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Best Teaching Practices

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on February 17, 2014 at 6:36:53 pm

Best Teaching Practices

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What are the best practices for Scientific Literacy?


What is meant by “science literacy?”  In addition to background knowledge about science topics, students need help negotiating science texts.  Knowledge of how science texts are organized, and of certain note-taking and study techniques, can help students build knowledge about science through reading and writing.


Wide Reading and Curiosity


While reading science is not the same as “doing” science, learners can build a lot of background knowledge through reading.  Teachers can help students in this process by providing books or titles of books and suggestions about where to go to find books about various topics.  Teachers can also help students understand that it’s a good idea to start with easier books first, and to read a number of books on the same topic. 


Start with easier books.  If you don’t know much about how electricity works and you have to learn, do you start by picking up a manual for electricians?  I wouldn’t.  I would go to the children’s section of my public library and look through the books until I found one that looked like it would explain the basic concepts simply enough that I would understand.  As a teacher, I make sure to tell my students this, as many students feel they should not read “baby” books.


I also encourage students to read many books about the same topic.  From each book I learn something new and different, but I also reinforce my understanding of the basic concepts.  Perhaps the second or third book on a subject will help me better understand something about electricity.  Perhaps there will be a better explanation of the relationship between magnets and electricity.  I read with questions in my mind and reading many, easier texts helps me satisfy my curiosity and put all the pieces together.   


The Big Idea Developer



Thinking Like a Scientist: Predictions and Hypotheses


One of the first words we learn when we study is the word “hypothesis.”  While this is a word we associate with science, the truth is we make hypotheses every day.  We have a theory about why the baby is crying, why the cake didn’t rise this time, why the engine didn’t start, why that rash came back.  To make these hypotheses, we ask ourselves questions, draw upon what we know and make predictions.


When reading science, we can draw upon the same process.  A good way to reinforce learners’ curiosity is to start with a question about a phenomenon students have experience with, but take for granted.  Before reading about the circulatory system, for instance, I might ask students “Why do our noses tend to turn red in cold weather?”  I would ask students to discuss this question in groups, make hypotheses and justify their thinking.  We would then read to find the answer to the question, and identify the place in the text where the answer was found.


Students can also make hypotheses about graphs and charts.   In the example below, students discuss their hypotheses about the interior of the earth, then look at a temperature chart of different layers.  Students make hypotheses about why the different layers differ in temperature, then read to find answers.


Graphic Organizers: Processes


Many science text describe processes.  The water cycle, the route blood takes through the body and the functioning of combustion engines are all examples of processes with stages or steps.


Flow charts that students create or complete are one way that students can draw information from text in a form that will be easier to remember and internalize.  See below for an example of a partial flow chart on circulation in the human body: 


A few days after students filled out this flow chart, I gave students slips of paper with “stages” in the process of blood circulation and asked them to put them in order, based on the text.  This reinforced their memories of the path blood takes through the body and also a habit of thinking of certain natural processes in steps.


Graphic Organizers: Form and Function


A basic concept in science is the connection between form and function—the idea that the form things take is related to their function.  For example, deciduous leaves are broad and green to absorb sunlight; the brain is wrinkled so that it can fit in a space that is smaller than it; and the skull in turn is hard and made of several pieces of bone that fit together tightly so as to provide protection for the brain.


Form/function charts are graphic organizers in which students take notes on the form and function of different organelles, organs, etc.  The organizers provide a vehicle for students to identify essential information and put it into their own words.  Below is an example of a form/function chart for the parts of a cell.




Learning science is easier when we can visualize the processes involved.  Having students draw diagrams of a living organism, the structure of the earth, and celestial bodies such as the moon in different phases helps them learn.  There are many variations:

  • Have students label a diagram while referring to text
  • Have students draw diagrams based on textual descriptions, then check their work against the textbook diagram
  • Have students draw something they observe, such as an onion cell under a microscope.




Science writers often explain phenomena by making analogies to things that readers are familiar with.  One science writer, for instance, described the cell membrane as being like a screen door because it lets some substances into the cell but keeps others out, just as a screen door allows air into the house but keeps insects and animals out.


For an example of how analogies can be incorporated into a science lesson, see below:


Science Notebooks


Writing to Learn






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