Facing My Fears: Teaching STEM to Kindergartners

Tch Next Gen Science Squad

Do you ever wonder how you get yourself into some things?

That’s exactly what I was thinking when I stepped in front of 21 kindergartners to teach a lesson I developed with the video camera rolling. I planned on challenging myself and embracing my year of growth mindset and learning from taking risks. I was both excited and terrified by the opportunity to bring my love of STEM to the small scientists.

Did I mention that I have NEVER taught kindergarten before?

To help guide me through this process, I used Teaching Channel‘s Theory of Professional Learning.

Problem of Practice

My theory of action was: If I propose a real-world problem with an authentic audience, students will be highly engaged, apply science knowledge, and explain their scientific thinking.

Theory of Learning

Gather & Focus; Watch & Analyze:

Since kindergarten is a new grade level for me to teach, I started by looking at the Next Generation Science Standards for these “littles.” Knowing that time is a precious commodity in every classroom, being intentional and integrating across the curriculum was going to be essential. I used the NGSS bundles to start my planning. I absolutely love this resource! I also spent time observing in kindergarten classrooms and talking to teachers to get a full picture of how this world operated.

Translate & Adapt:

Here were my priorities as I started to tackle planning:

  • Short and targeted mini-lesson grounded in standards with literacy integration.
  • Visuals to support all students, especially English language learners.
  • High engagement with a real world problem and hands on learning.
  • Student thinking and reasoning evident.

Practice & Gather Evidence:

Here is the video of my lesson. I observed this classroom many times, but never had any instructional role. The students had seen me, but I didn’t have the established routines and relationships of a classroom teacher.

Lesson Plan

Picture Cards

Analyze & Seek Feedback:

I used the Teaching Channel Video Reflection Protocol to analyze my video.

How close did this lesson get to your ideal?

  • I met my goal of keeping the mini-lesson under 15 minutes, but I feel it could be tightened up even more to get kids working sooner.
  • The students were engaged, but I need to continue to work on articulating my expectations for sharing ideas during the lesson.
  • The visual poster was helpful to refer back to as students worked on constructing the caterpillar containers.
  • Overall, I was satisfied that I met my priorities to engage students and uncover scientific thinking.

What tells you this?

  • During the lesson, students were showing engagement by using a thumbs up signal when they heard clues, talking to partners, and participating in the hands-on activity.
  • When I was circulating during the construction portion, students were able to justify their designs and stayed focused on elements that helped the caterpillar survive.

What do you think would have to change for you to get closer to your goal?

  • I need to continue to work on really distilling my teaching points and lessons to around 10 minutes. Research has shown that the person doing the talking is doing the learning; therefore I need to step back.

What would students be saying or doing if you were to achieve it?

  • Students would be doing more of the talking and I’d just be asking probing questions.
  • I noticed it’s easy for teachers to inadvertently give loaded feedback. Instead of using opinion laden comments like “that is a good idea,” try staying neutral. Say “interesting idea” or “tell me more about your thinking.” Neutral language opens up the room for a variety of thinking.

How do you think your practice would need to shift for you to reach your goal?

  • I think it’s always helpful to anticipate student need. What might it look like for students grappling with the concept? What questions could I ask to probe or push thinking? Am I approaching the lesson with an equity lens so that I am providing opportunities for all students?

What are your next steps?

  • I’ve taught the lesson five more times and was able to shorten the lesson and do a better job of managing student materials (pre-made kits for each pair of students).
  • I’m thinking about ways to extend the lesson beyond this initial step.

Takeaways:

Well… I survived, and kindergarten is actually a very fun and exciting world! I look forward to spending more time with our small scientists and engineers.

I’m thinking about next steps of how to integrate STEM with the work being done around intentional play. How can we embed more NGSS aligned STEM play into our kindergarten world? I would love to hear from others about this work.

Thank you to Alissa Miller, the fabulous Kindergarten teacher at Newcastle Elementary in Issaquah School District in Washington State. It’s been so inspiring to watch her teach and collaborate around STEM integration. And thank you to Josh Moore, who did a fantastic job recording the lesson, pairing it down, and formatting it for this piece.

Liza Rickey is a science and STEM curriculum specialist at Issaquah School District in Issaquah, Washington. She has taught elementary students for the past 13 years. Liza is a University of Washington graduate with a bachelors in Zoology and a Masters in Teaching, Mickelson ExxonMobil Teachers Academy alumni, and Teachers College Writing Institute alumni. She is currently working on her administration certification and is excited to be a part of Teaching Channel’s Next Gen Science Squad. Connect with Liza on Twitter: @lizarickey.

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