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Better Elementary Science?


Across the country, lawmakers and educators are ratcheting up secondary and post-secondary science programs in an effort to keep America competitive in the global economy.

But in a recent Education Week Commentary, Harold Pratt argues that these reforms will not work unless elementary school science offerings are improved as well. Students should not—and cannot—be expected to catch up on science once they reach middle school, he says, and science educators should take advantage of reaching students when they are "most open, most curious, and most naturally disposed to asking questions about the world around them."

What do you think? Is too little thought being given to science instruction in elementary school? How should science education be restructured?


Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Good afternoon!

Thank you for the article regarding science instruction at the elementary level.

Two of the most outstanding curriculums in America are published by "A Beka Book" and "Bob Jones University Press".

If more of our schools -- public, private, or parochial -- implemented either of these fine textbook, well ... the results would be obvious.

Have a great year: God bless you!


Bud Williams

Parent involvement in science with very young children is key. Simple things to try that illustrate science concepts can be brought back to the classroom as stories about their lives. If parents are given the tools to collaborate with the school, the experiences will motivate the children to ask more questions and look for the answers...the most important conscept that the children can learn in science.

If science teaching is hands-on, minds-on, and hearts-on, children will love the subject. Is science is presented only as more facts to memorize for the test, we will lose the children's interest and the tremendous contributions they could make in the future. Go to www.kathleencarroll.com to find out about the books and CDs for elelmentary school teaching, Science for Every Learner, Science Songs and Stories for the Big Questions, and Sing a Song of Science.

As long as elementary teachers are under pressure to follow overly prescriptive curriculum that focus on tests, there will be no big change in elementary science instruction. The early childhood field is already expected to make miracles happen, just expecting more science instruction will be felt by them as another layer.

When I was in teacher-training twenty years ago, my fellow students and I found that many elementary school teachers felt uncomfortable teaching science because of their own lack of expertise. We proposed that elementary school science be considered a "special" like music or art. Two hours a week of excellent specialized science teaching every year would make for a better experience than some children getting a really good science curriculum in one classroom and it being totally ignored in the next classroom or the next year. Unenthusiastic teaching can leave even the science-gifted getting average marks. Of course, as is the case with music and art, those classroom teachers who felt comfortable could certainly offer more opportunities in their classroom, with a science specialist to bounce ideas off of and share resources. Unfortunately, to my knowledge, this model has never been tried.

Students in early childhood and elementary grades are the most curious and their minds are open to questioning and discovering truths. As stated above, teachers are under tremendous pressure to focus only on tested curriculum that in the shuffle,rather than a man without a country, science is the subject without an instructional time. We are missing valuable opportunities to spark interest in science in early education. Suggestions are being made that elementary teachers should become science specialists in order to teach elementary science, but isn't the bigger picture giving science time at least a nod in the school day? This should be more than obvious as we are, all over the country, handing out special incentives for teachers to major in science and math because there is such a shortage. If more time was devoted to science in the early grades we would have students who develop a passion for science and go on to become teachers of science. Instead, we have teachers who do not even have the time in their instructional day to include science, much less make it a time of day where children discover and develop those powerful inquiry skills that will serve them well in all areas of their life and vocation. I think that a balance of instructional time should be reached. While I do feel that reading skills are of utmost importance, where will we be when the generation of the future is unable to problem solve and ask questions about their world?

I am not a teacher but a parent of two kids who are freshman and senior in High School. We have always exposed our kids to Science through earlier age through summer programs (John Hopkins) and science projects. My younger one already knows that he wants to pursue Science through medicine and the older one is doing tremendously well with his courses which includes Math and science AP's.
I very much believe that elementary school lacks a bit on Science and it would help the kids a lot to learn it when they are young.

We are field testing a new science program called Seeds of Science/Roots of Reading. It is being developed by Lawrence Hall of Science & University of California @ Berkeley. There are leaders for the science team and the literacy team. It was designed to incorporate reading of non-fiction text as part of the science program. We are 10 lessons into a unit designed for 3/4. The students are very excited participants.

