elementary science

Field Trip to the Science Classroom

Bunsen burners are lit, plants are everywhere, beakers, test tubes, and flasks scatter the lab benches, and students are bent over leaves stained with iodine analyzing the results of their experiments. We do not notice the movement in the doorway.

But we hear my name called and all turn to look at the classroom entrance. Then we see them cautiously filing in with their hands clasped in front of themselves. As they hesitate to join us in the lab area, it’s clear to me that they’ve been instructed, “Do not touch anything!” I beckon them towards us.

These wide-eyed 4th graders have been learning about the rain forests and photosynthesis. Their teacher came to me for additional resources and ideas and wondered if we were doing anything that might fit. And behold, we were! I gave her the link to the Photosynthesis song (click here if you want to watch it for yourself) and we decided that she’d bring her class up as my students were completing their photosynthesis experiments.

So, here they are. They receive a debriefing on the activities. When they are shown the variegated (green and white) leaves and are asked what part of the leaf will demonstrate photosynthesis they immediately exclaim, “The green part!” and off we go. With captivation the 4th graders listen to the 10th graders explain their various stages of research.  It is fun to watch the high school students carefully evaluate exactly what they are doing, deliberate the words they will speak, and embark on explanations that will be understandable to their elementary guests.

The 10th graders become more and more confident in their knowledge and the 4th graders get a taste of “real science”. Eventually the younger students must descend the stairs to their classroom and the reluctantly head out the door but before they leave, they shout out a series of “thank you”s.

This is definitely an advantage of our smaller school: An elementary class can take a field trip that merely involves climbing the stairs. High school students are afforded the chance to teach younger students, solidifying their own knowledge. If you have the chance to mix younger and older students, take the chance. You’ll find learning at its best!

Elementary Enthusiasm

I have the opportunity to offer science support to the elementary teachers at our school.  This has proven to be one of the most enjoyable things I have done.  First of all the elementary teachers I work with are amazing and they are so incredibly open to new ideas and to improving the learning experiences in their classroom so it is an absolute joy to work with them.  Second of all, those little elementary students are just so cute!

Just picture a third grade class.  The classroom is warm and inviting with an appropriate amount of student work and teacher scaffolding hanging all around the room leaving one with a sense of the great activity that happens there without overwhelming or cluttering the space.  True to form, when I walk in, the students simmer with excitement.  It doesn’t matter what I bring, it can be beakers and water, they greet me with eager anticipation.  The teacher has prepped them and they clearly cannot wait any longer for my arrival.  There is something about a guest from “the upper school” and when she brings cool and interesting things it’s just over the top fun. 

They seat themselves on a colorful rug in a circle around the portable white board.  I launch into a discussion of Newton’s laws with pictures and diagrams.  They soak it all in.  Then I explain that we will be conducting our own set of experiments to determine whether we can observe these laws ourselves.  They almost can’t contain their enthusiasm as I set out plastic cups, a notecard, and a coin for each of them.  We place the card on the cup with the coin on top of the card, preparing for an example of the Law of Inertia.  I ask them to hypothesize what will happen when they quickly pull away the card.  They can process that, according to the law we just discussed, the coin should fall into the cup but they can’t quite make themselves believe it.  So, they carry out the experiment. Almost immediately one boy, with all the energy his little body could possibly hold, leaps to his feet in complete wonderment and exclaims, “So Newton was right!”

I love those little ones and they inspire me as I head back up to my classroom in the upper school.  I know there is a way to ignite similar, albeit it differently expressed, enthusiasm in my seniors.