Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Science, or An Unfortunate Lack Thereof

"Everything must be made as simple as possible. But not simpler." -Albert Einstein

"Science never solves a problem without creating ten more." -George Bernard Shaw

Recently (Okay, way back at the beginning of December) I got the opportunity to go to the National Science Teacher's Association regional conference in Long Beach. I got to go on a business trip! Had my flight and hotel booked and paid for! We got more per diem than expected (and took advantage of that)! Of course, I was a little nervous. One, because I'm not a science teacher in the traditional sense. I'm a science teacher in that I teach science--but I teach everything as a kindergarten teacher. I was also nervous because I'd have to be social with some other teachers at my school, with whom I had previously barely exchanged pleasantries. And I'm not very good at being talkative and social at work. There's a reason I work with kids: I can get along well with them. Adults are a challenge.

The second fear was unfounded-- my fellow teachers are pretty cool people. The first fear was actually well founded, but not quite in the way I expected. There were sessions aimed at lower elementary teachers, and there were other lower elementary teachers there. I wonder what some of them thought of the sessions I went to, because I was unimpressed. The best sessions I went to were not applicable to me, but way more interesting. A couple of sessions I felt like I could have presented myself, and I -by no means- consider myself an expert in anything education related. Or in anything, really.

So much of the k-2 sessions were very general, and discussing either how the Next Generation Science Standards mesh with the Common Core, or about what an effective science lesson looks like. They could have been useful sessions as a student teacher, because I, as any teacher worth their salt, already know students are more engaged when things are hands on (duh), and I already know a lot of strategies for ELs, and about incorporating read alouds into science.

There's also this assumption that science teachers are terrified of the NGSS. I didn't go all the way to Long Beach to be reassured about new standards. Same with the Common Core. One, because I'm a new teacher, I'm starting with the new standards--I don't have to get used to some new change. But two, because I don't feel threatened by the standards. I think that it's really more the application of the standards, and not the standards themselves that are so frustrating. But I digress.

I think there are some other assumptions about lower elementary teachers that may actually be rooted in reality, and that may explain the lack of resources for kindergarten teachers who want to teach science. I think there isn't as much quality science being taught in kindergarten because a lot of elementary teachers don't have a strong science background. Because there is a lack of comprehensive knowledge, teachers avoid teaching it where possible, and with such an emphasis on math and reading in lower grades, it's pretty easy to get away with.

What's more, many adults, teachers included, have a wealth of misconceptions about science, that were ingrained at a young age, so when science is taught, it's not always taught well. Even teachers who don't have these misconceptions run the risk of perpetuating them with their students. Many misconceptions start out of truth, simplified into kid-friendly language. Trying to "dumb down" concepts, as it were, can be a dumb thing to do. What would have been great at this conference was a session (or twenty) on how to prevent misconceptions, how to teach complex topics to kindergarteners without creating these misconceptions, and some solid science content for teachers who don't have a comprehensive science background.

It wasn't all a loss though. I came away with some interesting resources, even if it was just a geological poster of California, some rock samples, and some sweet space pictures from NASA. I also came away with more enthusiasm and motivation to teach science, even though it's hard to fit in new things into an already packed day. Even if I don't manage to get organized enough this year, science will be a bit stronger from the beginning of the year next year.

I have to admit, though, that the best thing about Long Beach was wholly unrelated to the conference, but still teaching related. There was this GIANT used bookstore where every book was a dollar. I bought around 30 kids books for my classroom (and some were science books!). I really do have a children's book problem. I could have stayed there much much longer, and bought many more books, but I managed some self restraint.

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