Life Science

The Science Life of a Split Grade Level Teacher by Courtney Blaylock

My name is Courtney, and I currently teach fifth and sixth grade self-contained. On a daily bases it is a struggle to teach their science curriculum let alone keep their attention. Last year I taught second grade self contained and enjoyed each and every topic we covered. Life science has been much harder to teach due to the in-depth lessons and standards that must be covered. The content knowledge on plant and animal cells sends my mind for a loop. How can I incorporate better learning tools for my students to understand the basic and in-depth foundations of cells?
Until the past couple of weeks I had not heard of 5E model instructions. I feel this is exactly what I need to help streamline the process of planning and implementing a student-led inquiry-based learning method for my students. However, being new to the game how does one model a 5E lesson plan for each topic covered when teaching a split grade level? Time? Curriculum to cover, etc.? Any suggestions?

Courtney Blaylock
Courtney Blaylock
1445 Activity Points

Courtney, that is tough to have two grade levels self- contained. My best advice would be to set up science stations around the room. Teach 3 or 4 students the process of working in the stations and have a rotation list at each station along with science journal requirements for reflection You'll need to plan this out in advance, and you might want to have different colored journals to denote the two grade levels. Use for 5E lesson plans and resources. I would print out the standards for your state for 5th and 6th grades to see where they might overlap. Even if the scope and sequence has the science strands in a different order, I would teach physical science to both grades at the same time. I also dare to say that I would teach more towards the 6th grade standards even to the 5th graders as long as you do not leave out any essential standards for 5th. At this time of the year, you know which students are your stronger students. Empower them to co-teach lessons with you when you feel that they truly know the content and can share what they know with others. Make sure that you are having them teach review content and that you check for understanding. If this does not fit for you, use it as a way to think of other solutions. I hope someone here has a similar set up and can help you with methods that worked for them.

Pamela Dupre
Pamela Dupre
92289 Activity Points

Split classes can be very challenging, particularly if they have drastically different curricula. However, I believe you can manage better if your lessons use a three-dimensional approach. Instead of content topics you can structure your 5E lessons (Engage-Explore-Explain-Elaborate-Evaluate) around a cross-cutting theme, a core idea or a scientific practice common to all science curricula. What would differ in your class is what the students will “Explore” in relation to the common theme, idea or practice. I believe that the core ideas in each subject area would be the easiest to focus on but it would be powerful to wrap a lesson around a science practice like engaging in arguments based on evidence.

Have the students from both grades share what they learned and ask questions that have arisen as a result of their explorations. This flows nicely to the “Explanation” and “Elaboration” stages of a 5E lesson. Consider pairing students from the two grades and incorporating some peer teaching and evaluation.

Your formative and summative evaluations can be structured around their understanding of the themes, core ideas and practices by applying the knowledge of the topics that were used in the lesson. You might be able to create tests that ask the same questions but would have slightly different answers depending on the exploration used in each grade level.

Please visit NSTA’s NGSS Hub ( for ideas, lessons and workshops.

Hope this helps!

Gabe Kraljevic
Gabe Kraljevic
4079 Activity Points

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