Topics: High-Quality Curriculum Getting Started - PhD Science PhD Science

Getting All Students to Do Science

Genie Albina

by Genie Albina

January 6, 2023
Getting All Students to Do Science

every child is capable of greatness.

Posted in: Aha! Blog > PhD Science > High-Quality Curriculum Getting Started - PhD Science PhD Science > Getting All Students to Do Science

When I was in the classroom, I simply loved teaching science. I loved the curiosity, hands-on investigations, and collaborative spirit that were sparked by science. But my love for science instruction didn’t always lead to a love of science class in my students.

The reality is that not every child sees themself as a science student. Some students perceive science as not being for them. This internalized belief could come from social messages about science being “hard” or from their own experience as students in a science classroom that was less than fully engaging. Whatever the source, it is essential that we as educators find a way to reach all students and equip them with the knowledge and skills about the natural world that they will need to pursue science at a high level in school and, if they choose, in the workforce.


At Great Minds®, the PhD Science® team strives to help all students—even those who don’t see themselves as science students—achieve greatness in the science classroom. To this end, our curriculum developers and teacher–writers intentionally include activities ranging from engagement with fine art and multimedia connections to readings of award-winning trade books to the study of authentic, real-world phenomena in each module. These activities provide different access points to the science content and practices. 

When we approach science content from multiple angles, we invite more students into the conversation and get them engaged in doing the science work they may have previously convinced themselves wasn’t for them.

Fine Art

Fine art provides a unique lens through which students can explore science content. In a PhD Science classroom, students engage with paintings, sculptures, dances, indigenous art, and more. These pieces offer a view into the relationship between art and science as disciplines. 

Additionally, when we introduce art into science class, we may find that some reluctant students are more likely to speak up and share their thoughts and ideas. This additional access point to science invites more voices into the conversation, making for a richer and more inclusive science classroom. With its intentional inclusion of fine art, Great Minds received a STEAM Excellence Award in 2021.

Under the Wave off Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai

  • In Level 3 Module 1: Weather and Climate, students observe Under the Wave off Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai and then share their observations of the painting with their peers. After discussing initial observations, students connect the painting to their study of severe weather and weather hazards.
  • In Level 2 Module 3: Plants, students share what they notice and wonder about Tiger Lilies and Butterfly by Ohara Koson. They examine the print while considering their knowledge of plant and animal interactions to deepen their understanding of pollination.
  • In Level 1 Module 4: Sky, students observe a photograph of the Moai statue on the Polynesian island, Easter Island. After sharing what they notice and wonder about the statue, students compare how Polynesians may use the statues and stars for navigation.
  • In Level K Module 1: Weather, students observe photographs of the interior and exterior of Casa Bastlló and determine if it is a shelter. Students then discuss how some shelters can serve purposes beyond keeping people safe and comfortable and learn that Casa Bastlló was also designed as a work of art and a museum.

Trade Books

We created PhD Science knowing that cross-content connections are a great way to engage as many students as possible. When we reach across disciplines and incorporate content and skills from academic areas beyond science, we can engage more students. One way we do this is by using authentic trade books. We highlight at least one core text in every module to help students build meaningful content knowledge and to draw students in through the power of literature. 

Almost all the texts we use in PhD Science are available in both Spanish and English, allowing teachers who instruct in Spanish to engage their students in Spanish language arts work during science class.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Brian Mealer

  • In Level 4 Module 2: Energy, students study The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Brian Mealer as they strive to answer the Essential Question: How do windmills change wind to light?
  • In Level 4 Module 1: Earth Features, students explore Grand Canyon by Jason Chin to help answer the Essential Question: How did the Grand Canyon’s features form? 
  • In Level 1 Module 2: Light, students read Blackout by John Rocco as they consider how light affects the visibility of objects.
  • In Level 1 Module 1: Survival, students read Over and Under the Pond by Kate Messner to help build knowledge as they investigate the Essential Question: How do pond plants and pond animals survive in their environment?

Multimedia Connections

Videos that support meaningful knowledge development are also incorporated into PhD Science and provide yet another opportunity to engage those students who might otherwise be apprehensive about science. 

  • In Level 3 Module 4: Forces and Motion, students watch videos of the US national women’s soccer team, including a goal by Crystal Dunn (1:32), as they consider how soccer on board the International Space Station differs from soccer on Earth. This helps them develop their thinking around the Essential Question: Why do objects move differently in space than they do on Earth?
  • In Level 1 Module 3: Sound, students listen to part of “The Charleston,” composed by James P. Johnson in 1923, to explain how people can use instruments to communicate. Throughout the modules, students explore to address the Essential Question: How does the Recycled Orchestra make music?
  • In Level K Module 1: Weather, "Talking to Your Kids about Blizzards" from The Weather Channel is one video that teachers may show students if blizzards are common where they live. Teachers may choose instead to use videos about tornadoes, hurricanes, or thunderstorms to bring the learning closer to home. In this module, students seek to answer the Essential Question: How did the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde protect people from the weather?

Authentic Phenomena

Another distinguishing characteristic of PhD Science is our thoughtful use of authentic, real-world anchor and supporting phenomena in science instruction. For those students who love to learn about events and locations around the world and throughout history, these phenomena are a wonderfully effective way to hook their interest and widen the lens of their curiosity. 

  • In Level 5 Module 3: Earth Systems, students anchor their learning in the history and science of Balinese rice farming, an indigenous farming practice that has endured for 1,000 years.
  • In Level 1 Module 2: Light, the anchor phenomenon is Wayang shadow puppetry, both an ancient and contemporary art form that originated in Indonesia.

Related Phenomena

When students can connect the learning they do in science class to their lived experiences, they transfer their knowledge and likely having fun making those connection. For example, a Level 4 student learning about energy through the anchor phenomenon of windmills at work may spot a wind farm on the drive to school or during a road trip with the family and make a home–school connection. And a student studying sound in Level 1 may make connections to family members at home who play musical instruments. These examples are related, student-generated phenomena examples and connect back to the module anchor phenomenon but may not always be explored directly in the module.

Related phenomena are another entry point to science content and practices for students. These phenomena are real-world examples that students see or experience in their own lives that relate to the phenomena being studied in science class.

When teachers create space for students to tell their classmates about these phenomena, students get to share their knowledge and connect in a meaningful way to the anchor phenomenon and science concepts.

Teacher's Edition Cover of Level 5 Module 3

  • In Level 5 Module 3, teachers may find that few students are familiar with Balinese rice farming, but many students will have background knowledge about other types of farming or even gardening. Students may know about corn, wheat, or other crops, and they may have seen complex irrigation systems on larger farms or used watering cans or sprinklers on plants at home. Students also may be able to make connections to farming and water use through some prior knowledge about dams, water treatment facilities, or wells. Using related phenomena during instruction creates space for student to make additional connections to the anchor phenomenon and other concepts in the module.

Teacher's Edition Cover of Level 1 Module 2

  • Level 1 Module 2 may be students’ first exposure to Wayang shadow puppetry, but students may have experience using their hands to make shadow puppets or observing their shadows on a sunny day at recess. With this prior knowledge of a relationship between light and shadows, students are already on their way to making sense of the anchor phenomenon through their own lived experience.

As you can see, our PhD Science team is passionate about finding a place for every student in science class. Not every child has aspirations of earning an advanced degree in science or working in the sciences as an adult. However, every student can harness their natural curiosity about the world and—through engagement with art, literature, and real-world phenomena—bring their unique voice to the PhD Science classroom.

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Topics: High-Quality Curriculum Getting Started - PhD Science PhD Science