Just last week we hosted over a dozen fourth grade teachers for an Advancing STEM training. Now that the Elementary NYS Science Assessment has ended for 4th grade (moving to 5th grade in 2024), these teachers got busy learning about the new science standards (NYSSLS) and the CA BOCES Advancing STEM kits. Our Advancing STEM kits are inquiry-based science units that are aligned with the NYS Science Learning Standards.
Earlier in July, middle school teachers worked on learning the SEPUP Lab-Aids middle school science curriculum. One unique characteristic of this company is their dedication to embedding literacy strategies into the lessons. They make use of a Science Lab Notebook as students reflect, explain their understanding, revise their models and explanations, make predictions, prepare oral arguments, and take notes to guide their reading.
Especially true with the new science standards, students need opportunities to read, write, and talk like scientists do. Knowing how and when to use these skills is scientific literacy. The means to discovery and the acquisition of the knowledge, skills, and nature of science heavily relies on literacy skills like reading, writing, and talking. However, literacy skills should not be the end unto themselves. Students should have a purpose to reading as they learn literacy skills. “Literacy is a domain in search of content” according to Dr. Jacquey Barber, and “Science is a discipline in need of communication”. So literacy needs science and science needs literacy!
There has always been a question about how students best learn science and as literacy has been more and more emphasized over the past couple of decades, disciplines such as science have become progressively marginalized in elementary classrooms. Some educators insist students must be engaged in hands-on open-ended activities, whereas others have their students read about scientific ideas to gain an understanding of science concepts.
Based on a study by Dr. Barber, students who engaged in a combination of doing and talking, and reading and writing gained much more scientific knowledge than students who engaged in a strictly hands-on approach or students who engaged in a strictly reading and writing approach. Students involved in the do-talk-read-write approach were motivated to read as they investigated a scientific phenomenon. They were excited to discuss and write about their discoveries.
The NYSSLS are transformational. They include science literacy practices within the standards: Constructing explanations, engaging in argument from evidence, obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information are integral to the discipline of science. We are not born knowing how to do these skills, and so they must be explicitly taught so students understand how to figure out the phenomenon and communicate about it.
Instead of science being a marginalized subject, what if it provides a storyline for math and literacy? Science lessons should be framed with a scientific purpose where students are using science (literacy) skills to figure something out. This scientific purpose provides a common thread to link literacy skills (and math skills!). Our Advancing STEM kits already provide this storyline.
I’m hoping to work over this coming school year with elementary teachers of our region to integrate more literacy strategies into our kits so students are reading, writing, and talking like scientists as they investigate real-life phenomena. Stay tuned for collaboration opportunities that I would love to have your elementary teachers be a part of!
If you’re a podcast person, this: Summer '22 Rewind: The symbiotic relationship between literacy and science with Jacquey Barber (buzzsprout.com) expands on much of what you’ve read here and offers some other resources that I will be delving into as I work on this project!
By: Kelli Grabowski, CA BOCES Learning Resources
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