Being back in the classroom full time this year means that I have taken on Science and math instruction for the first time in many years. This week I was responsible for planning our first grade Science instruction and I found myself in charge of a unit about the Earth's Structure and how the land and water of the surface can change. I guess it sounds simple enough, but I realized for the first time why Science in the primary school has not moved further along. First of all, the District has done some work giving us Resources in the form of a District curriculum aligned with state standards and we do have an adopted series that isn't very aligned... but that's it. There are no lessons to teach. You only have the standards, some resources and a pacing guide that tells you when to teach what. Our first grade Science lead teacher recognized this right off and so we have had our grade level teachers organize and write some lessons. The problem, of course, is that many of us do not have strong Science content backgrounds and we are not really familiar with the depth of the content, so we don't understand the continuum of the content K-5. Although we know that our students will learn better by experiencing labs and experiments, we don't really know how to best set those up, so the lessons that we write are just a beginning. As I looked at the lessons for this week, I had to really think about if the lesson REALLY taught the concept I thought I wanted the students to understand. It didn't. So I spent probably three hours a night for three or four nights trying to understand the big picture and looking for a lab experience that might engage the students - time I surely did not have! Finally I felt like I had an idea for a lab that might work - didn't really know for sure! Next, I needed to find or buy the materials for the lab. About $15 later I had everything I thought I needed for a 20 minute lab demonstration! This was one week's lab.
So why hasn't Science moved forward in primary classroom? In my opinion, it is because
- teachers lack the Scientific background knowledge that they need
- teachers lack "outside the classroom time" to gain the knowledge that they need
- there is not sufficient "on the clock" time and professional development for teachers to learn what they need to know
- Science money and supplies are not readily available in the school. It takes both the money to purchase the supplies and then the time to buy them Off the clock
I don't think anyone at my school will be surprised by my observations. I think by forming a Science Council and by having a lead Science teacher at each grade level they have recognized the needs, but I'm not sure it's enough to roll out the type of instruction that is needed in K-2 to support a 5th grade state assessment. The 5th Grade certainly can't be expected to build ALL of the knowledge in a single year. They have to expect teachers in the lower grades to build a foundation for them to build upon. So what's the answer? I am sure with the creative and dedicated people that I work with, that we will figure it out. In the meantime feel free to leave your suggestions!