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What could elementary school teachers do to better prepare students?

Physics forums members have ranted how high-school did not prepare students for college. However, I think that elementary school is as equally as important as high-school. Members have should be ranting about elementary school teachers too. The willingness to do homework is a skill that students should pick up before entering middle-school and high-school. In middle school and high school, students will have to take pre-algebra and algebra 1 which is a mandatory class for colleges.

Elementary school teachers make a mistake by thinking it's acceptable to go easy on the students because they are young. Teachers should have enforced strict homework and grading policy even to first graders. Teachers are not helping or doing them any favors by going easy on young kids simply because they are young.

Elementary school teachers have seven years to prepare students for middle-school and high-school. Seven years is a lot of time to make sure students have the willingness to do homework. If elementary school teachers fail students and not give credit just for trying, children would have been better prepared for higher education.
 

Wrichik Basu

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Yes I agree with you that elementary school is often taken lightly compared to middle and high school. I have seen teachers are teaching wrong things in elementary school. Why? "Oh it doesn't matter. Concepts will change when they grow up." Something similar happens when students go to high school from middle school. Teachers say that they have to "unlearn" things. I don't support this. Teach less, but teach correct.

Regarding homework, I agree with you to a certain extent. Homework should be given to familiarise students, and make them understand that they shouldn't flee from it. But it shouldn't become a burden. Loading students with homework will take away the time in which they could have been taught the values of life. Too much homework will actually make the students dislike it rather than accept it.

I am against examinations at young ages. Do you think that some questions in a paper will be able to correctly judge a student's learning? The proper evaluation is done in application. When you learn something in maths and apply that in physics, you actually evaluate yourself. I know that physics doesn't come in at elementary level, but a similar theory could be applied there too. You teach something, give the students worksheets/homework, and check the work yourself. Elementary and middle classes are the time when a student requires one-to-one correspondence with the teacher. Thirty students in a class won't help a single one. The teacher should analyse each student's work, and find out where the concepts are going wrong. Then the teacher should personally help the student understand the concepts. When the children proceed to the next topic, the teacher should check whether they are properly able to apply what they have learnt before. This is the best way of development in elementary and middle schools.
 

symbolipoint

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Physics forums members have ranted how high-school did not prepare students for college. However, I think that elementary school is as equally as important as high-school. Members have should be ranting about elementary school teachers too. The willingness to do homework is a skill that students should pick up before entering middle-school and high-school. In middle school and high school, students will have to take pre-algebra and algebra 1 which is a mandatory class for colleges.
Big difference between any individual student in elementary school and in high school. Great difference in brain, psychological, cognitive development - not just skills and self-discipline. Even in elementary school, so much depends on the student, and not the teacher.
 

symbolipoint

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Elementary school teachers make a mistake by thinking it's acceptable to go easy on the students because they are young. Teachers should have enforced strict homework and grading policy even to first graders. Teachers are not helping or doing them any favors by going easy on young kids simply because they are young
Some first-graders cannot handle it.
 

symbolipoint

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#3 and 4:

The original points in post #1 are good. The elementary school teachers must still TRY!
 

256bits

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I would hate to be the parent of a first grader who fails at coloring, nap time, and shoelace tying,
:cry:
 

Andy Resnick

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"What could elementry school teachers do to better prepare students?"

Members have should be ranting about elementary school teachers too.
Hmmmm... when is spelling and grammar taught?

<note: I am referring the US system>

More seriously, there is a difference between 'education' and 'training'. What is elementary school preparing students for, exactly? Should students who are unprepared for middle school be denied further education? At what age should students be put on different academic tracks?
 

gleem

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“Give me a child until he is 7 and I will show you the man.”

― Aristotle

A child is born with a clean slate. As Aristotle notes and I believe is supported by by psychology by the age of seven the man is basically formed under the influence of those and and the environment around him during this period. I believe schools are getting children less than adequately prepared for life beyond the home. Asking the teacher to correct any deficiency in a group environment is silly. Culture , family and community should form the basis of orienting the child to life apart from the family.

One obtains permission to teach children at least in a public school after receiving extensive education in the learning process for different age groups. I do not in general see how one not fully acquainted with the teaching process to question the choice of subjects or approach to teaching for specific grades levels.

I agree with @Wrichik Basu that material should not be taught incorrectly. If it cannot be taught correctly at a specific age then wait until it can. It is well know in physics teaching that incorrect concepts of physical principles formed before a physics course is take might be used even when a person has learned the correct concept. The wrong concept lurks in the subconscious and can supersede the use of the correct concept.
 
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While the kids coming to high school are often extremely under-prepared, it's fair to say that a lot of the blame falls on the administrative system. The incessant testing, pressure to keep the kids together (our school essentially gets fined if a kid doesn't graduate in four years), and the fact that the people in charge are elected lead to a system where we are surprised when a kid gets to us and is prepared to do well.

