Elementary Science Education

I think Jenna was telling the truth when she named her blog: “Jenna Loves Science!” Actually, not really. I think her true love is teaching science to elementary students. It should be: Jenna Loves Science Education.  OK, not so catchy.

I have enjoyed her wicked clever blog which includes an anecdote that I haven’t seen written about enough: when a teacher encounters a former student who is now teaching. A teacher’s blast from the past!

Jenna has a lot of enthusiasm for teaching and especially for Science4Us. I researched Science4Us which is an early elementary science curriculum with over 500 offline activities and 350 online online interactive digital ones.  Plus an amazing indepth and convenient teacher support program.

Science4Us is also popular with the homeschool educators. In fact, the market leading Time4Learning uses Science4Us for its early education program.  And the program is listed on several leading homeschool sites on their science education page:

Homeschool.com’s Science Programs

Secular Homeschool Science – I thought I’d quote some from the Secular HS site since it’s wicked interesting:  The threads that get viewed most often on our forum here at SecularHomeschool.com often have to do with secular science curricula…looking for it, bemoaning the lack of it, begging for input on finding it. In the past, secular homeschoolers have been underwhelmed by the available offerings in the science curricula arena. 

However, in recent years, several new secular homeschool science options have come on the scene making it not nearly so difficult to find a homeschool science program that will work for your family. I thought it might be a good idea to spotlight some of the newer curricula as well as the tried and true programs that are available, so you will have a centralized place to start looking.



Science4Us – Fast Track Proposal

Science4Us (S4U) is a curriculum designed to address the long-standing and deepening deficit in science skills and interests created by the generally weak and often non-existent science education provided in early elementary schools across the country.

Science4Us is an interactive technology-based curriculum for K-2nd grade students designed to deliver an exemplary science education within the realities of the American education system over the next decade  Science4Us is based on the 5E Instructional model in which for each of the 28 modules, students will engage, explore, explain, elaborate or evaluate with the materials. Science4Us focuses equal attention on delivering a student experience and on providing a teacher support, training, and information system.  The online curriculum components were produced with television-quality audio visual production values. The materials include interactive exercises, often scaffolded so that the students can progressively explore and master key concepts. The curriculum is composed of animated stories, interactive lessons, videos, animated simulations, videos of real world experiments and phenomenon, casual games, stories, music, and points to discuss or ponder.  Since the target audience is primarily pre- or emergent readers, S4U is developed with systematic voice overs and repeat buttons throughout for those moments when students lose concentration and missed a question or instruction.  The curriculum supports multiple usage models for whole class instruction, small groups, or individual one-to-one independent work. Science4Us is available both through the web or as an app.

While the curriculum is entirely technology delivered, there are <how many> digital activities and <how many> hands-on activities. This allows teachers to provide real world hands-on activities to ensure a strong connection between the conceptual and real world. Each student’s progress and records are systematically recorded and provided to the teacher including a digital notebook which includes the student’s notes, predictions,  observations, and results.

Science4Us was developed using modern best practices including a focus on big cross cutting concepts and sophisticated reasoning to build depths of knowledge.  Because cross curricular study is a best practice, the curriculum is infused with literacy and math skill building exercises. At times in the early grades, the math and science standards heavily overlap such as in measurement, data analysis, and data portrayal. In these cases, Science4Us provides not just practice but instruction that directly maps to key CCSS objectives. Of the over 350 online exercises, about thirty percent directly relate to practicing key literacy and math skills.

Science4Us Version1.0 was developed from 2010 through 2013 with a team of over a dozen full time educators and developers. Science4Us is built around science standards and has been vetted by a McREL efficacy study. The educational model was studied and iteratively refined by a Dept of Education IES SBIR Phase 1 research study. Both of these studies,  the first year of experience in the market place,  and a literature review all reveal one overarching challenge for Science4Us or for any science curriculum targeted at early elementary school.

