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The Five Best Practices For Teaching Science

Five best practices for teaching science

Teaching Science Best Practices

Teaching science should not be just conveying a bunch of facts. Science instruction should help students to make sense of science. Science instruction should be meaningful experiences for students that help them make connections and form conclusions.

Within the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), there are three important dimensions to learning science. These three dimensions are combined to form each standard, which is a performance assessment, and each dimension works with the other two to help students build a cohesive understanding of science over time. This means that all grade levels need to be teaching science because the concepts build on each other with each grade level.

Best Practices for Teaching Science: Use the Science and Engineering Practices

Science and Engineering Practices describe what scientists do to investigate the natural world and what engineers do to design and build systems. The Science and Engineering Practices are what students do in science! The practices better explain and extend what is meant by “inquiry” in science and give specific suggestions about how students should be engaged in the scientific process. Students engage in practices to build, deepen, and apply their knowledge of the disciplinary core ideas and crosscutting concepts.

In Teaching Science we use the Eight Science and Engineering Practices.

The eight science and engineering practices are:

  1. Asking questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering)
  2. Developing and using models
  3. Planning and carrying out investigations
  4. Analyzing and interpreting data
  5. Using math and computational thinking
  6. Constructing an explanation (for science) and designing a solution (for engineering)
  7. Engaging in an argument stemming from evidence
  8. Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information

Students who get to participate in engaging, hands-on activities for science and STEM will enjoy science more and they will retain more information. In the Balloon car example below students are using multiple science and engineering practices to complete the STEM challenge. They are using Developing and Using Models, Planning and Carrying Out and Investigation, and Constructing an Explanation. 

Best Practice of hands-on science experiments

The second dimension of science instruction is the crosscutting concepts.

2. Teaching Science Best Practices-Use the Crosscutting Concepts-And Ask the Right Questions

Crosscutting Concepts help students explore connections across the four domains of science, including Physical Science, Life Science, Earth and Space Science, and Engineering Design. We use the crosscutting concepts to engage students by asking questions

The crosscutting concepts give the students a lens that shows them how to think about the problem at hand. The crosscutting concepts also let the teacher know what types of questions to ask when teaching science.

There are 7 crosscutting concepts that the National Research Council has outlined, which appear in the Next Generation Science Standards. They are:

  1. Patterns
  2. Cause and effect
  3. Scale, proportion, and quantity
  4. Systems and system models
  5. Energy and matter: Flows, cycles, and conservation
  6. Structure and function
  7. Stability and change

Crosscutting concepts should be tied to each science lesson.  Teachers should ask questions about the crosscutting concept for that standard. For Example, what is the function of this structure? What structure allows capillary action to be possible? Why do plant materials have capillary action? This engaging activity below will have students really trying to make sense of the science, especially if the teacher asks the right questions?

Here are a couple of resources that specifically focus on the crosscutting concept: structure and function.

Structure and Function fpurth grade

Structure and Function Adaptations Unit. Students will learn that animal adaptations and plant adaptations include internal and external structures and that each structure serves a specific function. They will also learn about animal adaptations and plant adaptations including behavioral adaptations in animals. Students will be able to make a simple model (graphic organizer for this Included) to describe how animals receive information through their senses, process the information in their brain and they are able to respond to it. This complete unit fully addresses the Life Science Standards for 4th grade NGSS. This is a large unit with lots of activities.

Because the Structure and Function is a crosscutting concept, you will see it at several grade levels with different topics. Here is one for middle school science.

CELLS: STRUCTURE AND FUNCTION NGSS MS-LS1-1 AND MS-LS1-2 and Function Adaptations Unit. Students will learn that animal adaptations and plant adaptations include internal and external structures and that each structure serves a specific function. They will also learn about animal adaptations and plant adaptations including behavioral adaptations in animals. Students will be able to make a simple model (graphic organizer for this Included) to describe how animals receive information through their senses, process the information in their brain and they are able to respond to it. This complete unit fully addresses the Life Science Standards for 4th grade NGSS. This is a large unit with lots of activities.

Because the Structure and Function is a crosscutting concept, you will see it at several grade levels with different topics. Here is one for middle school science.

Cells: Structure and Function NGSS 

Structure and Function

Other Aspects of Best Practices for Science Instruction Include Disciplinary Core Ideas and the Use of Phenomena

3. Teaching Science Best Practice Teach the Disciplinary Core Ideas

The Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCIs) are the key ideas in science that students must learn at each level. They build on one another at each grade level. There are disciplinary core ideas in each domain of science: Physical Science, Life Science, Earth and Space Science, and Engineering. Students from kindergarten and up should be getting science instruction.  Science is a spiraling curriculum.  If early grades do not teach it, students may end up with gaps in their education.

