Based in Atlanta, our Instructional Coach Jarri Goodman recently shared a story from one of our partner schools.
At Out Teach, Science instruction means so much more than children repeating back facts about Earth, Life, and Physical Science phenomena. It’s also about building up their science and engineering skills and practices so that students can apply their knowledge in a meaningful way in real-world situations.
Luckily, experiential outdoor instruction helps students learn facts more deeply and build practices they’ll use for the rest of their lives. It’s also a great way to include different 21st Century and SEL skills into the regular school day.
Children engaging in Science Practice will be:
• Asking Questions
• Developing and Using Models
• Planning and Carrying Out Investigations
• Analyzing and Interpreting Data
• Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking
• Constructing Explanations
• Engaging in Argument from Evidence
• Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information
Normally at Out Teach, everything we need to teach a lesson is already happening outdoors, making it easy to take lessons outside. The sun is already shining for our Angles of the Sun lesson. Plants, animals and insects are already surviving for our Life cycle and Habitats lessons. The rocks are already, well, being rocky for our lessons on mineral classification. There’s no need for teachers to spend time prepping materials or setting up experiences, they tend to happen naturally.
Except when they don’t.
For a recent lesson on fossils in Georgia, having students find naturally occurring fossils on school grounds is unlikely at best.
But the Georgia Science Standards of Excellence are aimed to eliminate the practice of teaching to the test, and the standards have shifted from merely memorizing scientific facts to actually doing science so that students spend more time posing questions and discovering the answers for themselves.
As an Instructional Coach with Out Teach, my goal is to provide instruction and strategy to combine knowledge with practice. This level of instruction helps students develop their own ideas and evaluate them using scientific principles. Normally, doing real science in the real outdoor world helps with that.
So, for this fossil lesson, a 3rd grade teacher I’d been planning with needed to craft a lesson focused on constructing an argument from observations of fossils, and communicating how they serve as evidence of past organisms and the environment in which they lived.
To get the students excited, the teacher dressed them as paleontologists and placed pictures of fossils in sand. Lots of teachers do something similar, and while it does help make the experience memorable, this isn’t where the real science skill-building comes into play.
After having the students work in groups to dig for the fossil pictures, the teacher had them construct an argument detailing what type of organism they think they’d found fossilized, and what sort of environment that organism might have lived.
Using evidence from the fossils and the outdoor classroom, students used their science mindsets and 21st Century skills to support their arguments.
The teacher modeled how to students should organize their evidence, and helped students construct their arguments by providing sentence stems/frames differentiated to her students different abilities.
Then, and perhaps most importantly, instead of taking on the “Sage on the stage” role, where the teacher has all the answers, the teacher empowered the investigation groups to communicate their arguments and analyze other group’s arguments.
And that’s where the magic happened.
Real scientists investigate, argue, support, challenge, analyze, and engage in critical thinking. That’s the moment those students became real scientists, not when they dressed up like paleontologists.
By giving the students a “real” scientific experience, the teacher was also able to integrate strong English and Language Arts principles, making the lesson even more valuable academically. By having students write argument statements using evidence they observed and collected, the teacher gave them a meaningful experience in how to communicate evidence-based claims, which will come in handy both in school and in life.
This teacher’s ability to shift a lesson from fact memorization to doing science intentionally not only made the lesson more engaging and exciting for the students, deepening learning, recall, and application, but it also saved the teacher time in the short and long term. In addition to keeping students focused and on-task, the integrated lesson allowed the teacher to support Science, Language Arts, and 21st Century skill-building simultaneously, basically tripling the value of that time. And all skill-building helps students succeed and builds a more rewarding classroom environment for everyone.
It was such a delight to see how teachers are making learning more authentic and effective for their students. Just goes to show you that the science can be real, even if the fossils can’t.