For many students, science is a tough subject they are only taking because they have to. Not everyone is going to be a scientist one day, but everyone can appreciate that science and technology have a profound effect on their daily lives. Teaching strategies can make a difference between staring at a room of bored students for an hour a day, and having a group of eager, engaged students who want to learn more.
Put science into context to help students understand it better
Help students put things into perspective by using timelines and maps to locate a famous scientist or scientific event in time and space. Use a multi-disciplinary curriculum that introduces science alongside literature, art and history. If you can’t choose your text, then leave time in lectures to discuss what else was going on in the world when a scientific discovery was made, or to ask students what they have learned in other classes about the world into which a scientist like Newton or Curie or Steven Hawking was born.
No time for class discussion? Have students watch for science in the news, start a blog or a forum where students can post news items and discuss them with each other. Assign group projects or have students write a research paper. This allows the less scientifically gifted students to develop an interest in the study of science, and prepares all students for the kinds of assignments they can one day expect at the post-secondary level.
Make science interesting with hands-on activities
Lab work, practical demonstrations and field trips are great ways to give students a break from memorizing formulas and boring lists of definitions. Show your students what can happen when they master scientific knowledge and put it to a practical use!
Take advantage of textbooks that come with a CD-ROM or that provide a companion web site. Take your students to see a working lab in a local business or college. Assign projects, have students build models. I had a college chemistry professor who gave a quiz every Friday. He rewarded students afterwards with a fun demonstration. Twenty years later I still remember the day he “magically” made the words “I love Chem” appear on a blank paper – in two colours – after he sprayed the paper with what looked like plain water in a squirt bottle. And I still love chemistry.
Have a sense of humour when teaching science
Advertisers know the more outrageous their commercials are, the more likely it is people will remember it. They will also be more likely to share it and discuss it with others. The same holds true for science teaching. Whether it be the chemistry teacher who hands out cartoons of a mole in sunglasses and a trenchcoat calling Avagadro’s number, or the physics teacher who climbs up on the lab bench and drops dollar store toys during a discussion of gravity, the lecture will be remembered. The comedy factor takes some of the sting out of science classes for those who are struggling to make sense of it, and knowing the teacher is approachable increases the likelihood students will come to ask for help when they need it.
A similar principle applies when it comes to helping students memorize difficult lists of information. Using a mnemonic device can help, especially if it summons up bizarre visual imagery. The example of Avagadro’s mole in the previous paragraph is a classic science mnemonic. You may have encountered mnemonics that help students remember systems of biological classification or the order of planets in the solar system. Whenever you see an opportunity to get inventive, take it. Encourage students to share their own mnemonics too.
Introduce science in creative ways
Many colleges offer science courses aimed at non-science students. These are often courses that take a unique approach to science: consumer chemistry, the science of cooking and baking, the forensic science. Even if you can’t offer an entire course like this you can integrate this approach into your science teaching. I remember a chemistry assignment that involved all the students baking bread from the same recipe. In another class, the professor labelled common kitchen ingredients (sugar, butter, etc.) with their chemical names and converted a recipe so it could be made in the lab. At the end of the “experiment,” students who had followed the procedure correctly had a batch of peanut brittle to take home! You could do the same with fudge, yogourt, cheese, soap or candles, just to name a few “homemade” products that could be done in a lab.
No matter what tips you use to make your science classes more interesting to students, remember if you are enjoying yourself and you are letting them see your enthusiasm for science, you’re already ahead of the game. Students who learn from a teacher who loves what they do, have a much better chance of learning to love science too.