The end of elementary school and throughout middle school are important times to spark scientific inquiry and curiosity in students. But a lot of teachers of those age groups are expected to teach multiple subjects and often feel they don’t have the tools to teach science well. As Linda Lutton reports for National Public Radio, a science museum in Chicago is trying to help teachers overcome that gap by teaching them how to design and deliver engaging, fun, hands-on science lessons that will get kids excited to keep exploring how the world works.

A Scientific Experiment: Field Trips Just For TeachersIn a classroom across from the coal mine exhibit at the Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, students are huddled around tables, studying petri dishes of bacteria. But these aren’t school-age kids – these students are all teachers, responsible for imparting science to upper-elementary or middle-school students.

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  • Doug Peltz

    I’m a former middle school science teacher working on this very problem–how best to help elementary teachers motivate science lessons and have thought-provoking activities. I know firsthand the high quality of some of the institutions providing this kind of training (there are several here in San Francisco.) However an underlying assumption is that ideally teachers would design their own lessons from scratch. I think that this may not be realistic, nor even a fair expectation of most elementary teachers, who have to teach every subject while managing 20-30 students (which, btw, is insanely superhuman!). I believe in the possibility a greater division-of-labor, pedagogically-speaking, in which people like myself help create the resources or the tools: the motivating hooks, the visuals, the activity ideas, the questions to spark discussions, and thereby free up the elementary teachers to wield those tools and resources, with their full focus on student engagement & classroom management–arguably the thing they love and are best at.

    • I agree… someone a little more specialized can create good content and set up a template or framework of sorts for elementary teachers to use in their lessons. Perhaps with wiggle room for them to I traduce their own ideas here and there, but structured enough to help them instead of forcing them to build it all on their own.

      And as long as there’s someone to teach these teachers and ensure that they have a good understanding and appreciation for WHAT they’re teaching, I think it could work wonderfully. Good ideas 🙂

  • John Bennett

    I’m going to disagree somewhat from other comments. Yes, of course, given access to any of these “hands-on laboratories” where elementary school teachers can gain experience, teachers should do so. I’m not a fan of “canned” lab kits (with detailed lesson plans) or curriculum in general – since these allow false security for teachers that often backfire in use.

    I am a supporter of teachers getting together (I like the notion of Edcamps) and sharing experiences, concerns, ideas – as well as developing ideas together. Because of HS science AND General Education college / university requirements, elementary teachers have more than enough science to facilitate student learning. What they most likely have is the confidence to facilitate this learning!!! That’s where the Edcamps are so valuable. Another suggestion is to invite area college faculty (and, even better, emeritus faculty such as me) to join these mostly informal efforts. Also, engage the parents (and grandparents such as me). Finally, just engage the students – who, at a minimum, will bring their curiosity and likely even some knowledge / experience. TEACHERS DO NOT, REPEAT NOT, HAVE TO KNOW ANSWERS TO ALL POSSIBLE STUDENT QUESTIONS AT THE START!!!! Have fun, learn with your students!!!

    Two examples: In the first, a teacher invited my participation and had a purchased buoyancy kit. I didn’t even look at the provided lesson plans & worksheets. I suggested students work with their family to explore what floated in kitchen sink at home beforehand. We then discussed these (with contradictions) in the xpclassroom

    • John Bennett

      Oops, hit wrong button … In the classroom. We then looked at floating cups with washers inside – in all cases using the stability issues and apparent contradictions to consider the uncertainty of experiments.

      In the second, the teacher asked me to facilitate consideration of the solar system. In interactions with students, they shared so much knowledge and the discussions were great!!! After the class ended, I told the teacher how well her efforts with the students had to have been, given the student contributions. SHE HAD DONE NONE, REPEAT NONE, BEFORE MY VISIT! So the students had to have done this because they wanted to on their own!!!! Take advantage of student input and learn with them!!!!


  • I agree with this! I’m a physics major, starting my teaching career this year (In Alberta, Canada)… It’s pretty rare to find elementary teachers who are excited and put a little extra effort into physical sciences.

  • Gabriel Maldonado

    Elementary science teaching will never improve with these bandaids (regardless of the merits of the specific program). The problem is deep and systemic, no amount of in-service training will fix it. It starts with elementary teachers training, who have little grasp of fundamental science concepts, know nothing of experimental science, and have little understanding of science process skills, or even how to think scientifically. I won’t even get into the elementary science pedagogy piece which is even in worst state in teacher ed programs. We cannot expect an elementary teacher, who on average took two college level science courses (both at the introductory, science for poets type of course) with at most half a semester of methods focused on teaching science (typically lumped for elementary teachers in the range of k-6th grade) and expect them to do any science in elementary school. There are two realistic solutions (well maybe not realistic but with great likelihood to work if we could implement them nationwide): a) require all elementary teachers to minor in a science (and major in a humanities content area) in addition to their education program and beef up the pedagogy so they have to take a full year of STEM pedagogy. b) get specialist science teachers to teach science (and probably math also) from 2nd grade on). I doubt a) will ever happen (although I built an elem educ program at Hartwick College that did require a minor in psychology, bio, chem phys or math). B, Elementary STEM teacher specialist, is doable and realistic, if we could glorify the elementary ed teaching profession more. This is not meant as an attack to my elementary teachers, who are my heroes and the most important educators in the whole system, but we have got to get real about the range of subjects a person with a BA can teach effectively.

    • Helga Gruenbauer

      Hello Gabriel, I am a user experience researcher who’s currently working on a new digital product for a large educational publisher. I just read through this discussion and found a lot interesting insights. Would you be interested in speaking with me about teaching science in the elementary classroom, especially in regards to using technology?

  • eric brown

    A great and direct piece of information. Hats off to the author for gathering so specific and spot on information.
    the applause in the comments do the justice. Great piece of information.

  • Delia Quellman

    This is amazing! Science should most definitely be tapped into during these impressionable elementary years. I am a Biology major, getting my Masters in education as we speak. We always talk about active, fun, engaging science lessons that can spark scientific inquiry and curiosity in students. Happy to see this resource being offered to educators to better help them in the science classroom!

  • Vik Vein

    This nice photo
    reflects the main advantage of such schools where experience teachers work
    together with specialists who only start their career. It is so valuable to
    share ideas and resources (I got to know this website for
    writing my essays and reports). I wonder if it is possible to attend this
    school for students as to mind we should try get as much as possible during our
    study after that we probably will not have time. I am so eager to become a good

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