I have participated in the American Physiological Society’s (APS) Physiology Understanding Week (PhUn Week) for eight years now. Each year I have visited pre-school, kindergarten, or first grade classrooms. I have been teaching at the college level for over 20 years and I do not have children of my own. Therefore, adapting to teaching children has been a challenge. The first thing I learned (the hard way, as usual) is that I need to be very careful with the words I choose. I stood there talking about “increases” and “decreases” assuming they were basic words. The teacher pulled me aside and suggested I switch to the terms “goes up” and “goes down”. I had no idea! Once I realized how much I was unable to judge the best words to use, I began sending a script to the teacher in advance for feedback. I have also learned that elementary school lessons often very structured. College instructors create course objectives and structure their courses to meet and assess them, but it is rare that we create highly structured lesson plans for each topic. One teacher introduced me to a simple way to structure my PhUn Week activities and it has helped me significantly. The components in the table below form a simple recipe for a successful lesson with young children. I usually have four different lessons that last about 12 minutes each and I have found this structure to work very well. Component Description Hook/Motivation/Engage Tell a story, show a video clip, show pictures, etc. Big Idea State what they are going to learn. “Today we are going to learn about …”. Teach Teach them what you want them to learn. Don’t ask, tell. Model Show them the activity they are about to do. Guided Practice/Check for Understanding Make sure they know what they are going to do. Independent Practice Students participate in the activity. Closure/Review Ask them to tell you what they learned. Hook/Motivation/Engage A big difference I have found between college and elementary school students is that the children have a lot of energy, and therefore it is important to find a way to reel them in. However, they are also very curious, so it is not hard to engage them with the right “hook”. Big Idea As I mentioned above, these children and very curious and I have found them to be very anxious to learn. I often wish more of my college students had this incredible drive to learn! It is important to be clear about what they are about to learn and state the “big idea” that will come out of the lesson. Teach In college, instructors often start by asking questions. I have found that when I ask children questions, almost all of them raise their hands and want to answer. I have also found that many of them do not have the right answer; they simply like to be called upon. Wow, what a contrast to college students who often have the right answer but still do not raise their hands! To ensure a smooth and efficient lesson, it is best to first teach them what you want them to learn. It helps to have the children repeat terminology and other information back to you, as they tend to enjoy that, it helps them learn, and makes the teaching more interactive. Model You do not want to spend too much time talking and teaching or you will lose the students’ attention. This is one thing elementary and college students have in common, but I have found that children have an even shorter attention span. It is important to get to the fun stuff, which includes actually seeing and doing something to engage their curiosity and facilitate learning. With the children though, it is particularly important to first model what they are going to do to ensure they understand the activity. Guided Practice/Check for Understanding Once you have modeled the activity, it is time to let them try it out on their own. However, you do not want to let them go completely on their own right away. It is important to have a transition period when you check that they understand what they are supposed to do. You can explicitly ask them, “now what are you going to do”? You can also have one or more of the students model for the class as you provide feedback. This will help ensure better success with the activity. Independent Practice Now they are ready to fully engage with the activity as you watch and help, as needed. I am always impressed by how well they do once they have been properly guided prior to the activity. They tend to be very creative and thoughtful and it is fun and rewarding to watch. Closure/Review Now is the ideal time to ask questions. As I stated above, children love to answer questions. At this point, they have the knowledge to answer correctly. This is often my favorite component of the lesson because it is rewarding to see how much they learned. Working with elementary school children has been a learning experience for me. I learned very quickly that you cannot simply “water down” college content and teach it to children. This lesson plan structure has been invaluable to me and the success of my PhUn Week lessons.
Kim Henige received her Ed.D. in Education (emphasis: Science Education) from the University of Southern California and her M.A. in Physical Education (emphasis: Exercise Physiology) from California State University, Northridge (CSUN). Kim is currently a Professor in the Department of Kinesiology at CSUN where she teaches exercise physiology and applied exercise physiology courses. In addition, she directs the CSUN Kinesiology Peer Learning Facilitator program and is the course director for CSUN’s Freshman Seminar. Kim’s scholarship is focused on improving student enjoyment and success through active learning and peer mentoring.