Using Picture Books in the Science Classroom

PIcture books ideas and tips to complement the grade 4, 5, 6 science classroom

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Integrating science into the upper elementary classroom can be difficult with so much emphasis on Common Core standards in math and ELA. Often, science and social studies is an afterthought in the education of the United States student. Knowing the pressures of the classroom teacher, I have been creative in how to infuse literacy skills and concepts into my science curriculum so that students are engaged but also so that administrators can be persuaded into seeing the value of science as part of a well-rounded education.

       Having a master's degree in literacy, I feel that the skills needed to become a good reader should transpire throughout all content areas. Science is a topic that I am so passionate about because of the hands-on, real-life nature. While all of my science units include informational reading passages for students to gain knowledge about the concept, this summer I realized I wanted to do more.

       One goal of mine this year is to incorporate picture books into the science curriculum. Picture books help stimulate students in different ways. Students are drawn in not only by the wording of the book but also the pictures. For students who are struggling readers, picture books help them to gain a better understanding of what is going on in the story.

Why use picture books with upper elementary and secondary students?

  • Illustrations are just as important as the words. The illustrations can help them observe more about the story and make deeper inferences.
  • Picture books will better hold student attention than informational text articles. 
  • “Colorful pictures and graphics in picture books are superior to many texts for explaining abstract ideas,” (Kralina 1993). 
  • Improve reading skills in science. Picture books give you another opportunity to work on critical thinking skills.
  • Correct science misconceptions. Picture books are more likely to have scientific inaccuracies. This is OK because it gives you an opportunity to have a conversation about it and correct student thinking.
  • Reading aloud allows you to model fluency for your students. It also allows you to continue to work on comprehension strategies as you stop and question student knowledge. 

 How to Use Picture Books in the Secondary Classrooms.

       How you use picture books in your classroom is entirely up to you. You can use it:

An introduction to the topic this will allow all students to gain background knowledge before they start learning about the science concept. Having this information will prep their minds into focusing on the concept. It will also engage them on the topic and get their minds to start to question what they are learning about.

Wherever you see fit! It’s your classroom, your science unit, your students. If you know you have a few minutes left and can squeeze in reading, go for it. While you can make it an activity for the class period, it doesn’t HAVE to be. Sometimes the most meaningful lessons are the ones where my students and I were having a conversation about a book.

At the end of the unit once your students have gained all the knowledge to rock the science concept, you can reinforce their learning through a picture book. Your questioning will determine how much, or how little, they will get out of it. 

Where do I start?

       Here are some picture books that I have used or researched to use for my science units. Have a great idea? Share it below!

Observations and inferences:

Making observations and inferences using picture books

  • Seven Blind Mice: When reading, do not show students the pages that depict the elephant. Have them guess what the mice are running on. 

States of Matter:

Chemical and physical changes:

  • Pancakes, Pancakes by Eric Carle I will also be making pancakes with my students to question them about the physical and chemical changes while we are cooking.

Force and Motion:

  • Gravity is a Mystery Another book that gives students the basics of the concept. Great for an introduction to your unit. 

Environmental Hazards

These books help to support a unit on natural disasters or environmental issues in the world. 

Food Chains and Food Webs:

Butternut Hollow Pond: Review ecosystems using this delightful book that is also rich in figurative language.
Using picture books like Butternut Hollow Pond to enhance your science unit on ecosystems and ecology

Human Body:

Magic School Bus: The Human Body
I am Human by Susan Verde

As I come across more great finds, I will add them here. If you have any books that you use to enhance your science units, please comment below so I can add them to the list. 

Looking for more great ideas to add to your science classroom? Consider joining my science tribe. You will receive weekly tips and ideas to easily implement into your classroom. Sign up below to access the F-R-E-E resources to use with Dr. Xargle's Book of Earth Hounds.

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    Using picture books to enhance the grade 4, 5, 6 science classroom curriculum NGSS and common core

    Holiday STEM in the Science Classroom

    Holiday STEM in the grade 4, 5, 6, 7 science classroom to boost social emotional learning and NGSS standards

    The holidays can be a time that tests classroom management. Throughout my years, I have found that student engagement is the best way to keep students on task. An engaged student cannot get into trouble. But there are so many more reasons to try a STEM resource in your classroom. Aside from the NGSS connection, STEM can improve social emotional learning skills (SEL). Read on to learn more about STEM projects and why I like to use them in my upper elementary and middle school science classes.  

