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Tuesday, January 30, 2018

What's Your Evidence? Engaging K-5 Students in Constructing Explanations in Science

I don't always post on the books I read through my work, but sometimes it's a must because the books are just that good or useful. Hence today's post on What's Your Evidence? Engaging K-5 Students in Constructing Explanations in Science by Carla Zembal-Saul, Katherine L. McNeill, and Kimber Hershberger.

Science education on the elementary levels has been lacking in substance for some time; a good deal of what you see when you walk into a classroom is worksheets focused on naming things. Where does inquiry come in? As our nation moves to adopting the Next Generation Science Standards, educators will need to turn to inquiry-based lesson design in order to avoid sweeping science, science pedagogy, and scientific thinking under the rug.

This pushing science aside is a result of a few things. First and foremost, the push for reading and math is overwhelming in schools, especially schools that serve low-income neighborhoods. Research has found that these skills push drill-and-kill more than their more affluent counterparts. There is little room, or time, for science and teaching through inquiry. Another reason science is seen as the stepchild of schooling is because teachers often feel uncomfortable teaching science. With middle and high school teacher training, teachers specialize in a subject area and they can choose to focus on science as a content area, whereas with elementary teachers, many are drawn to the reading and care part of teaching. Helping teachers realize that not only can they teach science through inquiry, but also that they are scientists themselves, is the big takeaway from this book.

I was borderline moved when reading this book, as it was incredibly illuminating in terms of pedagogy as a whole, not just science. The authors focus tightly on evidence and reasoning throughout their work, and they drill it into their readers' heads. They discuss the importance of data -- how it is represented, and why students need to base their reasoning in evidence. I found myself furiously underlining and writing notes in the margins, and I marked several pages to come back to. Some things that stood out to me in terms of the brilliance of this pedagogical focus were their inclusion of how to scaffold scientific talk in the classroom, both through whole-class discussion and also within small groups. Additionally, there are tons of real-world examples and student artifacts for reference and inspiration.

Interestingly, I also found myself recommending this book to one of my graduate students when we were discussing her research project. She wanted to know if she should focus on the the science content or the literacy component, and I said, "Well, actually, both." We discussed her getting herself a copy of What's Your Evidence? to use as a basis for her understanding of how to incorporate the two. After all, evidence and reasoning go hand in hand in almost every subject, but especially in literacy. Looking at where we currently are as a country, teaching inquiry-based lessons that focus on evidence and reasoning are vital for teaching a future educated workforce -- and we need that now more than ever. 

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