November 8th, 2009Why should I care?

800px-Sleeping_studentsI don’t think there is a teacher in the world who hasn’t heard this question in one form or another. As cheeky as it ‘may’ have been intended, I still think it is a fair question. There are many reasons people are motivated to learn, but most can be boiled down to either interest or need. Children are no different, though whether or not they will need the information in the future is a little harder for them to determine.

Teaching interested children is easy but for those that are a little harder to crack, relevance is the key. If children can see that the subject matter relates to their life, it may increase their interest and if not, at least it will help them to see its usefulness. Try to embed your lessons in a real-life context whenever possible and preferably in the context of a child’s life. Children work on a different timeline and trying to get them to appreciate that they will need this info 15 years from now doesn’t mean much. Let’s be honest, would that mean much to you?

Even as adults after we have been trained to think into the future, do you really plan 15 years ahead? We are all busy with our lives and no one wants to take on more than we have to. Again children are no different, though their idea of busy may include computer games, jungle gyms and soccer training rather than lesson plans, yard duty and what to make for dinner (when you’ll have time to make the kids lunches)!

Incursion So, you’re planning a trip to the museum or you’re having someone come to the school to talk about astronomy. How can you make the most of this experience for your students? You have been very busy organising, booking a bus and getting parent permission but don’t forget the most important thing. This is still a learning experience. It may not be what you or your students are accustomed to, but informal learning situations have real advantages when combined with regular teaching. And this is the key, this is not a replacement for your skills as a teacher but an exciting environment for students to experience and explore their knowledge. Here are a few hints on how to get the most out of an excursion or incursion.

1) Know why you are doing it – You should approach an excursion/incursion differently depending on why you are doing it. Is it to get them excited about a topic, as a follow-up on a unit or as a reward for a term/year well done?

2) Prepare – This is where the ‘knowing why you are doing it’ part comes into play. If it is an introduction to a topic, try to discuss students’ prior ideas about the subject, then after you can discuss what was the same or different to what they previously thought. If it is a follow-up, then perhaps give the students’ a opportunity to delve deeper into the subject by asking some directed questions that they can explore during the session. And if it is as a reward, let them know that so they can feel a sense of accomplishment. Make sure you speak to someone about what will be happening in the session so you know what to discuss with the students. Also, it will help you be sure you are well equipped for an incursion and/or your students’ have everything they may need for an excursion.

3) Keep them informed – Make sure you spend some time with the students before the excursion/incursion to let them know what will happen. It is nice to have a surprise but if there are too many surprises the students can often focus too much on the differences to their normal routine rather than on the experience. This also avoids 30 children asking you the same questions over and over throughout the day!

4) Follow-up – This is very important! Your students have had some great experiences and this is a wonderful opportunity to talk about them so students can learn from each others experiences and so you can help them realise the day to day importance of their studies.

5) Breathe – It will all be over soon but your students will be talking about it for weeks, months and hopefully years!


Most of the teachers I have met in my roles as a science educator, have expressed that the most difficult part of a science lesson is having everything they need, when they need it. For an Elementary Science Lesson, the materials you need are not all that difficult to come by, most can be found at the grocery store. If you are prepared and organised, an impromptu science lesson should be no problem. I found that the following article has some great advice on how to do this and I also have a few suggestions of my own.

1) Once you have found a lesson that works well, buy all the supplies you need and prepare a lesson box. Be sure you try all activities yourself first so you know how to troubleshoot in class if necessary.

2) Make sure you clearly label the box and include inside a copy of your lesson plan, any student worksheets or instructions, and a list of materials/amounts so you can restock when needed. The linked article suggests a shoebox for each student, but I would have a large box for each science lesson/topic and have small shoeboxes or baskets stacked away, so that you can fill and hand out to each table with enough materials for students to work in groups.

3) Keep the lesson box in a communal area so that all teachers have access to the materials. The advantage of having a large lesson box is that you can have a few different variations of the lesson plan for different year levels and the box can be shared throughout the school saving on costs for supplies.

If all of this still seems too much for you, there are different organisations that will do the hard work for you. Many universities or large science companies with an education division offer science lessons or teacher resources, so have a quick search for organisations near you!

I read an article recently on the BBC website about the difficulty of media studies vs chemistry.

Based on the hard data i.e. the pass rate of the two subjects, it appears as though chemistry is the far easier subject. Putting all controversial arguments aside (and there are many), I think the article vastly under-estimates the effect of engagement on behalf of the students and the teachers on the results. In my own limited experience I have found that the enthusiasm of a teacher can have dramatic effects on the attitudes and interest of the students to the subject matter. Also, the inherent interest of a student can surpass even the most engaged of teachers. In lessons for science, as in every other topic teachers should strive to engage themselves and their students in the subject matter.

Children are not all that different from adults in that they have no time for things that do not interest them, or at least things that don’t serve a purpose for them. Being interested and excited about a subject makes it inherently easier to learn. I personally found physics a cumbersome and time consuming chore only to realise as a teacher how much physics shapes our everyday world. Now I wish I had payed more attention in class.

Your enthusiasm as a teacher does effect your students. If you can find something interesting and engaging about your subject matter I am sure your students will as well. I have listed below the three best ways I have found to engage my own students.

1) Find out what your students are interested in and try to find a way to relate that to the subject matter.
2) Find something in the subject matter that interests you. Excitement is contagious, as is boredom!
3) Don’t be afraid to have fun. Theatre, games and laughter are good teaching tools.

How do you engage your students?

© 2009 What is the Science?