Three Legs of Science

By Susie Kinsey

As a pre-service teacher, the three legs of science was a brand new concept for me.  The more I learned about this approach to science, the more I realized the potential as an integral contribution to science learning.  Science content, science process skills, and the nature of science could each possibly stand alone with a singular benefit to learning, but when all three areas are combined, the whole becomes greater than its parts and education is taken to a new level.

My work with the CLC science club was a great experience for me to apply the three legs of science in a working environment through the phases of planning, implementing, and reflecting.  In my work with K-1st grade students in the Ladybug Club, I centered my lesson on habitat.  I knew the science content, or subject matter, needed to be appropriate for the intended audience of students 5-7 years of age.    The science content of habitat was simplified into four main areas of food, water, shelter, and space. The purpose of simplifying the material was to help these K-1 students focus on a limited number of elements as the basic needs for survival in a straightforward way.   The lesson could easily be modified for older students by going into more detailed study of how habitats affect and are affected by their community.  The basic knowledge learned from this lesson would be deemed appropriate in conjunction with Zembal-Saul, McNeill, & Hershberger (2012), in terms of fitting into the claim and reasoning categories of the framework for scientific explanation.  While the content in this particular lesson is rudimentary, scientific exploration must contain these initial building blocks of science content for further inquiry.

While the lesson plan I chose to use may be somewhat of a “cookbook” lesson (Shiland, 1997) in its initial form, there is actually some wiggle room to adapt inquiry strategies.  These strategies are the science process skills put in place to help students make predictions, ask questions, and arrive at ideas about the parts of a habitat.  I started my conversation with the students about habitat without using the word habitat, but rather asked about things a ladybug might need to survive.  As students came up with basic needs, we talked about why those needs were important and what might happen if the needs were not met.  By allowing students to determine why certain characteristics contribute to the life and survival of the ladybug, they were then equipped with the skill to generalize the connection for any animal and their habitat.   From certain viewpoints it may appear students are not “doing science” (i.e., measuring, recording data, etc.); however, Sullenger (1999) favors a shift toward a more generalization of skills in science that can be applied to other disciplines such as questioning and integrating ideas and experiences.  My ladybug habitat lesson supported the practice of these science process skills  This lesson included a hands-on activity, but there is much discussion and information sharing that goes on before the activity occurs.  I see this as a good combination for any grade level of students, and especially for the K-1 students I worked with in the CLC science club to give them the exposure to inquiry and questioning early on.

Much of the literature reflects the common notion of the nature of science as what we know and how we know it (Hanuscin & Lee, 2009) and generally how we communicate about science is an essential part of the equation.  The ladybug lesson I taught is fairly straightforward in that information is generated and shared, and then an example is produced based on a specific application of that information.  The discussion section of the lesson, however, offers a prime opportunity to expand the experience into the realm of the nature of science by guiding students to question and communicate on why the habitat contains certain elements (what we know) and what would happen if those elements did not exist.  Using their science process skills, our discussion time included ideas about habitat elements of humans, which then provided justification (how we know it) for the students’ ideas.   Some of the questions we discussed started to lead the students’ thinking just beyond having four items on a list.  The concept of the nature of science says it is not only ok, but also necessary to move outside the box of science.  I found this notion of the nature of science to be an excellent approach to giving breadth and depth to my lesson.

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REFERENCES FROM CLASS READINGS

Hanuscin and Lee, (2009).  Helping Students Understand the Nature of Science.

Shiland, (1997).  Decookbook It!

Sullenger, (1999).  How Do You Know Science is Going On?

Zembal-Saul, McNeill, and Hershberger, (2012).  What’s Your Evidence?

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