Side-by-Side Teaching: Learning to Teach Elementary Science in Authentic Classroom Settings

Stephen Thompson, Professor, University of South Carolina,
Stacey Franklin, Principal, Killian Elementary School,
Nancy Diggs, Clinical Adjunct, Killian Elementary School,

A small group of elementary students discussed how condensation formed on a bottle of sports drink. “It must have rained on the bottle,” declared one 3rd grader.

Another responded, “It can’t be rain. It didn’t rain before we found the water on the bottle.”

A third chimed in, “I think it’s like sweat. The water came out of the bottle when it got hot.”

As the group of Killian Elementary School (Killian) students discussed their ideas about the mystery water a University of South Carolina (USC) science methods student (teacher candidate) asked probing questions to clarify student thinking and make all ideas public. Similar small group interactions led by USC teacher candidates were occurring around the classroom. As the small group conversations occurred, the classroom teacher and university methods instructor (professor) observed, engaged in coaching, and made notes for a whole group discussion between teacher candidates, the classroom teacher, and the professor that would follow.

This vignette portrays typical interactions that occur during USC elementary science methods coursework held at Killian. The methods course is a key component of our collaborative professional development efforts centered on four science-teaching practices (Windschitl, Thompson, & Braaten, 2018):

– Planning for engagement with important science ideas,
– Eliciting students’ ideas,
– Supporting on-going changes in student thinking, and
– Pressing students for evidence-based solutions.

To support enactment of these practices the professor meets regularly with Killian teachers to collaboratively plan science curricula. The groups explore and discuss professional resources, observe and critique lesson enactments, co-teach, and engage in content building experiences. This work has resulted in the development of multiple instructional units that utilize local resources to support science instruction. Examples include opportunities for 3rd graders to conduct water quality monitoring with Park Rangers from the National Park Service and collaborations with the Richland County Soil and Water Conservation District Agents centered on watershed education.

During collaborative planning the professor negotiates opportunities for teacher candidates to experience aspects of targeted science teaching practices with elementary students. This allows teacher candidates to assume various roles and practice strategies they learn in the science methods course with elementary children in classroom settings. The practice serves as an important form of “rehearsal”/scaffold for the teacher candidates. In addition, the methods course enactments provide support for science instruction at Killian by modeling how to engage elementary students with important science ideas. Teachers develop new knowledge and strategies they are able to share with other Killian teachers.

The outcomes have been positive. For example, standardized science test results reveal that Killian students’ acheivement in science is trending upwards and in 2017-2018 students’ performance in science exceeded expectations and goals established by the school and district. Other positive outcomes of this work include enhanced participation by school-based faculty in professional organizations. For example, enhanced numbers of Killian teachers, interns, and administrators have taken part in recent presentations at National Association of Professional Development School conferences centered on this work.


Windschitl, M., Thompson, J., and Braaten, M., (2018). Ambitious Science Teaching, Harvard Educational Press, Cambridge, MA.