    What is STEM?

    STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and math. STEM resources have been created because these are areas that have been recognized as important skills that students need for the future. Many professionals feel that by immersing our students in these areas will allow them to develop a passion and eventually want to pursue a job in this field.

    Many STEM projects also align with NGSS Engineering standards. 
    • NGSS 3-5 ETS 1-1: Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or want that includes specific criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost. 
    • NGSS 3-5 ETS 1-2: Generate and compare multiple possible solutions to a problem based on how well each is likely to meet the criteria and constraints of the problem. 
    • NGSS 3-5 ETS 1-3: Plan and carry out fair tests in which variables are controlled and failure points are considered to identify aspects of a model or prototype that can be improved.
    • MS-ETS-1-2: Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions. 
    • MS-ETS-1-2: Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem. 
    • MS-ETS-1-3: Analyze data from tests to determine similarities and differences among several design solutions to identify the best characteristics of each that can be combined into a new solution to better meet the criteria for success.   
    • MS-ETS-1-4: Develop a model to generate data for iterative testing and modification of a proposed object, tool, or process such that an optimal design can be achieved.  

     This allows you to be guilt-free in including it in your curriculum. In addition to meeting your curriculum requirements, STEM provides your students with other benefits.

    STEM helps students: 

    • Reinforce collaborative learning
    • Encourage and enhance tech use
    • Improve independence
    • Spark ingenuity
    • Build on inquiry thinking skills
    • Allow students to learn from failure points
    • Expand problem solving skills
    • Think of solutions to real-life problems

    Why do I think it is important to incorporate STEM skills around the holidays?

    When we were in college going through our standard history of education classes, how many times have we heard that young children learn through play? In pre-school, counseling, and with friends, our students learned so many valuable lessons while they were playing. Why would this suddenly stop? Yes, the “play objects” change, but students will STILL learn best through hands-on learning.

    In addition to the preferred learning style, the holidays are not always a jolly time for our students. Just like in our own complex family dynamics, our students often come from heart-breaking family stories.  

    I feel strongly that STEM ties into social-emotional learning. Students need to work and refine their cooperative learning skills as they work on the task. STEM learning helps them to set and achieve goals, establish and maintain positive relationships with their peers, and make responsible decisions. Students will also find this type of activity more therapeutic and stimulating than normal seatwork. Getting their mind off of other things and focusing on the project can greatly help some students mindsets. Remember what I said about the engaged student? 

    Looking for premade lessons and activities to use with your students? Check them out here

    incorporating STEM into your science classroom to help with social emotional learning

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      Incorporating Halloween and CER into the Science Classroom

      Engage students on Halloween with an experiment and CER writing strategy

      Halloween is the first holiday of the school year. Teachers are left with the decision to acknowledge and celebrate the holiday even though they are nervous about maintaining classroom control or act as if it isn’t happening at all.

      As a science teacher, I feel Halloween is the perfect day to perform a hands on demonstration or lab station activity. Keeping the students engaged in a fun activity will keep negative behaviors at bay. Of course, it is necessary to review your rules and procedures with your students prior to starting the activity, but students will be motivated to complete the assignment so this normally isn’t an issue.

      This time of year, my students are studying chemical and physical changes. One of my favorite units because of all the hands-on experiences that can be had while working on this activity, I decided this was an easy unit to incorporate Halloween into.

      Incorporating fun activities into Halloween will excite the students, but as a teacher, I still need to make sure the activity is applicable to the standard and fits into my curriculum. While I had the student engagement aspect of my activity, I needed to integrate it into my curriculum. Using the CER strategy, allowed me to do so seamlessly.

      There are three parts to this activity. Before starting the activity, we review the signs of a chemical change. This will help them later determine which type of change in matter is occurring. The first part was a class demonstration given by me and the following two activities, students worked in small groups. During the demonstration, I modeled what the students needed to do for the following parts of the activity.

      elephants toothpaste is the perfect halloween activity for chemical and physical changes

      Students of any age are always amazed at the simple demonstration of creating “elephant’s toothpaste”. (If you are unsure how to make it, instructions are in the freebie below). Using the CER strategy, I had my students make a claim as to whether the reaction was a chemical or physical change. If you need more information on how to implement the CER method, this post will help you. We discussed the evidence from the demonstrations that could be used to support their claim and backed it with scientific reasoning.

