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.
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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