Teaching Science in the Middle Years
The following handbook evolved from a Science Teachers Focus Group conducted at Ballarat High School in Victoria.
The Science Teachers Focus Group involved a group of teachers in a weekly meeting in which we explored creative ways of teaching science. It also included feedback on the trialing of techniques in those teachers’ classes.
Later in the project I also visited a number of classes and worked creatively with the teacher, and the students, to explore new ways of designing, teaching and assessing the CSF. (Curriculum Standards Framework – Victorian Schools).
Above all this was a fun project designed to open new ways of looking at the teaching of science.
This handbook is a result. It is designed to show the many ideas explored within the project.
It also presents lots of ideas that can serve as triggers for further ways of creatively teaching science. Many of the techniques explored here are easily transferred to other areas of the science curriculum.
In fact, if you adapt the ideas to other areas of the science curriculum you will be achieving what is a major aim of this staff development – even further developing your creativity as a teacher.
This Project could not have happened without the support of Bruce Schmidt, Science Regional Project Officer, DEET, Central Highlands Wimmera Region, and all the participating teachers who gave their time generously and were prepared to open themselves to the vulnerability and risks in addressing new ways of teaching science.
I would like to thank, in particular, for their consistent input:
- The Case for Creativity in Science Teaching
When you read through the handbook you will come across the following icons that will show the type of text being offered. These are:
Classroom Case Study
Possible links to the CSF
THE CASE FOR CREATIVITY IN SCIENCE TEACHING
In my experience of teaching there have always been labels imposed on subject areas.
Some subject areas such as Maths and Science, are often and sadly labeled as dry and academic. The arts, including subjects such as English, Media and Drama, get a generally better press: these are seen to be highly rewarding with room for personal expression.
This form of labeling serves little purpose. Science is not a dry subject devoid of emotion or passion. The more we hear what motivates scientists the more we understand that science can be a deeply felt and human experience enabling as many personal rewards as the arts.
In his text "Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention" Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi interviewed hundreds of professionals to explore what motivated them. The many scientists interviewed showed very similar motivations to the artists. Jonas Salk, the discoverer of the Polio vaccine said:
"I do see myself as an artist-scientist, scientist-humanist, and humanist-scientist. I guess my purpose is different from those who are interested in science for science's sake. I’m interested in science as it has relevance to the human condition, so to speak. I try to understand the human side of nature and do something for it. So I have a purpose - a purpose as a humanist somehow, in some innate way. That’s why I created this place, to set up this ideal set of circumstances within which scientists could work, I hope being more creative than they would otherwise."
"It is nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of enquiry; for the delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom; without this it goes to wreck and ruin without fail. It is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by a means of coercion and a sense of duty." - Albert Einstein.
Science can be taught creatively and in doing so we can model, as teachers, the types of curiosity and rik required in scientific inquiry.
Setting an example is not the main means of influencing another, it is the only means. - Albert Einstein.
The many techniques explored in this handbook are designed to:
This fits in with recent research into multiple intelligences and neuro-psychology that suggests that:
You may share similar experiences. In making more choices in the creative design, delivery and assessment of learning you can create a far more satisfying experience in your classroom.
You may have come across this table of how we learn once posited by William Glasser in "Control Theory in the Classroom", Perennial Library 1986.
It places great emphasis on students actively and physically working with knowledge, group work and in particular translating knowledge back to others:
Above all the many approaches we explore here – you may have used a lot already - can engage students and take learning away from the page connecting students to the deeply human side of living.
This handbook won’t go into the bulk of research underlying new teaching practices. Suffice to say that the many approaches explored should give you, the teacher, an opportunity of broadening your teaching style.
In doing so you can cast a net that can draw in those more difficult learners or take more involved students along a deeper learning path.
You may even like to use this analogy: creating more keys to unlock student learning.
Here the emphasis is on knowing what key to use at what time- a challenge we always face as teachers.
The proof is in the pudding – your practice and reflection upon the techniques!
It is also extremely important to recognise that creativity builds from a good relationship with students.
If you have established a strong bond with your students – particularly one in which their opinions and comments are valued – you have created a very firm base for all the activities within this text.
