How to Teach Meaningful Elementary School Science Remotely During the Pandemic!
Published in F.A.S.T. Newsletter, February 2021
Are you struggling to meet your curriculum objectives? Are you teaching your students on Zoom and in the classroom at the same time? Are you trying to make your classes interactive and motivating? Every teacher is asking themselves the same thing – what can I do to interest my students when I am not face-to-face with them?
Science is everywhere and all around us. It is part of our everyday lives and, whether on Zoom or in person, teachers should help students, who are naturally curious, become aware of STEM concepts in their daily routines. As remote learning teachers, we should take advantage of that by applying everyday tasks to science learning; cooking meals, watching weather changes, feeding pets, examining sunsets, viewing flowers bloom, observing moon shapes, and even understanding how a car or bus functions. Meeting both content objectives and National Science Standards, these household notions lend themselves to such concepts as physical science, life science, earth and space and science, engineering and technology.
As we begin the challenging second half of this pandemic school year, here are a few suggestions to ensure the success of your science teaching.
First, promote student interaction. Studies have shown that students who are given opportunities to discuss and explore ideas together become more engaged in their learning and develop skills that enable them to think independently, identify problems, and analyze them more effectively (Greenspan, 2016). Allow students a few minutes before and after each class to chat informally, whether they are online or in the classroom. Encourage them to take time to share their experiences and express their opinions; foster openness and community building.
Second, stay connected with your students by setting up a regular time each week where they can share the best thing of the week and the worst thing of the week. “Communicate well and communicate often…(The Learning Network, 2020, p. 1)” with them and with each other. Let them feel that they are part of a community of learners striving toward the same objectives.
Third, organize and teach your lesson step-by-step, whether it is online or in person. To begin,
open with an icebreaker that warms up the conversation and makes students feel comfortable
interacting. Students can show you the room where they are located, tell who lives in their house
or fill in the blank verbally, “I see___, I feel____.” They can discuss their favorite thing to do,
describe their favorite online game, or tell what they want to be when they grow up. Once that
simple activity is completed, share goals of the lesson by displaying a visual and/or conducting a
discussion. All of which empowers students to be a part of the learning.
Next, proceed in presenting content followed by an activity that engages students by asking questions that are higher-order thinking questions; those that begin with ‘why,’ and ‘how,’ which stimulate and motivate thought.
Finally, assess students’ understanding. Though traditional assessment is generally unrealistic and more difficult remotely, valuable assessment can be achieved through students’ daily discussions and journal writing, problem-solving exercises, collaborative behavior demonstrated in group projects, portfolios showcasing assignments, short oral quizzes, and peer assessment.
Fourth, consider making your lessons smaller – try and cover less material than you would ordinarily in a face-to-face classroom. Do less lecturing and promote more critical-thinking; provide time for them to gather evidence, analyze, and problem-solve. Though you might think that ‘doing’ is difficult online, rethink how it is possible. If you want your students to be engaged at home and meet your objectives at the same time, organize your lessons to use materials that students can find in their house and bring to the Zoom class. Learn and investigate together. Conduct simple experiments, like making snow in a freezer, designing parachutes with napkins, and creating weather vanes with paper cups, In other words, demonstrate on your side of the screen, encourage them to ‘do’ on their side of the screen. In terms of incorporating and emphasizing good teaching practices, use lots of visuals and games to ‘grab’ your students’ attention. “We can accomplish this simply by including activities that encourage students to respond to your open-ended, critical-thinking questions or have them elicit their own questions about the concept (Greenspan, 2016, p. 29).” Conduct scavenger hunts with objects they can find at home. Set up small break-out rooms online, give each a list of objects to find together, and return to the ‘main’ group within an allotted time period. Students love the challenge of collecting items, cooperating, and competing together.
Also, peruse the internet for exciting and fun activities that can inspire students to learn and provoke thought.
Lessons Plans: https://everfi.com/k-12/teacher-remote-learning/
Teacher Resources: https://www.weareteachers.com/free-online-learning-resources/
Keep in mind that there is ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ - We can do this- we have confronted many obstacles and have survived and learned from it. “Don’t be surprised if your exploration of online teaching leaves you feeling exhausted at the end of each day… There are so many new things to take in, so many new challenges to face. On the other hand, we’re also bound to make many great discoveries… We just need to keep putting one foot forward at a time and sharing with others our successes -- for we are better together (Paccone, 2020, p. 7).”
Greenspan, Y. F. (2016). A guide to teaching elementary science: Ten easy steps. Rotterdam: Sense/Brill Publishers. National
Research Council (April, 2013). Framework K-12 science education: Next generation science standards. Retrieved from https://www.nextgenscience.org/
Paccone, Peter (September 9, 2020). 15 lessons learned from online teaching. PBS Education. Retrieved from https://www.pbs.org/education/blog/15-lessons-learned-from-online-teaching
Teach Thought Staff (June 23, 2020). 10 Simple icebreakers for kids: elementary students edition. Retrieved from https://www.teachthought.com/pedagogy/icebreakers-for-kids-elementary-students/
Terada, Youki (October 9, 2020). 7 high-impact, evidence-based tips for online teaching: What do highly effective teachers do in online classrooms? Retrieved from https:// www.edutopia.org/article/7-high-impact-evidence-based-tips-online-teaching
The Learning Network (2020, August 26). 80 tips for remote learning from seasoned educators: Twenty-eight middle and high school teachers from the new york times teaching project tell us how they’re navigating remote instruction this fall. The New York Times. Retrieved from https:// www.nytimes.com/2020/08/26/learning/80-tips-for-remote-learning-from-seasoned-educators.html
For more STEM Next Generation Science Standards aligned activities, visit: