Making Time for Science: Strategies to Increase Instructional Time for Science

By Olson, Joanne K. | Science and Children, November 2008 | Go to article overview
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Making Time for Science: Strategies to Increase Instructional Time for Science

Olson, Joanne K., Science and Children

Even before No Child Left Behind and the standardized testing movement, science received a disproportionately small part of the school day compared to language arts and mathematics (Bayer 1995). After NCLB was enacted in 2001, instructional time for science diminished even further. According to a survey conducted by the Center on Education Policy (CEP), instructional time in elementary schools has shown an additional 140 minutes per week added to reading instruction and an additional 87 minutes per week for mathematics since 2001. Science has decreased by 75 minutes, social studies has decreased by 76 minutes, and other subjects have declined as well--art is allocated 57 fewer minutes per week, and physical education receives 40 fewer minutes per week (CEP 2007). The result is very limited class time devoted to science instruction. A recent study of teachers in the San Francisco Bay Area found that 80% of elementary teachers spend fewer than 60 minutes per week on science, and 16% report doing no science at all (Dorph et al. 2007). A nationwide survey of teachers indicated that the main reason so little time is devoted to science is the emphasis on other subjects (Bayer Corporation 1995).


Given how current testing pressures have influenced instructional time, questions have been raised about the future of science education. "Although this picture seems to reflect the current status of elementary school science, I am left wondering what will happen to our science classrooms now that NCLB will require a standardized test in the areas of science beginning this year. Will schools see this as a way to improve the quality of science instruction in elementary classrooms? Will schools increase the amount of instructional time currently devoted to the teaching of science? Will the teaching of science become reacquainted with the way science is actually done?" (Smolleck 2007).

Some may argue that little can be done to improve the amount of time available for science until policy makers and administrators provide support. Such support is certainly needed. However, individual teachers can make important changes that maintain the integrity of the other subject areas while making time for science. The following effective strategies are being used by several teachers and school districts to create time for science instruction.

Time-Making Strategies

1. Conduct long-term investigations. Science instruction does not have to begin and end in a single block of time. One lesson time might be used to ponder an important scientific question and another used to help students design and establish tests to answer their questions. Then, over several days, students may need only 5-10 minutes to gather ongoing data. Such data collection could occur when children arrive to class in the morning, after recess, or before lunch. Another lesson time can then be used for consolidation of data and concept development. Many phenomena children study in the elementary years occur over time and can lend themselves well to long-term data collection. For example, students can measure plant growth, monitor bird feeders, measure shadows, or record weather data. Blocks of time are still necessary for children to make decisions about what is being tested or measured and also for important sense-making of the data and development of the concept. However, these blocks of time do not have to be on consecutive days--students can have several days where science needs only a few brief minutes.

2. Overlap your disciplines. Overlapping disciplines means that concepts in each subject are taught separately, but whenever possible, a science context is provided for the skills in language arts or mathematics that we want students to practice. This differs from the term integration, which often implies teaching two or more subject matters simultaneously.

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