Effective professional development must focus on developing teachers’ science content knowledge, as well as their pedagogical knowledge related to how children learn science.
Need for an Intensive and Systematic Approach
Science and children are a natural fit. Anyone who has spent time with young children knows that they are innately curious and motivated to engage in inquiry using all their senses. Just like young scientists, children seek out new experiences, conduct investigations and observations, collect data, look for patterns and relationships, and generate theories to explain the world and how it works based on evidence.
Topics in physical science, life science, and earth science provide rich content for children’s inquiry, as well as a context for integrated learning across the domains of mathematics, language, and literacy.
Investigations of the objects, materials, and living things around them introduce children to the “big ideas” that will provide the foundation for their later science learning. Children’s early experiences also play a key role in cognitive development and learning. Opportunities to explore the world, as well as time to reflect on their explorations and observations, are essential for young children’s brain development. These hands-on and minds-on experiences are critical for exercising children’s reasoning and problem-solving abilities.
Young children are innately curious
Children are naturally compelled to explore and observe the world around them and to look for relationships and patterns. Even before they enter school, children have acquired substantial knowledge of the natural world, and generated their own ideas about how and why the world works the way it does.
Although these early ideas may include preconceptions like “shaking leaves cause the wind” and “all big things float,” such thinking is the result of reasoned inferences based on evidence from their own experiences. It is these experiences that form the foundation on which later science understanding is developed. All young children, regardless of their backgrounds, have the capacity to learn science, especially when their explorations and reflections are intentionally structured and supported by knowledgeable adults. Opportunities to “do science” promote the development of scientific processes and practices as children explore cause and effect, make predictions, collect and record data, and engage in collaborative reflection during science conversations.
Family engagement is key
We make family engagement a core aspect of our professional learning initiatives for teachers. Our goal is to provide teachers with the tools and strategies they need to actively engage families in all aspects of their children’s science learning. We have developed a range of resources for teachers to share with families that extend structures, balls and ramps, living things, and sound and light explorations into the home. These activities are available in English and Spanish, inexpensive, fit easily into typical family routines, and provide explicit guidance for supporting family exploration and conversation. Additionally, we recommend high-quality online science resources that teachers can share with families about early science learning and ways they can support it. We also emphasize the importance of bi-directional communication between home and school. When teachers establish two-way communication with families, they enable families to extend school science experiences into the home and promote their own capacity to plan school science experiences that are relevant and responsive to children’s lives and family experiences. Close communication between teachers and parents fuels children’s ability to make connections between related science experiences at home, at school, and in the community.