That said, here's what I hear from/observe of the majority of teachers (in my county/district, at least): they barely passed the math part of the certification test and they know even less about science. That's in high school, it gets worse the lower the grade level you go.
 

symbolipoint

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That said, here's what I hear from/observe of the majority of teachers (in my county/district, at least): they barely passed the math part of the certification test and they know even less about science. That's in high school, it gets worse the lower the grade level you go.
First part, seems credible.
Second part, not credible - not that it be false - just that to me, knowing that to teach in high school requires subject matter degree, AND certification, or maybe certifiable testing combined with qualifying subject-matter credit. This should make for the high school teachers (as long as they are properly assigned), qualified for what they teach.
 
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I was talking about all teachers in general, not just science teachers specifically. Though of the 11 science teachers in my department, only 2 of us have degrees in our subject. The subject certification exams are pathetically easy, so that's not any kind of real screening process. The physics exam was essentially taken straight out of Hewitt's Conceptual Physics. Those subject matter tests are all you have to pass in order to be able to teach the subject.

For middle school it is just a general science test that science teachers have to pass and at the elementary level there is no science test. It shouldn't be hard to believe that most teachers have little to no science knowledge.
 

Dr. Courtney

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Sure, there needs to be homework and accountability, but I don't think 5-11 year olds can handle the same homework loads and accountability as teenagers.

On the science side, work to feed the flame of interest and the scientific method rather than put it out. Too much time preparing students to regurgitate facts on standardized tests tends to put the flame out. Interesting lab experiments both feed the flame as well as help students focus on the scientific method itself. How science determines the right answers is at least as important as what those specific answers are.

Neglect of lab experiments to spend more time preparing for standardized tests may improve performance on those tests, but it also tends to leave the impression that scientific knowledge flows from authoritative sources (books and teachers) rather than from the scientific method. 30 quality experiments each year set a real foundation where the scientific method is internalized. Not enough time for 30 experiments each year? 15 experiments is still much better than 5 or 0.

Bottom line? Keep the flame alive and do more experiments.
 
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First part, seems credible.
Second part, not credible - not that it be false - just that to me, knowing that to teach in high school requires subject matter degree, AND certification, or maybe certifiable testing combined with qualifying subject-matter credit. This should make for the high school teachers (as long as they are properly assigned), qualified for what they teach.
From personal experience that is not the case. I know more than 30 people who graduated with a mathematics degree with a teaching certificate. Sad to say, but these people passed the majority of there courses with a C. The only "difficult" classes they needed to take were Analysis and Abstract Algebra. Many of these people waited to take this courses when the a "easier" teacher was available. These 30 students are now employed in public k-12 education system.

Certification in subject matter does not equal competency in said subject.
 
As someone who has spent the last four years teaching at a private elementary school.....

The major difficulty facing elementary teachers, and specifically those who teach the lower grade levels, is that you are often working with developing a person rather than a student. Many first graders come into the school with asymmetric development and skill sets. A child that is an excellent reader may have terrible fine motor control and thus takes literally 10 minutes (or more!) to write a simple sentence from a board. Or conversely a child who can barely read, even in their second or third year, may simply have no interest in academic pursuits and be chomping at the bit to get outside and run or have the opportunity for gym class. There are often behavioral issues at hand - a child may be much too upset to even bother paying attention in class because the teacher told them that toys/stuffies must stay in their backpack or be taken away (for example). Or unfortunately many young children are affected by poverty or divorce or unsafe housing and thus are affected by their home life to such an extent that school isn't even on their radar. Developmental and mental issues are also very potent in this stage of life. The social determinants of education are extremely important in the younger years.

I think everyone here also seems to vastly overestimate the pacing of elementary level education. Seven years is NOT a long time to introduce scientific concepts to children. You are literally introducing the world to many children all at the same time and this naturally requires you to move at an appropriate pace. You are also limited by curriculum battles, the economics of classrooms resources and material management, parent interference, the interests of the children, and most importantly - the all important standardized testing. I am very fortunate that our school has literally zero standardized testing and we are free to develop and pursue any area of the curriculum as we see fit. But between music, art, English, French, PE, mathematics, zoology, botany, history, sociology, creative writing, volunteer activities, and all the other things the children have to do, some areas will naturally fall behind - especially if the child is simply not interested. For example, how many grown-ups who despised algebra actually remember it?

