No Series: Scientific Modeling in the Early Grades

Scientific Modeling in the Early Grades

Lesson Objective: Watch two teachers engage young children in scientific modeling
Grades K-2 / Science / Modeling
10 MIN


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Discussion and Supporting Materials

Thought starters

  1. Why is it important for young children to gain experience with scientific modeling?
  2. What role does questioning play in these classrooms?
  3. What kinds of questions do you hear?
  4. The lessons in this video are from the end of units. What do you notice about the learning students have done during these units?


  • Private message to Denise Christensen
I loved watching the video about weather. Such great discussions and student made visuals. I am excited to do the cloud in a bottle experiment with my class.
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  • Private message to Gretchen Vierstra
Hi Jaime, Glad you are using the video! Sorry you are having problems with it. I am able to play the whole video without issues. Perhaps try a different browser or check your internet?
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  • Private message to Jaime Rechenberg
I love using this video in professional learning activities, however recently there is quite a bit of digital interference that impacts the quality. Is there anyway to fix this?
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  • Private message to Sandra Buchheit
Loved the video. Great conversation with the students. I remembered I really do like Science!!!!! Thank you.
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  • Private message to Laura Mullane
Very interesting to see the difference between the beginning and end of the unit drawings of t he students. Love this video:)
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  • Scientific Modeling in the Early Grades Transcript

    +++ 00:00:04 +++
    Teaching Channel

    +++ 00:00:04 +++
    Michelle Salgado:

    Scientific Modeling in the Early Grades Transcript

    +++ 00:00:04 +++
    Teaching Channel

    +++ 00:00:04 +++
    Michelle Salgado: What did Maricela put into her clouds?
    Student: Water vapor, and also smoke sticking together.
    Jessica Thompson: A lot of kids make decisions about science for the rest of their lives by they're-- so focusing on kindergarten and second grade is the most important piece that we work on.
    Scientific Modeling in the Early Grades:
    An Overview
    Lower Third:
    Kaia Tomokiyo's Kindergarten Class
    Southern Heights Elementary, Seattle WA

    +++ 00:00:26 +++
    Kaia Tomokiyo: I want to hear about what you guys did and what you learned. So Miss Tomokiyo's holding a bottle. What is that? What did you guys do?
    Student: We made a cloud!
    Kindergarten unit on the water cycle
    Jessica Thompson: You're going to see two different classrooms that are working on scientific modeling. Both of the classes are at the end of units--
    Lower Third:
    Jessica Thompson
    Professor - Science Education
    University of Washington
    Jessica Thompson: -- where students have been working for several weeks on trying to address a puzzling phenomenon.
    Kaia's Kindergarten unit on the water cycle
    Where did the puddle on the grass go?
    Jessica Thompson: They have evidence from read alouds that they've been doing, from informational texts. They have evidence from different kinds of experiments that they've done, and they have evidence from one another. So they are pulling all these pieces together to write and develop their final scientific models.
    Fallon King's 1st/2nd Grade Class
    Cedarhurst Elementary, Burien WA

    +++ 00:01:04 +++
    Michelle Salgado: We're going to actually start with a book, because you guys have been reading pieces from this, right? How do Apples Grow? Leaves are very important to the tree. You guys know why. They make a kind of sugar that is the tree's food.
    Fallon King's 1st/2nd Grade Class
    Cedarhurst Elementary, Burien WA
    Fallon King: Today's lesson was a final lesson in a unit around apples and the apple tree life cycle, and the story of seed dispersal.
    Fallon's 1st/2nd grade plant-animal interaction unit.
    The apple tree life cycle and seed dispersal.
    Fallon King: The first graders, in the science standards, it says that they need to track changes over time. And the second graders, part of what they were focusing on was seed dispersal, and pollination as well.

    +++ 00:01:38 +++
    Fallon King: Alyssa, do you got something to add on?
    Alyssa: No, I have a question.
    Fallon King: A question.
    Alyssa: How come their food is sugar, not like healthy food like we eat healthy food to keep us alive not go all crazy when we eat sugar?
    Michelle Salgado: That's a good question. So, you know what? That's kind of a misleading word, which means that maybe it's not the best word to use. That's the word they use in the book, Alyssa. Which is, it's like a sugar. It's not like the candy for the tree. Right?

