When I was in early elementary school, I had a shirt of my dad’s that became a sleeping shirt. I remember it had some sort of sports logo and a player number on it. I wore it just about every night and it developed quite a few holes and tears. I even took it with me when I spent the night at a friend’s house, much to my mother’s embarrassment.
On a windy day in the spring, my dad decided we should build a kite to fly. That really meant that we watched him build a kite, but it was still a lot of fun. He used thin strips of wood to make a frame and covered it with newspaper. He then started looking around for something to use for the kite tail. My clever mom chimed in with a suggestion saying, “Why don’t we use your nightshirt for the tail!” Caught up in the excitement of the moment, I quickly retrieved the shirt from my bedroom and then watched as my dad tore it into strips and tied it to the bottom of the kite. Only then did I realize what it meant for my shirt to become part of the kite. I would be finding something else to sleep in that night.
In short order, the kite was done and we were walking across the street to the field behind the junior high school to fly it. My melancholy from watching my shirt being destroyed became excitement watching our kite get higher and higher in the sky with my significant contribution attached. Without a little intervention from my mom, I’m not sure how long I would have continued to sleep in that torn up shirt.
Students frequently come to science class with ideas they cling tightly to—almost as tightly as I clung to my old sleep shirt. Their ideas may be full of holes or no longer fit in every situation, but it’s difficult for them to give it up for something else without a very compelling reason. As often as my mom would suggest that I get rid of my old shirt, there had to be a nudge to actually make it happen. And as much as a teacher would like to just be able to tell students to get rid of their old ideas, there has to be some type of experience to actually make it happen.
Here are just a few ideas for finding a way to prompt students to dig deeper into science concepts to make them their own.
As a teacher, I can tell students about a science concept, let them read about it, and/or demonstrate it to them, but if students can experience it themselves, it becomes even more real. That means taking the time to dig out science equipment, allowing opportunities for students to work through sometimes cumbersome processes, and then tying it up with a bow by helping students make sense of what they’ve experienced. There’s a reason process skills are such a significant part of our state standards.
I’ve heard a quote that says, “If kids can’t say it, they don’t know it.” You’ve probably met students who can toss out dictionary definitions of big words but don’t know how to apply them in a given situation. Or how about a student who can answer a question presented by the teacher, but cannot explain the “why” behind it. Describing what they know might mean saying it out loud to the teacher, explaining it in conversation with another student, or writing it on paper in an exit ticket, but nothing cements learning more than summarizing what has been learned.
Decide about It
How often do students get a choice in the classroom? Perhaps they could choose how to design the data table used to collect information during an investigation. How about some options for how to present a product such as a form of technology, art, or paper product? For a portion of the lesson, could students choose to work alone, in partners, or in a trio? Let’s be intentional about guiding students through the decision-making process. This guidance makes learning more compelling, but also fosters the skill to choose wisely in a small way, which can then lead to the ability to choose wisely when bigger decisions come up later in life.
Relate to It
When designing the lesson, are you prepared to answer the age-old question, “Why do we need to learn this?” Find a current event, tell a story, show a picture, or allow students to do a little research to connect science concepts to their own lives. There may not be a way to make every lesson personally meaningful to every student, but there is so much in science that seeps into everyday experiences. How beautiful it is when students can explain the world around them using the concepts of science.
Using simple materials and a little time, my dad created a memory that lasted a lifetime. Our kite was able to catch the wind and fly far above the ground. Our students can soar just as high, connected to us for a little guidance when needed. And if those same students can explain the concept of lift or describe why we have a windy day in the first place, well, that’s just a bonus—kind of like the tail of our kite.