April 21, 2010
CONTACT: Gordon Ovenshine:
Education majors find science lessons in children's stories
SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Not many readers of "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" realize the story includes a physics mistake. Slippery Rock University education majors found the mistake and converted it to a teachable moment during a student-faculty research project that blends children's literature with science to make reading more fun.
"Science is a subject that is often overlooked in the classroom," said Ashley Baranowski, an elementary education major from Harmarville.
Working with Rob Snyder, associate professor of elementary education/early childhood development, students researched several children's stories to identify plot points that could be used to create a science activity. The students hope to enhance their teaching skills and help children do better on reading and math assessment tests, which drive school funding under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
The error in Goldilocks occurs during the key moment of the story, when Goldilocks evaluates the temperature of the porridge in three bowls. Papa Bear has the large bowl, Mama bear the medium size bowl and Baby Bear the smallest bowl.
"Goldilocks says that Papa Bear's bowl is too hot and Mama Bear's bowl is too cold but that Baby Bear's bowl is just right," Baranowski said.
To test the story scientifically, Baranowski obtained large, medium and small bowls, filled them with heated water and timed the cooling process. The experience can be replicated with school children.
"The students will come to see that Goldilocks was in fact wrong," she said. "Papa Bear's bowl would be too hot, but Baby Bear's bowl would be too cold and Mama Bear's bowl would be just right. Through experiment, the children will learn about the transfer of heat process from a book that does not seem to have any science-related theme."
Other stories the students researched included "The Lorax" by Dr. Suess, "Rainbow Fish and the Big Blue Whale" by Marcus Pfister and "Bats at the Beach" by Brian Lies. They used "Bats at The Beach" to develop a lesson plan for fourth graders during which teachers teach students what the world nocturnal means and then take pupils outside with lab goggles with colored cellophane to simulate night vision. "The Lorax" can be used to teach about greening concepts and can help teachers explain that trees are renewable sources that provide food for animals, and paper and firewood. Trees also take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. "Rainbow Fish and The Big Blue Whale" provides an opportunity for students to learn about the size of blue whales. Students suggested giving pupils 100 feet of yarn and asking them to stretch it from one end of the gym to another.
"By integrating children's literature and science activities together, you are able to teach reading as well as science in one lesson," Baranowski said. "Science begins not to be overlooked and students can discover science experiments in their reading.
Chelsea Taylor, an elementary education major from Beaver Falls, presented her research at the National Science Teachers Association in March. Using "The Magic School Bus Explores the Senses," she created a lesson plan that follows what educators call the 5 E Learning Cycle. It includes engage, explore, explain, elaborate and evaluate.
She used the Magic School Bus as a springboard for exploring the five senses - sight, smell, hearing, touch and taste. "At the conference, we reinforced the idea that we are able to take just about any children's books, science related or not, and figure out a science activity that would tie the two together. It is through this that the children's understanding of the science concept at hand is reinforced twice, once during the reading of the story and secondly through the hands-on science experiment."
Taylor said the student-faculty research affirmed her twin passions, elementary education and science. "Science has always been a favorite of mine, and this I owe to my father," she said. "He was a fifth grade science teacher for 34 years."
She also credited Snyder with opening her eyes to new techniques for teaching science. "This project has benefited me greatly as a future educator," she said. "It taught me that reading a book is just not sitting down and reading a story to children. Reading a book is about the importance of connecting what you are reading to a child with other subject areas, as well as their own experiences. I learned how to make what I am teaching more relatable and interesting to children."
Kaitlyn Winne, a special education and elementary education major from Chippewa, said she became interested in research combining literature and science after taking methods courses at SRU.
"When I am a teacher, I believe this will provide me with more than just a research experience," she said. "It has taught me that there are always more ideas, theories and strategies to use in my classroom for each individual student. I think most teachers are always interested in learning more ways to help their students succeed."
Snyder said schools place a big emphasis on reading but many have cut their hands-on science programs to make room for reading. SRU education graduates will be better teachers because they will be able to combine the two topics without increasing expenses.
"The work has been beneficial because they are researching and generating new ideas, and activities, and they are using a lot of critical analysis in order to generate creative ideas," he said. "They are also gaining confidence."
Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania's premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.