      From there, students complete two other activities on their own. One is using pumpkin candies in water and the other one is activating a glowstick.
      Glow sticks add fun and engagement to motivate students in understanding chemical and physical changes.

      Each of these activities works seamlessly into the Halloween theme. Students loved it and honestly, I was OBSERVED on Halloween using this lesson. Students were excited but they were on task and manageable and I think it was impressive to administration to see how students can still be engaged in learning while completing a Halloween inspired activity in the science classroom.

      Scroll down to try this Halloween experiment in your classroom for F-R-E-E!

      Practice NGSS skills by having your students create their own science experiments with this fun holiday activity!

      Students will follow NGSS 3-5 ETS 1-3 using this fun Halloween experiment

      holidays in the grade 4, 5, 6 science classrooms

      Looking for Halloween activities you can feel good about using your instructional minutes for? Check out these other free ideas for your upper elementary students and let us do the planning for you!

      Grade 4, 5, 6 Halloween activities | Looking for Halloween activities you can feel good about using your instructional minutes for? Check out these other free ideas for your upper elementary students and let us do the planning for you!

      Want to try the CER Halloween activity in your classroom? Join my science tribe to access it!

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        How to Implement CER in Your Science Classroom

        Improve grade 4, 5, 6 written responses with the claim evidence reasoning strategy.

        As a science teacher with a master’s degree in Literacy, one of my passions is to authentically bring in reading and writing skills into the curriculum without compromising the fun, hands-on nature of science. Some ways I incorporate these skills are through readings to build background knowledge and comprehension of the concept we are learning about. I also like to use sketch notes to allow students to summarize and synthesize their knowledge.

                 Writing skills have often been neglected when it comes to science until the CER strategy came along. Using this method, I now have a succinct way to teach my students how to respond to a topic, give evidence, and tie it to scientific reasoning.

        What is CER?

        CER stands for claim, evidence, reasoning.

        Students are given a hands-on activity. Upon completing the activity, they will demonstrate their scientific knowledge and be able to answer the prompt and incorporate important writing skills also needed in ELA. 

        Here is an example

        The students are learning about chemical and physical changes. They are working together to complete an activity that has them determine whether a chemical or physical change is happening. Students complete the experiment and then fill out their sheet using the CER method.

        Their response could be:

        Claim: Students state whether a chemical or physical change occurred. A chemical change occurred.

        Evidence: Students use evidence from the activity to demonstrate that their claim is accurate. Once the glowstick was activated, there was a change in color. (Depending on the activity, there may be more evidence to include. More evidence requires another sentence or two to support the claim).

        Reasoning: Students will use their scientific reasoning to explain the connection between the claim and evidence. One way to tell if a chemical change occurred is by observing a color change, therefore when the glowstick was activated, the change in color indicates a chemical change.
        Classroom decor, graphic organizers, rubric, student reference sheets needed to help implement the CER writing strategy into the grade 4, 5, 6 science classroom

        Using this method, student responses varied in 3-7 sentences. It cut down on lengthy written work that often didn't explicitly answer the question being asked. Now, in some cases, students are writing less, but their writing is more meaningful as it clearly answers the question being asked of them. As a teacher, it allows me to be able to quickly identify who understands the scientific principle we are working on and who needs more assistance. This allows me to pull small groups together to explain and discuss their thinking. 

        This method really worked with my students because of the formula-like written response. It also doesn’t require an extended response to show their scientific knowledge and thinking. It is clear and concise and I love how these skills will transfer over into their ELA class when they are writing their argument essays. 
        Free graphic organizer and student writing formula sheet to help you easily implement the CER strategy into your middle school science class

        Looking for materials to get started? Join my science tribe by adding your first name and email address below and instantly receive a student graphic organizer and CER formula response sheet into your inbox for F-R-E-E!

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          If you need teacher tips, classroom decor posters, student reference sheets, a graphic organizer, a formula response sheet, and a rubric then you might want to check out the materials below. 

          CER claim evidence reasoning materials for the upper elementary student

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