To value student input and to include activities that are student-driven goes a long way towards establishing a strong sense of ownership. With such a focus you have the right climate for creativity in both yourself and your students.
Get each student to introduce the person to their left, themselves and the person their right.
In one group a girl counted not by "one elephant, two elephants" but by counting to ten and taking her pulse. This was a great introduction to the idea of internal rhythms.
Remember that the nature or strategies involved in many activities can connect to an area of the curriculum and provide useful discussion starters!
Get students, as they introduce each other, to add other information that can connect with science: "This is John, he likes riding fast motorbikes; my name is Sarah, I like jumping in puddles; this is Brendan, he likes flying kites".
Discuss the scientific connections afterwards.
A great way to learn names is by getting everyone to introduce the first initial of their name by using the Auslan alphabet letter.
In this way you can remember the sign as a cue for the name. Discuss this with the students – what does this tell us about mnemonics – remembering things? What other mnemonics do we use in daily life?
This website will help you:
A good way to start a topic is to get the students to take the particular subject area and make their own acronym.
Students can do this in groups e.g. ‘digestion’ becomes duodenum, indigestion, gut, enzymes, small intestine, traveling, intake, oesophagus, neutralise. This can introduce students to the topic or serve as a revision exercise.
(CSF BS 5.4)
Students may even like to create their own acronyms to assist learning e.g.
The sequence of planets from the sun: My, Very, Easy, Memory, Jingle, Seems, Useful, Naming, Planets.
Students can also come up with their best dictionary definitions of the topic. Compare definitions, explore subsets of words, and compare with the proper dictionary definition.
For example students may be asked to define the term "Volcano". A group of students may come up with this definition – "A mountain that explodes or erupts to release lava."
Such a definition can then be dissected to raise important introductory questions – "Does a volcano have to be a mountain?" "Do volcanoes always have to erupt to be called a volcano?" "Do they just release lava?"
This type of activity poses fundamental questions that can then be explored. I have often seen students use good active thinking in this activity. They demonstrate excellent skills in capturing the subtleties and subtexts that will later be explored in the topic.
One of the best ways of looking at science is to see it from a similar perspective to what I experienced when I first started teaching Drama and Media Studies.
The knowledge students brought into the classroom amazed me. I soon realized that, by working from this principle, I was able to open an awareness of the breadth of the subjects and connections with the everyday world.
This soon evolved into an understanding that in recognising strong pre-existing knowledge we can build confidence in our students.
This is really no different to the average student who may have at one time wondered about the properties of silly putty, may have built a crystal radio or was curious how a magnifying glass could start a fire.
Maybe the student was fascinated with what happened when he or she finally received their sea monkeys from the comic advert – I’m showing my age here! Did you ever receive your x-ray specs?
Students usually have good connections to science and it is up to us as teachers to draw out those connections.
By doing this we can remove science from the perspective that it is academic, distanced and of little relevance to the everyday world
(CSF CS 4.1)
Think of all the possible scientific things that can link with childhood.
I remember playing whirlpools in the round swimming pool, displacement of water at bath time and placing a bucket over my head in the pool and floating under the water, usually with a friend hitting the bucket to make my ears ring!
All these experiences connect with science and are an opportunity for you and your students to draw out phenomena and questions that can then be formally explored in the science room.
A simple toy or a ball can be a great way of triggering student responses.
You can sit students in a circle and pass a ball around a circle. When a student has the ball he or she must say something about the topic that is being studied.
You can even throw a ball around and a student, standing outside the circle, must yell ‘stop’ at a chosen point.
Whoever has the ball must say a word connected with that subject, speak for thirty seconds on the subject or say ten things to do with that subject before the ball is passed around the circle and returns to his or her spot.
An interesting way of exploring associations is to pass the ball – or even a dog toy – around the circle and each student says a word following on from the previous. You can start off generally as a way of building confidence – e.g. ‘football’ – and then confine the process to the area of study.
You can even make this activity harder – probably better suited to revision at the end of the topic – although a confident class can handle it at the beginning.
This is simply where you ask a student to say a word associated with the topic and the next student must continue the link. For example in studying volcanoes a student may say ‘lava’ and the next student says ‘red hot.’
