Have you ever caught yourself thinking there just isn’t time for hands-on science? I have been there. I am not proud of it. There were far too many times in the early years where science was really a nonfiction reading comprehension / watch experiment demonstrations because how do you do hands-on science with 40-minute class periods?! Thankfully, I broke out of that mindset. It is tough, but it’s not impossible. And the fact is, we are doing our students — and our own futures — a huge disservice when we don’t make time for students to DO science.
Ask yourself a few questions:
- How often do my students DO science?
- Could a student who isn’t a strong reader, succeed in my science class?
- What am I doing in my class to help students fall in love with science?
These questions are tough, but necessary. And remember, I’m not here to judge; I’m in no place to judge! We sometimes benefit from others shining the light on things that need to change. And if your students aren’t regularly, actively, DOING science, you might want to think about making a few changes. 🙂
You might be thinking it sounds nice, but your time constraints are a harsh reality! I’ve put together a few sample schedules so you can get in some “doing” at least once a week, whether you’re self-contained, departmentalized or an elective teacher. If what I’ve created doesn’t work for your specific situation, comment below or contact me. I’m happy to try to work on a plan to help you out!
Check out the videos below for more detail. If you prefer to read, the transcription is included below the videos & pin image.
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Hi, I’m Kerry from Feel Good Teaching. Raise your hand if you have ever said, “My science period is too short for labs, STEM challenges and other hands-on science.” Listen, you’re not going to get any judgment from me. I’ve definitely been there and it’s not a good feeling. During those times that my science class was really nothing more than a glorified non-fiction reading comprehension class or let’s watch other people do demonstrations of science, I never felt good about that. I was always tremendously guilty because we know that’s not the right way that science should be taught and it’s not probably why we became teachers in the first place. So I’m the last person to throw stones here but there is hope.
When I found myself caving to the pressure and teaching in a way that felt dissonant with my core beliefs, I was an unhappy teacher. When I found ways to get back in line with what I actually believed which is that science is so much more than reading, comprehension and demonstrations. Science is doing and students should be doing science as often as possible. How will the next generation of scientists even know what science is if all they’ve ever done is read about it or watched it?
Think back on your own school career, what are the things that stand out to you? I can remember in elementary school doing the clay boats and trying to sink them with marbles. I can recall the egg drop. I can several science experiments but I can tell you what I don’t really remember is sitting down and reading the textbook. Now, I know I did that for sure and I’m not suggesting you throw away your textbook unless it’s garbage, I’m just saying I didn’t take any of those memories with me but the other ones were indelible and those were formative and those made me love science.
So ask yourself the tough question right now, what are you doing in your science class to make students fall in love with science? I surely am hoping you said STEM challenges but if you aren’t doing those yet, maybe tomorrow is the day. Now, you might be thinking that all this sounds very nice but it’s a little up high in the sky given the actual time constraints in your real life. I am sympathetic to that. I’ve had 40-minute class periods and it is very tough to get in a lab or STEM challenge in that time period but it’s not impossible.
I’ve put together a few sample schedules that you might be able to use whether you are a self-contained, departmentalized or an elective teacher. Because let’s be real, we have to find a reasonable and practical approach to do right by our students and stop feeling guilty about skipping the very best parts of science.
Okay, I know this might not be a very popular idea but if you’re a self-contained teacher, why not try borrowing sometime from one of the other subject areas? For me, the amount of times in ELA or math lesson has run over into history or science makes me feel absolutely not one ounce of guilt to take a little bit of that time back and devote it to science so that I can set up my lesson in an ideal way where the students can actually do the STEM challenge and have the discussion, the reflection, the analysis all on the same day.
What you see on the left is the STEM challenge cycle that I follow for all my challenges and then on the right, this is how I would propose running your STEM challenges with just one 45-minute period a week. Typically, if I’m going to do one challenge a week, I like to do it on Friday. So what I might do is actually have the students plan the night before. So on Thursday, I would announce the challenge and whether they do that for homework or I just put the idea in their heads, that part is already out of the way so that when we come in on Friday, we’re ready to just start building right away. So then on Friday, with my 45 minutes, I’m going to let them build, share and discuss.
Now the next week, I’m going to come back for the record and reflect design analysis and I might do that for morning work on Monday or I might assign it for homework or put it in as a center rotation but I will just hold that for the next week because I don’t give homework on Fridays. All the related extension lessons will just be part of my regular classroom instruction, usually in science or math classes from Monday to Thursday the following week. If you’re doing a second iteration which hopefully you are, then I would put that on the following Friday. Or another thing you might want to try out if you have a four-week month is to do three different STEM challenges weeks one, two and three, and then in the fourth week, allow the students to go back and revisit whichever challenge they choose to do a second iteration.
