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Sunday / October 22

Engaging Elementary Students with Science

Contributed by Judy Reinhartz

ScienceScience is not every everyone’s cup of tea. All too often, elementary teachers see science as challenging to teach and time consuming with few learning benefits for their students. I have worked to turn this scenario around by involving students and teachers in as many science experiences as possible to introduce them to the wonders of nature and by providing science classroom materials and equipment by writing grants. These grants supported elementary and secondary teacher learning by hosting numerous year-long science academies that modeled good science teaching and presented quality science pedagogy and content from colleagues in the biology, geology, physics, computer science, and electrical engineering departments.

Most importantly, the grants were used to buy a variety of materials to build models that could be used to teach science topics—thump tubes for sound, a hovercraft driven by a grass blower that students and teachers could ride on and glide across the floor, a wave machine, and much more. They also provided technology: namely calculators, motion sensors, computers, and software, as well as the basics—goggles, glassware, and hands-on supplies. Now, when I conduct staff development I try to provide teachers with ready-made materials for them to use when they return to their schools as motivation to continue to teach science. Because students find science intriguing, my goal has always been to take away as many impediments to teaching science as possible, so that teachers can concentrate on planning quality science instruction.

Most students are naturally curious about almost everything—what they hear or see, how things work, and the things in the night sky. As a first grader has said about science, it is “figyoring theings oat.” It is this “figuring things out” that propels students to explore, using their senses, language skills, and cognitive abilities. Teachers can use their students’ natural curiosity to capitalize on their desire to learn and value them for who they are and what they bring to the science classroom. There are a few strategies that not only promote science learning, but also foster language skills:

  1. Put posters up around the room with pictures for them to comment on to sharpen their observation skills,
  2. Play charades and other games using science terms in school and at home with family members,
  3. Sing songs and listen to and read rhymes and poems on nature, clouds, and the seasons,
  4. Tell science tall tales,
  5. Build models and write stories about them.

Growing language in science classrooms enhances teaching of science for all students.

I recognized early in my career that science had the potential to promote and complement other curriculum areas, namely language arts. I am excited about my new book, Growing Language Through Science: Strategies That Work, that will be coming out in April. It allowed me to share my ideas, strategies, and effective practices in pairing science and language. My hope is that it will encourage teachers to continue on their lifelong journey of learning by implementing some of the strategies that are embedded in an interdisciplinary perspective and set against a backdrop of the new science and language standards. I hope that my enthusiasm for science is contagious. As one of my students wrote, “… science did not interest me until this class. Now it is my favorite subject to teach.” My desire is to keep this sentiment alive!

Who am I? 

Currently as an educational consultant, I have worked with many elementary and middle school faculty at specific school campuses on the Texas/Mexico border to promote language through science.  In my former life, I was a science teacher in elementary and secondary schools, professor, and university administrator. When I retired from university teaching, I was named professor emeritus from The University of Texas at El Paso where I served as associate dean, department chair, and director of the Center for Effective Teaching and Learning. I also served as a PI on several science, pre-engineering, and teacher quality grants and CoPI on several engineering grants. I have also authored or co-authored seven books, four book chapters, and over 70 articles, conducted a myriad of PD sessions, and presented at numerous professional conferences and meetings.

Before going to UT El Paso, I was at The University of Texas at Arlington, where I taught a variety of undergraduate and graduate courses in science and general instructional methods, research-based instructional practices, curriculum design, supervision and instructional leadership development, teacher capacity building, educational research, and environmental education and other content courses.  I also served as the director of the Center for Experiential Learning in Science, Center for Research, and of grant funded science projects. In recognition of my teaching, I received the AMOCO Outstanding Teacher Award (now called the Chancellor’s Council Award for Excellence in Teaching).


Judy Reinhartz

Judy Reinhartz’s career spans nearly five decades in K-16 education, as an elementary and middle school science teacher, secondary school biology and department science chair, and a professor of undergraduate and graduate science education, curriculum development, research, educational leadership and supervision, and instructional strategy courses. She also is a researcher, writer of numerous articles, chapters, and books, presenter, consultant, and director of centers for science, research, effective teaching and learning, and clinical experiences and student teaching. Judy is a former associate dean and Professor Emeritus at The University of Texas at El Paso and her degrees include a doctorate from University of New Mexico, master’s from Seton Hall University, and bachelor’s from Rutgers University.

Judy has developed a culture of inquiry and worked with diverse populations of students, teachers, faculty members, staff, members of the business community, and parents in varied educational settings at the local, state, national, and international levels. Throughout her career, she has been a role model for collaboration. She has presented a myriad of research and research into practice papers at professional meetings and conducted professional development for teachers, many targeting science teaching to diverse learners.

She is the author of Growing Language Through Science.



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