Many of us have a tendency to underestimate our students' abilities to grapple with scientific questions through investigation and discussion. It can often feel like just exposing kids to a topic or phenomenon can be enough. The result is limited opportunities for kids to engage with the many facets of the scientific process. Carla Zembal-Saul and her co-authors write, "Issues related to science in elementary grades are well documented and range from a lack of material sand high-quality curricula to an overwhelming emphasis on fun, hands-on activities that pay greater attention to "snacks and crafts" rather than big ideas in science."
If the story of the Crossroad's Academy Endangered Species Program isn't enough proof for you, there is research that also supports the idea that kids can handle the big stuff. In fact, the big idea is a key component of developing a kid's scientific learning. Without the opportunity to discuss the meaning of a scientific process a lot of our attempts at creating scientific experiences end up watered down, games or demonstrations.
Of course guiding meaning-making around science concepts in your classroom also requires a lot of a teacher or educator. It requires us to have an understanding of the concepts ourselves and be able to guide discussions. We have to be prepared to answer questions or give kids resources that can help. We have to be ready to tie together big ideas and scientific processes.
That's why my suggestion for this month is to take a science class yourself. As educators we regularly take courses in education honing our skills in instruction. It might be time to switch gears a little and challenge yourself to grapple with the big ideas yourself. Take a summer course in freshwater ecology or a field intensive in ornithology. Try a workshop on geology or soils. Pay close attention to how you're learning. Chances are you'll be having fun, but you'll also develop skills in science. You'll likely engage in some hands on activities, but you'll also develop an understanding of a scientific process within the larger world.
Challenging ourselves to be students of science again can also make us better teachers. If the Crossroads kids taught me nothing else it was that science doesn't have to be intimidating. We're never too young or too old to engage in the learning process. Let's not limit our students because we feel limited ourselves. Just as the students in the lab surprised me with their fluency and enthusiasm, I expect that I'll also surprise myself back in the classroom. Maybe you will too!