Next step is our middle school or high school elective teachers. Now, the schedule that I’ve put together is assuming that you have the same group of students coming to you every single day of the week but maybe you have let’s say 40 to 45 minutes is somewhat typical. Again on the left, we have all the steps of the STEM challenge cycle and then we have the days of the week that follow. On a Monday, I would have the students plan and build and I would factor in some extra time for cleanup. When the students come in on Tuesday, give them about five minutes to finish up anything that might need tweaking from the day prior. Then have them share out and do the record and reflect handouts. They can also complete those for homework if they don’t have time to do them all in class.
On Wednesday, we would do group and whole class discussion and we would actually begin our extensions. Thursday, I would spend the entire period on extensions and then Friday, you can spend the period on more extensions or you can try doing a second iteration depending on how complicated the challenge was. You can always also devote two weeks to a single challenge in this case and that gives you extra days the following week to be able to do some more extensions before you do the second iteration which I would probably do the following Friday.
But what if you’re an elementary elective teacher? In that case, you’re probably seeing a group of students once a week or even less frequently. I created two options for this scenario so let’s take a look at the first. In week one, you would plan, build and have the students share out and present to their peers. Any additional time you have will be spent for cleanup. Now, in an ideal world, you would be able to collaborate with a classroom teacher. I know that’s not always possible but let’s go ahead and plan the ideal view first.
If the teacher is open to it, ask for 15 minutes of regular class time for students to complete their design analysis handouts or ask the teacher if it’s appropriate for her to assign it as homework. You can also ask if the teacher is open to having the students do small group or even whole class discussion on their challenge. Of course, don’t forget to supply the discussion questions so the teacher doesn’t have any extra prep to do. Even if the classroom teacher isn’t able to accommodate your first two requests, she might be able to handle some extension lessons particularly if they connect with standards she was already going to need to teach anyway or it might work out well for her to incorporate inquiry or research into on of her center rotations.
I know it might be a long shot in some schools but you never know if you don’t ask. The second option is probably a little bit more realistic and it doesn’t require the classroom teacher to collaborate with you. In week one, it’s largely the same. You’re still going to plan, build and share out. If it’s possible for the classroom teacher to store the STEM challenges until the next time they come to see for elective, try that out. If that’s not possible, take some photographs while the students are presenting and sharing out. This way, you’ll have them so the next time you see the students which could be a week or more later, you can sort of jog their memory by showing them the photos.
So week two, the next time you see this class, you’re going to spend 15 minutes reviewing the designs, show them those photographs, or have them bring the designs back from their classroom and the students will complete their design analysis and you’ll also have small group and whole class discussion. There probably won’t be a lot of time left after that so the next thing I would do is have the students list out some related topics that they would need to explore before doing the next iterations so they can improve their designs. You could also during this period of time determine who gets to take their challenge home or if you’re going to break it down and recycle the materials. Finally, when you see them again in week three, you can spend the period on extensions or the next iteration of the challenge.
A few other time-saving tips for you. First of all, obviously for your first period, you’re going to want to be able to have those materials ready for the students prepared. If you’re an elective teacher and you’re going to have several classes throughout the day who are going to need materials, I would have two different sets of bins, the one that’s already with period one and then period two is empty and while the students are planning and building, I’m setting up materials for period two. When period two comes in, they get their materials and I take the empties from period one and start preparing period three.
When you’re first starting out, you want to take baby steps so that it’s manageable and doable and so that you will keep doing science. So for sure, you want to keep your first challenges very simple. My favorite one to start the year with is the card tower. So it’s just a stack of 20 index cards and maybe some masking tape, that’s up to you. With older students, I don’t let them use masking tape, and maybe some scissors and they’re just trying to build the tallest tower possible. This is a very simple challenge. It doesn’t require a lot of build time and it gives you extra minutes to practice procedures with students. Because if you only have a 40-minute period, I know some people only have 35 minutes, you need students to know exactly what to do and you need them to do it very quickly.
You might spend the first week or two just practicing procedures to make sure that at some point you’ll be able to get to those more complicated STEM challenges that require more building time because as long as those materials setup and cleanup go smoothly, you can give them more and more build time. I hope one of those suggestions will work for you.
But if you have a very specific time crunch and what I gave you doesn’t address what you need, please reach out because maybe I can find a way to help. All my contact information is in the description below. Make sure that you like, follow, subscribe, what have you so that you don’t miss anything. Next week, I’m introducing a brand new challenge and it is one of my all-time favorites and I think my students would say the same. See you next time.