The following student must pick up the conceptual link with the previous word ‘red hot’. He or she may say: ‘boiling’, and the next student must pick up the link with the word ‘boiling’.
You can pass the ball around the circle, throw it randomly or clockwise or anti-clockwise having students change direction if they wish – this puts pressure on students to concentrate.
At any time, providing that he or she raises his or her hand, a student can say the word ‘break’ and then introduce a new word and chain of connections into this activity.
This is a good way of covering blank responses. You may even, if a student is having trouble, ask for suggested responses from other students in the circle.
One of the teachers within our focus group had a fantastic method in which she would bring a toy into class, e.g. a teddy, and this was called ‘The Philosophy Ted’.
Whenever students saw this they knew it was an opportunity to talk about scientific questions.
A student would hold ‘Ted’ and ask a question. If a student felt that they could answer it they would take Ted and answer it. Ted could then be passed around cueing further questions and answers.
If a question could not be answered then this was noted and a student, or a group, was assigned to research and answer it for the next class.
As with all these techniques you can adapt them to your classes. You may be able to find your own distinctive object! Hit the bargain shops and see what you can find.
I have a several pronged multi-coloured dog toy that also serves as a way of getting students into groups. We throw it around and the colour prong that is caught defines what group the student is in – or even who goes first.
Here is a great way to divide students: ask them to choose a number between one and four and to shake others' hands in which they silently communicate their number. For example both students start shaking at the same time. Number one will defer after the first shake at which the other student will continue for two more shakes if his or her number is three.
In this way students can shake each other’s hands and start to group into categories of either one, two, three or four. Once four groups have been formed you can ask some students to move to make them equal in size.
You can even throw the dog toy around one hundred times and count the prongs caught. You can then graph responses on the board as an introduction to graphing, probability or statistics.
By drawing responses from students, through such activities, you can bring out and reveal the many word and conceptual associations to science.
This is of great benefit in showing how wide reaching a subject can be in our lives.
I can remember working with a group of technology teachers: we developed a list of words based on metals. I suddenly realised the many connections metal has with our everyday lives.
In a short and simple exercise the topic was lifted from the page and I saw the many possibilities for future discussions.
The word ‘steel’, for example, was connected with the word ‘bridge’ and I saw how we could explore the topic of bridges: students would love the stories of bridge disasters as a way into a topic:
(CSF BS 5.4)
An Introduction to Digestion
The student group of year eights was learning about digestion and we were to use the class as an introduction to the stages in human digestion. The class was first divided into small groups using the handshake task and students had to talk about what they knew about digestion in a report back.
The class was then divided into two groups of ten students and each side was given the following list and was asked to talk amongst themselves and rank themselves in a line for what processes came first:
Mouth, Oesophagus, Stomach, Duodenum, Pancreas, Bile Duct, Liver, Small, Intestine, Large intestine, Rectum, Anus.
As we only had eleven digestive processes we simply got a student to hold cards in both the left and right hand. This was a competitive activity in which each team got a point for the process being in the correct place in 1-11. This was an active process in which students had to guess what some of the terms were – the definitions could be given later. Another alternative is to get students to look up their books during the course of this activity.We then created our own television show. I asked if any students had ever been to the taping of a television show. We then put together elements of a TV show: audience, prompter for clapping and a stage set.I played the host in order to lead the students as we had just introduced the topic. An alternative is to get the students to research and put their own TV show together. Groups were then given a little box on which they could write a name and were asked to create a product that could aid digestion and could be advertised during the course of the show.Following a few practice audience warm ups and an introduction I then came out as the host of "In my gut tonight" and welcomed the audience to the first guest. I simply looked at the audience and waited for a volunteer. If this doesn’t happen easily then keep prompting and milking the audience. The first guest was ‘Salada biscuit’ and she was interviewed with very leading questions by myself: "Are you very expensive? Who bought you? How did it feel being attacked by all that saliva in the mouth? What happened when you were in the stomach? Were you attacked by lots of acids? What did you eventually end up as?It is interesting that a teacher in the focus group uses dry biscuits – Salada – as an introduction to salivation. This is a great example of an experiential activity. Students are given Salada biscuits and are asked to eat them in under a minute. This is nigh impossible and is a great starter to discussing the role of saliva in digestion.The following TV show guests were ‘pepsin’, ‘rennin’, ‘hydrochloric acid’ and ‘mucin’: a new rap group that had just conquered the world. I asked them to speak about the types of food that they had broken down and what were the easiest. I then asked the group to sing their new song – a collection of sounds of rumblings and similar noises that they make in the stomach.
