“When do we get to be engineers again?” is not something you would expect second graders to ask. But when Woodland Elementary School in Ohio completed a grade-wide engineering unit, that’s what teachers reported hearing for weeks afterward.
Even as a novel part of their school lives, engineering lessons can make a mark on kids’ imaginations and shape their desire for what to learn. And even without anything like the kind of training they get in language arts and math, elementary school teachers can make engineering work with the right program and a bit of professional development.
Continue reading “STEM: “Career readiness” in elementary school—really?”
Let’s begin with a conversation among fourth graders. These students were sitting in a group of four and discussing structural and behavioral adaptations in plants and animals.
DeVon: Hawks have sharp claws that kill their prey.
Casey: What is this? (looking at a worksheet)
Diamond: A artic fox has…
Reshma: Insects are shaped like a leaf so predators think they are real leaves.
DeVon: A rosebush has thorns to…where’s this go [inferring the question: is this a structural or behavioral adaptation]?
Reshma: Frogs have long strong legs to hop really far.
At first glance, this sounds like a conversation. The students are talking about the science topic and they are facing one another around the table. But, unfortunately, this isn’t a conversation at all. To qualify as a real conversation, students need to talk to one another, listen carefully to each other, and take turns in the discussion so that one idea builds upon another. This scenario falls short. Although it is terrific to see students actively engaged in a science activity, there is so much more that is possible and necessary in a science classroom so that students get the most out of the instruction. High quality science discussions require students to use social and emotional skills (Hunt, Rimm-Kaufman, Merritt, & Bowers, in press). Without those skills in use, students remain focused on their own ideas. The quality of their answers reflect individual, not collective knowledge.
Continue reading “STEM: Leveraging SEL Skills to Improve Science Instruction”