A Science Curriculum for Early Childhood
SCIENCE DISCOVERY CURRICULUM TEACHING NOTES
Each of the topic lesson plans in this curriculum has 3 sections:
The first part describes the core or central activity that introduces the child/ren to the idea to be explored, the spark to ignite interest in knowing more. This is hands-on, doing, exploring, discovering.
The second part gives an explanation of the basic scientific idea being explored, some findings that might occur, and some open-ended questions to encourage deep thinking, predicting, learning, and a desire to know more. This is thinking, inquiring, reflecting, describing, analyzing and internalizing observations.
The third part suggests some activities from other curriculum areas that will deepen the learning and extend the interest. This is recording, instilling knowledge at the appropriate developmental level, synthesizing what has been experienced, and paving the way for a sense of excitement, curiosity and eagerness when the topic is encountered again.
Each of the topics represents a broader scientific principle, which the children will come across again and again as they develop and grow. These topics are not meant to be presented and finished in a single session. Different aspects of the topic will appear in other curriculum areas, at home, in daily life, and questioning and investigating will be ongoing.
Presenting a "science experiment," by itself, without any connections to past knowledge, relevant questions and discussion, or testing and recording data, is certainly fun for children. However, without the linking and recording and extensions, it is probable that deepest learning will not occur.
Social theorist Lev Vygotsky wrote that deepest learning occurs when activities are presented that are within the child's "zone of proximal development" (ZPD). The "zone of proximal development" is defined as "the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving, and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance, or in collaboration with more capable peers" (L.S. Vygotsky: Mind in Society: Development of Higher Psychological Processes, p. 86).
So, in other words, we must present activities, guided instruction, and a created environment to address each child's ZPD, building (scaffolding) on the knowledge that is already present - up a step, then up another step, all the while quietly "removing the scaffolding" from the steps before, to guide towards a confident independence, and a love of learning. Each aha! moment MUST be linked to a previous aha! moment to make sense, and to lead towards the NEXT aha! moment.
EXTENDING and INTERNALIZING the LEARNING
Some ways to represent and record the activities in this curriculum, even with the youngest children, include using art media; a life drawing (does not have to "look" accurate; teacher's written captions; teachers written lists; digital photos; teacher's simple sequence drawings of the activity; child "storytelling" what has happened; discussion the next day about what happened; sending a note home to parents; making a class book; and many other ways a creative teacher will think of.
BE REAL SCIENTISTS
It is very important, even (and especially) at the Preschool and Kindergarten level, that children are guided in the universal scientific method of inquiry. They will begin to understand that there are reasons that things happen, that things and happenings are interconnected, and that there is a “big picture”. They will begin to learn to develop hypotheses, design ways to test them, and record and compare data. Through exploration and discussion, the children can learn that science is part of their lives – and that it’s a lot of fun!
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