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Want to Create a BetterLesson? Just Ask!

December 3, 2015

Welcome back to our MT Guest Blog!

Today, elementary science teacher, Linda Berger describes how she leverages professional scientific organizations to create authentic learning opportunities for her students. Enjoy!


When my son was five and my daughter was just born, the three of us used to get together to watch the TV show Zoboomafoo every afternoon. The animal-centric themes were a great jumping off point about science. He loved learning it and I loved learning with him.

The over-arching character in this series was a lemur named Zaboo. One day, my son turned and asked me what lemurs like to eat. I said “I don’t know; let’s look it up.” When we didn’t find any definitive answer (being a teacher, I need definitive!), we looked up a zoological society and sent them an e-mail. The next day, my son got his answer.*

That early experience introduced me to the idea of using professional organizations to get information to use by and for our students. I learned that these organizations are credible, well researched, and often thrilled to help a teacher! Academics is their life, so when they get an opportunity to see their work put into action by excited six year olds, how cool is that?

Recently, I again used this early experience when I wrote a BetterLesson on tree shapes. As I mapped out the lesson, I dug a little deeper and found out the people who study the science of trees (as opposed to the care or maintenance) were called dendrologists. Anticipating my students’ curiosity, I wanted to find out more so I’d be able to explain to them why certain trees were a specific shapes. I went right to the source, The International Dendrological Research Institute.

I received a well crafted answer back from a scientist, Zsolt Debreczy who was excited to have been asked. He loved hearing from a teacher who wanted to take a what-could-be-complicated-lesson and present it accurately in order to spark further inquiry. It was a win-win for both of us. Additionally, I was able to share this inquiry experience with my class to show them both sides; we all have things to learn and an opportunity to share these things with others.

Asking and answering questions is a huge part of NGSS and CCSS, so the more students see us doing it, the greater their comfort level will be to practice this crucial skill with classmates, family, and the greater community. Students are naturally curious and it’s often adults who quash that for the sake of expediency (“Must. Complete. Lesson. Today!”).

There’s much we can do to encourage early, independent inquiry, and it does so much to support their future. That’s how to enhance a BetterLesson in your classroom. Our lessons are meant to give you a self-contained package that will help you and your students learn more about a specific subject. At the end of the day though, the beauty of them is that they’re not static. Make them your own by reaching out to researchers and specialists to deepen your knowledge. By doing this, we can show everyone — students, parents, and colleagues — that our learning can be enhanced when we model curiosity and reach out. Just ask!

*For the record, lemurs like mangos and garbanzo beans.


Linda Berger is a Kindergarten teacher at Manuel De Vargas Elementary in San Jose, California. She holds a Master’s in Special Education – Autism Spectrum Disorders, and was a member of the BetterLesson Science Master Teacher Project. To see all of Linda’s Kindergarten science lessons, please click here.

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