April 20, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Science Learning | A Medley of Resources

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The recently released Next Generation Science Standards for grades K-12, developed by 26 lead states in partnership with the National Science Teachers Association and other major science organizations, emphasize interdisciplinary inquiry through in-depth, hands-on investigations. While not without controversy, no one can argue with a primary goal of the standards—to provide all students with “a solid K–12 science education.” From youngsters recording the unfolding of butterfly wings to middle schoolers modifying the flight of paper airplanes to teens writing computer code for robots, students relish the opportunity to explore, understand, and contribute to the world of science. Here are some recent titles for classroom and science teachers that offer a medley of educational theory, practical advice, and suggested activities.


Andrews, Beth L. Hands-On Engineering: Real-World Projects for the Classroom. (Prufrock, 2012).
Designed for use in grades 4-7 and aligned with “various standards for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM),” this compendium offers 26 kid-friendly lessons that teach science concepts through student- designed and tested objects. The book begins with an overview of design and engineering and the lessons that follow list the skills taught and materials needed. Vocabulary, an outline of purpose and objectives, online resources for building students’ knowledge of the topic, and step-by-step directions for preparing and implementing activities are also included. Reproducible worksheets are provided along with additional project suggestions that incorporate writing and research activities to extend the learning. From designing a transportable bridge to creating a catapult that hurls pennies to making an egg-cooking solar oven, kids are bound to learn important concepts as they build.


Edson, Marcia Talhelm. Starting with Science: Strategies for Introducing Young Children to Inquiry. (Stenhouse, 2013).
Edson, a clinical assistant professor at Boston University’s School of Education, effectively argues that inquiry-based science “should be at the center of every early childhood classroom.” More an expert in literacy than science, the author shares some best practices she discovered when challenged to design “a more robust science methods course” for early childhood majors.

The result is a well-organized, readable, and comprehensive overview on how to implement inquiry with the youngest students. Edson defines inquiry-based science; reviews teaching strategies; establishes the connections with reading, writing, and speaking; describes child-centered assessment; and discusses how to design an inquiry unit. Throughout, samples of student work and accounts from real-life classrooms and children provide clarity. Finally, early childhood teachers who have embarked upon the hard work of inquiry discuss how to succeed despite common impediments, while an appendix includes a pet study to get the ball rolling.


Fries-Gaither, Jessica & Terry Shiverdecker. Inquiring Scientists, Inquiring Readers: Using Nonfiction to Promote Science Literacy, Grades 3-5. (NSTA, 2013).
Divided into two parts, this interdisciplinary guide begins by examining the research, noting a steady decline in the time spent on science in elementary classrooms (in part due to large blocks being devoted to ELA and math instruction). The authors remind teachers that “simply reading about science” cannot replace “the actual doing of science.” The learning cycle model for science instruction—engage, explore, explain, expand, assess—is reviewed, and opportunities for authentic literacy experiences within science inquiry are considered. Part II provides 11 complete inquiry units, primarily teacher-directed, a choice made by the authors in order “to support teachers new to inquiry.” Using multigenre nonfiction text sets as an anchor, each unit (the water cycle, fossils, the Moon, etc.) includes an overview, objectives, standards alignment, time frame, a list of texts, reproducibles, and a step-by-step description of how to guide students through each phase of the learning cycle.


Froschauer, Linda & Mary L. Bigelow. Rise and Shine: A Practical Guide for the Beginning Science Teacher. (NSTA, 2012).
Written specifically for the new teacher, this compilation of enthusiastically offered advice introduces five fictional teachers of varying backgrounds—Alberto, a former high school biology teacher now assigned middle school environmental science; Heather, an elementary substitute teacher just hired as a science specialist; Jason, a recent graduate teaching middle grades and high school; Sherrie, an industrial chemist switching careers; and Tanya, another recent graduate taking on high school Earth science. The 13 clearly written chapters are full of counsel supplemented by checklists and insightful comments from actual educators. Questions posed by the novice teachers are answered by Ms. Mentor (see the NSTA blog for more by Ms. Mentor), covering everything-a-new-teacher-needs-to-know from navigating the school environment and managing the first week of school to creating a learning environment and teaching strategies. Online resources for each chapter are available.


Hanuscin, Deborah & Meredith Park Rogers, eds. Perspectives: Research & Tips to Support Science Education, K-6. (NSTA, 2013).
In this compilation of past “Perspectives” columns from NSTA’s Science & Children journal, readers will find 27 articles grouped under six topics: “General Teaching Goals,” “Strategies to Facilitate Learning in Science,” “Teaching Science and Other Disciplines Together,” “Student Thinking and Misconceptions,” “Society and Science Learning,” and “Developing as a Teacher.” Each article-length chapter presents a teacher-posed question about an aspect of science instruction that’s answered by experienced educators with an eye to current research and suggestions for practical application in the classroom. There’s a lot of advice packed into this slim volume regarding important teaching issues, such as the effective use of children’s literature, understanding the learning cycle, the use of inquiry, how to support English Language Learners, the value of project-based learning, and the art of asking questions. In addition, the editors offer a few suggestions for using the articles in professional development workshops.


Martinez, Sylvia Libow & Gary Stager. Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom. (Constructing Modern Knowledge Press, 2013).
For anyone interested in learning more about the maker movement in education, this is an excellent starting point. Innovative educators, Stager, Executive Director of The Constructivist Consortium, and Martinez, President of Generation YES, urge teachers to look far beyond test prep and getting the answer right to offer students project-based learning that turns classrooms into settings where teachers talk less and children do more, makerspaces that value “making, tinkering, collaborative learning, and invention.” They start with a brief history of the maker movement, highlighting the work of Seymour Papert, a very early proponent of creative computer use by children, and continue with an in-depth look at how to get started. Ideas range from the “constructionism” learning theory to designing a good project to new fabrication tools (3D printers, Raspberry Pi, Arduino, Makey Makey, etc.) to creating the learning environment and advocating for makerspaces in schools. A companion website provides links to the resources listed in the book—professional development, tutorials, project ideas, books, videos, creative materials, and much more.

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Daryl Grabarek About Daryl Grabarek

Daryl Grabarek dgrabarek@mediasourceinc.com is the editor of School Library Journal's monthly enewsletter, Curriculum Connections, and its online column Touch and Go. Before coming to SLJ, she held librarian positions in private, school, public, and college libraries. Her dream is to manage a collection on a remote island in the South Pacific.