Science in ECE

An article on Sarah Morgan and Geoff Fugle reflecting work done in ECE around Science.

Tikipunga Kindergarten
August 17, 2021

Science in ECE

SARAH MORGAN & GEOFF FUGLE


IT'S 2022 AND SCIENCE CANNOT BE AVOIDED. NEVER HAS A FIELD OF KNOWLEDGE BEEN MORE PROBED,DISSECTED, DEBATED AND HYPOTHESISED IN THE PUBLIC SPHERE.

Everyone is a scientist. Even the Education Review Office is in on the action with the recent release of three documents pertaining to science in the ECE context.

Why? Because"New Zealand needs people who can ask ques­tions. And in an increasingly complex world, with increasingly complex problems, the answers to many of these questions will come from an understanding and application of science." (ERO,2021)

"Children naturally behave like scientists: they learn through play, doing things, by asking questions and inter­acting with others."

This oft-repeated statement(which we can credit to Carr & May, 1993) rolls off our tongues and it's true - our tamariki are exemplars of science in action. They wonder, they poke and squish, they declare the most fantastical working theories and happily get back to it. Yet despite this, ERO are concerned. Science, as a process of inquiry and as a product, are integral to future-proofing Aotearoa and while they found that the primary school sector was doing okay, ECE is lagging signifi­cantly. Full report and pretty graphs can be found here: https://ero.govt.nz/our-research/science-in-the-early-years-early­ childhood-and-years-1-4

ERO breaks it down further:

"We cannot be confident that all teachers have a clear understanding of what is meant by working theories and dispositions." Oh dear.

"Many kaiako/teachers need to more deliberately extend children's working theories and their understanding about how the world works". Hmmm...

The less confident we feel about science, the less weplan for and assessscientific learning. Low levels of confidence often manifests as structured one-off scientific activities.

While 'science is everywhere', it requires kaiako to take a deliberate scientific lens to our curr iculum, children 's interests, and theirlearning to bring the processes to the fore - and all this hinges on the pedagogical knowledge and practicesofkaiako.

"Science isdiscussion-based. we are not teaching chil­ dren to be scientists, but to thinklike a scientist" - Michelle Dickenson.

Let's set the  scene. A play-based curriculum that provides a balance between teacher-ledactivitiesand child-initiated play. An emergent curriculum buildson children 's motivation to learn. Here wesee problem-solving and critical thinking dispositions develop.

A lack of domain content knowledge leads to usonly seeing surface features- isolated instances of science activitythat fail to make connections or develop deeper understandings. Scientific observation flourishes in an environment where active participation is encouraged, "uncertainty is valued, inquiry is modelled, and making meaning is the goal" (Te Whariki, p.23). Scientific observation must be coupledwith content knowledge. The natural symbiosis between 'thinking like a scientist' and general learning as a process is again highlighted by the fact that "much of science investigation is about relationships, cause and effect, for example the relationship between changes in the environment and the weather pattern ,"(Whyte & Kumar, 2018).Supporting the development of inquiry skills, working theories and content knowledge is also dependent on another

relationship: that between the child and teacher.

"The important thing is notto stop questioning. - Albert Einstein

Children'squestions help kaiako to understand what is signif­ icant and interesting tothem, and can beimportant starting points for building both scientific knowledge and processes. Sometimes, answering a question creates the interest in a subject. For kaiako, being attentive and following upon chil­ dren's initiatives and observations is critical to stimulate higher-levelquestioning. As teachers guide and encourage children in their explorations, questions movefrom basic infor­ mation gathering for less familiar topics to wondering -type questionsfor well known topics - an opportunity to make and develop workingtheories. Using scientific vocabulary further encourageschildren, empowering their thinking and expres­ sion of ideas (Skalstad and Munkebye,2021).

In the midst of all this questioning, is there a place foranswers? Absolutely! Questions need an answer to serve as the platform for the next question. The most memorable answers come from collective and individual discovery, but ifa learner wants an answer from you, they deserve it.

"Never memorisesomething that you can look up."- AlbertEinstein

Let's getbackto the question ofconfidence and how teachers respond to children's questions.

Explorator y dialogueencourages scientificthinking. In responding to questions in a 'wondering' manner, for exam­ ple, returning a question or indicating that they 'do not know', teachers relinquish power by co-constructing withchildren. Children are encouraged to reflect, pose claims or hypotheses and grow their working theories. It is important that kaiako follow up these types of questions to confirm or guide the childrento a correct answer so as not to create misconcep­ tions about scientific concepts and avoid 'magicalthinking' (Hedges, 2003).

Our confidence as kaiako in delivering a science-based curriculum is dependent on our own education andinterests. For instance, many are comfortable with biology,but physics- not so much right? Planned experiences allow us time to, we ll,plan, but onlyso much. Unfortunately, most teachers lack the relevant scientific content knowledge whenspontaneous learn­ ing opportunities occur and we are required to give simple, accurateexplanations (Hedges & Cullen, 2015). Thiscan cause problems when they feel they mustprovide an answer and give an incorrectone or settle for what Hedges(2003) calls "magical thinking." Time to get reading!

A culture of observation and inquiry where tamariki a;e empowered to look closer and for longer, to make guessesand predictions, puzzle over and reframe their working theories, all depend on what ERO calls the 'key components of science teaching': Leadership, Intentional Teaching , and aResponsive Curriculum.

They allrequire confidence . Confidencein your content knowledge. But of courseknowledge is value-based.

