Katie Spear, this week’s Educator of the Week, uses this lesson to expose her students to the idea that anyone can be a scientist. Katie is a 5th-grade teacher at McKinley Elementary in San Leandro, California.
Activity: What Do Scientists Do?
Grade Level: 5
Time Commitment: 1 Month
Inspiring Future Scientists
To start the year, I teach a unit focused on the behaviors of a scientist. In the unit, there are six different lessons, each one focused on a scientific skill. The skills are observation, classification, experimentation, exploration, and engineering. Every lesson concludes with practicing the specific scientific skill it highlights. The final lesson is an experiment based on a Foucault pendulum.
For each lesson, we read a book (or sometimes books) about a scientist. For example, when we learn about observation, we explore the lives of John James Audubon and William Beebe. Students compare the skills of Audubon and Beebe, and participate in group/class discussions about what makes them scientists. We also conduct observations of our own natural area. This year, the observations will consist of taking a nature walk through our school’s neighborhood, and taking careful notes of what we observe.
The unit is adapted from the National Science Teachers Association Press, and uses different biographical picture books to teach about scientists throughout history. For some great examples of scientists in the field today, check out our profiles of Nat Geo explorers!
Describe the student impact of this lesson. Was there a change in thought process, behavior, perspective?
At the end of the unit, my students write a reflection and describe what they believe scientists do and who can be a scientists. My favorite thing to read at the end of this unit is “I am a scientist,” or “Anybody can be a scientist.”
The objective is to expose students to the idea that the sciences are fun, exciting, and something worth exploring through the lens of history and literature. The scientists we read about come from a variety of backgrounds, and overcome a multitude of challenges in their lives. It’s important for kids to see the struggles people face to reach their goals, and to understand that even if something is challenging, you can still reach your goals.
If you had one classroom superpower, what would it be?
Sometimes I wish I could read thoughts, so I could have a greater understanding of my students’ struggles, and know exactly how to support them when they are hurt, or sad, or challenged by something. However, I know that our struggles make us who we are, so would it really be fair to have a power to make them just disappear? Perhaps, instead, I should wish for Ms. Frizzle’s magic school bus, and the ability to take my students deep inside everything we learn.
Do you know a great educator who teaches about our world? Nominate a colleague or yourself as the next Educator of the Week!
The Educator Spotlight series features inspiring activities and lessons that educators are implementing with their students that connect them to the world in bold and exciting ways.