The Next Generation Science Standards have been a tough sell to the kindergarten community, much more so than the new ELA and math standards. For some of us, it’s the comparison between what was asked of us and what is now asked of us that makes the new standards so tough to swallow. For one thing, we’re going from “plants and animals meet their needs in different ways (WA State EALRs, 2010)” to “use a model to represent the relationship between the needs of different plants or animals (including humans) and the places they live (NGSS, K-ESS3-1).” The skills may not sound too different from an outsider’s perspective, but for children who have never been to preschool, children who have never had social experiences before K, and children who don’t speak a lick of English, this is a herculean task.
For some, the challenge between what is and what has been is not the issue. It’s the mindset of fitting in yet another crucial subject area into an already jam-packed schedule. Kindergartens around the state were half-day until just a few years ago, so the culture of kindergarten has had to change drastically in order to accommodate the giant “to do” list of CCSS. Think back to when you were in kindergarten. The majority of kindergarten learning has traditionally been social & emotional skills, along with beginning literacy and math concepts. Now, kindergarten is the new first grade. While we still may be divided on whether or not the new standards are appropriate, there is no need to throw in the towel. We can still reach rigor with some of the same awesome strategies we have been using all along.
One of my favorite science strategies is from GLAD, called Observation Charts. We use photographs to put themed charts together as a class (which helps us practice some pre-primary skills, such as classifying). When the charts are finished, we are able to hang them around the room and use them for the duration of our unit. Today was day 1 of our insect unit. The kids were instructed to go around the room and make observations. They had to sketch one thing they thought was interesting and write down one question they had.
I’m not going to lie to you– this is hard for us to do, even in May. The kids are experts at sketching by now, but asking questions is a very difficult skill to do on command. Since we are learning the sight word why, they had to begin each question with that word as a guide. Although writing the actual sentences were tricky, I heard lots of great conversation and questions among the kids as they walked around the room and looked at their charts.
Observation charts have been used in primary grades for as long as I can remember in order to help students engage in content-rich discussions. A way to help “step it up” to NGSS might be to theme your charts with things that help define those relationships the standards ask for. Rather than learning brand new ways to teach, I love when old strategies only require a little tweaking in order to help us reach new heights in our teaching.
My dog also has an Instagram, and it's better than anyone's. @mrdarcy_theiggy