The Science Classroom

Characteristics of an Effective Science Learning Environment

An effective science learning environment is creating an atmosphere for the most effective science learning to take place. In order to do this we have to put everything together. As teachers we need to integrate NGSS (including DCI, CCC, and SEP), unit planning, bundled standards, big ideas, and big questions to create a student-centered effective learning environment. These practices allow for students to do what scientists do to get engaged in science by using practices, exploring and learning science information like scientists do. To create an effective science environment you need to understand the key concepts, take time to reflect and implement, and critically think and be intentional in developing an effective environment in your future classroom. You want the focus on an environment that offers student-centered learning where students engage as scientists. An effective science learning environment includes but is not limited to the characteristics listed below.

Characteristics to Consider for an Effective Science Learning Environment (figure 1).

1. Arguments of ideas not of people

As a teacher be aware of students arguments. You want students to argue and debate ideas; it is part of what scientists do. However, make sure the students know to argue the scientific ideas. This can be challenging in an elementary classroom as many students may look to the person not the ideas of the person.

2. Communication of Unsettled Ideas

In your classroom students should feel comfortable and confident in sharing ideas that they have not completely developed understanding of yet.

3. Communication of Settled Understanding

Here is where you see what the students now understand about the content. As the teacher here is where you can see the students learning and any misconceptions of the students’ knowledge. The communication of the students’ understanding should be allowed to be presented in many forms.

4. Answering Questions NOT Meeting Standards

The whole idea of this type of science education is student-centered learning. The students should be engaged in answering questions that they are truly interested in learning. The students do not need to recite the standard in order to show they have learned the relevant science!

5. Use of Technology

Do not just integrate technology into the lesson because you can. Use technology as a tool for the students to develop a better understanding and explore science. There are a ton of resources, information, and online engaging activities with technology but check to see if it is reliable and ties into your unit plan goals.

6. Engineering Opportunities

True science learning involves allowing for science and technology integration to allow students hands-on opportunities critically analyze, to build, and to construct understanding.  Students should also be allowed to engage in specific opportunities for engineering in which they create products or processes aligned to their science understanding.

7. 3-D Activity

Implementing all three dimensional learning aspects of NGSS in all science instruction and assessment.  3-D teaching and learning finds instructional sequences in which elementary students are actively engaged in hands-on learning experiences reflective of: 1) the Scientific and Engineering Practices, 2) the Cross Cutting Concepts, 3) the Disciplinary Core Ideas and component core ideas.  It is important to note that 3-D teaching and learning includes one or more elements of each dimension.  Not all elements from each dimension will necessarily be utilized in every investigation.

8. Relevant Local Engagement

Have the content and unit plan be specific to the current group of students. Every student has a different background, knowledge, and experience, therefore the lessons from year to year should NOT be the same. Every group of students is different, embrace it and allow it to guide your unit planning.

During your time throughout this course, you will take part in an effective science learning environment in the lab. Take time to reflect on the labs at various points throughout the semester.

Reflect On the Learning Environment

  • What type of an effective science environment am I participating in?
  • What characteristics of an effective science environment are present in my learning?
  • What does this effective science environment look like from the teacher side? From the student side?
  • How would this effective science environment look in my future classroom?


Figure 1: Examine the effective science learning environment in an elementary classroom.

(Image: McDermott PPT.)


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