Several years ago, a speaker told the audience at a conference I was attending how elementary teachers have very few opportunities for professional development in the area of science, and take advantage of fewer. The amount of professional development in my area of earth and space science is fairly minimal. In an effort to try and rectify this lack, I proposed a program to connect literacy with science content. Eventually, we included a field trip to a planetarium in the proposal to the DRK-12 division of NSF, and Project PLANET was born.
The 2020 STEM for All Video Showcase includes a three-minute video about our Project PLANET program at the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. The two-year NSF-funded exploratory project is looking at integrated instructional sequences for 1st and 3rd grade classrooms.
With our partners at West Chester University (West Chester, PA), the Lawrence Hall of Science (Univ. of California at Berkeley), and Rockman et al, we are working with a cohort of 1st and 3rd grade teachers to develop coherent instructional sequences including a visit to a planetarium. The sequences involve investigating the natural phenomena of shadows and the motion of the Sun (1st grade), and lunar phases (3rd grade). The planetarium and classroom activities mutually support each other, providing context and instructional rationale for the field trip, and are expected to lead to learners engaging in appropriate science practices (e.g., noticing, recognizing change, making predictions). The part of the sequence holding everything together is the storybook. The use of narrative to initially engage learners, then to some extent guide them through their investigations, was a valuable anchor point for them throughout the sequence. At the end, learners were able to create their own stories, cementing the experience into the narrative of their own lives.
While it may not have fulfilled the goal of providing more professional development to early elementary teachers in earth and space science, it is lending credence to how an integrated instructional sequence can engage learners. What we are learning is making its way into the professional development we conduct, and teachers are responding positively.
Follow the link below to view the video.