Between every guest I threw to an advert break in which groups would advert their digestive aid. This was very funny with students in pain and feeling constipated on the toilet and then taking their wondrous product. We later discussed how intimate products are advertised on television – homework to watch adverts!The next guest was introduced as a very special guest who had experienced much negative press: ‘poo’. A student was interviewed in the role of poo – "Shall I call you by your proper name, ‘faeces’?" This provided much opportunity for hilarity but also serious questions on his/her role. This was a very funny class and a great way of introducing the topic. The leading questions and humour also showed the students how much they already knew on the topic.
Students were sent home to look – with permission – for any digestive aids in food or in the form of e.g. tablets. They also had to look and report back on television adverts for intimate products.
Your class can compile a list of words during activities. These can then be transferred to the board for later discussion and concept mapping.
You can map the words on the board and even allow students to stop the activity and ask for a clarification on the link between words that have been mentioned.
I have always found the previous activities useful in bringing out spontaneous words, encouraging a spontaneous reaction to the subject, as well as showing the many connections a topic has to the everyday world – even clichés or stereotypes can be explored.
Simple activities such as these put the students under pressure and encourage improvised responses. As the teacher you can emphasise that any word is acceptable – ‘whatever comes into your head first’.
Short impromptu speeches – often best within a game context of throwing a ball around – can also be very interesting starters.
Ask the students what they thought were the most interesting speeches. You can even make notes and explore the issues in greater detail.
By building from pre-existing student knowledge you can dignify the learning experience by showing how much of the knowledge in a classroom can be shared rather than being passively given by the teacher.
As the teacher you have the opportunity to audit your students’ knowledge of the subject as well as building a possible course for future discussion and exploration.
You can discuss and map the students’ knowledge at any point in time, even referring back to it at the end of the topic to show how far the students have come.
I am a strong believer in getting students to find, at their homes, things that can connect to science.
By exploring the pantry students can find food wrappers and nutritional details that can be used when exploring nutrition.
Food can be categorised into types – including any medicine that may help in exploring the topic of digestion – e.g. antacid tablets or bacteria in yoghurt.
In an example of exploring sound students can:
Here are some other examples of techniques discussed in the focus group where objects or events from everyday life can be used as triggers:
In teaching Food Science:
SCIENCE IN THE HOUSEHOLDThe text called "The Secret Family": Twenty four hours inside the mysterious world of our minds and bodies – is part of an excellent series written by David Bodanis that connects the reality of the everyday with the world of science. "Eggs are brought out from the refrigerator. When he sees that they are running low he prints a note to get more and adds it to the crucial family connection device, which architects repeatedly forget to supply; he sticks it with a little magnet up on the refrigerator door. Invisible forces of magnetic force swoop into the room’s air, generated by quick swimming atoms inside that magnet. The iron atoms were created in a slow build up over aeons in distant stars. The magnetic lines streaming through the dad have little effect on his body, but the ones connecting the metal door hold the paper on tight…. And modern magnets are made by exposing appropriate materials to powerful magnetic fields supplied by a surrounding electric coil. The other portable memory holder on fridge doors – the ubiquitous little yellow sticker – almost didn’t make it, for the 3M scientist who discovered their glue nearly discarded the formula when he discovered what a poor adhesive it was."
The book moves consistently from an exploration of a family into that of science. Perhaps you can buy it, or create your own examples and then get your students to create their own science stories.
(CSF PS 6.2)
(CSF BS 5.4)
There is a Victorian artist who tours schools exploring the physics in toys. Have you ever thought of exploring this dimension to physics?
Think of gyroscopes and spinning tops and what these can reveal. Think of how many other scientific oddities have become toys such as silly putty
An excellent website and text exploring the physics of everyday objects is: www.howthingswork.com
The Focus Group also came up with a fascinating idea of doing a yearly survey of a year level.