    +++ 00:02:07 +++
    Michelle Salgado: My name is Michelle Salgado. And I am a University of Washington PhD student. Currently, I'm working with the research team on--
    Lower Third:
    Michelle Salgado
    Instructional Coach/PhD Student
    University of Washington
    Michelle Salgado: -- Ambitious Science Teaching Practices. And what we're doing is we're focusing our efforts on K-2, so early learning and we're looking at supporting teachers as they enact these standards. The new science standards for the next generation.

    +++ 00:02:31 +++
    Jessica Thompson: We've been looking at how do we support teachers in doing model-based inquiry in the classrooms? Where classrooms are discussion-rich, they are building on what kids already know. We're helping teachers think about how do we ask a good question about a puzzling phenomenon, like where did the puddles go? Or how did this apple tree become this apple tree? We're asking puzzling questions, and using those as anchoring events for kids.

    +++ 00:02:56 +++
    Student: The leaf helps the tree grow!
    Fallon King: Mm hm.
    Student: And the apple helps the tree, too.

    +++ 00:03:03 +++
    Jessica Thompson: What we know from observational studies that have been done across the nation, is that science teaching in classrooms is places where kids don't ask questions a lot, where it's often about rote memorization. Very few times kids are asked to critique ideas, one another's ideas, or the science ideas, or the teacher's ideas. So we're trying to represent a different kind of teaching that turns the intellectual authority in the classroom over to the kids in equitable ways. And so it's through participation with teachers that we're able to see
    +++ 00:03:34 +++
    what's possible in the classrooms and then we can build that back into our program. Our best ideas come from the teachers that we partner with.
    Kaia Tomokiyo: Does anybody see something that's maybe a little bit different on her picture? Jackie?
    Jackie: Irma drawed the-- didn't draw the dots.
    Kaia Tomokiyo: Oh, the dots! Did anyone else notice that?
    Student: Yeah.

    +++ 00:03:54 +++
    Kaia Tomokiyo: I know Gabriel was noticing that over here. So Jackie, can you tell us what do you think these dots mean?
    Jackie: They're rain.
    Kaia Tomokiyo: They're rain-- some rain inside the clouds? Okay.
    What is involved in scientific modeling?

    +++ 00:04:04 +++
    Michelle Salgado: I think you're really learning the science in a new way, and it's more focused, and the fact that every lesson's connected back to explaining this story, for teachers and for students, helps get a richer kind of understanding of the whole process. For example, puddles. Many students had thought about puddles. That they knew that puddles dried out, and that was one of their initial ideas, but it's different and it's challenging, because you have to explain, "What do you mean by the puddles drying out?"
    Early in Puddle Unit
    Teacher Video

    +++ 00:04:28 +++
    Michelle Salgado: "Can you tell me? Can you draw me a picture?" Taking those questions a step further, and slowing down and really thinking, "What are the unobservable processes? What can we not see, but we know is happening?"
    Fallon King: I see you added a Zoom-out box right here. Can you tell us about why you did that?
    Student: Like everyone knows what I put in, like to get a closer look.

    +++ 00:04:52 +++
    Fallon King: To get a closer look, something that's going on that we know is happening, but we can't see with our eyes.
    Kaia Tomokiyo: Before the Ambitious Science Teaching Practices, the weather unit was very much like--
    Lower Third:
    Kaia Tomokiyo
    Kindergarten Teacher
    Southern Heights Elementary, Seattle, WA

    Kaia Tomokiyo: "Let me teach you about this, let's learn about wind." We might go out and feel the wind. I'll read a book about wind. You could draw a picture about wind, and then the lesson was over. And the next day we would talk about another part of weather.

    +++ 00:05:11 +++
    Kaia Tomokiyo: This is a great model that Arnold made yesterday. We know that we see the clouds with rain, and water in the puddle.
    Kaia Tomokiyo: With the new Ambitious Science Teaching Practices, we kind of come back to the same question every single time. And so all of the lessons are connected. We are asking the question, "Where do puddles come from? And where do puddles go?" And every lesson, even if it's about wind, ties back to that question.
    How do students engage in scientific modeling?

