Time for hands-on science learning

pierson elementary

Edith I. Starke Elementary School and Pierson Elementary School
Volusia County, FL

Since the passage of No Child Left Behind, reading and math often have crowded out other crucial subjects, like science, civics, and history. Expanded learning time makes it possible for schools to restore these subjects to their rightful place in the curriculum. That certainly has been the case at both the Edith Starke Elementary School and Pierson Elementary School in Volusia County, FL, which have significantly increased time for science instruction.

When the schools gained an additional hour each day, they took advantage of that time to redesign their schedules with a focus on including more science instruction. Pierson Elementary went from providing just one hour of weekly science instruction before the expanded day to providing five hours each week under the new schedule. Depending on grade levels, Starke Elementary implemented similar increases in science.

You have to do science; you cannot just read about it.

But leaders at Pierson and Starke recognized that time is a resource, not a strategy – so it wasn’t just the quantity of science that changed, but also how science was taught. Teachers use a variety of approaches to help students learn science, from teacher-led discussions to hands-on experiments.

“You have to do science; you cannot just read about it,” says Laura Bechard, a science teacher at Pierson. “Students must show me in lots of different, creative ways that they understand what science is.”

In Bechard’s fourth and fifth grade classes, for example, small groups of students rotate among experimental stations learning about water erosion by observing the effects of simulated rain on planters filled with clover compared with planters filled with just dirt.

“Students struggle with how the science we teach connects to the real world,” says Bechard. “We need to make it explicit and reinforce those connections constantly. This, again, takes time.”