Indeed, even the most committed (which isn't saying much)to teaching Science are more than a month into the school year and admittedly have not even started to teach the subject. This is straight from colleagues who have agreed to be a part of a Science grant here in California. The grant is on the right track with its main purpose being 'educating the educators'. Far too often the teachers themselves don't understand the curriculum they are expected to present. Has anyone watched 'Are you Smarter than a 5th Grader' lately?

This is a difficult topic to find one best solution for. Many factors contribute to the lack of science instruction in the earlier grades: funding and materials, time during the day to teach the students, the comfort level of the teacher's on the subject of science...As a high school chemistry teacher I would absolutely love to help out my primary school colleagues. If such a thing as an elementary school science teacher liason existed I would jump at the opportunity.In order for substantial change to take place in science education more changes and adjustments will need to be made on administrative levels in order to provide the time, the tools and the training necessary for elementary science to flourish. However, as teachers (secondary science teachers especially), we must be open to exchanging ideas and offering our expertise when possible. That may mean bridging some wide gaps in communications between the secondary and elementary instructors but in the end when we, as secondary science teachers, inherit their students, that extra time and effort spent aiding our primary school colleagues should be well worth it.

It is ridiculous that students are being locked into instruction that does not allow for FUN and EXPLORATION. We place them in reading for 90 minutes and another 90 minutes for math then a little more reading and math because they are behind. Oh and then we don't have enough time so let's cut the day down to one recess because the kids need to be learning. These poor kids never have time to digest their thinking or react to what they are learning. Science is one of the few content areas that gives kids a chance to explore - ponder - think about 'why'. It allows for mistakes and then asks the kids why? I look forward to bringing back a balanced education that stimulates the minds of children and gives them opportunities to explore their potential.

The best science teachers I ever encountered were elementary school teachers. When asked the "what if" questions, the enlightened teacher would answer, "I don't know. Let's try it and see." Discovery is the result of experimentation, in all subjects. Allowing the natural curiosity of children to lead them towards discovery is organized, structured, and creative, and yes fun learning.

I am certain that what Diana describes is absolutely true in many schools, and I have myself observed it. I think the important question to ask is why.

On the one hand, Diana offers a truism--that science is one of the few areas that gives kids a chance to explore. On the other hand--I have seen science taught "by the book," (albeit a colorful book with lots of questions and challenges to think further)--and I have known both mathematics and reading to be full of questions and explorations.

I know that many will blame this phenomenon on NCLB--but my kids and my observations are older than NCLB. What I do believe is that the non-exploratory method is an easy fall back. It's easy to sell worksheets that give the illusion of teaching and learning. And the fall back is handy when teachers are overwhelmed--either by classroom conditions or the challenge of creatively teaching content that they don't fully understand, or never enjoyed learning.

My son had one teacher (only one) in elementary school that was OUTSTANDING in social studies. She was EXCELLENT in responding thoughtfully and effectively to behavioral issues. She was NOT conversant in the language of mathematics (she taught the facts in the way that she had been taught them--or maybe a little better, given her ability to differentiate), and her grammer was appalling. She was a good teacher, a very good teacher, but not one that should have been teaching mathematics or writing skills.

Yet the one teacher/one class pattern prevails in elementary schools throughout the US until middle school (when teachers in many states are still only required to be K-8 certified).

When NCLB entered the picture (and some states had testing and reporting systems in place earlier--as required by ESEA), there was some empirical evidence of gaps--some enormous chasms, that had been accepted as SOP for some time.

NCLB required the right tools--intervention, tutoring, professional development, annual assessment. I don't know that the 90 minute reading and mathematics blocks necessarily required loss of science (because I am not certain of the degree to which it was meaningfully available across the board to begin with), but they were at least an attempt to do something differently--based on research. Certainly if the content and pedagogy available during the 90 minures doesn't change, or change appropriately, the effect will be insufficient. I get the impression that in many districts the content/pedagogy question has become a war zone between teachers and administration--not conducive to learning.

Certainly professional development can be effective or not, depending on the connection teachers see to their actual classroom challenges (which is why it is supposed to be data based), and the quality of the provider.

Far more important than the amount of time is the quality of what is going on. If all that is being offered in science is defining the terms and answering the chapter questions, it seems unimportant whether it is an hour a day or twenty minutes. On the other hand, twenty minutes daily spent in following the growth of plants after students have developed hypotheses about the effect of various growing conditions, can be a very valuable experience.