The problem is that most schools and teachers are under extreme pressure for short term measurable progress and success on literacy and math. Thus the teaching of science is considered a luxury that they cannot afford. More specifically, at the operational level in schools, science is considered a distraction from the mission-critical need to improve core literacy and math skills.  While Science4Us builds these skills through practice, this cross curricular link has been repeatedly discussed by Science4Us users and potential users and the route to Science4Us having a much larger impact.

The goal of the Science4Us SBIR project will be to develop, assess, and refine a model for S4U Version 2 in which CCSS literacy objectives are explicitly reinforced and assessed.    Evaluations will track student progress in both science and literacy, providing important data that will to inform subsequent instruction.

There are some key concepts to emphasize:

  1. The desired outcome of the SBIR is a curriculum which schools can justify using as a time-effective supplementary product to build CCSS literacy skills. It will explicitly build (but not introduce) and evaluate key CCSS literacy skills.
  2. S4U Version 1 was built on a cross curricular approach and an ambitious model of building higher order thinking skills so this shift to a focus on CCSS extends inherent elements of the S4U curriculum. It is not a superficial renaming or correlation.
  3.  The effectiveness of S4U as a science curriculum following a 5E Instructional Model will be maintained:  the major change in the curriculum is to extend the cross curricular practice from the fourth E across the other four “Es” through-out the curriculum.




Science in 2nd Grade: Schools and Homeschools

I’ve been reading and I saw an interesting article about 2nd grade science education. One key point is that the same curricular materials are available in both schools and for homeschooling. Another interesting point is that teaching elementary teachers how to teach and some basic science is the critical step in building a strong US Science education pipeline.


There were also some great pictures that made the article since they showed the teachers and the students each going through the same learning process. So cool! Teachers as learners!

And I cite:


The Science4Us elementary science curriculum provides hands-on science experiences that can changed a person’s life. Most students today get a very limited science education in early elementary.  However, increasing numbers of schools and homeschoolers are reversing this and providing an exemplary science educational experience to their students with Science4Us.

Hands On Science – Teachers as Students

When Science4Us teaches teachers how to teach science they will take the students (who are teachers) through one of the 28 science modules just as if they were students. This really works for them to see the benefits and the aha moments that their students will have.  They too go through the experience of the 5E Instructional Model for elementary science.



Early Elementary Science Teachers

I just read a fantastic article about building human capital for better teaching of science in the early elementary grades around the US.  It was such a good article that with their permission (actually without but I’m providing really good citations back to them). Here’s the gist of a great article on how to actually address the weakness in US science education which is not just a dirth of teachers and coolness in middle school through high school but really starts with systematic problems in the youngest grades for teaching and enlisting students in science.


We often hear from school and education leaders:

What we really need help with is improving our teaching human capital…

Our teachers need a lot of help to teach science and science inquiry, especially at the younger grades.  At our higher grades, we have dedicated science teachers but in kindergarten through second grade, we have the whole class teachers and they just aren’t that comfortable with teaching science. 


Science4Us is effective at meeting this challenge. We designed our program, our materials, and our implementations to provide exemplary inquiry-based science program delivered by generalist teachers. Here’s how:

