Science is an essential part of everyday life. It is important for teachers to guide students towards nurturing the skills they need to become young scientists. Very young science students must be encouraged to show high levels of curiosity. They should want to find out how things in the world work and why things happen. Through scientific enquiry, they learn basic physics, chemistry and biology. They examine objects carefully, observe changes, ask questions and realise that the answers may not always be what they expect. Whilst students learn about different plants, animals and locations throughout the world through a range of quality non-fiction books, true understanding begins when they have first-hand practical experiences. Teaching should provide many first-hand practical opportunities for experimentation, peer collaboration and subsequent scientific discussion.
Successful teaching has on-going enquiry built in to the everyday activities. Teachers must encourage worthwhile talk and link findings and ideas from the students to the real world. The water tray, for example, can be used to find out which materials are waterproof and which fabrics are suitable for different weather conditions. Young students can experiment with objects of different shape, size and weight to work out why some objects float and others sink. By running cars over plastic, paper, metal and rubber surfaces, students can discover about friction and realise why tyres are made of rubber and why road surfaces are made by different materials near intersections and traffic lights. Running vehicles of different weights down a ramp and measuring, which go further, can elicit much discussion about forces. They learn about gravity with dry sand, water, tubes and other relevant resources.
The construction area can be used to find out which three-dimensional shapes are best for forming the foundations of high-rise apartment buildings. Providing opportunities for practical, supported investigation accelerates understanding. Sowing fast growing seeds, for example, and placing them in four different situations, such as near a window, in the fridge, covered completely in black paper, without water will help students truly understand the essentials for healthy plant growth. Growing peas or beans and pollinating the flowers teaches them how seeds develop. These everyday activities supported by appropriate questioning, teach students why things happen and how things work.
When students are familiar with investigative work supported by the teacher, opportunities should be provided to investigate, explore and collaborate in very small groups of three or four, where each student has a specific role to play. Serious scientific questions need to be raised such as, why water evaporates, do all seeds in fruit look alike, what happens when you mix salt or sugar or flour or corn flour in water? Teachers must provide appropriate resources and equipment to assist students in planning and recording their scientific project. As a group, they must predict what they think will happen, plan how they will carry out the investigation, gather evidence, record information and provide simple data. Finally, they need to relate their findings to other groups in the class. Students will therefore learn from each other.
Through this kind of activity, the school has budding scientists!
- Take every opportunity to encourage students to be curious and ask questions.
- Role model simple investigations so students are familiar with the processes.
- Plan scientific activities with small groups on a regular basis.
- Have equipment and resources readily available for scientific enquiry.
- Support students through their investigations, and as they feed back their findings to the class group.