When I think about exploring, it usually involves backpacks, nature, and foreign places. It feels exciting and full of adventure! While exploration in science usually doesn’t involve backpacks or new places, it is no less exciting for students. Exploration is the fun part of science and where students get the chance to really discover science on their own! In this post I will tell you all about how to help your students explore science! If you are looking for more information about Science – check out all the blog posts here!
Exploration is the part of science where students are grappling with new ideas and materials. This may look like an experiment, a simulation, creating models, observations, or many other things. The key part to exploration is that students are learning by asking questions and looking at the science concepts in an engaging way. Exploration is not the time to be teaching students concepts, but allowing them to discover them on their own. This gives students the opportunity to really explore science in all its wonders!
How to Add Exploration
There are many ways to have your students explore science in engaging and relevant ways in your lessons! I will list just some ideas here but there are many out there! Not every type of exploration will best fit the science concept you are trying to teach. Make sure to choose what will bring about the most understanding for students!
Simulations are one of my absolute favorite ways to have students explore! They allow students to explore science that is either too big or too small to really explore at an elementary level. Simulations may be online or something that students create! Here are a few examples of my favorite simulations. When teaching space, check out NASA and their simulation of our galaxy! It’s a great way to bring space into the classroom.
For ecosystems, I have a simulation where students use different utensils to try and get fish food to help them understand supply and demand as well as invasive species. There are lots of great free simulations out there so don’t feel like you need to come up with them yourself! Phet.colorado.edu is a great sight for free simulations for many different science concepts. Simulations are always engaging and really help students get excited about and discover the concepts they are learning.
Often, when we think of science, this is the kind of science we imagine. Investigations are when students are setting up and conducting formal examination and research. In these investigations allow students to help set up the parameters as much as possible. This may require you to plan one day to have students design and create an investigation and then conduct the investigation on another day so you have time to collect and prep materials. If you cannot do this, allow students to come up with the control, dependent, and independent variables where possible.
Investigations are also perfect for product design and creation. The new science standards include engineering which allows students to create a product to help solve a problem using science content knowledge. Both engineering designs and science investigations should mimic the real world as much as possible as students explore science. Allow students to make mistakes and try again! That’s the whole point of science!
Analyzing Information and Data
In this particular type of science exploration students are given information and data and then asked to explore. There are some concepts that are too difficult for students to discover on their own. When given the results and the tools used, they are then able to draw conclusions. Some examples of this include reading data in charts and tables or even reading an article. For this particular type of exploration to be successful, you need to make sure that students are asking good questions about what they see. This may require you to have students work in groups or even in a whole class setting to successfully explore science.
Always give examples of good exploration type questions, especially if your students aren’t as familiar with this type of questioning. A few examples of good questions include: What do you notice? What patterns do you see? What connections do you notice? Do you notice any cause and effect? If you need more ideas for great questions, take a look at the NGSS Cross Cutting Concepts to help guide your students’ questions.
Creating models may seem similar in ways to simulations, but the key difference here is that students are recreating something in the science concept. The purpose behind students recreating, is they then have the chance to discover the why and how behind how things work as they explore science. For example, students can create a model for the phases of the moon to help them understand why we see moon phases. To help students will model creation, usually you will already have the materials prepared and ready to go with a general direction for the students. Models can also include drawing pictures which are easy and cheap if materials are difficult to come by!
The last type I will mention today is having students make observations as they explore science. For this to be different than a simulation, it must be real-world science they are observing. Perhaps they are looking at a piece of grass or hair under a microscope. Maybe they are looking at different physical attributes of an animal. These real world observations will help students to ask questions and draw conclusions about what they are seeing. Not all science concepts have feasible observations which is where simulations come in! Where it is possible though, allowing students to see science in action up close is powerful teaching.
Grouping and Centers
As you choose from the following ideas of how to let your students explore science, also keep in mind how you want to group students. Science is a fairly social subject. Outside the classroom, science is rarely done alone so I often opt for group work with science. Some concepts may be easier to explore in small groups or as a large class. You can also have science rotations where students are exploring different aspects either on their own or in partners. Whatever you choose, make sure that your grouping is the most conductive to helping students discover the science concepts as they explore.
Exploration is fun for both you and your students! Children are natural born scientists, so teaching science with lots of exploration is easy and effective. Try out some new ways of helping students to explore science and see how it goes! You may just find that you learn something new too!
Are you looking for lesson plans that integrate the 5E’s? Check out The Power of Science Lessons that I have ready to use in your classroom immediately!