Researchers at Michigan State University have created a free, complete set of lessons designed to help kids in kindergarten through second grade learn—and love—science.
Elementary schools and teachers can now download the SOLID Start materials, which cover the Next Generation Science Standards and many English Language Arts standards.
Developed by experts from the MSU College of Education, the curricula encourage students to explore why things happen in their world, while also building important oral language and literacy skills. If needed, the activities can be done through remote teaching at home, as well as in regular classrooms.
“My students were captivated,” said Elisa Wuench, a teacher in Howell, Mich. who recently used the lessons with kindergartners. “They were able to have open conversation and offer up excellent ideas, which showed me they were excited about doing the activities but also understanding so many of the concepts.”
Next, she plans to pilot more units for her school district. “To have such a valuable program free to districts is just a gift for us, and really for our kids.”
Amelia Gotwals, associate professor of science education and co-leader of the project, said the researchers have shared the curriculum with 30 school districts across Michigan and at least four other states.
With about 40 lessons offered across each grade level, SOLID Start provides a realistic scope of science teaching for a typical year in early elementary. All materials used in the activities are likely already in classrooms or can be easily found.
This makes it easier, and also more likely that teachers—and parents—can facilitate the learning experiences while kids are at home as they have been during the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, the kindergarten Boxcar Challenge allows children to figure out how we make things move using model boxcars made of toy cars and cardboard. The Reading Undercover unit in first grade relies on a flashlight and blankets, and other everyday materials.
“Whether we are in-person or online, kids still need to learn science as well as literacy,” said Tanya Wright, project leader and associate professor of language and literacy. “There is growing recognition of how important this is. Literacy helps kids explore science ideas and the more kids know about science and the world, the more it supports their reading comprehension.”
Learning from research
SOLID Start, which refers to Science, Oral Language and Literacy Development from the Start of school, is funded by a $2.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation. With the grant, Wright and Gotwals have focused on to developing online professional learning for teachers. But they also realized there was a demand for more units.
“Teachers have shared that they benefit more from professional learning opportunities when these are based around common high-quality science curricula,” Gotwals said.
Early findings show that teachers who use the units are able to cover more key science concepts. Their students also show improved science and literacy learning outcomes, like using evidence to support their claims.
The team will continue to collaborate with K-2 teachers to study how an online coaching model and tool to record and reflect on their teaching, combined with the curriculum, can lead to more engaging and successful science and literacy instruction.
“I love this approach,” said Wendi Vogel, a SOLID Start instructional coach and science consultant for the Kent Intermediate School District. “It builds confidence and helps teachers see how valuable this instruction is. The sooner you can expose children to science, and engineering, the better.”