In 2021, Te Tari Arotake Mātauranga Education Review Office released a series of reports with suggestions on how to strengthen science learning in ECE and years 1–4 and years 5–11. This article highlights some of the reports’ common themes and suggests resources to support effective science teaching and learning.
Science is everywhere, and while it is important to take advantage of incidental science moments, educators need to take a deliberate, scientific lens to learning opportunities.
Science is often included in cross-curricular topics or units of study. This is advantageous as it demonstrates how science knowledge underpins many of the social, economic and environmental considerations in schools and the wider community. Cross-curricular teaching and learning is also a natural way to incorporate additional science into a busy classroom programme.
Whether planning a stand-alone science unit or incorporating science within a larger unit, it’s important to take the time to note when students are thinking and working as scientists. As an example, make the following comment while collecting autumn leaves for an art or graphing activity: “By observing the colours of leaves, we are working as scientists to collect information (data) about changes that happen in autumn.”
The article Literacy through science focuses on cross-curricular experiences that explicitly promote both science and literacy. Another way to combine science and literacy is with the Ministry of Education’s Connected journal series. The Hub features selected articles and suggests resources that support a deeper understanding of the underlying science concepts. We’ve curated them by topic in this helpful article.
Students have working theories of how and why things work the way they do. They use these existing theories to make sense of new experiences. It is important for educators to have an understanding of working theories so they are able to recognise and aid students to refine, extend and possibly discard existing theories.
Working theories are not confined to young learners – older students hold them as well. With some students, simply telling them the correct answer will not lead to lasting change. Unless they go through the stages of identifying existing theories, are challenged through activities, discussion and reflection and have the chance to form new conceptions, they will often revert to what they have always thought.
Hub resources on alternative conceptions provide common student views (working theories) and scientist views. A number of these articles have teaching points on how to help students refine their theories.
Educators who are confident in their subject content knowledge are more likely to identify science learning opportunities and deepen student understanding. Hub resources are expressly created for teachers. We group resources by topic and concept, as we know that’s how many teachers do their planning. Science topics are themes or areas of interest, while science concepts are the big ideas in science. We can think of topics as the context for learning these concepts.
Student understanding of concepts tends to build in sequence and become more fully developed over time. Repeated experiences with concepts via a number of topics or contexts enables students to consolidate this knowledge and understanding. By having an awareness of the underlying concepts, educators can scaffold student understanding while engaging learners in topics of interest. The Ministry of Education’s Building Science Concepts series shows the sequential steps students are likely to take as their science knowledge grows.
The Hub’s science concepts often sit within real-life contexts – research shows that science is more engaging when taught contextually. But what happens if the science concepts that you want to use are presented in the ‘wrong’ context? The PLD article Science in New Zealand contexts: perspectives of teachers and students looks at how teachers have adapted resources to suit a preferred context.
The reports note that educators tended to plan for science activities rather than focusing on extending children’s learning of the concepts and content of science. When planning, consider which concepts/content ideas underpin the science experiences/learning. At the top of most of our resources, there is a ‘Related topics & concepts’ tab – this will list the specific topics and concepts that the article supports.
When introducing scientific concepts, using correct terminology for the concepts promotes scientific thinking and knowledge. To aid with this, the Hub provides key terms for some topics and concepts. We also have an extensive glossary. This article explains how it works and how users can create bespoke vocabulary lists and much more.
Science capabilities and the nature of science
Content knowledge is just one aspect of a good science programme. In the New Zealand Curriculum, the nature of science is the overarching and unifying strand. It is required learning for all students up to year 10, with the other strands providing the context. Weaving in the science capabilities – thinking and acting like scientists – is also important. Many of our resources intentionally highlight aspects of the nature of science and relevant capabilities. Take a moment to look at these and consider how you might use this information in your teaching.
A robust understanding of the nature of science – science as a way of thinking – would enable students to leave school capable of looking at socio-scientific issues and evaluating what is plausible and meaningful and able to use scientific knowledge to make informed personal and societal decisions.
Ongoing professional development
Consistent across each of the reports is the value for ongoing professional development. The Science Learning Hub has extensive PLD resources curated under the headings planning, webinars and pedagogy. Our live webinars are recorded. Teams/syndicates may wish to watch them together to upskill knowledge and responsive pedagogy or to find resources prior to planning.
Contact us if you have any ideas or requests for PLD or want some help with your teaching – we'd love to hear from you.
Introducing our PLD curates the many forms of PLD on offer to educators.
Te Tari Arotake Mātauranga Educational Review Office series summary and guides:
- A guide for kaiako and leaders on supporting science in early childhood
- A guide for parents and whānau on supporting science in early childhood
- Science in primary schools: a guide for teachers
- Science in primary schools: a guide for leaders
- A guide for parents and whānau on supporting science in primary school