If you are getting ready for a new school year and/or a new grade level, you may be planning some curriculum over the summer. I wanted to take this opportunity to talk about how I plan for science and offer some suggestions. If you are looking for more support, I have several science units that you can get from Teachers Pay Teachers.
Do I have a set science curriculum?
First question you should find the answer to is if you have a set curriculum to use. If you don’t skip to the next question. If you do, you should take a look at the overarching themes and big ideas. You want an idea for the main topics you will cover and how the year will progress. Then look at the first unit and look at or plan some lessons and activities for it so you are prepared when school starts.
What are the science standards for my grade?
If you don’t have a set curriculum, and even if you do, you should look to the standards for your grade, so you know exactly what the requirements are. I know that many of the science standards are more open-ended. They don’t tell you how to go about learning them.
For example, from the Next Generation Science Standards for kindergarten, one standard states: “use observations to describe patterns of what plants and animals (including humans) need to survive”. If you want to give your students hands-on experience for this standard, then you may want to grow plants, have some animals or insects to observe life cycles, and/or class pets. In my classroom, we had a fish all year and then we grow ladybugs, tadpoles, and chicks over the course of the year. So once you know the standards, you can start thinking about what experiences you might want to offer your students throughout the year to meet that standard.
What are my students’ interests?
Once you know the standards, or your curriculum, you don’t want be so planned out or so rigid that you can’t follow your students’ interests. In fact, many of their interests will check off the standards. You want to offer your students experiences – maybe an experiment or activity, or maybe an object to observe – that are based on what they are interested in, not just the prescribed curriculum. Having a science center is great for this. It wasn’t a part of the curriculum, but I put out this gourd in the fall when students were interested in pumpkins. It sparked a lot of curiosity and interest. We ended up opening it up and observing the inside of it. While it didn’t necessarily meet the content standards, it certainly met a lot of the practice standards.
How do I plan a science unit while still being flexible to my students?
This is a question I struggle with every science unit. It’s a tough balance between ensuring that your students learn all they are supposed to and following their interests and curiosities. When planning units, I try to be very thoughtful about the types of activities I provide, but especially the opening activities. I want to spark interest and curiosity in this topic and then I open up the conversation to hear what they are wondering and interested in discovering.
For example, when starting a plant unit, I place seeds on a poster (I don’t tell them they are seeds) and ask students what they know or what they are wondering. This sparks a lot of interest in the unit. I also love to use an experiment at the beginning of the plant unit to increase a lot of curiosity and engagement.
When studying frogs, I don’t tell my students what the eggs are. Instead I ask them what the mysterious objects are. It sparks a lot of interest and curiosity!
After our opening activity, and after hearing what the students are wondering, I try and pick a few of the questions that connect to some of the activities I had planned. I make sure to share those questions with the students when we do those activities. When you start an activity, like I did here with our water unit, with a question and a wondering, it makes the children instantly engaged. Especially, if they think they know the answer and you wonder if that’s true and how could you find out. Students usually come up with great ideas on how to test or discover the answer to these questions. Plus, it helps shape the unit around their ideas and interests, while still ensuring that they learn the content standards (and probably a lot more!).
When planning for science, it is critical that you know the standards that your students are required to learn in the year. This way, you can shape their learning to focus on topics that your students are interested in. It is a little more time-consuming because you can’t just cookie-cutter your science curriculum every year. Yet, it is so much more rewarding when you can engage your students in learning about the topics or questions that they are want to learn about.