Teaching science is a vital part of any elementary curriculum, but it’s not always easy without essential background knowledge, prep time, and supplies. To alleviate these challenges, curriculum directors and administration can take the following research-backed steps to improve science instruction.
Address Science Teaching Anxiety
Let’s start with a critical but often overlooked aspect: science teaching anxiety. A teacher’s anxiety level and their own science interest significantly predict how effective they will be teaching science, according to Development of the science teaching anxiety scale for preservice elementary teachers: A Rasch analysis, a January 2022 Science Education research article by Elena Novak, Ilker Soyturk, and Shannon L. Navy.
The researchers in this study further explain that it is imperative that teacher educators and preparation programs take proactive steps to address the issue of science teaching anxiety and nurture science interest among preservice elementary teachers. Preparation programs should be designed to allow preservice teachers the opportunity to reflect on their experiences with science and discuss any anxieties they might have related to science content. This reflective process can assist teachers in controlling and self-regulating their emotions, which is considered a vital component in learning to teach science.
Additionally, as new elementary teachers onboard with a school or district, there should be ample opportunities for these educators to continue reflecting on and addressing their science teaching anxiety. The research shows that as they receive ongoing support in managing this emotion, it will improve their teaching practices.
During preservice and induction programs, teacher educators can encourage teachers to identify specific science content areas they feel more anxious about. Often, physical science or engineering and technology are domains that can evoke more science anxiety than life science. Because it is crucial for elementary teachers to feel comfortable with all content domains, teachers should be given time to gain sufficient background knowledge on each content area.
This can be done through professional development sessions, or if using Studies Weekly, it can be done during a science team meeting, where each teacher reviews the full teacher edition. Essential background knowledge and ideas for teaching science are included in the Studies Weekly Teacher Edition.
Implement High-Leverage Science Teaching Practices
Teachers can alleviate their anxiety, and feel empowered in their science teaching, by adopting high-leverage science teaching practices.
High‐leverage practices “include tasks and activities that are essential for skillful beginning teachers to understand, take responsibility for, and be prepared to carry out to enact their core
instructional responsibilities” according to a study published August 2022 in Science Education, Engagement in high‐leverage science teaching practices among novice elementary teachers, by Elizabeth A. Davis and Annemarie S. Palincsar.
The study outlines six high-leverage science teaching practices that support students’ sensemaking in elementary science. These practices are crucial for fostering a deeper understanding of scientific concepts and skills:
- Developing norms for discourse and work that reflect the discipline of science helps students understand why these norms are important and how to practice them – for example, the need to always support a claim with evidence.
- Choosing and using representations, examples, and models of science content and practices that are accurate and appropriate within the context at hand, and use precise language. In this practice, the teacher also makes their own thinking about the example visible to students.
- Leading science sensemaking discussions using student ideas as resources to build toward collective knowledge in the classroom. It also involves supporting multiple students in contributing orally, listening actively, and responding to other students’ contributions.
- Eliciting and probing student thinking about science using effective questions, models, or tasks to elicit student ideas, and then following up on specific language students use, checking alternative interpretations of student ideas, and making reasonable interpretations of those ideas.
- Supporting students as they construct scientific explanations and arguments and make claims that answer the investigation question, supporting it with sufficient evidence and reasoning that addresses the phenomenon.
- Setting up and managing small‐group investigations using small groups, when appropriate, with clear directions for students’ small‐group work. Establishing student roles with direct assigned tasks helps teachers hold groups and individuals accountable for small‐group work and, at the same time, supports students in collaboratively engaging in the investigative work. Teachers should also circulate and monitor student work during these investigations.
As teachers enact these practices in their classroom science teaching, students build strong sense-making skills, and the science classroom becomes interactive, engaging, and a safe space for students to explore. Additionally, these are not standalone practices, but work together and build on each other. For example, to develop evidence‐based explanations through discourse, teachers should be able to support students in responding to their classmates’ ideas – part of leading a discussion and requesting evidence to support claims.
Additionally, as teachers use these strategies, along with the background knowledge included in their teacher edition, they will feel more confident, more capable, and more empowered to teach science.
See how Studies Weekly Science can empower teachers and students at studiesweekly.com/science
Development of the science teaching anxiety scale for preservice elementary teachers:
A Rasch analysis, by Elena Novak, Ilker Soyturk, and Shannon L. Navy, published January 2022 in Science Education
Engagement in high‐leverage science teaching practices among novice elementary teachers, by Elizabeth A. Davis and Annemarie S. Palincsar, published in Science Education August 2022
Motivation for science learning as an antecedent of emotions and engagement in preservice elementary teachers, by Pedro Membiela, Manuel Vidal, Sandra Fragueiro, María Lorenzo, Isabel García‐Rodeja, Virginia Aznar, Anxela Bugallo and Antonio González, published August 2021 in Science Education