Science: A Base for Relating, Reasoning and Representing

My son is required to memorize a poem for his first grade class. Those who have been following this blog would know that my son is very much interested in wild animals. Naturally, my son picks a poem about great cats to memorize. Here is one for a lion:

I've got a strong body
And very large paws,
Teeth made for killing
And powerful jaws.
When it's time for a hunt
The females take charge,
And the prey they go after
Are usually large.

Last year, in kindergarten, he memorized a poem about a jaguar:

It's Latin America
Where I always roam.
The tropical forests
Are the place I call home.
My light-colored coat
Is all covered with spots.
And within my rosettes
There are even more dots.

If eight lines will suffice for the poem next year in second grade, I think my son would probably pick the one for a black panther or leopard:

In dark Asian forests
I ambush my prey.
And my dark-colored coat
Doesn't give me away.
Like all other leopards
I have spots on my back
Though you can't always tell
'Cause my coat is so black.

These are poems from Ranger Rick Naturescopes: Amazing Mammals II, p. 18-20 (downloaded from Self-Directed Tour, Grades Three through Five, ANIMAL ADAPTATIONS, Teacher Guide).

Surely, these poems illustrate how science-based literature can be used for language lessons for young children. Descriptive natural science is indeed rich in vocabulary. My son has also been enjoying every issue of National Wildlife Federation's (NWF) Ranger Rick Jr., which abounds with stories and pictures about wildlife:

The following is an example of a page provided online by Ranger Rick Jr., which should give an idea of the reading level of this magazine:
Above image captured from
Pauline D. Zeece wrote more than a decade ago an article in the Early Childhood Education Journal entitled "Things of Nature and the Nature of Things: Natural Science-Based Literature for Young Children".  In this article, Zeece pointed out:
...Competent early childhood education professionals have always used literature across the curriculum, including natural science (Shapiro, 1995). Tomlinson and Brown (1996) suggest that such literature provides accurate information in understandable and interesting language; creates a ready source of factual source of information about personal and group based sciencebased questions and interests; offers topical information from varied viewpoints; and presents excellent models of scientific methods of observation, hypothesis formulation, data gathering, experimentation, and evaluation. Thus, literature helps children develop inquiring minds and a scientific approach to thinking about and solving problems in increasingly sophisticated ways (Howe, 1993). Stories about natural science, in addition, foster an appreciation, understanding, and respect for living things (Mayesky, 1998)...
...There is an abundance of well written, information relevant children's books on the market today. Criteria for selection of natural science-based children's literature ideally parallel those used for other high quality literary resources. Additional consideration should be given to the representation and presentation of the science presented within these books. 
Quality, Natural Science-Based Books: 
• provide current, factual content. The world and its inhabitants portrayed are true to nature (Sawyer & Comer, 1996);
• contain clear and simple explanations. Captions and labels are clearly written and effectively displayed (Mayesky, 1998);
• present a depth and complexity of subject treatment that is closely matched to the developmental and interest level of an individual child or group of children (Howe, 1993; Sawyer & Comer, 1996);
• adhere to content that supports the overarching philosophy of a program and specific learning goals for young children;
• present information in captivating, beautifully illustrative narratives (Tomlinson & Brown, 1996); and
• possess a completeness and ease of use that allow children to quickly answer questions on scientific topics or enable them to explore scientific areas more effectively (Sawyer & Comer, 1996).

Scientists do science by discovery. This is true, but scientists also learn from others by reading works of other scientists. Scientists relate, reason and represent. In more than one way, both language and content are important facets of science. Excellent books for science are required for early childhood science education. Children need to see facts for the simple reason that they do not have the time to discover all of these on their own. Well-written science literature for children not only informs but also enhances the interest and therefore facilitates the discovery process. 

What is seldom appreciated in early childhood education is the use of science to aid in language learning. Nora Fleming of Education Week wrote recently about a partnership between the Sonoma school district in California and the Exploratorium, a science museum in San Francisco. The article, "Partnership Blends Science and English Proficiency" quotes Okhee Lee, a professor of childhood education at New York University and a researcher on English-learners and science:
"Science can be a nexus for learning English for English Language Learners (ELLs) because it provides a natural setting to learn a language. Engaging ELLs in these practices merits special attention, because such engagement can support both science learning and language learning, but unfortunately, instruction in U.S. classrooms has not tended to bridge the two."
And here are some observations from the teachers involved in this project:
On a recent day, pupils first learn the words to talk about the long brown-and-gray earthworms slithering in Petri dishes on their desks before they're allowed to observe them. Seeing, hearing, and discussing the science helps them with the vocabulary to label drawings in their science journals and talk about what they and their partners find examining the worms when the full class reconvenes. 
But the language learned in Sonoma's science lessons flourishes mostly by students' need to use it when they see and touch the natural world through in-class experiments, teachers say. That almost artful integration of language instruction into science makes students unaware they are actually learning; they just want to talk about what they experience.
In science, children will find the need to reason, relate and represent. And yes, scores are up among the students in this California program in both standardized reading and science exams...


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