, I saw how I could teach other subjects while teaching science. There really isn’t a need to justify teaching science all days, as I am also teaching many other standards such as ELA. While I haven’t found time to address the Social Studies standards, learning in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) does provide an opportunity to address my grade-level human impact standards. After considering all of this, I decided Wednesdays would be a good choice because it is a shorter day and the schedule is already mixed up. If I devoted Wednesdays to science, I thought it would be more beneficial to my students so that we could have an extended period of time.
I started in 2014, the first year after we started with the Early Implementer grant. I approached my principal and let him know that I was participating in a science grant. I let him know that I was really interested in implementing what I learned but needed a larger block of time. I asked if I could teach science on Wednesdays all day. He told me as long as I got done with what I needed to do, then I could go ahead. I took that as yes and took the plunge. He came in a couple of times when I first started, but he saw that the students were engaged in explorations that caused them to think. They were not only eager to discuss their questions and explanations with each other, but also to record their thoughts in their science notebooks. In addition, he enjoyed interacting with the students and would jump right into the activities, including helping hold solar panels for students as they engineered solar panel fans. I think my administrator increased his appreciation for science.
What do science Wednesdays look like?
I follow the 5E (engage, explore, explain, extend, and evaluate) lesson model. What I like to do is first pose a question based on a phenomenon to see where my students are and bring forward any misconceptions. This always gets their attention and causes them to want to know more. Some Wednesdays are different than others, but I like to have a Wednesday that goes through most of the 5Es. Sometimes we are stuck in explore and explain a lot, which isn’t a bad thing, rather, it affords students rich opportunities for sensemaking.
On the following Wednesday, if we are in the middle of a lesson sequence, I have them review before moving on in the lesson. I then post an additional question related to the phenomena and have students discuss the question in order to share their thoughts and wonderings with each other. They then go to PE or VAPA and when they return I usually have them all set up to conduct an explore. They are always eager for the exploration part of the lesson. This sometimes takes longer than one day, but they really do remember where we left off the week before. They are all really engaged, including kids who sometimes struggle.
At some point during the explore section, it is time for recess. It’s funny because a lot of times the bell will ring for recess and the kids say, “Awe! I want to stay!” I love that we don’t have to spend a large amount of time putting things away and getting things out again. They almost always have time to finish their explore. I also do not have to rush through the activities. The students love Wednesdays because it gives them the time to actually become scientists using the NGSS Science and Engineering practices. It isn’t surprising that I have excellent attendance on Wednesdays, and if I am out of the classroom on a Wednesday, which I try not to be, they are not happy with me the next day!
Science Wednesdays have helped me integrate both ELA and Mathematics into science. I use science as a continuum for ELA standards, which makes our lives and units so much easier. I don’t have to justify my 20 minutes of writing, 20 minutes of reading, and 20 minutes of spelling, etc. These minutes are covered during our science time. I don’t need to break it down by minutes. Having a large block of time for science instruction gives me the freedom to integrate across curriculums.
Students are using their class-made thermometers to measure temperature differences.[/caption]
What are some challenges in having science Wednesdays?
I find that the biggest challenge I have right now is that after the explore and explain, I often can’t find a good text for them to read to help them put it all together or one that doesn’t give away an answer I want them to figure out in the next explore and explain. I usually have to spend a lot of time finding a hodgepodge of articles, textbook pages, online resources, and books. When I do use this text after they explore I can hear the excitement as they read. The class says things like, “I was right, see!” or “Oh, that’s why it did that.” It gives me great delight to see that students use the text to justify their ideas and to do so with enthusiasm. They truly make meaning from text they are interested and invested in.
What advice would you give to a teacher who would like to try a day of science?
First, give yourself permission to try. I think too often teachers want every millisecond organized and prepared. I think if you are trying to do that in science, you are going to shoot yourself in the foot. You are going to feel like you are not prepared enough, but you will be surprised about how much the kids will be able to come to understand. You will also find that you become better at fostering activities that facilitate student learning. This includes asking better questions and providing time for supportive student discourse. You will have the time to have more student-centered lessons that allow the students to do the heavy lifting required for science conceptual development. You might even find that your students know more than you think they did. Just give yourself permission to try.
For your administrator, reassure them that the NGSS science standards are set up to integrate many common core standards while you teach. They need to feel confident that you are not just teaching science, but other standards as well. There is a lot of writing, reading, and communication through speaking and listening in science, there are more components to it now. After you teach NGSS lessons a couple of times, invite your administrator in to visit your classroom. I know it is kind of scary to invite your administrator in for a visit however, the NGSS is so new that often they want to see what it looks like inside the classroom. They will likely find that there is more to science than they originally thought.
Heather Rodriguez is a 3rd-grade teacher, a Core Lead Teacher in the CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative for Kings Canyon Unified School District, and a member of CSTA.
Brad Schleder is the Project Director of the CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative for Kings Canyon Unified School District and a member of CSTA.