I have found that science is treated as an extra subject that there may or may not be time for. I believe that what is being overlooked is that science is happening all around us, not just in textbooks or labs. Labs with fancy equipment are nice, but the lack of them should not stop teachers from allowing experimentaion and inquiry in the natural world. Science concepts can be integrated into every subject. Example: laws of motion can be explored with balls on the playground or in gym class.

I agree that science instruction in the elementary school is given much too little thought. It seems that most teachers are far more preoccupied with the No Child Left Behind issue about making AYP at the end of the school year that no time is given to realize how important is to teach science or other subjects like social studies, and the arts in general.

As a 2nd grade teacher I do feel the pressure of making sure my students learn how to take tests at the end of the school year. Nevertheless, I also feel a responsibility of making sure my students learn the entire curriculum for their grade level. With all this pressure going on about making AYP, more time and resources are needed to be able to teach and explore other curriculum concepts.

The key to restructure science education in the school is integration. No child should be left behind from that great opportunity to explore and learn about science. I really believe that in order to raise high critical thinkers, we must start at the elementary school level. Children need to be exposed to science now not when they are in “high school.” Integration has made it possible in my classroom and I’m sure it can be possible in other classrooms as well.

My wife, a HS Chemistry & Physics teacher, asked me to build inexpensive science demos for her classroom. I started taking these demos to schools as assembly programs and now have been invited to show good "discrepant event" demos to over 134,000 students. Students even down to pre-schoolers will sit for an hour with their mouth open totally involved in learning about physics and chemistry. Kids tell me when I come back to the same schools later that I have changed their lives, because now they want to be doctors, or engineers or some other science related business. As one of the above respondents said, Sicence is all around us and it does not take a lot of fine equipment to see and test the world around us. Yes, many teachers in the lower grades may not have a great background in science, but they need to be willing to try some simple demos and activities. We all learn more from our mistakes that from the positive actions. I had a principal tell me that they were not teaching "Science" in their school that year because they had to spend all their time on reading and math. I didn't chalenge her but I believe that students could be given a chance to read "science" instead of "Dick and Jane".

Lessa said "We proposed that elementary school science be considered a 'special' like music or art....Unfortunately, to my knowledge, this model has never been tried." My first grade daughters have a science special a few hours a week (private school perk). They *LOVE* science! I also sign them up for summer and weekend workshops when possible, and I snuck them into a Sally Ride Science Festival for middle school girls.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading the many comments on this very critical subject area. I am an elementary school teacher, who is more than willing to both research and apply scientific concepts to elementary level to students. It is critical that we form a partnership with scientists as a whole. Does such a partnership exists that I am unaware of? The whole community is needed to foster good scientific inquiry at the elementary level. Elementary school teachers must overcome their fears of teaching science. Currently, I am a disabled elementary school teacher, creating an innovative environmental science curriculum. So far I have been unable to tap into any resources, tools, and or contacts in which to further this curriculum. Incidentally,science is an unfamiliar territory for me. Yet I cannot ignore the vital importance of elementary school science. Therefore I am more than willing to embrace my fear and to proceed on a road of making elementary science, creative, engaging, and demanding. Right now I'm struggling with the standards that make up a science curriculum. Finally, I will persist and become diligent in my quest to develop an environmental science curriculum for elementary level students. That is of the highest quality and give students direct responsibility for their educational performance in this area. Thank you.

I truly believe that if math and science were taught in interesting and inspiring ways more students would be interested in pursuing advanced studies in these subjects. Also immediate help must be available for the student who finds these subjects intimidatingas I did when I was in school.

Parents must also be involved as much as they can be. They may not understand the subject, but they can at least encourage their children's curiosity and interest.

I am very concerned about elementary science. It should be a time for inquiry. It should be a time for observation of phenomena and asking questions. It should be a time for the children to talk about what they understand and more than likely misunderstand about the world around them. Rather, it is read the chapter and answer the questions and do the worksheets that mimic the state standarized test which will be given in the spring. Our upper grade teachers say don't have the inquiry exposition before the state test because we have too much work to do. The lower grade teachers say we teach K,1,2 we don't have to teach science. I have tried for 12 years to promote the teaching of science in a hands on inquiry focused manner. I am sorry to say I have failed.
But my kindergartens have learned about cycles by watching mealworms, caterpillars and the weather, they are learning about bats as friends and not scary monsters. I will keep teaching science to Kindergarteners. Am I the only one with this problem?

