How to Teach Science

A working model for ages 7-16 or so . . .

OVERALL GOALS. Remember: experience first, then seek understanding.
  • Observe in detailed, colored sketches

  • Describe with logistics (date / time / location) and increasingly accurate vocabulary (i.e. “shiny like the back of a CD” => “iridescent.”)

  • Be familiar with basic information: Insects (Name and recognize mouth and body parts; describe metamorphosis); River Systems (Name and describe parts of a river system; explain how rivers form); Astronomy (Name and recognize major constellations and their key stars); Plants (Name and recognize parts of a plant and major plant types. Describe life cycle); Geology (Name and recognize major rock types, especially local specimens); Weather / Clouds (Name and recognize clouds); Bird Calls? (I like this because, like the sound page, it trains the ear to observe; generally observation is more visual. Also, very doable when stuck inside in February.) There are many other important and appropriate areas to study. If you can experience it, study it.

  • Read The Tracker. Write 1-page reflections.

OTHER GOALS

  • To experience what can be learned by gathering data.

  • To become more alert to the natural world, not just when the student decides (i.e. “Now I will do my science homework.”)

HERE'S HOW:
Observation

  • Early on: draw on board and explain a good observation.

  • Next 2-3 weeks: let them observe in class and for HW.

  • Collect notebooks and comment. Assign Tom Brown reading or the like.

  • Spend 1 class talking about bad vs. good adjectives
    Bad Adjectives tell me your status (Cool, lame, pretty, weird, gross)
    Good Adjectives evoke the 5 senses (Bristled, green, sour, wide as a penny, sharp, etc.)

  • Next 2 weeks: let them observe in class and for HW.

  • Spend 1 class examining a fake (and terrible) observation. Discuss how it could be improved.

  • Next 10 weeks: gather observation notebooks and comment every 2-3 weeks.

  • Near end of topic / course, pool observations and discuss findings. Possible things to learn:
    o Length of time involved in river formation, plant growth, etc.
    o Shift of constellations
    o Importance of accurate observations. With coaching students can see how much more could be learned by more accurate and thorough observation.

Information

  • First 4-6 weeks: Assist students to witness/experience the phenomena firsthand either outside or by setting up something in the classroom (stream table, grow seeds, pick things out of the pond mud, etc.) Work with weather to determine whether class will be indoors/outdoors, what HW observation will be.

  • Next 4-6 weeks: Continue observation and experiencing the phenomena. Introduce terms slowly. Have students begin to use them in their descriptions. Reinforce familiarity with two kinds of questions.
    1. Point it out (e.g. a thorax). Ask: “So what do you call this?”
    2. Ask: “Someone find me an example of deposition out here.” Discuss validity of student choice.

  • Evaluate with individual conversations and/or labeling quiz and/or written explanations.

Anna Comstock's Handbook of Nature Study is a valuable resource, giving excellent questions to ask the students and help them ask themselves as they explore the world.

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