Christian School Essentials for Elementary Science

By Diane Comstock, MA Reading Curriculum and Instruction and MAT Integrated Natural Sciences

Science learning begins long before children enter formal education. Their innate curiosity about the world and how it works prompts them to develop simple forms of scientific investigations and design activities to find answers to their questions. Instilling a wonder of and enthusiasm for science that lasts a lifetime is the job of the teacher who essentially introduces science and some of its categories to the student. However, elementary science instruction often takes a back seat to other core subjects and receives little time in the school day. This is especially true in today’s virtual and hybrid teaching situations.

In my nearly 40 years’ experience as an educator and teachers’ strategy coach, hundreds of my protégés have been using science kits to teach earth, life and physical science in their K-8 classrooms. I have worked one-on-one with scores of students and teachers and have seen the positive impact hands-on science has in embedding science content. The pure science textbook alone does not meet the needs of teachers or students. As John Dewey said long ago, “Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking …. learning naturally results.”1

Students learn best by asking questions, exploring ideas, investigating solutions and writing and sharing about their experiences. A recent study of 17,000 pre-kindergarten, grade 3 and grade 4 students across four countries showed that students learn more from inquiry- and problem-based teaching than from traditional teacher lectures, memorization and practice methods.2 High-quality science instruction moves students from curiosity to interest to reasoning.3 The progression of learning occurs with each science investigation and engineering experience and is heightened by frequency and intentionality.

The educational standards used in all content areas guide the curriculum. There are specific concepts that should be introduced and practiced at each grade level, beginning in kindergarten. These are the building blocks for what is to be mastered. In the past, science texts have introduced concepts and ideas from a broad spectrum. “The continuing expansion of scientific knowledge makes it impossible to teach all the ideas related to a given discipline in exhaustive detail during the K-12 years. An important role of science education is not to teach all the facts but rather to prepare students with sufficient core knowledge so that they can later acquire additional information.”4

We know that an emphasis on core ideas is better than introducing a wide range of content. Both the National Science Education Standards and Next Generation Science Standards provide focused content that builds upon previous grade levels and carries over as high school preparation. Any quality teacher who uses a science curriculum based on educational standards will provide a solid foundation in content and experiences, and better yet, will teach from one that purposefully interweaves a biblical worldview into the content.

To support high-quality elementary science learning, the National Science Teaching Association recommends that science educators use science and engineering practices to actively engage students in science learning, embed the learning of science concepts within scientific and engineering practices and through crosscutting concepts, and use real-world application of interest and relevance to engage students in three-dimensional instruction.5 Building on students’ knowledge and understanding of God and the world he created, helping them confront common misconceptions, giving them time and space to structure their own investigations, and providing authentic formative and summative assessments to guide and assist development of conceptual understandings provide an educational environment that allows those concepts and strategies to expand and deepen.

Purposeful Design Publications has recently released its Grade 1 Elementary Science, 3rd Edition textbook and is in the process of revising the subsequent grades. This textbook provides all that is needed for teachers to deliver high-quality elementary science education that is essential for establishing a sound foundation of learning in later grades and to instill a love for science.

Diane Comstock retired from teaching in Colorado Springs, District 12, Cheyenne Mountain, after 20 years. During her time of teaching, she also served as the Science Resource Teacher for the district and five other districts through a grant from NSF. Diane also teaches STEM and Science Methods for Colorado College in Colorado Springs while supervising MAT students. For two years, Diane mentored and coached 20 teachers in the integration of science and literacy through another NSF grant co-sponsored by Colorado College. She writes curriculum for Science Matters in America and was a research and development consultant for ACSI, assisting in the publishing of the third edition of G1–6 Elementary Science series and Physical Science. Diane has been published in Science and Children and has worked on the Colorado State Science Standards committees through all editions.

1 Dewey, John. Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education. Chapter 12, “Thinking in Education.”
2 Emma Näslund-Hadley and Rosangela Bandom, Inter-American Development Bank; Paul Gertler, University of California, Berkeley. 2019. “Students Learn More from Inquiry-Based Teaching International Study Finds.” Education Week, October 8, 2019.
3 Moulding, B., R. Bybee, and N. Paulson. 2015. A Vision and Plan for Science Teaching and Learning. Essential Teaching and Learning Publications.
4 Next Generation Science Standards: For States, By States. Volume 1: The Standards, 2013. “Introduction: Disciplinary Cores Ideas,” page 15.
5 National Science Teachers Association (NSTA). 2018. “Transitioning from Scientific Inquiry to Three-Dimensional Teaching and Learning.”
Editorial note: The NSTA changed its name from the National Science Teachers Association to the National Science Teaching Association in June 2019. See