The New Zealand Curriculum specifies the Nature of Science strand as an overarching, unifying strand in science. Students not only need to learn the ‘what’ (concepts) of science but also ‘how’ to do the learning in science – how to think, question, search for evidence and put evidence together to make an argument that is acceptable in science.
This case study research was undertaken over several weeks to investigate how a primary teacher used the Science Learning Hub in her classroom with her 25 year 4 students (15 boys, 10 girls). This was the first year that Mary (a pseudonym) was teaching such young students. This study investigated how she used the Harnessing the Sun resources. Classroom observations and interviews were conducted with Mary and the students. Analysis of the data for this brief was guided by the research question: How did the idea of ‘we are scientists’ play out in the classroom?
A unifying connection providing coherency
Mary encouraged her young students to think that they were scientists. She used posters of what scientists do to help her students better understand what science is and how scientists work. Each time the students worked on an investigation, she reminded them that they were scientists and they were doing science. As Jagad said, “The illustrations of scientists are to help us remember how to do all the experiments.”
Investigating like scientists
Mary used small posters of scientists to identify different stages of a science investigation. She discussed each poster and the stage it showed, and then the class worked on a series of investigations in groups. The posters were placed beside each aspect of the investigation. This placement provided a visual reminder and connected the students with what they were doing as scientists.
The posters were subsequently posted on the wall for display, along with the experiment outline, results and conclusion. Students looking at these expanded the time the students could access the ideas and build their language.
The illustrations helped because we know more about science now. Like the hypothesis thing – I had no idea what that was.
Mary provided worksheets to guide the students through investigations. The language of the worksheet mirrored the language of the posters. This provided a link between the investigations and helped the students to build on what they learned from one investigation to the next.
Over time, Mary took a less teacher-directed approach for the experiments that extended her students’ experiences of being scientists. This faded scaffolding allowed the space for students in their groups to work out how they would do an experiment. Class discussions and sharing plenaries throughout helped students gain feedback and use it to improve their investigation designs.
When a teacher helps her students think that ‘we are scientists’, she can engage them in purposefully asking questions, developing hypotheses, collecting and analysing data and developing conclusions. The phrase ‘we are scientists’ held the various activities together as it provided a touchstone for activity.