A How-To: Exemplary Science Teaching


Out of the hundreds of thousands of science teachers in the US, each take their own approach to teaching their students. But what does it take to be exemplary?

Science is most commonly taught using a lecture style class. The teacher has the knowledge, and the students are simply empty vessels that are to receive that knowledge. Does that seem very engaging? Does it seem like the students and their knowledge are valued in that classroom? I am going to assume that you answered no to both of those questions, which means we both agree that the traditional science class could really use a makeover.

Let’s explore four important ways that teachers can transform their teaching from average to exemplary- because who doesn’t want to be their best for their students?

Don’t Be Afraid to Take the Classroom Outside of the Classroom

Why confine our teaching to the classroom? If we are to develop scientifically literate students, then we need to show them how science is all around them, and how they can meaningfully contribute to their world using science. Here are a few examples:

  • Water, water, everywhere! Take your students to a local river, pond, or other water source and have them explore anything from organisms to acidity to pollution levels to plant life and beyond. Not only can you make this into an inquiry activity by allowing students to choose their own project, and it can also allow students to give back to the community. Imagine them turning it in to a waterway clean up/restoration, or participating in civic engagement to ask a company to stop polluting!
  • Wait, science can let me do that? Taking students on field trips to local employers and businesses can show them how science can find its way into their future career. Based on my experience, engineering firms and county morgues come to mind, but the possibilities are endless. This is a great way to connect with your community and form partnerships that can benefit your classroom.
  • Check out the video below for an example of students not only learning but also benefitting their community!

Utilize Inquiry-Based Activities When Possible

Inquiry is a hot topic in science education today, but in reality, it’s always been important. Merriam-Webster defines inquiry as “a request for information”. By this definition, we can see that the traditional model of the teacher transferring knowledge to the student is destroyed- instead, students can seek answers for questions they form themselves.

World Class Inquiry Science | Hands-On, Minds-On Science | Science inquiry,  Inquiry learning, Inquiry based learning
  • Tap into students’ prior knowledge! On the neuroscience side of things, tapping into students’ prior knowledge is essential to making new connections… aka learning. In addition to that, having students confront their prior knowledge can allow them to discover what interests them about a topic and what questions they still have. This is a great jumping off point for student-interest led activities to find answers to their own questions.
  • Example: Inquiry into Gas Laws! Check out this inquiry activity below allowing students to determine the Ideal Gas Law themselves by investigating the relationships between the variables. Chemistry can be a daunting subject to include inquiry in, but it is possible with the right about of preparation. Inquiry activities definitely look different in each subject, but a good rule of thumb is to have your students discover concepts, rather than you telling them directly.

Partner with Parents

Exemplary science teaching is not only confined to a teacher’s interactions with their students. Teachers have an incredible opportunity to involve their students’ parents/guardians in their classroom. Partnering with parents can involve much more than just a letter to parents on the first day.

  • Parents go back to school! This, of course, depends on the schedule of parents in your school’s community, but if possible, bringing your parents into your classroom for the night is a great way to put them in the shoes of their child. Having them do a collaborative learning activity, lab, or any other thing common to being in your class will help them to understand your expectations of your students. It’s also a great time to give them tips on how to support their child and make personal connections.
  • Oh, that’s a career? Bringing in parents of students who have a job in the STEM field is another way to show your students how science can play into their future career. There are plenty of STEM jobs outside of being a doctor or engineer! Sure, it isn’t formal instruction time, but it benefits the students much more than a lesson on biospheres ever could.
  • NSTA has an awesome statement on parent involvement in science learning that offers more insight on why parents are essential.
  • Here’s an amazing TED Talk on the importance of these partnerships between the school and members of the community in terms of future careers:

Let Students be the Stars of the Classroom

As a teacher, it’s easy to lecture and talk “at” your students for an entire 55 minute class period without even realizing it. However, this not only loses the students’ interest, but also does not let the students develop their skills in scientific articulation or scientific argumentation. Having students dictate the flow of the class makes them more invested in their own learning.