Students from e.g. year 7 could be asked a series of questions that are devised by a group/s of year 8s.
This can establish a series of responses that can be repeated each year so that students can compare the findings. Questions can relate to general topics or areas of the science curriculum: the top five responses to the word ‘volcano’.
Each year a repeat survey can be done, graphs can be drawn up and comparisons made. Questions can relate to areas of the science curriculum.
You can use the survey as an introduction to the topic. You can even use the findings in quizzes within the science room: game shows that you construct.
This is a means by which the school can build a resource of knowledge that comes from the students.
It can be mapped and followed every year rather than always referring to distanced-other person’s texts. The possibilities are endless. Have a think about how you can use such a real resource.
Any list is a really good staring point in learning. There are many good books – and often cheap – that include science lists.
Here is an example from the DK book, "Fantastic Book of 1001 Lists." Russell Ash, DK, 1998.
The decibel (dB) measures sound. Every 10dB is a tenfold increase in intensity.
(CSF PS 5.1)
Although somewhat debatable – another opportunity for discussion – lists can serve a great purpose. Don’t give them out passively. Ask the students to work with them!
Each group of students is given the list and asked to arrange the sounds with the dB and to place them in softest to loudest.
Take this a step further and ask students to stand in line of appropriate order. The groups stand alongside each other. Compare. A contest can be set up – give a point for each sound being in the right order or having the appropriate level.
Activities can be done with any form of list whether you find it from a book, a newspaper survey or your own student survey.
(CSF BS 5.4)
An Introduction to Nutrition
The following class for year eights involved an introduction to nutrition. First we did the activity in which the class was asked to not look at their watches and to stand up individually when they felt that a minute had elapsed. We compared counting methods and I led this discussion on how our body responds to time – e.g. how many students wake up at the same time every morning? We then talked about our body clocks and spoke of rumbling stomachs prior to lunchtime. This was the point in which we started to move into a discussion on energy and food.I asked the students to line up along the side of the room in order of birthday – this was a good introduction to forming a line as well as possible introduction to probability: get 60 people together and the certainty of a shared birthday becomes one. I then asked the students to form another line starting from one end of the room to the other representing a scale of 1-10 of how they felt in terms of their energy at that point into time – it was approximately 11 o’clock.Once the students had fallen into line I quizzed students on why they had chosen to stand in e.g. number seven or number ten spot. The answers were quite fascinating as it was clear that reasons were many ranging from "didn’t sleep well last night", to "feeling good because it is the end of the week" to "feeling a bit low as I had a bug the last few days". This allowed me to raise the idea that responses could be psychological, physical and a combination of both. Then I asked the students to raise their hands if any didn’t have a breakfast that morning. There was no link between those with low energy to those standing at a low point in the line. This didn't worry me – just the fact that a tentative link had been made can be enough. The students then went back to their desks and we drew an outline of a person on the board and asked the group to give it a name. Then I asked one student at a time to come out to the board and place within the body, or outside, the types of foods this person eats in a week. This character was left on the board so that the classroom teacher could return to it at a later date e.g. – "Let’s this lesson explore the exact food that ‘Trevor’ eats in a week and how it might affect what he does on a day-to-day basis."Students were then divided into groups.Once groups of four had been formed I asked students within each group to assign the roles of being energy, protein, fat and carbohydrate. I did not explain what these were. This would come at a later date.There is strong research evidence that by withholding information and by making students have to guess and puzzle over facts we can engage students deeper into a topic. After this introduction to nutrition we could explore minerals and nutrients in greater detail. The students could be responsible for their food type. They could research into it and report back – they may even be interviewed as that food in a new television show called "In my Gut Tonight". Each group was then given a particular food and asked to represent the amount of energy, protein, fat and carbohydrate within that food. The group had to show with the size of their bodies how large or important the quantity. For example Long grain brown rice package stated 2090 kJ of energy, 7% protein, 3% fat and 74% carbohydrate.A student group was then asked to portray the nutritional elements of long grain brown rice. The class watched as they got into positions. Fat was crouched small and carbohydrate had its arms high in the air. Protein and energy were of similar size. I then asked the audience to name who they felt were energy, protein, fat and carbohydrate. This allowed guessing and tended to engage the students more than simply giving an answer. I didn’t give an answer as we were running out of time in order to show other portrayals – these could nevertheless be given in the next lesson.Another means of tackling this task is to give each group a list of food items and students have to guess the food type by the representation. I was really pleased to see that one group chose their own portrayal. A student had pulled a chewing gum packet from his pocket and the group had chosen to show the details mentioned on the side of this pack.To finish the class I got a group of four students together and asked then to show a comparison in fat content between four food types – hamburger (39%), rice (1-5%), beans (4%) and a potato (1%). Students stood in relation to each other and occupied more space if they felt that they contained more fat content. Nutrition
Here are some websites that will be useful in putting together a list of nutritional content in food – of course you can always get students to look through the pantry at home or visit the supermarket to compile their own list.
