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Know your students: Nature of the student in primary elementary

The purpose of this segment is to help connect what is known about students' cognitive development with what you want them to understand about science concepts and the nature of science. Use this brief description, combined with your knowledge of your students, to guide you in making instructional decisions appropriate for your grade level.

Students in grades K, 1, and 2 range in age from 5 to 8 years. During these years, students develop the ability to approach the world logically for the first time. They move from an inability to complete mental operations through even the simplest abstractions to an increasing ability to utilize abstract reasoning. Primary students are naturally curious about their world and learn best through direct discovery in hands-on experiences with manipulatives that engage the five senses.

The primary focus of a kindergartner is to please the teacher. They may struggle to distinguish between fantasy and reality. Some may explain cause and effect through intuition rather than logic.

First grade students are beginning to approach the world logically. They are in a transitional stage between pre-operational thinking and concrete operations. As this shift occurs, students' abilities to reason, understand cause and effect in the natural world, identify differences, compensate for differences, and reverse an idea through mental activity improve.

Second grade students are active thinkers who begin to organize their internal mental structures in new ways. They can now categorize spontaneously for the first time. They have an increasing ability to utilize abstract reasoning, to interpret observations, and to generate expectations about what will occur in a particular situation. Second graders show increasing interest in the world around them — and thus, science takes on a new meaning for them.


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Text modified from Making Connections: A Guide to Implementing Science Standards © California Science Teachers Association. 1999. All rights reserved.

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