  • Don’t be afraid of veering off the path! Sometimes, students will have awesome questions that could appear off topic at first. However, allowing conversations about these questions to happen in your classroom can probe students’ critical thinking and allow them to refine their scientific argumentation skills as they try to answer the question at hand. It might feel uncomfortable at first to change your plans, but these experiences show your students that their questions are valuable.
  • Let’s talk! Typically, teachers talk for an overwhelming majority of the class time. Instead, try to have students talk as much as possible. This can be through group activities, sharing answers and reasoning aloud, and students asking other students questions. This strategy is not only helpful for the average student, but is especially helpful for ELL students- all types of students benefit from practicing using the jargon associated with science, which can often feel overwhelming at first.
  • Check out this article from Edutopia on student voice in the classroom!
Improving Student-Led Discussions | Edutopia

TLDR (Too Long Didn’t Read)

Here are the main points of exemplary science teaching:

  • Take your students outside of the classroom to learn, when possible. Think water quality assessments, migratory pattern investigations, or a trip to the local recycling center.
  • Inquiry is student-led instruction that focuses on the students creating questions and answering them themselves. Include these types of activities when possible to keep your students engaged and to steer them away from being passive receivers of information.
  • Parents and guardians are a valuable resource for your classroom. Invite parents in and have them share experiences. In addition, have your parents experience a day in the life of a student in your class if possible.
  • Create a student-centered classroom. The teacher doesn’t need to be talking all the time! Allow room for student-student and student-teacher conversations, even if that means altering your plans a bit for the day.

That’s all for now! Have you ever had an exemplary science teacher? And what made them exemplary that I didn’t touch on?
– Miss Karlock (@MissKarlockChem on Twitter)


  1. Hi Nathan! I totally agree that I wish my teachers would have taken us outside more- I actually didn’t have any experiences like that in high school from what all I can remember. I do remember one time, though, in my physics class where we went to our stadium and dropped different types of balls from the top of the bleachers to see how the size of them affected how quickly they fell. I think this was a great combination of an activity that got us outside of the classroom and was also inquiry based. Even though we weren’t really engaging with the nature around us, it was still nice to be outside!

  2. Hey Grace! I thought your blog had a lot of good, practical tips that I will look forward to using in my classroom. I think taking your students out of the classroom us an amazing idea, and something I wish my teachers did more. Making the classroom student-centered is also very important. This can be done through many activities such as inquiry based activities like you said.

  3. Hi Luke!
    You definitely pose a good question- it is easy to think best case scenario when thinking of classroom activities. Using things such as Google Jamboard or even just having students write their ideas on the whiteboard or on paper without their name on it is a great way to create a low pressure environment. You could also have students talk in partners or in small groups, building up to a whole class conversation. This would hopefully give the students confidence in their ideas as they develop them with others first!

  4. Hi Ellie!
    You make a really good point- I definitely should have taken into account that not all schools are in communities that have access to areas where rivers, ponds, parks, etc are easily accessible. In those cases (or even when water sources, etc are available), I think allowing students to guide the investigation can open up options that we might not think of. Having students choose a problem they see in their community and then find how science can connect to it can be a way for them to conduct a real life investigation, as well as give back to their community. You could also do virtual investigations using data from around the world!

  5. Hi Grace!
    I thought this blog was amazing and really encapsulated exemplary science teaching well. I was so impressed with the real-world examples that you included about how to engage the students in science allowing them to become invested in it. I really appreciated your emphasis on connecting with the parents as well because they are such an important part of a student’s success. I really thought you made a good point when you talked about how teachers talk for the majority of the class, and how this should change. How do you think you would respond if the students in your class are very shy and not willing to participate? How would you provide a space for these students to step into conversation?

  6. Hey Grace! Love your post, all the resources you included are a super awesome extension. For schools that don’t have a river or outdoor spaces nearby do you have any suggestions for making connections to the life sciences with students? I plan on teaching in cities and unfortunately there aren’t too many places with access to outdoor spaces.

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