UT Elementary embraces research based on an understanding that science instruction must foster understanding, interest and appreciation for the world in which we live. As we prepare our students for the future, we understand the growing importance of having a strong foundation in both math and science. The science classroom provides an opportunity to promote creativity, critical thinking, communication, collaboration and a global consciousness. Careful planning allows a vertical alignment of concepts and skills in each grade level as well as connections between subject areas. As students progress through each grade, they build new knowledge based on previous learning and extend their current conceptions. Our teachers adhere to the exploratory nature of scientific investigation through the use of the 5 E Method- Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate and Evaluate promoted by Dr. Jim Barufaldi the Director of the Center for Science and Mathematics Education at The University of Texas at Austin and Ruben E. Hinojosa Regents Professor at the UT Austin College of Education.
The 5E Method of Instruction was developed in 1989 by the Biological Science Curriculum Study Group. This method is based on interactive exploration and constructivist learning theories. During investigations, students use prior knowledge as a guide to acquire new concepts and skills. Rather than just “feeding” our students information, learners are encouraged to discuss, debate, evaluate and explore their own ideas. As students make valuable connections between their knowledge and their world, they will develop confidence as scientists, with the ultimate goal of nurturing a life-long love of learning.
Engage: This first stage is meant to capture student interest and to set the stage for further exploration of ideas. Teachers may use a variety of strategies to engage students including journaling, discussion, demonstrations and presentations.
Explore: Once the students are engaged in what they are learning, students are provided with the opportunity to explore the nature of the concept being studied. At this stage, students will work through questions and problems using hands-on activities. Students are encouraged to develop and explore their own questions as well as collaborate with peers to develop new ideas.
Explain: At this stage, students will make connections between their explorations, previous knowledge and new knowledge. Teachers will work to guide students towards developing an understanding of terminology and relationships within the natural world.
Elaborate: During this stage, students are able to use what they have learned in the first three stages to solve their initial problem or question. Students are then provided additional opportunities to utilize their new concepts and skills through various activities. Throughout the elaboration stage, teachers have the opportunity to interact with students, checking for understanding and guiding learners to work through misconceptions.
Evaluate: During this stage, teachers assess student learning through a variety of formal and informal methods. Assessments may include projects, journaling, self-assessments, presentations, Socratic seminars and tests or quizzes.
Our curriculum is designed to meet the State approved science strands which include properties, patterns, and models, as well as systems, the nature of science, and consistency and change using a constructivist method of teaching. Students have an opportunity to construct their own views of science and investigate concepts, content and competencies with a depth of understanding which draws from previous experiences and knowledge. Activities are designed to incorporate skills from other subject areas including math, reading, writing, social studies, health, physical education, art and music. Teachers provide differentiated instruction in order to meet the needs, talents, and interests of all students. Students are encouraged to explore social and emotional skills by learning to communicate and collaborate effectively. Through thoughtful guidance and monitoring, teachers foster the development of a positive classroom culture in which students are comfortable exploring their own and others ideas as well as developing a greater understanding and appreciation for diversity on an individual, community, cultural and global level.
Teachers at UT Elementary use a variety of instructional strategies including journaling, group discussion, field experiences, labs, centers, projects and demonstrations. Emphasis is placed on the development of vocabulary at each grade level through the use of ELL and reading strategies. Science curriculum is reinforced by exposing students to a variety of literature and technology experiences.
Vertical teaming has allowed each grade level to align their science vocabulary and provide a strong foundation for the development of academic language in the area of science. Through differentiation techniques, use of Best Practices and attention to multiple intelligences, teachers are able to meet the needs of all students and to address individual talents and interests. Our teachers realize that creating a love for science during the elementary years is vital part in the process of transforming our students into productive citizens of the future.
Our science curriculum follows the state standards as outlined by the TEKS and is aligned with the Science TAKS test which is given in the fifth grade. The Science TAKS test is a comprehensive elementary assessment and tests the TEKS covered in each elementary grade level kindergarten through fifth. Fifth-grade students have only one opportunity to pass the Science TAKS during the year. Students are prepared for the exam through the use of the best instructional practices accompanied with opportunities to learn and practice test-taking strategies.
Our teachers have access to use and utilize a variety of instructional materials and resources including:
Science Exposition Week
This fall we hosted our first Science Exposition Week. During the week, we invited families, university partners, science specialists and community members to join us in celebrating a memorable week dedicated to the field of science. Each day of the week different grade levels hosted special guests that came to share their knowledge and love of science with the students. Our guest list in fall 2008 included: IBM’s Dr. Cool, The Physics Circus, Skill Point Alliance, Women Engineers of Austin, The Dowser Dan Show, LCRA’s Reptile Ambassadors, Texas Memorial Museum Express, Keep Austin Beautiful, Junior Master Gardeners, Travis County Master Gardeners, UT Aeronautical Engineers, Austin K-9, UT Geophysics, UT Bureau of Economic Geology, UT Astronomy, UT School of Nursing, Austin Geology Society and many other guests from our community.
Also during this week, students completed self-selected Science Exposition projects. Students had the opportunity to choose a science investigation project, a science research project, an interview with a science professional or a science collection. Allowing the students to select their own projects fostered a genuine sense of excitement. Students explored areas that they were personally interested in. Some students interviewed professionals to learn about careers that they themselves hope to hold one day. Other students worked with their families to create collections or develop investigations. According to our teachers, the feedback from parents and students in regards to the change from a traditional type science fair to a more open ended exposition was incredibly positive. Both students and parents seemed to enjoy and learn more from the projects this year.
Students at UTES are provided with a wide variety of field experiences at each grade level. All classes are involved in maintaining our school garden and students have opportunities to grow and nurture plants as well as to observe science in a natural setting. Field trips and guest instructors provide valuable learning experiences for our students and special guests include instructors from the Audubon Society and engineers from Skill Point Alliance.
Along with setting up visits from special guests, each year teachers plan field trips which align with the curriculum taught in their grade level. Throughout their elementary years, students will participate in various field experiences including nature hikes, fossil digs, kayaking, caving, fishing, water quality testing, flower/plant studies, native animal studies, insect/butterfly studies, dinosaur studies, rock climbing, overnight science trips to the Sea World aquarium, visits to the Bob Bullock museum and visits to San Antonio’s Witte museum. In addition our students will be taking part in field trips to the Austin Nature and Science Center, the River School, the Outdoor School, the Butterfly Farm, the helioscope at UT, Natural Bridge Caverns, Inner Space Caverns, Lady Byrd Johnson Wildflower Center and the Dino Dig at Zilker Park this year.
Developing an awareness of community and global issues is key in nurturing an appreciation for our Earth and society. Throughout the year, students have the opportunity to take part in a variety of community service projects that address environmental and community concerns not only within our neighborhood, but across the globe.
In 2008-09, students collected food and supplies for our neighbors affected by Hurricane Ike. During Halloween they raised money for UNICEF to provide wells and clean drinking water to communities in impoverished nations. The third, fourth and fifth grade students took part in Keep Austin Beautiful, cleaning up litter and marked storm drains in our school neighborhood. During the holiday season, students raised money to purchase animals for families in struggling villages through Heifer International. These types of experiences make a lasting impression on students and encourage a life-long dedication to making our world a better place.