“I’ve always imagined myself to be the Bill Nye of Lower School Science,” said Alex Thaler, lower school science teacher at Krieger Schechter Day School (KSDS). “I want to be the kind of science teacher I wish I had. A teacher who says ‘that’s a great question,’ gives the students the tools and says ‘let’s figure it out together.’”
For the last six years, Mr. Thaler has been guiding young scientists at KSDS through experiential and inquiry-based learning. Kindergartners through fourth graders would visit his science classroom to design electrical circuits, experiment with chemical reactions, and explore the impact of pollution on the environment..
Then COVID hit and Mr. Thaler had to quickly adapt his lessons for individual and virtual learning. He had to design a hybrid curriculum that works both in a socially-distanced classroom space and at home. Not being able to have students work collaboratively in small groups and ‘get their hands’ messy in shared materials has been a challenge — but Mr. Thaler has overcome it by applying the scientific method and asking for a little help from students’ parents.
“My whole philosophy as a science teacher has been to do as many hands-on things as possible,” said Mr. Thaler. “But with COVID, I’ve really had to look critically at my curriculum and take away things that aren’t really important. The curriculum is much more focused.”
When it comes to science instruction, there has been a lot of hypothesizing, testing out those theories, and refining them. It’s been as much of a learning experience for Mr. Thaler as the students.
For example, every year KSDS fourth graders dive headfirst into forensic science. They learn about crime scenes and how they are investigated. But because of health regulations, students couldn’t immerse themselves in a classroom crime scene. The essential question? How to teach forensics to kids in this new environment. Mr. Thaler engaged students by teaching them how to fingerprint themselves using graphite pencils and scotch tape at home. He even demonstrated how to concoct fake blood so that students (and parents) could recreate the experiment after class in their own kitchens. Students shared their fingerprints via photos and Mr. Thaler created a “whodunnit” activity where students compared their classmate’s fingerprints to determine who committed a crime.
One student even fingerprinted every member of his family.
How else has socially-distanced science gone hands-on for little learners at KSDS? Kindergarteners have gone on leaf explorations around their houses. Second graders have made dancing colors with milk and food coloring in their kitchens. Third graders have collaboratively examined physical properties of rocks via interactive video.
Students experiencing the magic of science at home with their families is something that has heartened Mr. Thaler. Recently, first graders have been learning about the ocean and seashore. Mr. Thaler simulated how a tsunami affects a shore using a water tank, sand, lego bricks for houses, and water. Of course, kids wanted to replicate this home but not many had all of the supplies readily available. So Mr Thaler offered another version of the experiment: bathtub tsunamis. He challenged students to fill their bathtub with water and place all of their floaty toys on one side of the tub. Then they had to make a wave and see how that affected the toys.
“It’s ok to make a mess in the bathroom when it’s for school,” said Mr. Thaler, with a laugh. “I told the kids to just say ‘Mom, it’s for science!’”
Editor’s Note: This article is part of our School Spotlight Series. In this series, we spotlight our partner schools to give you a glimpse into what learning looks like on their campus. To learn more about Krieger Schechter Day School, visit their directory listing in our Independent School Directory. Images were provided by the school. Want to become a school partner? Email us.