As science teachers, our duties go beyond teaching scientific concepts. We have to engage students with science, encourage critical thinking, and promote an inquiry mindset in our students.
Here are ten tips to help you engage your class with science.
1. Take your students outside.
Taking your students on a walk outdoors or engaging them in an investigation in the school garden are very effective ways to increase students’ interest in science. School gardens and parks are very rich places for science investigations. They are functional ecosystems where you can see and experience hands-on biological, chemical, and geological processes.
Contact with nature has various benefits for students, research shows. They are more motivated to learn when content is connected to nature, and they learn to communicate with their peers and gain cooperation skills. Contact with nature improves students’ academic achievements as well as their behavior.
Moreover, outdoors activities in the school garden or in a close park have little to no costs to the schools, as opposed to visits to science museums or botanical gardens that are costly and difficult to organize.
You can arrange as many field trips to the school garden as you want in a school year because they mean nothing more than telling your students to grab a notebook, grab a pencil, and head to the garden.
2. Make time for science.
Setting time for science inquiry is key to a successful science education, as the students need time to analyze, apply, and reconfigure their investigations, just like scientists do.
A recent report from the US National Center on Time & Learning states the importance of increasing the number of hour per week of science investigations in schools, stating that “Students must learn not just scientific content, but also about scientific process.”
When planning your weekly activities set some time aside, at least twice a week, to conduct science investigations with your class. If possible develop ongoing activities over a few sessions to keep students attendance and engagement.
3. Tools, tools, tools!
Science tools are very important in scientific investigations. Laboratory and field equipment help scientists observe, collect, measure, and gather data during an investigation, and these are crucial steps to ensure the success of their work.
To understand how scientist works, students have to learn to know and use the proper tools in their investigations. Furthermore, using science tools helps keep students focused and involved in what they’re investigating by making them feel like real scientists.
You can start by having a lesson about science equipment, introducing the class to the basic tools. Then, with the help of the classroom, assemble a science classroom kit that includes the tools the class will use most throughout the year.
4. Connect with their everyday life.
How many times have you heard one of your students say “I’m never gonna need to use this knowledge.”? Many times, I am sure.
Students often feel that the subjects approached in science classes are disconnected from real life and have no interest outside the walls of the laboratory. Showing them the existing connections between science and our everyday lives is an effective way to increase students’ interests for it.
When exploring a scientific concept or conducting a science investigation, try to connect it with a everyday event. Encourage your students to think about the uses of science in their everyday lives. Ask them a question: What are cellphones made of? What’s in your toothpaste? How would our lives be like without scientists?
5. Teach them what they want to know.
Children are inquisitive by nature. Sometimes in order to engage them with science you just have to make use of that inquisitiveness.
Students are more likely to get engaged in an activity if they find it interesting, so find out what interests them.
When choosing an activity for the class, ask for their opinion. Have your students develop questions they want to know the answer to, or pre-prepare two or three activities/subjects to explore in class, and allow them to pick the one they find more interesting. Letting them pick will help keep them focused through the entire task and makes them feel like their opinion matters.
6. Use science notebooks.
Science notebooks are great tools in science education. Keeping a science notebook helps students learn to record and analyze data and improves their writing, organizational, and communication skills. They work as personalized learning tools that follow students throughout the year, helping them keep track of their progress.
Science notebooks are an effective way to get students more involved in science. By keeping track of their work throughout the year, students’ sense of accomplishment grows, as well as their confidence in science learning. Besides, they represent a unique way for teachers to keep track of the students’ progress in the classroom.
7. Use proper vocabulary.
Many teachers, when talking science in their classes, avoid using scientific terms. They feel complex words and concepts will overwhelm the students. However, research suggests the existence of a link between the use of technical vocabulary and the ability for students to comprehend new information. Students need to gain a knowledge of science content and develop a science mindset, and knowing the proper vocabulary is vital in doing so.
While conducting science investigations, always try to use the proper scientific terms; this will model scientific thinking in your students.
8. Give them time to debate.
Debate is a very important part of the scientific process. By talking to their colleagues about their investigations, observations, ideas, students can better process, make sense, and learn from them. Debating can enhance their communications skills, as well as their critical thinking skills. It will also lead to new investigations, as they realize that by answering a question, a new one appears. It is also a great formative assessment tool. By encouraging students to talk about their investigations, teachers allow ideas to surface, helping them assess their students’ understanding.
Every time you develop a science activity, set some time aside for debate, preferably both at the beginning and at the end of the activity. Encourage your students to share their thoughts about the investigation and advocate for their point of view.
9. Make it simple!
Most students see science as a very difficult thing that only really smart people can comprehend. This is the reason why so many students stay away from science. They feel they are not smart enough to become scientists or even to understand science.
This happens, partially, because of the way science is taught in most of our schools. Science isn’t about memorizing concepts; science is an ongoing and unfinished process of discovery of the world. Science teachers need to be able to transmit this to the students in order to motivate them to science.
Design simple investigations with your class, adjust them to the level of knowledge of your students, and build up from there. Address one subject at a time. There is no point in teaching an entire chapter of the textbook in one session if the students forget everything the next day. Once they master that subject, you can move on to the next.
10. Make it fun!
Students have a tendency to see science as a humorless and impersonal activity developed in a cold laboratory by boring people in a white coat. Science is much more that this. Science is about understanding nature and making sense of the world.
Showing your students the fun side of science is easier that you think, it just takes a little imagination. You can turn an investigation into a competition between the classmates, or maybe, create a fun character to help you explain the more complex concepts.
Creative Commons Love: ScienceWorldCA on Flickr.comWritten by Catarina Loureiro