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Nancy Karpyk


"Children have a natural curiosity about their surroundings," says Nancy Karpyk. "They are fascinated with animals, snow, rainbows, rockets, and even eggs. I realized early in my career that science is like magic. Children are as eager to participate in science demonstrations and labs as they are to be a part of a magician's show."

Science also creates a positive classroom climate, reports the kindergarten teacher from Weirton (West Virginia) Heights School. Her students are anxious to come to school and check on the fish in their aquarium, plants in the window garden, caterpillars in a jar, and potato hidden from light. They love to read non-fiction books, search the Internet for information, and ask questions.

Nancy Karpyk uses science demonstrations and units to capture the attention of her lively kindergartners.Photos courtesy of Nancy Karpyk..

Karpyk's students are so involved in science topics that there is little time for daydreaming. She correlates her science themes -- which set the framework for much of her curricular activities -- to the children's environment. In the fall, they study leaves and pumpkins. In winter, they wonder about snow, penguins, and bears. Spring brings rain, rainbows, and recycling.

"Once students are engaged, it is easy to teach data collection, sorting, graphing, and inquiry. It is surprising how kindergarten students begin to understand and use problem-solving skills," shared Karpyk. "Stations are organized around the science themes. Science gives students something real to write about in their journals."

Art projects and other activities in Karpyk's class always reflect the current science focus. Students especially enjoy working with her husband's chemistry students. The high schoolers visit the classroom and help kindergartners make slime, Silly Putty, Shrinky Dinks, and ice cream.

Karypyk realizes that primary teachers rarely have a science budget, so all her demonstrations and activities feature inexpensive household items. She encourages other educators to use science demonstrations to grab students' attention and is working on a book for teachers in grades K-2. The key is to start with a unit that appeals to you, she advises. You never can know how or when a student might be affected by what you teach. For example, Karpyk recently learned that one of her kindergarten science units came in handy during a true emergency.

"The mother of a former student told me that her daughter was jogging and was attacked by a large dog. When she was attacked, she dropped to the ground, rolled into a ball, and protected her neck and face with her arms and hands," Karpyk reported. "The emergency room doctor asked Julie how she knew what to do. She replied that she remembered when I had taught the class about bears and bear attacks. We had also discussed that this would help in the event of a dog attack. The emergency room doctor told Julie that her teacher had saved her life."

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Article by Cara Bafile
Education World®
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