Theme of the month

Theme of the Month

Join us each month as we focus on a topic of interest to STEM Teacher Leaders with a webinar panel, open discussion, resources and blog post. 

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Join the Discussion! Uncovering the Brilliance of Children: Science in Elementary

Join this facilitated conversation to discuss how elementary teachers can leverage their expertise and experience to help students wonder and be curious as they explore the natural world and design solutions to real world problems that matter to them. The conversation will bring together sound evidence, big ideas, and actionable next steps that we all need to take! We invite your participation!


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If you are looking for ways to support science instruction, be sure to read this report "Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators." Look at this little nugget of evidence ... 

"Substantial evidence that integrating literacy and science can support more time for science/engineering learning without detracting from children's literacy learning, including for emergent multilingual learners."

How have you seen science help support your elementary multilingual learners? What works? What are some challenges? 


Wed, 06/08/2022 - 6:35 PM Permalink

I thought that one important caution of #BrillianceAndStrengths Chapter 6 that was not highlighted sufficiently during the webinar was that during integration the integrity of each discipline needs to be carefully attended to. For example, literacy instruction and science instruction are often in direct conflict with one another when it comes to vocabulary. Vocabulary is often frontloaded in literacy instruction while it is best practice during science instruction to actively engage students in a common experience prior to introducing and confirming academic vocabulary. This can be a significant challenge for multilingual learners, as pure frontloading will not be as helpful as having an experience on which to base comprehension of new vocabulary. Integration is effective when the intentions and best practices of each discipline are honored through intentional planning and implementation. 

Fri, 06/10/2022 - 10:13 AM Permalink

"Integration is effective when the intentions and best practices of each discipline are honored through intentional planning and implementation."

I absolutely love that! I appreciate what you said about vocabulary. I think we tend to focus too much on frontloading vocabulary when building background knowledge and context is so much more powerful. Also, exploring the morphology of some academic words would probably be a more fruitful endeavor. 


STEM Teaching Tools has a good brief about that:

Fri, 06/10/2022 - 4:16 PM Permalink

Thank you for highlighting this important point. I agree that it is critical that as students engage in sensemaking that students egnage with the content as a collective community of learners and through that experience learn vocabulary. In my experience, the shift into sense making has been a tremendous support to our linguistically gifted students because they learn vocabulary authentically through relevant, place based experiences.  It is the meaningful and purposeful learning that happens in inquiry really allows students to develop vocabulary. The student work examples I highlighted were all students who are bilingual and learning English. They were using words like solluble and unsolluble and emulsifier.  I learned so much from them that I did not know! I am continually blown away with the vocabulary acquisition. In fact, the lack of vocbulary development prior to shifting towards content based literacy was one of the factors that lead me to science. The URL that follows is a resource I have found helpful to support classroom teachers, ELL teachers, and special education teachers to move forward understanding of the shifts in high leverage strategies to support ELL students. In my practice, these strategies inform my instruction across all subjects. 

Truly there is so many layers to this work and vocabulary development is incredibly important as it is essential to comprehension. We also know that vocabulary sticks best when it has other related topics to stick to! Enter science! I could have talked the whole time about the report and how it represents what I have experienced first hand in the classroom. Thank you againg for your thoughtful post. I would love to have more open dialogues and opportunities to collaborate with other elementary educators as we together help to shine a light on the power of integrated science and literacy!  


Mon, 06/13/2022 - 9:09 AM Permalink

Science vocabulary is complex, and necessary. A strategy that we have used that supports many of the principles described here for building vocabulary is ABC-CBV: Activity Before Concept - Concept Before Vocabulary. Students who have identified and described a concept by engaging in an activity are primed for acquiring academic language to describe that concept. For instance, students engaging with the question of how things start to move by interacting with wheeled carts on a level surface will identify that things need to be pushed or pulled by something (or someone!) in order to start to move. That action, that thing that starts the movement, can then be termed "force" thus building a deep understanding of the vocabulary term that doesn't rely on memorization or reference to unfamiliar concepts or inorganic understanding.

