What could be more exciting for young learners than the opportunity to discover and understand the natural world around them? That’s part of the everyday experience of Park PreK students in their work with Will Lyons, the PreK Science Specialist.
When PreK went to a full day program in 2020, the department took advantage of this unique opportunity to incorporate a science specialist who would build on the curriculum taught in the half-day program and enrich what the classroom teachers were already doing. In his time as a PreK assistant, Will Lyons had become deeply passionate about early childhood education, and jumped at the chance to share his love of Science with PreK students.
Starting on the first day they join Will in science class, students take part in a morning routine and greeting that affirms their relationship to science. “I want the kids to refer to themselves and scientists inside and outside the classroom, so I greet the class by saying ‘Good Morning, Scientists,’ and they respond together with ‘Good morning Mr. Lyons.’” This interaction encourages students to visualize themselves as scientists as they practice a formal greeting.
Using a singing bowl, Will cues the scientists to take three breaths as they imagine an invisible rose and candle. Transitions can be tricky for many in PreK, so having a mindful moment before each class allows them to focus on what they will learn in science. Will was inspired to adapt this technique in mindfulness for PreK after Tahira Wilson demonstrated it in a workshop, and he feels that building a learning environment for science in partnership with his students is extremely important. Part of that process is giving each student a chance to feel comfortable within the science classroom, and a guided mindful moment can help achieve that goal.
Each unit begins with a mystery box, which sits patiently at the front of the classroom. This box holds clues that will lead students to discover what they will learn next. Will has the scientists repeatedly slap the floor to send vibrations to make hints appear inside the box. On one day, for example, those clues included a toy tow truck and rope, clues for “pull,” an important element of their unit on force.
Students learn in real time. In the fall, students notice that the leaves change colors, so they study the movement of chlorophyll from the leaves to the tree’s trunk, resulting in the color change. They work to change colors on leaves in the classroom to show how important the life cycle of each leaf is. As winter approaches, students embark on an animal adaptation project to help explain how animals, such as humans, adapt to cold weather. They investigate how cold air affects our bodies and experience what it is like to sit in the “cold” with and without a jacket. Will sets up an indoor tent and funnels in cool air via a fan and ice cooler and prompts students to consider goosebumps – why do they appear on our bodies when we are cold but not hot?
In the spring, the kitchen staff donates food scraps, and students learn how composting benefits our planet during their unit on soil. They will wade through banana peels, milk cartons, and other food scraps and sort where each item should be placed: in a pile for compost, recycling, or trash. Will explains that composting is nature’s version of recycling and can help us protect our planet by creating nutrient rich soil.
The PreK science program was built to challenge students to continuously ask “why” and bring this innate curiosity into their daily lives. Each unit is designed so students can use their senses to see, hear, touch, and wonder, which helps build that excitement for science! Each unit in the science program blends seamlessly into the rest of the curriculum and circles back to previous units. The tree “preparing for winter” leads to a unit on how animals adapt during the cold of winter. Consistent messages from the beginning to the end of the year help them understand and retain the concepts they are learning. Will also makes sure to check in on units from the fall to see if the class can recall them in the spring.
One of Will’s favorite parts of this program is seeing his students come to him with questions about the lessons outside the classroom. Will started the chlorophyll unit by asking if students noticed what changes were happening to leaves in the fall. Afterward, students picked up leaves during recess and exclaimed, “Look, there is no chlorophyll on this leaf!”
Will credits Lower Division Science teacher Beth Hawkins as his mentor through this process. “She has been a constant soundboard for me with any curriculum changes and lesson plan ideas and has been invaluable to my transition into becoming a science teacher.” This is his second year as Science Specialist for PreK, and Will appreciates that he can look back on what didn’t go as planned last year and rebuild the curriculum in better ways moving forward. “The program is consistently evolving. I am learning alongside the students, which shows them that we should never stop learning, even when we become adults!”