What is Science to children? How can they best learn it in primary/grade school? (
What is Science to children? How to best teach it in grade school? (

I believe that science is everywhere and so should be taught to everyone, starting almost from the beginning of schooling.  I have previously written some of my general suggestions for teaching young children about science (see: “What is Wrong with Science Education for Children?” ).  Here, a unit for early science education in primary/grade schools (e.g., in grade 2-5) is suggested, and exemplifies that such need not even be labeled as “science”; it can easily be viewed as teaching about “daily life” or “our world”.

Class objectives in teaching and explaining temperature. 

This series of early science classes for very young students aims to cover:

(1)  how do we detect temperature (i.e., feelings, nerves);

(2)  how do we measure temperature (i.e., thermometers);

(3)  how do liquid thermometers work; temperatures of hot and cold tap water;

(4)  temperatures of children’s skin, what is “room temperature” (= air in classroom), seasons;

(5)  how do feelings of being cool or warm correspond to measured temperatures;

(6)  very basic explanations for heating and cooling of water;

(7)  temperature extremes of water (boiling, evaporating, freezing, and melting);

(8)  what happens to temperature when hot and cold tap water are mixed 1:1, and when  boiling water is removed from a hot plate and sits at room temp (i.e. measure the temps vs. time);

(9)  how quickly does one tablespoon of sugar dissolve in very hot, warm, room temp, or cold tap water?

(10) an illustrated discussion session about temperature (e.g., basic definitions and concepts; what is the temperature of: our classroom, lava from a volcano, a melting ice cube; what are snowflakes, hail, an iceberg; etc.).

Materials needed: skin temperature monitors (one for each child, and they take them home after the class #4; these could be donated by manufacturers or by large drug store chains), red-liquid (no mercury!) inexpensive thermometers (one for each table of students; must have F (or F&C) scales), disposable clear plastic drinking glasses (8-10 ounces), cold and hot tap water, ice cubes or crushed ice, hot plate and glass flask to hold boiling water, granulated sugar.

Scheduling:  I estimate needing 5-6 hours of classes (45-55 minutes each) to cover all topics 1-9.  Topic 10 is an interactive session reviewing what should have been learned from this unit on temperature, and extending their knowledge to a few new examples.  In addition to the class teacher, having one or 2 assistant teachers will be useful.  Ideally, some classes should be held in a laboratory-type room (with a table for each 4-6 students); other sessions involve presentations with projected slides or brief videos and directed discussions, and so can be given in either a standard classroom or a lab room.

Please note:      (1) Instructions, discussions, questions and answers, are given concurrently with the manipulations and observations by students during the class sessions.

(2) If use of boiling water is considered to be too risky for very young students to handle, then this can be done as a demonstration.

(3) Each class begins with 5-10 minutes of explanation about what is being studied and how the activities will proceed; the last 5-10 minutes are reserved for a brief summary of what should have been learned today.

(4) Even if forbidden, some kids undoubtedly will eat ice cubes and drink the dissolved sugar; so what?

(5) For these early classes, “atoms” are not mentioned, and “energy” can be either ignored or approximated to electricity if questions arise; these topics will be covered later.

(6) If students do not ask questions, then the teacher(s) must ask them questions!

Subsequent classes:  In the following months and years at primary school, young students can extend their new knowledge about temperature to related topics.  Direct follow-up sessions can include: liquids and solids, solutions and suspensions, oil and water, gasses and liquids, calibrating thermometers, Fahrenheit and Centigrade scales, how do skin temperature thermometers work, what is the temperature in outer space, what warms the Earth, the water cycle in Nature, etc.  Related science sessions for later classes can involve chemistry, weather, physics, pressure, energy, what are atoms, what do atoms have to do with temperature, biology, animal and plant habitats and adaptations, fever, etc.

Critical comments and discussion. 

I do not believe that memorizing some definitions means that young students understand anything at all (see:  “A Large Problem in Science Education: Memorization is Not Enough, and is Not the Same as Understanding!” ).  Young students need to relate definitions, concepts, and new knowledge to what they can see, touch, feel, taste, hear, and smell in their daily lives; then, they will learn and develop understanding!  These beliefs are utilized in the unit of class sessions described above.

Teachers for these classes have important very active roles here.  They must guide the students to do and learn, carefully watch for student safety, and, supervise and maintain focus of students with the active hands-on operations.  The more these youngsters can relate what they see and do themselves, the more they will learn; additional examples about temperature will be encountered both in subsequent courses and activities outside schools.  Thus, early knowledge about temperature will be ongoing (i.e., teachers will know this is happening when students ask them about something from their life outside school).  Later science courses can directly continue from where these initial classes end.

Almost all grade/primary school teachers now should be able to handle the sessions suggested for this early unit on temperature without much special preparation. Teachers should please adapt this suggested program of activities to fit local resources, practical limitations, and scheduling.  Please note that atoms and energy are not mentioned for this very early science teaching.  Discuss my proposal thoroughly, give it a try, lots of good luck, and have fun!

Concluding remarks. 

A unit of classes concerning temperature is described for early science education in primary/grade schools.  The suggested series of classes involves active learning and utilizes teaching where the young students will see, touch, and feel what they are learning about; everything relates to their daily activities outside the classroom, yet also prepares them for subsequent science classes in school.