Learning new strategies for developing young scientists

Consultant Brett Moulding demonstrates the value of listening to students explain their thinking.In the lab, professional scientists pose questions, define problems, run experiments, and then interpret and use the results as evidence to support what they discover. The same is true for the young scientists in the Colonial School District.

Encouraging wonder and having students solve their own questions through hands-on explorations is the key to the children going beyond the content to learn how to "act like a scientist."

"Science is always exciting to teach because you get to foster kids' curiosity," said Chris Speranza, a fourth grade teacher at Colonial Elementary School. "It's amazing to see the connections that kids make!"

During one of the professional development days in the week leading up to the first day of school, fourth and fifth grade science teachers learned about a three-dimensional approach to teaching science.

The three dimensions include:

  1. Science and Engineering Practices: Encouraging students to ask questions, build models, run experiments, gather evidence and communicate what they've discovered
  2. Crosscutting Concepts: Helping students see the consistent patterns, structures, systems and concepts (like stability vs. change or cause and effect) in what they're studying
  3. Disciplinary Core Ideas: Helping students understand the actual science content and standards.

The workshop was led by Brett D. Moulding, a nationally recognized science educator who helped write the Next Generation Science Standards and served as a curriculum director for the state of Utah.

"By learning the process in addition to the content in science, the students are developing their ability to reason and question the evidence they have to support their ideas. That is a skill that can be used in many different situations," explained Mr. Moulding. "And by communicating their thoughts, the students are making their thinking visible to the most important people in the learning continuum -- themselves."

New structure for fourth grade allows teachers to create richer content within the different subject areas

For a couple years now, fifth grade students at Colonial Elementary School have benefited from having one teacher who focuses on math and science and switching halfway through the day to another teacher who concentrates on language arts and social studies. Starting in the 2017-2018 school year, fourth grade will follow this same model. This allows the teachers to have more time to reflect on their instruction, collaborate with each other and create richer lessons for their students -- and meant that only half of the fourth and fifth grade teachers in the building needed to attend the science professional development.

"The new fourth grade configuration brings a lot of excitement to the building," added Mr. Speranza.
Learning new strategies for developing young scientists
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