For the summer of 2017, I was a Kindergarten Teaching Assistant for Horizons at The San Francisco Friends School, a summer enrichment program seeking to close the achievement gap students face when left out of summer camps, programs, and activities. This program specifically focused on students from public schools in the Mission District of San Francisco, CA, a historically Latino neighborhood facing rapid changes with development. Students in my class came with diverse experiences, language abilities, and academic skills, but they clearly had one trait in common: they were all exceptional scientists.
Each student was hungry to explore whatever task I put in front of them. Seeing a ripe opportunity, my veteran lead kindergarten teacher and I collaborated to build a unit containing both pivotal NGSS Science and Engineering Practices and vital English Language Development literacy skills, two different standards that would set the students up for success as they graduated to 1st grade. These came together in the form of differentiated guided readings, many live animal observations, and epic “field days” in our urban outdoor spaces, where flora and fauna waited in plain sight for discovery.
Students laughed, cried, and shrieked with all sorts of emotions as they learned about the behavior, morphology, and habitats of worms, fish, chickens, and even pigeons. (Worms can be scary for some at first, hence the tears. Pigeons were a class favorite.) In the end, kinders displayed their final summative projects to their parents at an open house: a large physical habitat model, a clay diagram of body parts, and an art collage of the animal exhibiting its typical behavior. There was excitement in buckets from the families as their children gave tours of their work as experts on animals, some sharing things adults had not known (“Worms are both a boy and a girl?”). As their teacher and a former field biologist, it was a proud moment.
That summer taught me that the youngest students, despite not knowing more facts about science (what is a black hole, how osmosis works, or the meaning of the letters of “DNA”), they are, in fact, the best scientists.
Included below are some of the materials I created for the unit. Feel free to peruse and contact me with questions or feedback.