Sharing Science with Children: A Survival Guide for Scientists and Engineers
Reprinted with permission. Sharing Science With Children was developed by the
North Carolina Museum of Life and Science. See end of text for details.
We face a challenge. Our children need to learn about rapidly changing science and technology. Already, many of
your colleagues, along with educators, parents, and local, state, and national organizations, have joined
together to meet the challenge. They support science education by allocating resources, building community
support, and providing tools and materials for teachers.
You can help. One of the best tools any teacher can have is a person who knows and understands science and
technology - a person like you. By sharing science in the classroom, you can help students...
- understand the positive and vital role of science, mathematics, and technology in today's world,
- gain an understanding of the work scientists do,
- see scientists as real people,
- lay the foundation for careers in science and technology, and
- grow in their enjoyment of the world around them.
Just a few hours of your time can make a big difference. Teachers are eager to invite you into their
classrooms and to help you work with their students. This guide provides suggestions to smooth your transition from
lab to classroom.
You and your colleagues working in science and technology fields are doers ... doers can teach - by
example, by working to expand science education in all levels of the educational system, and by sharing with
teachers and students in the classroom.
Now -- GET READY! GET SET! GO!
Survival Tips for Your Classroom Visit
Before you go into the classroom ...
You may select some aspect of the curriculum.
An alternate, more personalized, approach is to focus on what you do.
- Prepare your activity based on children's needs and abilities.
Ask the teacher what students already know. "Typical Science and Technology Topics" on page 6
will give you a general understanding of what students typically learn at different grades. You can
also check with the teacher about local curriculum and/or texts.
Know the age of the class you are visiting and their "Thinking and Learning Characteristics " (page 7).
- Be prepared for student reactions and behavior.
Keep in mind that teachers and parents may have
concerns about how sensitive issues, such as
evolution or reproduction, are presented to their
children. If you have questions about appropriate
ways to present your subject, discuss your plans with
- Know when and where you will be visiting.
Verify the time, place, and length of the visit.
Be sure to get phone numbers for the teacher and the
school. If you don't know where the school and
classroom are, ask for directions.
- Look for additional resources.
Local science centers, museums libraries, your
colleagues, and other sources may be able to provide
hands-on teaching materials, films, live animals,
activity kits, and other materials to use. Colleagues
or your professional society be able to give you good
ideas for experiments and things to do. If you have
children, ask them what they would like to know about
what you do.
- Assemble your notes and materials in advance.
If each student is to have a handout or materials,
make sure you have enough of each. See that materials
are organized. Do a test run of experiments, games,
or any other activities you plan to do.
- Prepare to use terminology that is appropriate
for the students.
If there are a number of words or concepts
students would benefit by knowing in advance, give
them to the teacher and (s)he can help students learn
- Allow yourself enough time to get to the
school and to find the classroom.
Let the children know you are a real person with a
family, pets, hobbies. Talk about how you got to be a
chemist, an anthropologist, an engineer.... Was there
a special event or person in your life - a teacher, a
learning experience, a book, a visit to a museum -
that aroused your interest in your field'? What do
you do on an average day? What is interesting or
unique about your work?
- Involve the students in doing.
Bring an attention grabber if you can. Keep in
mind that your goal is to arouse curiosity,
excitement, eagerness to know more. The tools of your
profession may be commonplace to you, but they are
mysterious, unknown, even fascinating to most of the
students (and teachers) you meet. When possible, let
students handle models, equipment, samples, plants,
prisms, stethoscopes, rocks, or fossils.
- Involve students in the process of science.
Do a simple experiment in which the students
participate. The process skills of science -
observing. identifying, classifying, measuring- are
the skills that enable students to apply science to
- Stimulate thinking by asking questions.
Questions that ask students to make a prediction,
to give an explanation, to state an opinion, or to
draw a conclusion are especially valuable. Be sure to
allow time for each student to THINK before anyone
- Use language the students will understand.
Be conscious of vocabulary. Try not to use a
difficult word when a simple one will do. Define
words students may not know. For example, don't say,
"I am a cytologist" and begin a lecture on
semipermeable cell walls. Rather, ask students if
they know what a cell is and then tell them you study
cells, how they are built, and how they act, and,
that you are called a cytologist.
- Make what you are talking about real to the
Show the students that the area of science or
technology you work with everyday is part of their
everyday lives, too. How has what you and your
colleagues have learned up to this time changed how
we do things or understand things? How will what you
do make the students' lives better or different in
the future? How does what you do and know relate to
what they are learning in school?