Science is essential and can be incorporated so easily, as it can be used as a thematic basis for math and language curriculum. It gives purpose to what they are learning. Furthermore, project based science promotes critical thinking and problem solving skills.

However, in the same breath, science that is taught needs to be developmentally appropriate and focus on teaching conceptual ideas that build up towards larger ones looked at in middle school and high school. Too often the conceptual focus is bypassed for a vocabulary based one, due to ease of testing.

Project 2061 focuses on this conceptual understanding, unburdening the curriculum of small details and abundance of terminology, as it is a long-term initiative to promote science literacy by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Project 2061 set out recommendations for what all students should know and be able to do in science, mathematics, and technology by the time they graduate from high school. Benchmarks for Science Literacy, published in 1993, translated the science literacy goals in Science for All Americans into learning goals or benchmarks for grades K–12, including research about common misconceptions and developmentally appropriate approaches. The information is out there to check out, now we are just waiting on elementary schools and states to decide science is a value to be had.

Adding science tests to the mix is not going to increase the amount of time, nor the quality of instruction. It will be played like social studies, memorize a few facts and regurgitate them onto a test. Because that is what our current [with a few exceptions] elementary teachers are capable of now.
Science must be treated as a separate entity from the elementary classroom, similar to music and P.E. School districts need to "bite the bullet" and hire science prep [specialists] teachers for each and every elementary school.
California already has exams in place for 5th, 8th, and subject-specific in high school. Those elementary schools with science preps are doing wonderful!!!!! Teaching physics and chemistry to 8th graders is an experience!!!!

If we really want to improve science education then we must support teachers in understanding that both science and social studies are perfect places in the curriculum to engage children in authentic reading and writing. In addition, I believe we need to inform or practice with the invaluable insights set forth in the National Research Council's Book - How Students Learn. Children and teachers need opportunities to investigate concepts in multiple contexts and to confront prior knowledge. In How Students Learn we find intriguing information about the second order concepts that undergird the discipline of science. What better place to seek evidence through investigation then in the science classroom.

I'm an Informal Science Educator and am putting together various tool kits to help elementary teachers with simple, inexpensive, educational science experiments based on everyday items. Subject matters include sight, sound, motion, enery, and chemistry (basice chemical reactions). One thing that I'm finding is that the schools either are unaware of the resources available to them through Museums and Science Centers or are just failing to utilize them to the fullest. My recommendation is if you're located near a Science Museum or Science Center to see what's available for outreach programs and teacher training in informal math and science. I'm in Hot Springs, Arkansas and look forward to working with the schools.

To begin with, teachers must be given the right to evaluate scientific evidence for and against the orgins of the universe.
The Liberal leadership in the Nation Association for Teachers want to prevent any inteligent discussion about the truth. So daily kids are lied to and made to believe false scientific information.

Liberals Can't handle the truth because the truth, Scientific Truth proves the existance of God. OK you scientific minded teachers, lets look at the evidence right here and you evaluate it for yourself!

ime is the evolutionist's magic wand. Fairy tales come in many forms!