    • Inquiry is built into the instructional model and the lesson plan.  The 5E Instructional Model builds the pattern of inquiry into each model.  The heart of the inquiry model is the exploreexplain, and elaborate sequence. This provides the inquiry approach that’s the gold standard for teaching what science is. Science, particularly in the early grades, is primarily a process. The knowledge and vocabulary are also important but without the inquiry process, the knowledge is not so meaningful
      1. In the Explore, the students formulate ideas or hypothesis about the content area and then seek to explore these ideas.
      2. In the Explain, the students seek to articulate what they learned in the Explore process.
      3. The Elaborate does a number of things but in its purest form, the elaborate should be a refinement of the original exploratory question or an application of that hypothesis in a more far-reaching way.  The elaborates not only refine the inquiry or seek to apply it in a more sophisticated manner, it also builds language arts and math skills by providing instruction and practice.
      4. The Science4Us implementation of the complete 5E instructional model starts with an in-depth Engage section so that the prior knowledge of the students is evoked. Prior hypothesis and common understandings and misunderstanding are surfaced through a number of techniques.
      5. The 5th E, Evaluate, is a show-what-you;’ve-learned exercise in which knowledge and skills acquired are demonstrated even if the students are preliterate.
      6. This 5E Inquiry Model is followed by each of the 28 modules covered in Science4Us.
    • Science4Us is a complete curriculum which means that it includes:
      1. A usage pattern of 8 sessions for each module which can be covered in two weeks, four days a week.
      2. Around 350 interactive exercises that can be delivered as whole class discussions, in small groups, or one on one with a computing device (tablet, Chromebook, computer).  Most classes blend these different delivery model with the Engage and Explore being the ones most likely to be done as whole class instructions. Part of this is teachers really like leading Science4Us-based lessons.
      3. Over a thousand printable activities covering worksheet versions of most of the interactives (especially the evaluates) and also, large numbers of hands-on inquiry-based activities as wells as STEM or STEAM extensions. For instance, the pictures above are taken from a teacher training in which the teachers are asked to the hands-on activities to explore how a swing works in the motion module of physical science.
      4. Materials just for teachers include lesson plans, teaching tips, and common misconceptions. These materials are typically one to two pages long and in following a strict format, teachers quickly get comfortable delivering Science4Us lessons to their students with minimal preparation.

Eight Science Sessions over Two Weeks

  • The PD model of Science4Us is flexible. Generally, the online videos and tips make accessing the materials, software, and lessons easy so they require minimal training time. The PD time is best used taking the teachers through a module as if they were students so they receive the materials and see how the 5E Instructional Model really does render intimidating concepts into simple steps. Most importantly, it illustrates who a proper structure to  5E-based instruction has the students doing science inquiry as a routine part of the process. In many schools, the PD has several steps of implementation, including having Science4Us staff model lessons to the students.  Here is more information on how LearningCity provides help with teacher training for  Science4Us, VocabularySpellingCity, and WritingCity.

While many schools have dedicated science teachers from third grade up, most rely on the regular teacher for science instruction in the youngest grades. Equipped with the right curriculum, the natural curiosity of young children can be channeled into a science inquiry model and rather than quashing their enthusiasm, the students can begin to understand the scientific inquiry process and to self-identify as interested in and good at science

Instructional Models for Elementary School

The gold standard for instruction in elementary science education has been the BSCS 5E Instructional Model.  Developed by Busby while at BSCS in Colorado Springs, maybe, it has a catchy catchy name and is clever blend of constructionist and instruction.  At the very least, it reminds teachers to teach, not just to instruct.

The folks who developed Science4Us were enthralled and inspired by the 5E Instructional Model and implemented the 5E Instructional Model for the primary grades with fidelity and creativity.

Looking forward, there is renewed emphasis on authentic investigative science and it remains to be seen for 3rd- 5th grade this can be merged with the 5E Model. Stay tuned. What’s also fun is how this has been made available to elementary homeschool science learners.

Science is Science

To start 2018, I will make a point that I hardly believe has to be made.

Science is science.  Science is not part of a spectrum that includes opinions and religions. Science is backed by the scientific method and scientific facts are scientific facts.

Science is agnostic or secular, it has nothing to do with clock makers or intelligent design or any other thinly veiled religious approach to seeing the world.

Science is science. Much like math.  Beautiful. Pure. Complicated. Evolving. As we learn.

How to Homeschool? When people ask me, I say anyway you want. But as long as you are teaching, teach science. Not supernatural stuff. That’s something else and not science.

Dogs and Science

It would seem to me that since we all have pets, we would have a routine set of intelligence tests to determine the intelligence of our dogs.  I’m convinced that my beloved white dog is pretty but really dumb. Her name is Emy.

