• Lisa Love

"Teach them science!"

I've started the 3rd semester in my Special Education graduate program and my first class was a Bilingual and Multicultural Education class. This is a class I have been looking forward to mainly because I live on the U.S./Mexican border where many of our students are learning English as a second language.

As the class began, I could tell immediately that I am going to learn much from my professor. She knows from personal experience what it is like to learn English as a second language and her insights and instructions were exactly what I needed to hear.

So I was already loving her, but then, she said something that made my STEAM loving heart jump up and down for joy.

We had been talking about the different ages to present different English language lessons. My professor shared that the young students, kinder - about 3rd or 4th grade do better when we DON'T cram them full of grammar, spelling, vocabulary, "repeat after me" type of lessons.

Well that was not what I was expecting to hear!

Let me tell you why ... In Arizona, students who have been identified as learning English as a second language must take the Arizona English Language Learner Assessment (AZELLA) each year until they pass the test. My job, as a teaching assistant at this time, is to pull small 30-minute groups of kinder, 1st, and 2nd grade students out of their classes to prepare them to take this test in the next couple of months.

The test is all about writing, vocabulary, grammar, syntax etc and so to prepare them, we use a sample test. It's important, especially for the kinders, to practice with a sample test so they can simply learn the test taking procedures, however, it's boring. Well, I think it's boring and I'm of the opinion that if I'm bored, my students are bored and so, yeah, it's boring.

SO, back to what my professor said ...

When she made her comment, I immediately thought of that boring sample test and that she just told me lessons such as what is contained in that sample test are less effective.

My hand shot in the air. Actually, I don't think I even raised my hand. I just blurted out,

"So how do we teach them then?"

Do you know what she said?

You'll never guess.

I couldn't have predicted this answer.

I wish you could have seen her, she kind of bent her knees a little, leaned forward like she was about to tell us a great secret and said, "Teach them science!"

My heart skipped a beat and then she said, "They will learn English because they will want to understand."

I might have been hallucinating, but in my memory of that moment, a pillar of light shown down on my professor and I might have heard angels singing. (wink, wink)

Teach them science.

Of course!

I had tried making the lessons more enjoyable in many different ways, but to simply say, "Teach them science." sent my mind all a whirl. I determined that I would create some new lesson plans asap (along with the mountains of homework I already have, but who needs sleep?)

The universe is my friend and little did I know that the weather Gods had arranged for me to get started on my new plan right away.

The small town where I live, Yuma, AZ is, officially the sunniest place in the U.S. Truly. We experience sunshine 90% of the time (it feels like more). This morning, however, we experienced something highly unusual for our neck of the desert ... we all woke up to fog!

It wasn't thick, dense, pea soup fog, but it was fog and it was awesome! Some of the students in our school have NEVER experienced fog in their lifetime and so today was kind of an exciting day, and maybe a little strange for some of them.

As I entered the school this morning I thought about how today was a perfect day for a spontaneous lesson on the water cycle. The water cycle is just something in a video or on a picture for Yuma students. They really only experience the sun heating up the earth and evaporation of any droplet of water the heat can get its hot little hands on. We hardly ever have a sky full of clouds, or rain, so condensation and precipitation are kind of cloudy parts of the water cycle for them. (Haha!)

But today! Today they could actually experience some weather and a plan started to form in my mind.

The AZELLA practice test indicates that a cycle of some type may be part of the test questions. With the 2nd graders, I went over the simple steps of the water cycle knowing it would be part of the sample test anyway. The exciting part for me, and for the students, was after learning the cycle steps, we went outside and walked around in the "cloud" identifying the different water cycle steps and experiencing it in live action. I was overjoyed with their excitement and interest and their questions - they asked great questions. I might have encouraged them to jump in a few puddles that had collected out on the playground - sorry for the wet shoes Moms. (No, actually, I'm not sorry.)

So that was fun but I wasn't sure exactly what to do with the Kinders. There is not a question about cycles on their sample test. How could I justify doing a water cycle lesson for these kiddos?

There were only minutes to decide what to do and I chose to trust my professor. I quickly found a simple water cycle worksheet and plunged right in ...

What an adventure in AZELLA prep! My professor was right.

On this one little worksheet we talked about:

  • Letters of the alphabet

  • The first, middle, and last sounds in words and the colors of the crayons we used

  • Direction words

  • Rhyming words with the words on the paper

  • Capital letters at the beginning of sentences

  • Periods at the end of sentences

  • Asking questions (That is a skill on the test, looking at pictures and asking questions of the test administrator.)

  • Speaking in complete sentences

  • Sequencing

Unfortunately, the fog had cleared up by the time I met with the Kinder group, but they remembered and they were still filled with questions about the fog which gave me opportunities to slip in verb tense, asking in complete sentences, adjectives, etc.

I was thrilled! My students were so engaged that they didn't even know we were prepping for a test and learning to speak and understand more English. Tomorrow we will work on writing sentences about what we learned and possibly make Flipgrid videos of the students reading what they wrote.

My students had fun.

I had fun.

It was a great day!

It worked!

Teaching science worked and I couldn't be happier or more excited.

I'm a believer! Awaken the wonder in every child!

This is a picture of the Crab nebula. Do you know what happens in a nebula? Stars are born. Astronomy is my favorite science topic and as I'm thinking of what happened in my little corner of the school today, and I think about what happens in a nebula, I'm thinking that I always want my classroom to be a nebula - a place where stars are born.

That will happen with STEAM!