Kate Dobrzenski spotlights K-4 innovative science practice. She discusses how to incorporate the observation of phenomena and other Next Generation Science Standards in elementary science.
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Learning Science Through Authentic Investigation
Link to show: www.coolcatteacher.com/e274
Date: March 15, 2018
Vicki: Today we’re talking with Kate Dobrzenski @aacps_k5science about learning science through authentic investigation.
Now, Kate, you have some exciting strategies for us to really help kids engage in science.
Where do we start?
Kate: Well, first of all, thank you so much for having me. I’m really excited to be sharing some science strategies with y’all today.
Truly, the best way to be engaging kids in science is to have them learn through authentic investigation.
As well all know, kids are naturally inquisitive.They’re natural investigators. A lot of times they ask questions we don’t even know the answers to. (laughs)
Kids are naturally inquisitive
Kate: So, I think for teachers sometimes it’s really hard to reconcile that idea about letting students explore and learn in a naturally investigative way — with what’s expected of them with standardized testing. But it really can be done.
Vicki: So give me an example of how you’ve helped a K-5 science teacher have their kids learn through authentic investigation.
Kate: I think that one of the big problems that we were having in our district is that the teachers were harping on the importance of vocabulary. And vocabulary is important, but for these littles, it’s a lot easier to teach them by establishing the concept first so they have a frame of reference to hang a vocabulary word on and give it meaning.
I mean, just for example, in 3rd grade, we were really wanting to understand forces and motion, balanced and imbalanced force, gravity, those kinds of things, magnetism.
And the teachers were really harping on, “Take out your notebooks. Write down what balance force is. And write down what magnets are.” and all this.
And we went in with a new approach to let the kids just kind of explore magnets and explore balanced and imbalanced force.
We let the kids play Jenga. I mean, kids love to play!
Kate: A lot of the frame of reference that we have as humans about forces in motion comes from playing games when we were kids.
So we let the kids play Jenga. Once they’ve played and they’ve got sort of a frame of reference of how gravity affects things, and how balance works…
… then we go back and we hang vocabulary words onto that experience.
Move the vocabulary to the back end of the experience
Vicki: Ohhh, that’s tremendous! Because you’re making it real, aren’t you?
Kate: It has to be, for kids. They get bored so easily. You know, they need to move around and they need to do things with their hands and get into stuff and make a mess, you know?
Vicki: Well, and also the thing with younger children is that they are so concrete. Abstract concepts are so hard for them.
Kate: It really is.
And so like for example, I was beating my head against the wall trying to get kindergarteners to understand what properties of matter were.
And all of a sudden it came to me. Let’s take them outside on a scavenger hunt.
Let’s find something flexible, something stiff, something shiny, something smooth.
And then we come in and have them classify those things by their physical properties. Then we hang a vocabulary word like “flexible” or “waterproof” or something like that on that experience.
Let’s take them outside on a scavenger hunt and then classify their findings
Vicki: Ohhh, that is tremendous!
So learning through authentic investigation and really helping them explore — and then hanging the vocabulary on top. That’s tremendous!
OK. What other ideas do you have for us?
Kate: Maryland is a Next Generations Science Standards state. So one of our big initiatives is to introduce phenomenon-based science.
Introduce phenomenon-based science
What that means is that we’re trying to get kids to learn science in a way that’s more authentic to the way science is done in the real world.
So, if you’re a scientist, and you’re trying to discover some new medicine or something, you’re trying to solve a problem, you’re trying to answer a question.
We want kids to naturally have the questions about those things.
We found that the best way to do that is to spark their interest by providing some sort of little mystery.
For example, in 4th grade, we are teaching kids how animals use their senses and what animals use each sense is really used for in the wild.
S before students would come into the classroom, we would spray a little bit of like Glade Air Freshener. And the kids would come in and say, “Oh my gosh, there’s a smell in here!”
Kate: That’s the phenomenon.
And so we’re like, “Where did that smell come from?”
And they’re like, “Well, I don’t know, but it smells like Apple Cinnamon.”
And then we were like, “Oh. How did you know that it smelled like Apple Cinnamon if you didn’t see the Glade spray?”
And they were like, “Oh, we’ve smelled it before.”
Kate: And we’d tie that into the idea that animals have to be able to learn the meaning of different smells and recognize those smells quickly to determine whether there’s danger or a mate or a food source or whatever.
So, just things like that, where we lead off with the phenomenon and then start asking the questions about it.
Vicki: I love that.
Lead with the phenomenon, and then ask questions about it
And you’re really thinking about this whole concept that great teachers consider, which is the whole environment. Not just things you see, not just things… but EVERYTHING, aren’t you?
Kate: Yeah. And then it’s really important for kids to develop models of things.
Like you said, they’re so concrete at this age. Telling them isn’t enough. Showing them a video isn’t enough. We need to get up out of our seats and we need to move around and act out what it is we’re talking about.
Whether we’re talking about food webs or forces in motion or the solar system or things like that. We need to be getting up with our bodies and actually acting it out, physically modeling it, making concrete models — you know, getting that arts integration in there.
There are just so many ways that we can enrich our science experience for kids and not make it so vocabulary and worksheet and video driven.
Enrich our science experience for kids by making it experience driven
Vicki: Oh yeah. That’s tremendous.
Now, do you have any advice for us for the younger children? I mean, you talked about the Glade Air Freshener which is a great one.
Think about your kindergarteners. I mean how do things look in that grade?
Kate: One of our kindergarten phenomena that I just love is…
We show this little video segment about penguins living in Antarctica. It’s during a unit about animals and what need to animals live and those sorts of things.
The kids will naturally ask the question, “How do penguins survive in that freezing temperature? I mean it’s so snowy. Don’t they get cold? Where’s their home?”
And so we get all the kids together, and we purposely put this unit during the winter when it’s cold. We take them all outside without their coats. They’re out there saying, “Oh, I’m so cold! I want to go inside!”
And we say, “No, we’re not going to go inside. We’re going to survive like penguins. And then we show them how huddling together taking turns and being in the middle…
Kate: … it helps you not be cold!
Yeah, you’re freezing on the outside, you’re going to get your turn in the middle, but once you’re warmed up, you got to go back to the outside and help keep everybody warm.
How do animals survive together in a group?
That sticks in their mind so much. They love that.
Vicki: As well as the adults.
I guess you couldn’t do that for too long, or you might get some parent complaints.
But that is a powerful example.
Kate: You might.
Vicki: OK, what else do you try to do to make science real through authentic investigation?
I love these.
Kate: One of the science and engineering practices in the Next Generation Science Standards is planning and carrying out investigations.
We really try to provide time for teachers to listen to student questions on whatever the topic is, and really kind of go down a wormhole of letting the students plan an investigation.
Let students plan an investigation
That is like wildly different from what we usually see in the elementary classroom.
Generally, we see, “OK, today, boys and girls, we’re going to learn about conduction, convection, and radiation. And here’s the lab we’re going to do about it that is going to give us this desired outcome.”
What we’re trying to get away from that. So instead, let’s think about what question we want to ask about conduction, convection, and radiation. And then let’s critically think about what investigation we can do to get that data.
And that’s pretty hard. It looks a lot different in K-2 than it does in 3-4-5.
So in K-2 it might look more like, “What do animals need to live? I don’t know. Let’s go outside on a scavenger hunt and gather some data about anthills and bird nests and things like that.”
But at the higher level, it’s really going to involve something like, “Let’s make a hypothesis about this. Let’s think about what the best strategies would be, to actually collect real data about this.”
So I think just letting kids make up their own investigations is so powerful.
Vicki: So, Kate, we could just go on forever, couldn’t we? (laughs)
Kate: Yeah. (laughs)
Vicki: So as we finish up, could you give a 30-second pep talk to teachers about how to really make science exciting.
I think it’s important to get us past the traditional to really make it become real.
Kate: Yes. OK, here’s your pep talk.
Y’all. Get your kids outside. Go on a scavenger hunt. Look for rocks. Classify those rocks. Study the weather. Give them weather tools. Come up with exploration centers where they can play with magnets or build things. Play games into your classroom. Get up out of your seat and act all of the things you’re trying to teach.
Like I would like to think right now, “What am I teaching in my classroom, that I could have the kids tomorrow get up and make up a skit about?”
That right there is the stuff that sticks out in their mind when it comes time for them to repeat it out on a test.
Vicki: OK. Teachers, let’s make science real. Here are some exciting ideas. And you know, science should be thrilling.
You can always tell when a student has had one of those amazing science teachers who really relates it to the real world, because they’ll always say, “I love science!”
Vicki: … when they had that kind of teacher. So be that kind of “I love science!” teacher.
Kate: I totally agree. Thank you so much for emphasizing science on this show. We need all the time we can get!
Contact us about the show: https://www.coolcatteacher.com/contact/
Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford [email protected]
Bio as submitted
Kate Dobrzenski works as the elementary science resource staff for Anne Arundel County Public Schools in Annapolis, Maryland. She has a Masters Degree in K-12 Science Education and loves teaching science teachers how to engage students in inquiry through play.
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