From the Voices of Kindergarten Teachers: Factors That Impact Decisions about When to Engage the Natural Curiosities of Their Students in Science

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Hamilton, Frances
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Middle Tennessee State University
Students enter kindergarten as natural-born scientists, curious about the world around them. They enter middle school disliking science. Although implementing science in kindergarten has the potential to improve learning in other subjects in addition to science, it is not taught much in kindergarten. There are many reasons for this according to the literature. The purpose of the study is to gain insight into teachers’ thinking as they decide when and how to engage their students in science, to better understand why student enjoyment of science fades in early grades; to contribute teachers’ voices to the existing literature on teaching science in the early grades; and to investigate how teachers’ science teaching methods align with current research regarding how students learn best.
The key research question is “What are the factors that impact teachers’ decisions about when to engage the natural curiosities of their students?” Broken down, the supporting research questions include: 1. What factors impact teacher decisions about when to teach science? 2. Under what conditions do teachers engage students’ natural curiosities in science? 3. How do teachers describe engagement in their classrooms? This was a participatory action research study that used autoethnography, case studies, and grounded theory methods. Five co-researchers took part in the process. Purposeful sampling was used to select a range of kindergarten teachers in Tennessee and Alabama with different perspectives on teaching sciencesome from county systems and some from city systems; some using Alabama Math, Science, and Technology Initiative (AMSTI) kits and some not using kits. Co-researchers were selected during initial meetings, interviewed, collected journal entry data, and interviewed again at the culmination of the study. Interviews were transcribed and coded. Analysis included individual cases, each co-researcher, as well as across-case analysis. Results indicated that co-researchers did not have time to teach science many days due to requirements for teaching reading and math, and because of benchmark testing. Recommendations include integrating science concepts including hands-on explorations with reading and math. Ideas for future study include collecting data for a full year, as opposed to eight weeks, to see how factors change from beginning to end in one school year. The idea of learning during spontaneous interactions emerged from interviews with two co-researchers. Exploring spontaneous interactions is another area for future study.
Curiosity, Engagement, Kindergarten, Reading, Science, Teacher voices