I have another smaller dog, Bella, who is also a shitzu. I think she is a little brighter.

Neither dog is anywhere near as intelligent as the dog that I had years ago named Lady.

But, this is just my impression, how would we test?  Here’s a post on dog intelligence:

Dr. Hare and his team have developed 9 intelligence profiles for dogs, which are:

  • Ace: Ace accounts for 10% of all dogs. Aces are excellent problem-solvers with top-notch communication skills.
  • Charmer: The Charmer profile accounts for approximately 16% of all dogs. Charmers have excellent social skills and are able to read your body language effectively.
  • Socialite: Socialites are social butterflies with excellent communication skills and account for 22% of all dogs. Socialites may not possess excellent problem-solving skills but they do know how to get what they want.
  • Expert: An expert dog has a strong memory with sharp problem-solving skills and account for approximately 7% of all dogs. Expert dogs tend to be more independent and rely less on humans.
  • Renaissance Dog: Renaissance dogs are extremely attentive; they account for approximately 12% of all dogs. Renaissance dogs are reliable and possess traits from all of the other categories.
  • Protodog: Flexible and spontaneous, protodogs account for approximately 15% of all dogs.
  • Einstein: This accounts for approximately 3% of all dogs. Einsteins have an incredible memory and excellent problem-solving skills. Einsteins are essentially the ‘rocket scientists’ of the dog world, but they struggle socially.
  • Maverick: Approximately 7% of all dogs are considered “maverick,” or very independent problem solvers.
  • Stargazer: Accounts for approximately 8% of all dogs. They are commonly seen as aloof and often struggle both socially and with training.

Dognition also an approach to test dogs intelligence.  They have science-based games that assess 5 core dimensions of your dog’s cognition — empathy, communication, cunning, memory, and reasoning.

Bicycle Mechanics Courses for Gen Ed?

I have often thought about creating a course which focuses on bicycles. Most kids learn to ride bicycles and they love them. Embedded in the bicycle, there are a lot of interesting lessons that I think could help.

I’d start with the pictures of the old bicycles.  I might even get one. I’d get everyone to think through the problem of speed, wheel circumference, and why those old bikes really didn’t work very well.

I think this would engage them. There are lots of interesting engineering idicussions about why bicycles which are 2D stay upright.

I’d then move to the endineering of modern bicycles and how gears change ratios. Interesting math and engineering. Something to think about. There must be some great tool kits, either in simulation of mechanical, where kids can practice controlling force and figuring it out.  Anybody developed this course before?


Modern Bike

This is such a good idea, I’ll start researching it and maybe, go for a bike ride!

Science Programs

The last few years have been marked in US science education by:

Continuing Growth in computer science – In addition to high school level courses in programming such as the AP java course, there are high school algorithm courses for the other AP exam, advanced high school (ie post AP courses), and lots of coding and algorithm work in younger grades using programs like Tynker, Codable, Code Monkey etc

Growth in Robotics and robotics competitions – There are leagues from elementary school up and these are great STEM projects which involve teams working together to design, code, 3D model and maintain their robots

Makerspaces with all sorts of tinkering and special interests. For instance, I’ve seen lots of computer controlled sewing machines as well as 3d printing machines being used in all sorts of ways by all sorts of students including those that would have not gotten anywhere near science labs traditionally .



Much Time Has Past


I was recently alerted to the existence of this blog which has the name of a website: SpellingCity – that I founded and operate. Of course, the site’s name is now VocabularySpellingCity and as I look at this blog, I recognize my writing and pictures.

This isn’t a case of copyright infringement, this is a case of my having a bad memory, I had totally forgotten starting this blog. I guess it’s meant to give commentary and for reflexion away from the more commercial busy corporate site that I now run.

This is what’s on my mind this week: doing more with expressions that are commonly used that confuse youngsters and ESL students. Examples:

Raised eyebrows

Opportunity knocking

A chance up at bat

Not a pretty picture

I’d rather die