Creating curious scientists through hands-on questioning

Science classrooms are becoming more about cutting open pumpkins and students formulating their own questions, and less about book work.

James Blake, is his third year as the K-12 science curriculum specialist for LPS, explained some of the core concepts of the changes witnessed in science classrooms at a recent Learning Lunch program titled, Preparing the next generation of science students.

“Obviously I get excited talking about this as I’ve been studying this across the nation for quite a few years, and now it’s coming to Nebraska,” Blake said.

Current science standards are based from 1995 documents. State standards are currently being reviewed and adapted, as necessary to better fit best practices.

One such standard change might include students showing what they know by “doing something,” Blake said, as opposed to only worksheets with multiple choice questions. Some of these standards have been voluntarily implemented.

Alesia Spangler, a teacher at Randolph Elementary, said in the past, her kindergartners would learn about plants mostly through books and discussion. This year, she emphasized hands-on learning and questioning and brought a large pumpkin into the classroom.

The students asked questions, they made statements they thought might be true, then split open the pumpkin, and used a magnifying glass to study the various parts. The class even planted the seeds from the pumpkin to continue their learning.

“It was fun for them to see the different parts of the plant, really experience it, and get their hands dirty inside the pumpkin with the slime,” Spangler said.

“It’s not just reading a book, even though we need to do that. They also get to experience science.”

Lindsey Luly, a science teacher at Schoo Middle School, highlighted a scenario in her seventh-grade classrooms.

In the past, students studying plant life picked a variable to control from a list. This year, they choose the variable completely on their own.

The students “think of things I didn't think of,” Luly said. “It’s allowing them to ask really great questions, and they are coming up with the great questions instead of me.”

Students are changing the types of light on the plant, or growing a plant in a bag, or even playing music to one of the two plants in the experiment.

Blake said one challenge will continue to be professional development for teachers. The sheer size of LPS - 40,000+ students - requires LPS to think and plan ahead, then implement smartly: materials, concepts and professional development for teachers.

“We are asking people who have learned in a different way, to turn around and teach in a different way, a better way,” Blake said.

And, perhaps a teacher habit he hasn’t let go, he asked the audience to write down what they would want students to know and understand about science. Common phrases included everyday science, processing data and staying curious.

Published: February 21, 2017, Updated: February 21, 2017

“It was fun for them to see the different parts of the plant, really experience it, and get their hands dirty inside the pumpkin with the slime."

Alesia Spangler, Randolph Elementary