Following are a number of arguments why the Theory of Evolution (and that's all it is) cannot be correct, and why Creation has to be correct. More extensive evidence, largely ignored or brushed over by most of the agnostic scientific community,
The Male - Female Problem
The simplest and most compelling argument for Creation is the male/female pairing issue.
Abstract: If an animal mates with another animal not of its exact species, the result will be a sterile creature (e.g. a horse mating with a donkey produces a sterile mule). If animals of a given species mate and produce an abnormal offspring (i.e. a mutant), it also is sterile. Therefore, how could the macro evolutionary process advance? How could a "mutant" (i.e. advances in form) reproduce? It would first have to be fertile itself. It would have to find a sexually compatible mate who was also fertile during its relatively miniscule life span on the overall evolutionary time scale. Thirdly, their offspring would also have to be fertile and be able to continue the advance. So if single celled animals formed in the primordial soup and they were asexual (not have either male or female characteristics, but reproducing by themselves, how would they advance to a hermaphroditic state (having both male and female sexual organs) and then to the higher orders of animals which almost always have distinct male and female reproductive organs? All in-between states are sterile.
The Details: Evolution can only explain asexual or self-fertilizing hermaphroditic reproduction. Yet we have tens of thousands of the higher orders of species with perfectly matched sexually sets of males and females. And any deviations from a normal union and offspring is sterile (not capable of reproduction). Why? How could evolutionary processes possibly explain what we see all around us today?
In short, the theory of evolution states that lower life evolved over eons into higher life forms. Many lower life forms (generally single cells or plants) are asexual, which is what one would expect if the theory of evolution had any validity. If the evolutionary process was to continue however, we would expect the continuation of asexual characteristics or possibly hermaphroditic characteristics (i.e. having both sets of sexual reproductive organs). Moreover, an evolving hermaphroditic creature should be able to self-fertilize itself. Without asexual characteristics or self-fertilizing hermaphroditic characteristics, how possibly could a mutant entity reproduce? The chance of such a mutant finding an exact complementary mate within its lifespan would be extremely remote given the infrequency of mutations, and especially fertile mutations.
Yet scientific observation reveals that of all the hermaphroditic creatures, only the flatworm is self-fertilizing. Moreover, there are no (or a statistically insignificant number of) creatures that we might suppose or rationalize as evolving. Given the eons of time for evolution to take place,we should expect to see many creatures at all stages of the evolutionary process. But we don't see any missing links to speak of, or creatures in transition. (Once in a while some "scientist" will speculate and publish some "finding" which is generally discarded later)
When we find a mutant in the higher level creatures, it is nearly always sterile. Furthermore, the offspring of cross specie types are always sterile (such as the mule, an offspring of a horse and donkey or the offspring of one type of dolphin mating with another type of dolphin.).
Again, how can possibly sterile creatures reproduce and continue the evolutionary process? They can't!!!
The answer to the male-female problem is pretty obvious. Genesis 5:2 states: "He (God) created them male and female and blessed them."
The second most compelling evidence for instantaneous creation pertains to the spherical halos caused by the decay of a radioactive core. These halos are found by the trillions in all Precambrian granites, the foundation stones of the earth's crust. More particularly they are found in biotite, the mica portion of the granite.
As a radioactive particle decays, it progresses through a well know set of elements and isotopes, emitting Beta or Alpha particles of given MeV (Million electron Volts). When alpha particles are emitted by a radioactive speck in a given substrate or material, the alpha particles "run out of energy" a certain distance away from the core and leave a "damage" sphere or ring (when cross-sectioned). See illustrations below. By measuring the diameter of the damaged ring, and also noting the various rings around a core, its fairly straightforward to determine what the exact center core particle was to begin with.
Reviewing: By
1. understanding the energy levels of particles being emitted from the radioactive core, and
2. determining how far those "energetic" particles would travel in the material, (leaving a "sphere" of damage as the particles came to a halt), and
3. slicing a halo and measuring the halo ring diameters under a microscope, and
4. understanding the elements and isotopes that the core material progresses through as it radioactively decays,
it is easily possible to accurately determine what the composition was of the original radioactive material encased in the substrate.
Robert Gentry, a government laboratory researcher discovered that many halos were caused by original (not secondary) particles of Polonium 210 (210Po), Polonium 214 and Polonium 218.
The half-lives of the Polonium isotopes are as follows:
Polonium 210 half-life = 138.4 days
Polonium 214 half-life = 164 microseconds
Polonium 218 half-life = 3 minutes
The radioactivity of these cores are of course long extinct.
Now here's the kicker. How could the Precambrian granites, which scientists state formed over millions of years, possibly contains evidence that would have taken only a few minutes to disappear?
