With activities for children in preschool through age 5
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Working With Teachers and Schools
Research has shown that children at all grade levels do better in school, feel more confident about themselves as learners and have higher expectations for themselves when their parents are supportive of and involved with their education.[ 4 ] Here are some ways that you can stay involved in your child's school life:
Visit your child's school. During your visit, look for clues as to whether the school values science.
- Do you see science learning centers? Displays related to science? Science-related drawings on the bulletin boards? Are there plants, terrariums, aquariums or collections (of rocks or insects, for example) in the classrooms, front hall or library?
- Do you see any science equipment in evidence? Are there magnifiers? Magnets? Pictures? Videos? Is the equipment up-to-date?
- Does the school library contain science books? If so, are they recent publications?
- Is there enough space in the classrooms or elsewhere in the school for students to conduct science experiments?
Find out about the school's science curriculum. Ask for a school handbook. If none is available, meet with the school's principal and ask questions such as the following:
- What methods and materials does the school use for science instruction? Are these methods based on sound research evidence about what works best? Are the materials up-to-date? Can students do hands-on science projects? Does the science curriculum follow state science standards and guidelines?
- Are the science teachers highly qualified? Do they meet state certification and subject-area knowledge requirements?
- What facilities and resources are available to teach science? If the school budget for science instruction is inadequate, what has the school or district tried to do to obtain resources from other sources, such as businesses and service organizations?
- How much time is spent on science instruction?
- How does the school measure student progress in science? What tests does it use?
- How do the students at the school score on state assessments of science?
- Are activities available that parents can use at home to supplement and support instruction?
Meet with your child's teacher. Schedule an appointment and ask how your child approaches science. Does he enjoy it? Does he participate actively? Does he understand assignments and do them accurately? If the teacher indicates that your child has problems with science, ask for specific things that you can do to help him.
Visit your child's classroom. In the classroom, look for the following:
- Do students have opportunities for hands-on experiences working with materials? Do students discuss their ideas, make predictions and offer explanations? Do they have opportunities to talk and work with each other as well as with the teacher?
- Does the instruction show students how to connect the science concepts they're learning to their personal experiences and to explore how science and technology affect their lives?
- Does instruction include activities in which students apply their science skills and knowledge to real problems and situations?
- Do students have opportunities to use science equipment and technology?
- Does the teacher expect all students to succeed? Does he help them set high goals for themselves? Does he listen to their explanations and ideas?
- Do science tests and assessments match state and local standards? Do they match what has been taught? Are they used appropriately to plan instruction and evaluate student understanding?
Find out if the school has a Web site and, if so, get the address. School Web sites can provide you with ready access to all kinds of information, including homework assignments, class schedules, lesson plans and test dates.
Find out how your child's school is performing by checking its annual report card required under the No Child Left Behind Act. Prepared by your school district, this report card shows how students at your school performed on state assessments and how their performance compares to that of other schools in the district. The law currently requires regular assessments in reading and math; and science assessments to be in place by the school year 2007-08. (For more information on No Child Left Behind, see the Resources section.)
Get actively involved. Attend parent-teacher meetings. If you're unable to attend, ask that the minutes of the meetings be sent to you, or that they be made available on the school's Web site. If your schedule permits, volunteer to help with the science program. Teachers often send home lists of ways in which parents can get involved, including the following:
- Assisting with classroom science projects;
- Chaperoning science-related field trips;
- Offering to set up a science display in the school's front hallway or in your child's classroom;
- Leading hands-on lessons (if you have a good science background yourself);
- Helping in a computer laboratory or other area requiring adult supervision; and
- Starting a drive to raise money for computers, science equipment, books or field trips.
Even if you can't volunteer for work at the school, you can help your child learn when you're at home and contribute a great deal to his success at school. The key question is, "What can I do at home, easily and in a few minutes each day, to reinforce and extend what the school is teaching?"