Tue, 06/21/2022 - 10:18 AM Permalink
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In reply to by Karin Klein

I love this acronym! This perfectly summarizes how to build vocabulary in the best way possible for our students. This has been one of the most powerful shifts in language acquisition for our students in science as they actually understand and use the vocabulary appropriately when it is approached in this way. 

Tue, 06/28/2022 - 12:05 PM Permalink

The reading program is very important at the school where I teach.  It's extremely structured and unwavering in the times students learn those essential skills.  It is often that Science is placed lower on the list.  It's great to have resources that help integrate STEM into literacy, bringing STEM learning more to the forefront. 

Thu, 06/23/2022 - 12:20 PM Permalink

I think we all understand how important reading skills are for our early elementary students. And I'm sure some of the programs out there are good and are necessary. But it saddens me to see science "sacrificed" in order to add more minutes for reading programs. I'm so glad that teachers, including yourself, are seeing the power of integration when done strategically so as to not "sacrifice" either the science OR reading standards. I hope these resources help :)

Tue, 06/28/2022 - 12:09 PM Permalink
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Chapter 6 describes types and features of integration and that more integration is not necessarily better. In thinking about pacing guides for next year, this quote was one (of many) that stood out to me as I was looking for places where cross-content integration would be in service of students' sensemaking and working on disciplinary goals. "Make integration explicit in designs and teaching. Even in meaningful contexts that call for activity that transcends disciplines, integration may not automatically support productive learning experiences (NRC, 2014b). Therefore, designs need to consider the potential learning and identity development within the multiple domains, and make relationships across domains explicit for children" - Page 133, Chapter 6 The Potentials and Pitfalls of Integrating Across Domains

Whether you're a district coach, curriculum coordinator, or classroom teacher, there are things you can control around where/how to integrate in service of disciplinary goals and to influence outcomes for students. What is one place you're thinking about retooling or revising your lesson/unit plans for next year to create a more meaningful integrated learning experiences for students' STEM learning?

Thu, 06/09/2022 - 4:30 PM Permalink

One of my newest projects was taking a Nat Geo class and my final project was to design and begin to plan a unit that incorporated the tenets of geography. Long story short I began thinking about the 2nd grade NGSS standards around mapping and water and I have just begun fleshing out what it might be . Having said that a phrase keeps coming to me So much water in the world but not a drop to drink. One piece I am sure I will include is stories of water both fiction and nonfiction. So what will come from this project in terms of integration I’m not totally sure. I do know that it will explicitly include thinking like a scientist, a geographer and a mathematician. I do know that it will include lots of talk, interactive read alouds and close reading experiences.  I know that I will be thoughtful and intentionally seek coherence for the learner.

I would love to hear thoughts on my very sketchy plan. How might you build out this second grade unit to support science learning, develop geographical understanding and build liteacy skills?

Sun, 06/12/2022 - 12:07 AM Permalink

Our water unit in 2nd grade is anchored around what happened to the town of Moncton (Cedar Falls) in the early 1900s (adapted from the water unit here . It's a town in our watershed that was (spoiler alert) inadvertently flooded by building a dam to protect water for the City of Seattle after the great fire.  Despite being warned (apparently), the dam construction was inappropriate for the soil composition so it wound up leaking water under the dam and flooding the town!  There is a lot of soil tub physical modeling with materials to test dams and drainage. In addition to this storyline about how engineering designs can impact different places (e.g. solved problem for Seattle but caused a problem for a town... what should be done?), we also use the Water Protectors book, explore our local watershed (hoping to add field trip about that next year), and observing different ways water interacts with the land.  For us, it's more of an engineering story around how to share resources and recognizing that sometimes meeting our needs means it impacts others.

I will say that mapping skills are really fun for 2nd graders.  How are you thinking about the math connections? 

Wed, 06/15/2022 - 5:16 PM Permalink

Hi Dr. Colley!

