“The way kids learn to make good decisions is by making decisions, not by following directions.”
Science is not just about trying to know and memorize information; it is a way of trying to make sense of the world. Scientists ask questions, design investigations, try to make sense of the information they gather, and communicate and defend their thinking to others. Students should be gathering information with the intent on trying to decide what to do with that information.
Sometimes they don’t find the answers to their questions, and sometimes they don’t end up making decisions about what their findings. Let’s teach science to students in a way that they are continually being encouraged to make decisions.
The important role teachers have is to help students develop the skills they need to think like scientists and to lead them in understanding science concepts. Their job is to make science real, relevant, and rigorous. Students must learn how to be a scientist, to discover things, solve mysteries, and fix things that go wrong. Teachers have to lead students on a path where they embrace the mindset of a scientist and act like detectives while investigating things. With that mindset, students must know that scientists think and learn about their surroundings and that their work is to try and make sense of the world.
I was recently in New York to help a group of teachers become more familiar with the Next Generation Science Standards around the Engineering Design portion in grades K-2. I shared lessons like “Hold The Load” from AIMS that are aligned to the standards that were relatable, and simple to do with their students. At the beginning of each engineering lesson, I asked the teachers to work with materials, to make observations, and to gather information. Next, they were to ask questions helping to define the problem they were working on and to learn from the model they made. Science is fun, sometimes messy, and loud, and this group of K-2 teachers was no different.
As we wrapped up the session, I asked them to share thoughts about their learning. I was happy to hear statements like:
- “It is fun when you have to think.”
- “I will work to let children’s natural curiosity give direction to the lesson.”
- “No one is too young for STEM activities.”
- “Mistakes are OK, try again.”
I know these teachers will teach more science because of the time we spent together. I think they will listen carefully to their students. They will model curiosity and keep science real and relevant. But most of all, I think they will be asking their students to make their own decisions.