Science class may conjure thoughts of Bunsen burners and beakers filled with mysterious liquids. Perhaps you may have fond memories of Bill Nye the Science Guy or the Magic School Bus.
With new education standards on the horizon, the reality of science education may look different from what you imagine. Curricula vary depending on the grade; what you learn in 5th grade is very different from the topics covered by 11th grade. If you find that your child’s school’s science curriculum isn’t meeting your child’s needs, there are ways for parents to supplement it at home.
Here is a basic roadmap of what you can expect your child to be learning about in science class.
The Common Core Standards are the new guide for all teachers when they are planning lessons. The Common Core standards for science are weaved into the reading standards for kindergarten through 5th grade. This means that science class at the elementary level is heavily focused on reading.
Science class, even in 1st grade, may include science experiments. 1st graders can explore simple concepts like weather, water, and the human body. They can learn about pushing and pulling on an object. By 5th grade, students will start learning about multistep processes like photosynthesis and digestion.
Science at the elementary level can be all about excursions. Take your 1st grader to the park and practice naming the animals and plants. Lay in the grass with your 5th grader or visit a garden and have him explain photosynthesis. On a long drive, talk about the science behind the weather. Science at this age is about the physical world. The best way you can supplement what he is learning in class is to be out and about in the world making connections back to science class.
Middle school is typically when kids start to love or hate science. This can be because the content becomes a little more abstract and the expectations are higher. The Common Core requires that students be able to cite specific evidence from science texts, analyze specific concepts, and follow multistep procedures for experiments.
If your child is struggling in science during these years, consider finding a tutor or fun ways to make science less burdensome. Maybe you can watch old videos of “Bill Nye the Science Guy" videos on YouTube or watch documentaries related to what your child is learning in class. You can make a difference in your child’s science education by engaging in conversations with her that really make her think. When you ask, “How was science class today?" Don’t settle for, “fine" as an answer. Ask questions and don’t be afraid to look a little excited about the response.
If your child is thriving in science class and needs to be challenged, consider enrolling her in courses outside of your school. There are several science camps offered throughout the country that can be a great option. Your local community college may also offer some science classes if she is advanced enough. Seek out opportunities available in your area, and encourage your child’s interest through discussion.
High school is when science makes the leap from the concrete to the abstract. Students in chemistry and physics classes must imagine concepts that they can’t physically see. This can be difficult for some teens. The Common Core standards require that students be able to analyze the relationships between concepts, rather than just analyzing the concepts themselves. They are also asked to start evaluating science texts to see if scientists have enough evidence to prove their points.
At the high school level, you may not be able to have challenging conversations with your child about chemistry or biotechnology, but you can make sure he’s surrounded by people who can. For a student who needs to be challenged in science class, you can start by encouraging her to take honors or AP classes at her school. After that, ask her if there are any science related clubs that she can join to be around like-minded people. Look to your local community college if the school isn’t offering challenging courses and allow your child to start racking up college credits.
For more information about your child’s science education, the best resource is your child’s teacher. Set up a meeting at the beginning of the year to learn what she has planned and explain that your child needs to be challenged or may need some extra support. Do your best to keep tabs on what your student is learning and have conversations about it whenever possible.