Exemplary Science Teachers: the Art of Teaching Science

I bet if you asked 100 students about their favorite part of science class, you wouldn’t hear about their favorite worksheet, or the lecture on cell structure. However, you might here about the time they took a trip to the planetarium, or when they built a hot air balloon. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to most, but if we take a look inside of our classrooms today, we will still find plenty of lectures and lots of worksheets.

So what does it take to break out of the monotony of our traditional classrooms? I’d argue a little bit of finesse and a drive to learn for yourself. The best way to take your teaching methods from blasé to exemplary is to: contextualize. We are finding more and more how important it is to contextualize science content into the lived experiences of our students. With that, here are some ways we can bring the world around us into the classroom.

1. Take the classroom outside

The easiest way to explore the world around us is to go outside and explore it. Schools are found in every environment, and its often the same environment where your students live. A walk in the woods, or a trip down a city sidewalk can incorporate so many different facets of a science lesson. It can also give your students an opportunity to take a lesson home to their parents, siblings, or friends. Hopefully these kinds of excursions can lead to more meaningful conversations inside the classroom, rather than lectures about the topic.

2. Introduce literature in your science class

I can count on one hand the amount of times I had a science teacher assign readings outside of the textbook to help understand a concept. Now as an adult learner I look to other books to help understand difficult concepts. This can be done with all sorts of literature. Science can be brought to life through the writings of talented authors of any kind: fiction, non-fiction, science fiction, fantasy and more. For more ideas of how this can be done, check out this blog post.

3. Find new teachers

No I’m not talking about losing our jobs, but I am talking about bringing in experts and other educators to help assist instruction in the classroom. Bringing in new faces can provide a new viewpoint for the students to learn from. It also gives you the opportunity to introduce students to other career paths that they may have been unfamiliar with before. Reaching out to people in your local community can help foster relationships between you, the students, and the professionals around you.

4. Use the lab for experimentation, not experiments

While it is important to do certain lab practicals, it is equally important to use labs for the intended purpose. To learn something new! Long gone are the days of elephant toothpaste and baking soda volcanoes. Find out what your students are truly interested in learning and go from there: developing research plans, formulate a hypothesis, conduct experiments, and then infer from those results. Not only will this help solidify scientific concepts, but it will also help students explore science through inquiry as they would outside of the classroom.

5. Have a culturally inclusive classroom

Our classrooms are full of diverse learners, just like the rest of the scientific community. Unfortunately, much of our science curriculum is still leaving out those scientist who have been pushed to the margins. Our students want to see scientist that look like them, they want to feel represented in the science community. It is our job as educators to introduce them to the diverse scientist that have been around, and those that are still working today. A culturally competent science teacher is an exemplary science teacher.

Image result for fun science teacher

I think it’s safe to say we all want to be an exemplary science teacher. We set off on our own educational journey, that takes its own twists and turns, and sometimes we may stray from the path. That doesn’t mean we can’t find our way again. Remembering why we do what we do, and who we do it for, is a great start. The exemplary science teacher is the one who reflects on what they’ve done, and adjusts for the future. An old teacher of mine once told me, “the day I stop reflecting, is the day I stop teaching.”

I’d like to end this with one of my favorite Ted Talks, by one of my favorite educators, with a few more tips to being an exemplary science teacher.

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  1. Great post Aaron! I loved the part where you talked about bringing in other professionals into the classroom. I think this is especially important for Science classes where many children think that the field is dominated by men. By inviting female professionals in the field of Science, it will definitely encourage more female students. Do you have any specific area of professionals you would like to invite to your classroom?

    • I would like to bring in local professionals, maybe government officials who work with the EPA in Cincinnati or local water treatment facilities. Thanks for the question!

  2. Hi Aaron! I love your statement about “contextualizing” science. I think this is extremely important to ensure that our students are truly learning, not just memorizing and subsequently forgetting. Learning in context not only helps with retention, but makes science more applicable in student’s daily lives. I also enjoyed how a lot of your ideas seemed to be derived from positive experiences you had in your high school science classes, such as guest lectures. If it had such a big impact on you, it will likely have an equal impact on your students! However, what if you are faced with a student that dislikes literature, and introducing that would essentially spoil science for them? How would you approach that situation?

    • I think if the student was really discouraged by reading, I would also bring in other mediums like movies, videos, articles, or other artistic expressions of science.

  3. Hi Aaron,
    I love all the tips to “spark magic” inside the science classroom. I find it interesting you difference in experimentation and experiments, this a great way to see why we can’t continue to teach the same exact things year after year. Let the kids lead and allow them to ask questions and find answers. I also really enjoyed how you push literature into your classroom, this is unique to a science classroom and is definitely something your students will remember. What are some books you would like to implement into your classroom?

    • One of my favorite books in high school was “The Disappearing Spoon” by Sam Kean, it really brought chemistry to life for me. “The Power of Habits was an assigned reading by my chemistry teacher that really changed my perception about learning. There are more books I’ve read since then that I think would go over great in the classroom.

  4. Great blog post Aaron! I really love the idea of incorporating literature into a science classroom. I was wondering what was one of your favorite texts from science class that was brought in from outside of the textbook that you really loved?

    • Two of my assigned readings in my high school chemistry class were “The Disappearing Spoon” and “The Power of Habits.” Both of those books had a tremendous impact on my view of learning. I think those readings help set me on the path that I am on today.

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