All grade levels suffer from the generic problem of low-quality teachers, and I've found that generally excellent teachers are more commonly found in the younger years as these people get involved in teaching specifically because they enjoy teaching rather than simply enjoying the subject they teach (high school teachers tend to suffer this affliction). A particular sore point of mine is that in my country (Canada) it is FAR too easy to become a teacher and we have a serious oversupply of people with B.Ed degrees who have teachables in English and history or biology and drama or something equally ridiculous considering the current supply/demand of teaching in this country. The elementary level qualifications are also complicated by prospective teaching students needing only to have a "focus" in a teaching area rather than a full-blown set of studies as with higher division teachers. This is argued as being necessary since the lower division teachers must also fulfill a "breadth requirement" to be able to teach language or history or whatever in addition to the subject(s) they specialize in.

I've found that the best scientific students who express desire to teach are often attracted to the subject and not to teaching itself, and this naturally inclines them toward high school or perhaps junior high school, as they view it as being more "real" or academic. Precious few actual trained scientists (as in people with honours degrees in physics/chem/bio etc) actually want or even consider working with small children, so we are forced to use what we have available, and that is people who do not actually understand the concepts they are required to teach, or else people who have a fluent understanding of high school level science and thus teach it to younger students.

But this is long enough.
 
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I've found that the best scientific students who express desire to teach are often attracted to the subject and not to teaching itself, and this naturally inclines them toward high school or perhaps junior high school, as they view it as being more "real" or academic. Precious few actual trained scientists (as in people with honours degrees in physics/chem/bio etc) actually want or even consider working with small children, so we are forced to use what we have available, and that is people who do not actually understand the concepts they are required to teach, or else people who have a fluent understanding of high school level science and thus teach it to younger students.
100% this. I have my B.S in physics and have been teaching a 10th grade class called "integrated physics and chemistry" (along with my main class which is astronomy). It's, like, an intro to physics and chemistry. It is so boring. I hate teaching it. I feel like my knowledge is being wasted. fortunately, i only teach one section of that class and i will not be teaching it next year. with that said, it makes sense why people with degrees in any of the "hard" sciences are not working in elementary schools. i would hate that. hats off to anyone that does that. they must really love the age group. one of the things i love most about physics is complexity of the subject. all of the complex stuff flies out the window when you're dealing with little ones.

we could probably also talk about the pay that some teachers make. in the city i live in, but do not work in, starting pay is around 32k a year... not much considering the amount of work teachers do or what you can make working in your field.
 

StatGuy2000

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I sometimes wonder whether elementary (and even secondary) schools as have developed in Western countries, specifically in Canada and the US, are capable of properly educating students in math and science, except in its most basic forms.

In Japan (and I suspect in other Asian countries), students have often took additional classes in juku, essentially an organized tutoring session, in specific courses so that students can pass entrance exams. I wonder if a more organized tutoring schools focused on math and science for students may be needed.

On a separate but related note, I also wonder whether a culture that emphasizes and values education may not be more likely to produce students who are generally more knowledgeable in all subject areas, including math and science. I have always had the feeling that the culture of North America (i.e. Canada & the US -- don't know enough about Mexico or the Central American countries) overall doesn't value education or intellectual achievements among elementary or secondary students more generally.
 

Wrichik Basu

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In Japan (and I suspect in other Asian countries), students have often took additional classes in juku, essentially an organized tutoring session, in specific courses so that students can pass entrance exams. I wonder if a more organized tutoring schools focused on math and science for students may be needed.
Preparation for entrance exams generally start in high schools, but some students in my country start at middle schools itself. Talking more about coaching institutes will divert this thread, which I don't want. But if there are no such coaching institutes in the West, be happy, and pray that something similar never crops up.
 
In my own country I can suggest the follow thoughts.

1. Raising the bar for teachers
Entrance requirements for teacher's colleges should include *actual teaching experience* - camp counselling, coaching, babysitting, mentoring, being a lab assistant or teaching assistant, outreach volunteer, verifiable private tutoring etc. could be things that satisfy this requirement.

2. Changing the credentialing process
A four year degree plus two years of teacher's college is what stands. Instead of this I would argue in favor of a different credential - a five year long bachelor of education degree. Students apply at the end of their second year and over five years graduate with the legal credential to teach in public institutions. They do not take summer breaks after a third year and work in positions that emphasis interpersonal skills and public service for which they are given credit toward their degree. Core requirements for a four year major are completed in addition to an appropriate minor(s). Students are excused from elective requirements to take education specific courses ranging from classroom management to lesson planning to special needs instruction to curriculum studies. For upper year teachers the major reflects a "suite" of teachable subjects (e.g. a specialist in physical sciences is qualified to teach math/physics/chem, a specialist in a natural sciences bio/chem/psychology, a specialist in humanities is qualified to teach language arts/social studies/history, or something to this effect).