Gentry wondered too, and published his findings in some of the leading scientific journals, hoping there might be some adequate response. But there wasn't. The most common approach of the scientific community was to ignore the evidence and many journals refused to publish his work. There never was a satisfactory answer.
There are only two ways that the phenomena of having a 3-minute half-life particle entrapped in granite could have occurred.
1. the granite substrate surrounding the Polonium core particle was instantaneously formed around the particle (at least in under three minutes), or
2. the substrate surrounded a non-radioactive Polonium core particle and sometime later, the particle became radioactive.
The first option can only have come about through instantaneous creation. The second at some later event (such as the Fall of Adam) at which time the death causing process of radioactivity on earth may have begun.
The first option seems the more reasonable of the two. God spoke and the land (granites included) instantly formed. God left His fingerprint inside these foundation stones and left evidence that will stand forever.
Evidence for a Young Universe
Current evolutionary science states that our galaxy is around 10 billion years old and our solar system over 5 billion years old. However, most scientific evidence (90% according to Humphreys) indicates an earth age much less than that, thereby lending support to the Biblical account of Creation. It should be noted that the time periods or ages given below are maximum possible ages and could be considerably less. All quotations and emphasis are found in the original article.
1. Based on the observed rotational speeds of the stars about the center of our own galaxy, "if our galaxy were more than a few hundred million years old, it would be a featureless smear of stars instead of its present spiral shape."
2. Comets disintegrate rapidly as they approach the sun, most surviving less "than 100,000 years. Many comets have typical ages of 10,000 years." (Science says the age of cometary material is similar to the 5 billion year age of the solar system.)
3. At the current rate of erosion from water and winds "it would only take 15 million years to erode all land above sea level," depositing it into the ocean. (Science says the age of continents is hundreds of millions of years old)
4. At the current rate of sedimentation, the accumulation of sedimentation from the continents "implies that the present ocean floors have existed less than 15 million years." Fossil evidence supports the current rate of sedimentation. (Science says the age of the ocean floors is around 200 million years old).
5. Assuming that the oceans had no salt to start with, at the current rates of sodium entering and leaving the oceans, the oceans would have accumulated their present amount in less than 42 million years. Using the most generous allowances for evolutionary scenarios, still gives a maximum possible age for the oceans of only 62 million years. (Science says the age of the oceans are around 3 billion years old)
6. The earth's magnetic field energy has been decaying at a factor of 2.7 over the past 1,000 years. At this current decay rate, the earth could not be greater than 10,000 years old. (Science says the age of the earth is around 5 billion years old)
7. Many erect fossil trees in Nova Scotia were found "throughout 2,500 feet of geologic strata, penetrating 20 geologic horizons. These trees had to have been buried faster than it took them to decay. This implies that the entire formation was deposited in less than a few years." (Science says layers were deposited over millions of years)
8. "Many strata are too tightly bent. In many mountainous areas, strata thousands of feet thick are bent and folded into hairpin shapes. The conventional geologic timescale says these formations were deeply buried and solidified for hundreds of millions of years before they were bent. Yet the folding occurred without cracking, with radii so small that the entire formation had to be still wet and unsolidified when the bending occurred. This implies that the folding occurred less than thousands of years after deposition."
9. Radiohalos are spheres (rings in cross section) "of color formed around microscopic bits of radioactive minerals in rock crystals. They are fossil evidence of radioactive decay." "'Orphan' Polonium-218 radiohalos, having no evidence of their mother elements, imply either instant creation or drastic changes in radioactivity decay rates."
10. All naturally-occurring families of radioactive elements generate Helium (in the form of an alpha particle) as they decay. Taking into account the amount of helium flowing into and out of the atmosphere, "it would take less than 2 million years to accumulate the small amount of helium in the air today."
11. "Helium produced by radioactive decay in deep, hot rocks has not had time to escape. Though the rocks are supposed to be billions of years old, their helium retention suggest an age much less than millions of years."
12. There are not enough stone-age skeletons to account for the approximately 4 billion Neanderthal and Cro-magnon people that evolutionary anthropologists say lived during the 100,000 years of the stone age. "Yet only a few thousand skeletons have been found implying that the stone age was much shorter, a few hundred years in many areas."
And there is much more evidence for a young earth and instant creation as well as a worldwide flood.

The truthfulness of the Genesis account is being verified by the rediscovery of Noah's Ark, the Red Sea crossing site, and the real Mt. Sinai in Arabia. If these "previously held fables" have been proven accurate, then it lends credence to the Genesis account of Creation as well.


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