In the Focus Group we discussed how to best show the phases of the moon or even the interaction of planets.
This lead to a discussion on the complexity of many scientific principles.
We discussed how complex examples are difficult to explain on a two dimensional whiteboard and how science teachers are often faced with the problem of finding analogies, metaphors or models to explain complex or microscopic/distant phenomena – this is where choice and creativity can come into play!
I mentioned how Richard Feynman used the example of a rubber o-ring and a glass of water to explain in a press conference what had happened in the shuttle disaster.
The group then explored ways of modeling how the moon, earth and sun inter-relate to make phases of the moon.
Teachers – it was a PD session – became the sun, moon and earth and moved around each other.
This practical demonstration, and the complexity of showing it, is something that can be passed over to student groups who have to come up with their own physical example.
In the attempt to translate complex knowledge into a physical form – why not do a dance piece to Holst’s The Planets – students actively grapple with knowledge. Even if they become frustrated and find it hard to relay ideas back to the other students they are at least creating a curiosity and a foundation for correct knowledge.
(CSF ESS 5.2)
In a primary school session I got grade sixes to mime a planet in our solar system and others to guess. Watch out for descriptions of Uranus!
We had the eating of Mars bars, a wedding representing the rings of Saturn and a barking dog representing Pluto – what is Goofy?
Students then stood in a line from the sun. Each then moved along the line and the audience clapped – the loudest – for where they felt that planet stood in relation to the sun.
At the end we checked the order. This then became a dance of planets around the sun – the awkwardness and variety of speed suggesting lots about movement in our solar system.
Any attempts by students to find answers – even when incorrect – can be praised as examples of hypotheses practiced on a daily level by scientists.
The above examples of allowing students to physically represent the distance between planets, or the different phases of the moon, are means by which we can lift concepts from the page and turn them into fun and physical activities. Science teaching is full of these opportunities.
Too often we can ignore the physicality of students.
We focus on the intellectualised side of learning and fail to recognize the potential in getting students to move within the classroom we see movement as risk and fear that students will get out of hand.
We also tend to find excuses to stop students from moving around the room – they will be too physical, there are too many dangerous things within the room.
While there is a natural need to be safe I have found that students, of all ages, and across many subject areas, respond very favourably to the opportunity of moving and representing ideas and concepts physically.
Students could model:
If the room limits one then you could get students to work in small groups and to give their representation one group at a time.
(CSF PS 4.2/5.2)
One teacher used an example of taking students onto an oval and firing a cap gun to record the timing comparison of hearing the gun and seeing the puff of smoke from different distances.
I have even seen this example used in mapping the distance and size between planets: students standing at different distances holding tennis balls and basketballs to represent planets.