    +++ 00:05:36 +++
    Kaia Tomokiyo: Today, when we read this book, we're going to be thinking how are these ideas the same, different, or maybe a new idea from what we had before.
    Michelle Salgado: We recognize student knowledge. We recognize that they enter the classroom with a rich, you know, array of experiences from family life, from cultural backgrounds, anything that they have experienced in their life prior to coming in and starting this unit is part. We try to elicit those ideas.
    Kaia Tomokiyo: I definitely saw a difference from their first models to their last models.
    Early in the Puddle Unit
    Teacher Video

    +++ 00:06:05 +++
    Kaia Tomokiyo: At the very beginning of the unit, their models were very simple. They all had an idea that water came from the clouds, so there were a lot of rain clouds, a lot of puddles on the ground, and a lot of arrows showing downward movement.
    Kaia Tomokiyo: Anika, tell me about your side.
    Anika: My side has got the puddle, it's so warm that it gets smaller and smaller.
    Kaia Tomokiyo: Okay, and where is the water going?
    Anika: It's going into the grass.
    Kaia Tomokiyo: Okay, into the grass.
    Middle of Puddle Unit
    Teacher Video

    +++ 00:06:36 +++
    Kaia Tomokiyo: At the very beginning, they only had ideas about the rain coming down. And they didn't really understand where the water was going. And so we went outside, and we took a look at different surfaces, and so we kind of proved that it did go down, but then they also were learning about heat, and the energy transfer from the sun.
    Initial Models

    +++ 00:06:53 +++
    Kaia Tomokiyo: And that some water does, in fact, go up, and they're starting to understand more about why the water is going up. And how heat helps that.
    Final Models
    Kaia Tomokiyo: On their final models, we were seeing arrows both going down and up to show that water was also going up. Their models looked a lot messier at the end, but that was because they were showing so many more ideas.
    How can we support students in scientific modeling?

    +++ 00:07:14 +++
    Kaia Tomokiyo: We're asking them to truly understand what does it mean when the puddle goes away? Even though students might not have language to express what they wanted to say, we use different methods. We use acting out. Students can draw models. They can manipulate like little pieces and magnets on the board to show what they're thinking. And so we're asking them to do these complex tasks, but we're open to seeing like how they express their thoughts to us.

    +++ 00:07:39 +++
    Michelle Salgado: Tell me why the bee is important in your picture.
    Student: Three little bees, they take the pollen from--
    Fallon King: Yeah, you can turn that, yeah, if you want to be able to--
    Student: From the stigma.
    Michelle Salgado: From the stigma, okay.
    Student: And so they can move it from a flower that they got it from, and then another flower.
    Michelle Salgado: Okay. So why do you think the bees have to get it from another flower?

    +++ 00:08:09 +++
    Student: Some of the flowers don't have very much pollen.
    Michelle Salgado: Okay, so maybe some other flowers. So you're right. The bee does have to go to another tree to get the pollen from that.
    Jessica Thompson: No ideas are final. We're always working on the next best ideas. Engaging kids in the revision process, and thinking about, "How do I change my ideas? And how do I represent that in writing? In drawing what I can see, and what I can't see?" These are important skills for kids to have.
    Early in Puddle Unit
    Teacher Video

    +++ 00:08:30 +++
    Student: See how it's red in the middle?
    Kaia Tomokiyo: Yeah, what does that mean?
    Student: That means it's super-hot.
    Kaia Tomokiyo: Oh, okay, so you're using red to mean that something's really, really hot?
    Student: Uh huh.
    Kaia Tomokiyo: Why does it matter that it's hot?
    Student: Because red is-- remember like when sometimes when you get burned, your skin turns red?
    Kaia Tomokiyo: Oh, yeah!
    Kaia Tomokiyo: Can you tell me what you did today?

    +++ 00:08:54 +++
    Student: Well, I added the sun, and this is the hotness coming down, that red stuff. And the sun is red, too, that means it's burning hot, so you would not want to go right next to that.
    Kaia Tomokiyo: Okay, so I notice you have a sun on this side, but not on this side. Why isn't the sun on this side, too?
    Student: Because it's a rainstorm!
    Kaia Tomokiyo: Okay.

    +++ 00:09:21 +++
    Kaia Tomokiyo: I feel like a better teacher, because I'm able to listen to all of the thinking from all of my students. And every idea is important. And I'm not just looking for the one right answer. I want to hear what they all think, because it's really interesting to see how they explain something like heat. It's really interesting to see how they explain water vapor when it's something they've never seen before. And so the new practices have really helped to bring that out. It's very different, and very open.
    Teaching Channel

School Details

Cedarhurst Elementary School
611 South 132nd St
Burien WA 98168
Population: 615

Data Provided By:



Fallon King
Michelle Salgado
Kaia Tomokiyo


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