Kia heke iho ra i nga tupuna, katahi ka tika. If handed down by the ancestors, it would be correct. Matauranga Maori is knowl­edge that has grown from the experiences of Maori living in the environment of Aotearoa, including concepts of traditional environmental and cultural knowledge such as rongoa(heal­ ing),fishing, cultivation, and Matariki. This knowledge base is valued by scientists, however, science and matauranga Maori

do not seek to do the same thing. The Maramataka (Maori calen­ dar) and nga purakau (legends)are accessible ways for kaiako to engage tamariki with ideas and values from te ao Maori such as kaitiakitanga and whakapapa . Storytelling connects us; through indigenous oral lore we are given the opportunity to explore these phenomena/relationships through another lens.

"We're often encouraged to see the earth as just scenery - something to look at but not participate in. When we collapse the distance between the land and ourselves and allow ourselves to become part of the story of a place, we give ourselves over to intimacy.This can be our work with children - weaving them into the story of the place where they live." - Ann Pelo


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

alldependon what ERO calls the 'key componentsof science teaching': Leadership, Intentional Teaching , anda Responsive Curriculum.

They allrequire confidence . Confidencein your content knowledge. But of courseknowledge is value-based.

Kia heke iho ra i nga tupuna,katahi ka tika. If handed down by the ancestors, it wouldbe correct. Matauranga Maori is knowl­ edge that has grownfrom the experiences of Maori living in theenvironment of Aotearoa,including concepts of traditional environmental and cultural knowledge such as rongoa(heal­ ing),fishing, cultivation, and Matariki. This knowledgebase is valued by scientists, however, science and matauranga Maori


   I    

T'S 2022AND SCIENCE CANNOT BE AVOIDED. NEVER HAS A FIELD OF KNOWLEDGE BEEN MORE PROBED, DISSECTED, DEBATED AND HYPOTHESISED IN THE PUBLIC SPHERE.

Everyone is a scientist. Even the EducationReview Office is

in onthe action with the recent release of three documents pertaining to sciencein the ECE context.

Why? Because"New Zealand needs people who can ask ques­ tions. And in an increasingly complex world, with increasingly complex problems, the answers to many of these questions will come from an understanding and application of science." (ERO,2021)

"Children naturally behave like scientists: they learn throughplay, doing things, by askingquestions and inter­ acting with others."

This oft-repeated statement(which  we can  credit to Carr & May, 1993) rolls off our tonguesand it's true - our tamarikiare exemplars of science in action. They wonder , they poke and squish, they declare the most fantastical working theories and happilyget back to it. Yetdespite this, ERO are concerned. Science,as a process of inquiry and as a product, are integral to future-proofing Aotearoa and while they found that the primaryschool sector wasdoing okay, ECE is lagging signifi­ cantly.Full report and pretty graphscan be found here: https://ero.govt.nz/our-research/science-in-the-early-years-early­ childhood-and-years-1-4

 

 

 

6            The Space ISSU E 67 AUTUM N 2022


ERO breaks it down further:

"Wecannot be confident that all teachers have a clear understanding of what is meant by working theories and dispositions." Oh dear.

"Many kaiako/teachers need to more deliberately extend children's working theories and their understanding about how the world works". Hmmm...

The less confident we feel about science, the less weplan for and assessscientific learning. Low levels of confidence often manifests as structured one-off scientific activities.

While 'science is everywhere', it requires kaiako to take a deliberate scientific lens to our curr iculum, children 's interests, and theirlearning to bring the processes to the fore - and all this hinges on the pedagogical knowledge and practicesofkaiako.

"Science isdiscussion-based. we are not teaching chil­ dren to be scientists, but to thinklike a scientist" - Michelle Dickenson.

Let's set the  scene. A play-based curriculum that provides a balance between teacher-ledactivitiesand child-initiated play. An emergent curriculum buildson children 's motivation to learn. Here wesee problem-solving and critical thinking dispositions develop.

A lack ofdomain content knowledge leads to usonly seeing surface features- isolated instances of science activitythat fail to make connections or develop deeperunderstandings.Scien-


Einstein

Let's getbackto the question ofconfidence and how teachers respond to children's questions.

Explorator y dialogueencourages scientificthinking. In responding to questions in a 'wondering' manner, for exam­ ple, returning a question or indicating that they 'do not know', teachers relinquish power by co-constructing withchildren. Children are encouraged to reflect, pose claims or hypotheses and grow their working theories. It is important that kaiako follow up these types of questions to confirm or guide the childrento a correct answer so as not to create misconcep­ tions about scientific concepts and avoid 'magicalthinking' (Hedges, 2003).

Our confidence as kaiako in delivering a science-based curriculum is dependent on our own education andinterests. For instance, many are comfortable with biology,but physics- not so much right? Planned experiences allow us time to, we ll,plan, but onlyso much. Unfortunately, most teachers lack the relevant scientific content knowledge whenspontaneous learn­ ing opportunities occur and we are required to give simple, accurateexplanations (Hedges & Cullen, 2015). Thiscan cause problems when they feel they mustprovide an answer and give an incorrectone or settle for what Hedges(2003) calls "magical thinking." Time to get reading!

A culture of observation and inquiry where tamariki a;e empowered to look closer and for longer, to make guessesand predictions, puzzle over and reframe their workingtheories,


do not seek to do the same thing. The Maramataka (Maori calen­ dar) and nga purakau (legends)are accessible ways for kaiako to engage tamarikiwith ideas and values fromte aoMaori such as kaitiakitanga and whakapapa . Storytelling connects us; through indigenous oral lore we are given the opportunity to explorethese phenomena/relationships through anotherlens. "We'.re often encouraged to see the earthas just scenery

- something to look at but not participate in. When we collapsethe distance between the land and ourselves and allowourselves to become part of the story of a place, we give ourselves over to intimacy.This can be our work with children - weaving them into the story of the place where they live." - AnnPelo

Sarah is a kindergarten teacher who previously worked in biological sciences and research.

Geoff is Head Teacher at Tikipunga Kindergarten in Whangarei and like Einstein, knows where to look it up.

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