Teaching science in a microschool tips for those that don’t feel confident in their understanding of science
As a preface for this piece, I was a middle school science teacher in the public school system for 10 years. Then and now, I find that there is almost a mysticism around science. I want to help others get past that so that science can be made more accessible to all.
I am offering some suggestions on how to make science more approachable and some paths to take for science education for those who might not feel very comfortable with the subject. The first thing is to define science. It helps to understand what science is at its core. Then, I can offer some simple ways to start exploring science. At the end of this, I will share some accessible tools that one might find useful.
So, what is science? I have often started off school years with this question, and the answer I focus on is a simple accessible take. Science is the pursuit of knowledge related to the natural world. Kids, humans, have a natural curiosity about how things work, why they work, and that curiosity is a study of science. We do not need to overly complicate things; we simply need to ask questions and try to understand the world around us.
If you are trying to spend time on science with your students, here are a couple of ideas. First, I like to use these basic questions as a starting point:
- How does it work (or sometimes not)?
- What changes can be made to the materials or the process?
- What else can it do?
- Have you seen something like this before? How is it similar or different?
They are straightforward and can be used in so many situations. The next idea is to encourage students to keep an eye out for patterns. It is amazing how much of the natural world works in cycles: water cycle, carbon cycle, moon cycle, seasons, life cycle, and more. As you might be realizing, there is a lot that can be talked about through the lens of cycles. A foundational science concept that can also be of use is to remember that matter and energy cannot be created or destroyed, only changed. Keeping this in mind can help with understanding many science concepts.
Another key to learning about science is learning to research. Encourage exploration and develop research skills. This lays a foundation for kids to be able to dive deeper into science if that is the path they are on. Make sure to stress the need to use more than one source for your information, and for more advanced students, make sure they know if their sources are all using the same information. The unfortunate truth is that one study can be used by countless authors to spread an idea, even if that study was flawed. Getting students to look at their sources’ sources will lead to a better-informed population.
Now, one other piece to note: it is important to realize that science is not about solving specific problems. That falls to engineering. Science, for example, can find a way of capturing carbon or curing a disease, but it falls to engineers to determine how those discoveries can be implemented. This is one of the reasons we might read about a new breakthrough but then not see it used.
I will share some places to look for materials/tools to use, but I never had a science “curriculum” that I followed. I had a list of concepts I was expected to teach, and I found ways of bringing those to my students. With these tools/materials, I stress that what is important to consider is always “what will the students be thinking about or focused on when doing an activity,” because that is what they will remember. Then, what questions can we ask, and how can we go farther?
- Insectlore.com to raise butterflies or ladybugs
- Steve Spangler has a lot of great materials, but I also highly recommend his weekly Science Minute, free to watch and often easy to replicate: https://stevespangler.com/science-minute/
- Pinterest is full of ideas, but avoid things that ask you to pay because it is basically always possible to find a free version.
- Building on that, I do not recommend most monthly box kits because often they are full of things you can put together yourself for less. However, if you want to go with one, Mark Robber or Steve Spangler would be the ones I would look at.
- If you are looking for activities that you can then build on, Science Max on YouTube takes classic activities and makes them really big. You can often start with the small scale and then use the videos to explain the concept and show it being taken up on a larger scale.
- If you are looking for science videos on unique topics, the Veritasium channel on YouTube holds itself to one of the highest standards of accuracy I have found.
- I am a fan of science magazines and I would recommend NatGeo Kids and Science News Explores I have looked at many more but these stand out for their content and price
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