- Prepare the students for the unexpected, if
Unexpected loud noises, bright lights, unusual
odors, graphic photographs, and similar experiences
that evoke strong emotion or fright can disturb some
children. It may be wise to warn students that a
surprise or something unusual is coming even when
evoking a degree of surprise is one part of your
- Leave more than a memory behind you.
Help set up an experiment that students can
continue after you leave. Hand out an assignment -
find out how many birds live in the local area,
gather samples of leaves from local trees, make a
cardboard glider - for the students to complete on
their own or with their families. Invite them to
write to you with questions - and plan on answering
those letters quickly!
- Ask for an evaluation of your efforts.
Ask the students what they liked (and didn't like)
about your visit. Ask the teacher to critique your
presentation and help you improve your in-class
Schedule your next visit!
Make eye contact with the students because they
love the personal contact.
Smile and feel comfortable telling amusing
anecdotes because kids love a good laugh.
Organize all materials in advance because kids
sometimes have a hard time waiting.
Use student volunteers to help you set up and
distribute materials, samples, pictures, and handouts
because kids love to feel important.
Require that students raise their hands to
participate because they will probably all want to
talk at once.
Call on many different members of the class because
everyone wants to be involved.
Model good safety practices because kids learn
by following role models.
Give specific directions when distributing
specimens because kids sometimes disagree about who
has been holding an object the longest.
Use a prearranged signal to get students' attention
during activities (clapping, flipping light switch, etc.) because
it is too hard to give good directions unless students
Stop and, wait for students to let you continue
speaking if they get noisy because they have probably
heard the "cold silence" before and know that
it means they need to be less noisy.
Ask the teacher for help with discipline because
she/he will know exactly what to do.
Wait to give handouts to students until it is time
to read or use them because if the students have the
handouts while you are speaking they will be distracted.
Encourage student participation and help them
rethink the facts if they give an incorrect answer because
kids are sensitive and easily discouraged; they are eager
to please and want to come up with the correct answer.
Wait several seconds before calling on students to
answer a question because the whole class needs time
to think about the question before someone answers it.
Praise attentive or helpful behavior because
this is the behavior you want to encourage.
Enjoy the students, their enthusiasm, and their
sense of wonder because they have a fascinating
perspective on the world!
OF YOUNG PEOPLE
As a thinker...
- Learns through manipulating objects.
- Believes what he or she sees.
- Can't trace steps back from a conclusion.
- Sees parts, not the whole.
- Does not understand that making physical changes
in an object does not change its amount.
As a learner ...
- Is expansive, adventurous, curious, eager to
learn, energetic, always in motion, loud, and
emotional -has mood swings.
- Wants to please adults.
- Has difficulty controlling impulses and
- Is very "me" centered. Seeks attention.
- Likes to work in groups, but will need
- Can sit still and listen 10- 15 minutes; needs
frequent change of pace.
As a thinker ...
- Although still somewhat tied to seeing in order
to believe, begins to understand concepts as well
- Understands hierarchical classification systems.
- Can combine, sort, multiply, substitute, divide.
- Begins to generalize, formulate hypotheses, use
systematic problem-solving strategies.
- Likes to memorize, to learn facts.
As a learner ...
- Understands rules and can follow them.
- Likes group activities and excursions.
- Is a great socializer and eager to fit in.
- Considers fairness to be important.
- Takes initiative and is self motivated.
- Is becoming an independent learner.
- Is a perfectionist who will practice the same
thing over and over again.
- Avoids opposite sex.
- Can sit still and listen 20-30 minutes (variety
increases attention span).
As a thinker ...
- Can hypothesize, create propositions, and
- Can conceptualize in the abstract and understand
- Begins to understand multiple causation.
As a learner ...
- Is emotional, restive, and eager to get moving.
- Is easily bored. Challenges rules, routines, and
- Is beginning to have an interest in the opposite
- Is typically more oriented to small group
- Has a vulnerable ego, is very self-conscious and
concerned about how he/she is perceived by
- Can handle 30-40 minute sessions.
information from the originators of this resource, see
Sharing Science With Children was developed by
the North Carolina Museum of Life and Science based on
numerous publications, guidelines, and other sources
drawn from all over the United States. Non-commercial
duplication is encouraged. We want to know how you use
this guide and any suggestions you have for improving it.
Contact: Georgiana M. Searles, Director of Education,
North Carolina Museum of Life and Science, P.O. Box
15190, Durham, North Carolina 27704.