Let me begin by saying that it has been several years since I have taught Science in my classroom; this is because I have ‘team taught’ in this time period. I took care of Social Studies/History while my teaching partner taught Science. This year, due to scheduling conflicts we weren’t able to continue. However, when I did teach Science all those years ago, it was rarely hands-on. And this was a HUGE disservice to students.
This year my school site is trying to focus on NGSS and really having kids EXPERIENCE Science. I love this focus. However, I have found that this shift is proving difficult for both my students and myself. Why? They have rarely done continuous (almost weekly) hands-on work. This is not a slight against my colleagues, I’m right there with them.
The push for all things testing (looking at you standardized tests and those that love them) has left us choosing to teach the testing subjects (mainly Math and ELA) or teach it all. Yes, CCSS has us shifting to more inclusive lessons, but as many districts purchasing curriculums for all subjects it’s not as easy as one would think. However, I digress.
Chaos. That is the only word that accurately describes my classroom during Science. The kids lose their minds when given the opportunity to explore. For example, last week we were exploring different ‘white substances’ (insert El Chapo joke here) and their reactions to chemicals (water, iodine, and vinegar). Before we began we reviewed classroom norms: safety goggles on, observe, take notes, etc. I should have included ‘NO eating anything!’ Yeah, one of the substances was sugar and a few students decided it would be a good idea to taste test the ‘white substances’. Don’t get me wrong, they had a great time! They loved dropping the chemicals on the substances to observe the reactions. They were excited and engaged. That’s what we want, but they weren’t being very scientific. They were so ‘excited’ they observed all the reactions without taking a single note! #FrustratedTeacher Then, they started to ‘play’ with some of the mixtures. In their defense, they were observing what happened when the chemical and substance was thoroughly mixed. They did make some good observations, but still NO notes.
In the end, the lessons was a moderate (that’s being generous) success. And last week at our staff meeting we were talking NGSS. I brought up what I’d noticed. Another 5th-grade teacher noted that some of her students also ate the sugar. A 2nd-grade teacher noticed that her students lose their minds, too. It felt good not to be alone in this. After having a few giggles about our experience, it was nice to hear that everyone is still on board with the hands-on explorations. We know that this year might be tough, but the more we do it the easier it will become. The bottom line is that our students deserve the BEST education we can give them. Experiencing Science is part of that.