My name is Jennifer Fine. I am a former Elementary Science Sr. Admin for the nations 15th largest school district and most recently transitioned to the Discovery Education curriculum team. I just finished my first year in a doctorial program and have been thinking a lot about my dissertation. One problem that I have noticed is that teachers seem to struggle with knowing how it integrate. I would like to learn more about methods that support elementary science teachers in the process. Over the past year I have researched the topic for various class assignments. Yet I still seem to be spinning in terms of what I really want my dissertation to focus on. I was wondering if you might be able to share any insight. I would greatly appreciate it. :) Thank you in advance! :) ~Jennifer Fine  

Fri, 06/24/2022 - 9:46 AM Permalink
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One of the things I really appreciate it in the report is the discussion of building students’ identities as doers and learners of science. How can we help all students understand that they are capable of doing and participating in science? How can we adults grapple with our own biases (honestly) about who we believe are doers and learners of science?   

Fri, 06/10/2022 - 9:15 AM Permalink

Sara K Ahmed has a great resource for identity work in her book, Being the Change. In my class, students create identity webs at the beginning of the school year.  As time goes on we add and revise our webs. One circle we added to our webs was scientist.  In that web students wrote what they see as their strengths and who they are as scientists.  Things like - curious, problem solver, model creator, presenter of ideas, collaborator, builider, engineer....  Truly beautiful.  I also think tapping into community partners brinigng in scientists who represent a diversity in not only field but also in gender, race, and languages spoken can be powerful. The FAA has been a wonderful partner in brinign a range of scientists to speak and inspire my studnets to know about the possiblity of science careers. Students learning about drones, air traffic control, how biologists study things like keeping owls and other birds safe from strikes with aircraft, mechanical engineering.  It has been super!  These scientists have also supported educators to build background knowledge. 

Another point I will underscore is that it is essnetial for educators to be provided with the resources, professional development, and field work experiences to teach and integrate science effectively. I wonder how we can impact systemic change so that funding is prioritized for schools who serve communities of people that have been and continue to be marginalized? Underfunding of these schools is a huge barrier to teaching science. 

Mon, 06/13/2022 - 9:25 AM Permalink

Identi-beadsI’m a big fan of Draw-a-scientist activity to build student identity as learners and doers of science;  Consider the work also of Dr. Alison Mercer and Dr. Heidi Carlone using Identi-beads and Identi-badges

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A good place to grapple with adult bias might include work of Dr. Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz and the Archeology of the self, a racial literacy tool:

Wed, 06/15/2022 - 5:42 PM Permalink

Wanda, you always share great resources! 

I've been using the "draw-a-scientist" activity with my Elementary Science Methods course for pre-service elementary teachers as I try to get them to understand that their own science experiences as students can influence their own science identity and how they might approach teaching science in their own classrooms. Oftentimes, they haven't had positive experiences or don't have any memories at all of learning science until high school. I try to empower them as future teachers to create science experiences in their elementary classrooms that impacts all of their students so that their students see themselves as learners and doers of science! 

Tue, 06/28/2022 - 12:36 PM Permalink
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In reply to by Lesley Gates


I cannot agree more.  This was a constant struggle for me when I was in the classroom. One strategy that worked was collaboration with the special educator and developing a "come in" protocoal rather than a "pull out" protocol. My special educator came into my classroom during my science and social studies blocks which we my "longest blocks" of the school day and by doing this was able to often support more than one student at a time . The good thing about this is we were not working at cross purposes. We were both much better able to meet the needs of struggling learners without the learner being dragged kicking and screaming ( sometimes literally) out of the one learning time in the day they enjoyed and did not have to struggle to learn. 

In the beginning this took quite a bit of what felt like extra planning until it became the norm for us to plan together. We blocked off time at the beginning of each unit to talk about where the students were, the gains they had made not only in science but in language, reading and writing, too. 

Parents were happier too because their children came home happier.

If you can make this work with your special educator, title one teacher or multingual teacher , I highly recommend it.  I also did the same for my math block.



Fri, 06/24/2022 - 9:04 AM Permalink
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The kids are still intelligent how accordingly the causes and effects of science. STEM integrations must have 20 to 45 minutes for the students who develop the ages enough. An excellent presenter mentioned, "Empower Change to us." That is an important learning skill for young scientists in further strategic plans; for example, the snow piles the inches outside. Lets the students pour the colorful baking soda of half a cup into the small snow volcano each. They also run the water from a coffee cup into the volcano. All the effect is coming out of the bubbles. The students are brilliant and how to vision with the remarkable insistence. 


Fri, 06/10/2022 - 6:54 PM Permalink
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