3. Emphasized social skills and social intelligence
Teaching is highly vulnerable to burnout. Many new teachers (and especially those with little teaching/public service experience) completely and absolutely burn-out by the end of 2-5 years doing it. Teaching is tough. Even if you don't do it sincerely. Teacher colleges should screen for cognitive and social skill sets that can survive long-term in the ecosystem of education. The "Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills" test that some medical schools use comes to mind here. Personal interviews could also be used to help account for these non-academic skills.

4. Raising the bar for institutions
Currently in Canada there is a glut of people who graduate with B.Ed degrees and basically get stuck in perpetual substitute work or between temporary positions. Teacher colleges should be held accountable not only to how many qualified teacher's they graduate, but also how many teachers of each subject they graduate.

But it also occurs to me that the OP might have been asking about how to specifically bring more and better science into younger kids, and here I go thinking how would I rebuild the education system itself to just make better teachers. #facepalm
 

rsk

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I suppose this might vary between countries and on t'other side side of the Atlantic, between states.

As a high school teacher, I prefer children to arrive in high school with basic skills and curiosity, rather than with 'knowledge'.

I want them to have done simple investigations so that they understand the principles of fair testing and the concepts of independent, dependent and control variables, even if they don't refer to them by those names.

I want them to be able to draw a basic graph, in particular the scales on the axes.

I want them to ask "why?" when they see something interesting or something which excites them. There's an increasing tendency for children to come talking about non-Newtonian solids and elephants' toothpaste but without any understanding or even curiosity about what they've seen. There's a lot of "you-tube science"out there which seems to encourage more "wow" than "why". You-tube and similar can be great for sparking interest, but if it's more about the show than the science, then it can be counter-productive, I'm afraid.

If they've done science 'projects' at primary level, I want them NOT to have learned that a project is nothing more than a collection of pictures and text found on the internet. I want them to have formed the habit of thinking as well as looking at pictures. That a project should mean learning something new, not just presenting what they think they already know.

But I certainly don't want them arriving to high school having had the love of science battered out of them by too much unnecessary homework and too much assessment.
 

mathwonk

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I was going to say, the "3 R's", which to me means "reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic", but then I remembered that some kids i know benefited even more from learning to interact respectfully with others from some wonderful teachers. (they already had the intellectual side of things under control.)
 

symbolipoint

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I was going to say, the "3 R's", which to me means "reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic", but then I remembered that some kids i know benefited even more from learning to interact respectfully with others from some wonderful teachers. (they already had the intellectual side of things under control.)
3 R's: Reading, wRiting, aRithmetic

Just a special way of relating to the terminology

But I am not arguing against what you said nor meant.
 

gleem

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I want them to ask "why?" when they see something interesting or something which excites them. There's an increasing tendency for children to come talking about non-Newtonian solids and elephants' toothpaste but without any understanding or even curiosity about what they've seen. There's a lot of "you-tube science"out there which seems to encourage more "wow" than "why". You-tube and similar can be great for sparking interest, but if it's more about the show than the science, then it can be counter-productive, I'm afraid.
This may well help to explain why there is such a high drop out rate for SMET students in college. When you get down to the nitty gritty of preparing yourself for a career in these fields you find that the why precedes the wow with a lot of work in between.
 

Tom.G

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Here is an article addressing primary school "teaching." I've only done rare and rudimentary teaching but have learned the same lesson that the article brings up.

 

SamRoss

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Speaking as a middle school math teacher, please make sure at the very least that your elementary school students know their times tables. They should also be completely fluent with fractions and be able to decide when to use each operation when doing a word problem. "Drilling" has become a dirty word. It shouldn't be. Basic skills are just as important as so-called "higher-order thinking" skills. Skipping over the former in order to get to the latter is completely backwards. It is one of the most insane practices I see in American education today.

However, I believe the most insane thing in education is the culture of reinventing the wheel. Teachers basically start from scratch when it comes to writing lesson plans and coming up with fun activities (even drills can be turned into games) rather than collaborating with those around them. Granted, this differs from school to school, but if you're working at a school with little collaboration, try getting all the math teachers together at least once a week to collaboratively work on lesson plans. You might have a great way of teaching one topic while someone else has a great way of teaching another. After one or two years, every teacher will be teaching every topic in the best possible way. That would go a long way toward preparing kids!

To sum up...
(1) Focus on the basics
(2) Collaborate
 
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3 R's: Reading, wRiting, aRithmetic

Just a special way of relating to the terminology

But I am not arguing against what you said nor meant.
Readin', 'ritin', 'rithmetic. Would be a decent place to start.

What was academic life like, back-in-the-day3 ? What are the dividing factors between pre-school, primary, secondary and... tertiary ?
Given the ubiquity of camera-phones and xpads, homework could include a graded "cleaning one's room", "doing the dishes", "taking out the garbage", et cetera.
 

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