Creating an Engaging Learning Environment with Science A-Z

By Paula Barr, Second Grade Teacher, Quail Run Elementary, Lawrence, Kansas

“Every day I can’t wait to walk in the classroom and see what you are up to, Mrs. Barr.”

The running joke in my classroom goes something like: Mrs. Barr, what are you up to today?

I keep a table near my desk on which I stack the materials for the entire day’s learning. This table is the first place students go every morning to look through the items, and try to guess what I’m “up to” for that day.

This morning, among other things, they see an assortment of objects including: sponges, paper towels, cotton balls, marbles, shells, wood sticks, pennies, pipe cleaners, and pinecones. They also see books and articles printed from Science A-Z and recording sheets. The conversation is full of prediction and speculation, as students discuss how the materials relate to what we have been learning and what we might do next. This has become one of my favorite times of the day.

How Are Things Different activity

Students review our background knowledge about the property of objects, knowledge gained from reading How Are Things Different in pairs and highlighting details of importance. Students used the book and quick read articles from Science A-Z to create a list of possible properties of objects, followed by a discussion about how one might test such properties. Now they are ready to test for themselves the strength, flexibility, absorbency, magnetism, and buoyancy of objects of various materials. With the help of excited scientists, stations are set up around the room and the testing begins!

Students working on activity

In the days following hands-on investigations and discovery, I create opportunities for students to apply what they have learned to new situations. Resources from Science A-Z make this quick and easy. Working in pairs, students use Career Files and information gleaned from internet research to create a Google slide describing a career where a knowledge of the properties of objects would be necessary. I start by creating a class Google slide presentation on my Google Drive. Then I share a link in an assignment on Google Classroom. This allows each pair of students to create and add their slide to our class presentation.

science a-z resources

For another form of synthesizing and applying knowledge, we utilize Science A-Z Debates. These are always a favorite, because what student doesn’t love to argue their point of view? The object of this particular debate is: wood vs. brick houses. Add a little collaborative excitement by inviting a local middle or high school debate team to model debate. They can perform a brief debate on a subject of interest to second graders, such as popcorn vs. cheetos as a snack! Arrange for the debate team to help students gather and organize information about the subject (e.g. wood or brick houses) for their debate. In order to speed up the actual debate and allow all students to participate, try having 6 groups of debaters, allowing for 3 simultaneous debates. The debate team can pose as judges. Great experience for all, and lots of fun to watch!

science a-z resources

A final fun opportunity for students to demonstrate their knowledge of the properties of objects can be building their own house—in this case, the 4th Little Pig’s House! Students design the 4th Little Pig’s House with the goal of withstanding the Big Bad Wolf, and must stay within their given budget. Students shop for materials and then create the house. The house is tested by: The Big Bad Wolf Hair Dryer. Then students create real estate ads for each house, and upload them to Seesaw.

classroom activity

“I can’t be sick today, I might miss something!”

This quote was recently emailed to me by the parent of an unhappy 2nd grader who was running a fever and had to stay home from school for the day. The very core of my job as a teacher is creating a learning environment so engaging to students, they can’t wait to get to school and don’t want to leave!

Yet every engaging unit of study absolutely starts with state standards and learning expectations and outcomes. I am very serious about the outcomes that the state and district expect my students to achieve. My job is to make learning unforgettable. Yes, this takes some extra time, and some extra storage space for all the materials I gather and store.

But every minute invested in creating an engaging learning environment is rewarded a hundred times over in the love of learning demonstrated every day by my students. Science A-Z is a big part of that.

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