4. Best Practice for Teaching Science-Use Phenomena to Engage The Learner

Another aspect of the Next Generation Science Standards is the use of Phenomena. Phenomena-based science encourages students to ask questions, discover connections, and design models to make sense of what they observe. Students examine a phenomenon and then ask questions, collaborate with partners, and design models.

Questions such as what types of energy are being used here?  Is energy being converted from one form to another?  Why do you think so.  These would be great ways to use phenomena.

Using Phenomena to engage students

Three-Dimensional Learning shifts the focus of the science classroom to environments where students use disciplinary core ideas, crosscutting concepts with scientific practices to explore, examine, and explain how and why phenomena occur and to design solutions to problems.

The focus is on making sense of science instead of memorizing a set of facts.

If you are looking for science resources to use in your classroom, make sure they are aligned with the NGSS. Does the description mention the science and engineering practices? Does the description list the standard it is aligned with?

Students need a variety of activities in science in order to understand the concepts.  Great resources should have multiple ways of presenting information and having students reflect on information.  I like to include slide shows, informational text reading passages, response pages, interactive notebook inserts, labs with clear directions and follow-up pages, and learning games. 

5. Best Practice for Teaching Science- Include Hands-on Labs and Investigations

Students of all ages need to experience hands-on science activities. They need to plan and carry out investigations to gather evidence and learn more deeply about a topic. Hands-on labs should use easy-to-find household materials that teachers can readily acquire. Teachers should be able to teach science with simple materials that they find in their kitchen cupboards, local variety store, or junk drawer.  

hands-on science labs

hands-on electrical circuits

hands-on identifying materials

My name is Lynda R. Williams and I love teaching science. I enjoy creating science resources that are aligned with the standards.  I want teachers to be empowered to teach science and to feel confident that they are using best practices in science instruction. https://teachingscience.us/

Please check out these and other resources in my store. https://teachingscience.us/shop/

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I am so impressed with this unit which manages to be distance learning and hands-on at the same time.  Really well thought out and engaging activities that allow students to practice each of the eight Science and Engineering Practices.  Really no prep for me!

 
Science and Engineering Practices Distance Education Unit

Tina S

Teaching Science with Lynda R. Williams
5
2016-05-03T18:05:39-06:00

Tina S

I am so impressed with this unit which manages to be distance learning and hands-on at the same time.  Really well thought out and engaging activities that allow students to practice each of the eight Science and Engineering Practices.  Really no prep for me!   Science and Engineering Practices Distance Education Unit
The elephant article was excellent but I also thought the lab on dissecting a flower was broken down so easily, even telling me where to get inexpensive flowers!  This resource helped me teach this challenging standard in an engaging way.  Worth every penny!

 
Structure and Function NGSS 4-LS1-1 and 4-LS1-2

Richard S

Teaching Science with Lynda R. Williams
5
2016-05-03T18:07:52-06:00

Richard S

The elephant article was excellent but I also thought the lab on dissecting a flower was broken down so easily, even telling me where to get inexpensive flowers!  This resource helped me teach this challenging standard in an engaging way.  Worth every penny!   Structure and Function NGSS 4-LS1-1 and 4-LS1-2
As always, Lynda provides perfect alignment with the standards.

 
Age of the Earth and Geologic Time Scale NGSS MS ESS1-4

Sharon M

Teaching Science with Lynda R. Williams
5
2016-05-03T18:24:44-06:00

Sharon M

As always, Lynda provides perfect alignment with the standards.   Age of the Earth and Geologic Time Scale NGSS MS ESS1-4
Thank you so much for creating this resource! It is such a fun and engaging activity for my students, especially during distance learning.

 
Honey Bee Digital Escape Distance Learning

Expedition Fourth

Teaching Science with Lynda R. Williams
2020-11-03T20:44:55-07:00

Expedition Fourth

Thank you so much for creating this resource! It is such a fun and engaging activity for my students, especially during distance learning.   Honey Bee Digital Escape Distance Learning
My students loved this unit. I was able to present different elements of it throughout the month. It is hard to find interesting non-fictional, age-appropriate text for my students that they will enjoy. This was a great unit that aligned well for my students who have very different goals within the same group.

 
Compare and Contrast Two Texts on Reindeer

Heidi J

Teaching Science with Lynda R. Williams
2020-11-03T20:45:49-07:00

Heidi J

My students loved this unit. I was able to present different elements of it throughout the month. It is hard to find interesting non-fictional, age-appropriate text for my students that they will enjoy. This was a great unit that aligned well for my students who have very different goals within the same group.   Compare and Contrast Two Texts on Reindeer
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Teaching Science with Lynda R. Williams