(CSF ESS 4.1)
(CSF BS 4.1/5.2)
An Introduction to Ecosystems
The group of year nines was asked to write the names of living things on the board. I asked for examples of animals – big or small – as well as insects and plants and flowers. Each student came to the board and wrote an animal, etc. I transferred these, including a few of my own, to stickers that were placed on a table and collected individually by students.The students then sat in a circle with the animal names stuck to their fronts so that they could all be seen. We played "Anyone with?" in which a central student tried to get to the outer ring of chairs – "Move if you come from Australia." (See Case Study # 5 for more detail on this activity).I then asked the students to move the chairs and group according to a series of questions. Students had to interact and stand in relation to other animals/plants/insects within the room according to their best judgment and discussions with others. Here are some of the questions: Stand in relation to "Where do you come from?" "Whom you are closest to in the food chain?" "Size?" "How you are used by man?" It was interesting how in the last question a number of students grouped according to domesticity and food: rabbit, cow, and sheep.After each question we explored the difficulties and questions raised. This class was an opportunity for the students to experience a sense of how animals and plants and insects are connected within ecosystems. This exercise could be repeated at a later date after the students have more knowledge and can create the questions themselves. It was interesting that I included "water" and "air" within the list. These students moved towards the centre of the room and kept emphasising their connection to everyone else.
As this activity has no clear answers it is an excellent means of generating questions and future research.
Role-play is often avoided because it is either badly taught or we have had bad experiences with it.
The following examples are simple activities in which students not only take on roles but also where concepts are placed in a human realm – here chemical elements can talk. This provides a great opportunity for exploring science from many new angles.
One activity that can work very well (see Case Study # 3) is where students are asked to take on the roles of objects, animals, plants, people, chemical elements, etc. This can be done when you explore cycles such as the water cycle, the carbon or the nitrogen cycle.
You can simply ask students to stand in the room in relation to each other – you can clear a space at the centre of the room.
If, for example, each student is an animal they will need to stand in relation to all other animals within the room. The lion may stand next to the tiger – the rabbit at the other end of the room near to a possum.
(CSF BS 4.1/5.2)
There are a large number of movement activities in which students, in role, can stand in relation to each other. You can get students to stand in a line to represent the stages in digestion – see Case Study #2.
Students can be in a circle and have to move into other chairs when a particular question is asked – see Case Study # 5.
By asking students to move as a machine or what happens in a chemical process enables new relationships to be formed with the area of study.
I recently got groups of grade three students to physically represent air pressure over wings and the stages in a jet engine. This included blades, compression and fuel explosion and thrust. Representations were most interesting and thoughtful
To simply ask students to model, in a sculpted form, the degree of fat in different foods – see Case Study #2 – you can create a memorable impression far deeper and lasting than reading a text.
I am often surprised by the number of teachers who say how they most remember the physical activities they did in the classroom when they were students!
One of the best methods of making science even more accessible to students is to humanise the learning. This means that we take the learning from the page and use it so that students physically represent scientific concepts.
Students can, for example, be interviewed as parts of a flower, aspects in the weather or processes within a volcano. In these situations the object e.g. lava, can speak. This provides great opportunity for exploring the subtleties of volcanic activity. Students can ask ‘lava’ questions and ‘lava’ will need to respond accordingly.
(CSF ESS 5.1)
Here students are translating knowledge into another form that challenges, allows new relationships and places the learning into a non-intellectualised and more accessible social framework.
The possibilities are endless. Students can be interviewed as people or objects. The teacher can interview in role and all responses can be packaged in an appropriate form whether it is a television show or a meeting of experts.
Teacher/Student in Role
The website at the below address: www.partnership.mmu.ac.uk/drama/HESTON/default.html – provides excellent information on how role, within an educational drama context, can be used in the exploration of science. This excellent overview of the practitioner Dorothy Heathcote can give the teacher invaluable ideas on using role within the classroom – whether it is getting students into role or the teacher. Role-play can be an excellent vehicle for exploring science in depth. Unfortunately the name has become synonymous with threatening teaching practice – people fearing that role-play is performance. Sadly this state of affairs has come about due to an over-emphasis on performance rather than the generation of ideas.
Role-play in many cases has been taught insensitively and as a result it has been undermined as a teaching tool or has been marginalised into that of drama teaching.
The above website can go someway towards correcting this imbalance. See Case Study # 4 for an overview of using role within a science classroom.
(CSF ESS 5.2/6.1)
Exploring Plate Tectonics and Volcanoes
The student group of year tens was asked to sit in a circle and a ball was passed around – in this case the dog toy mentioned earlier. Students were asked to say anything they knew about plate tectonics, including volcanic activity.Students simply listed words to do with this topic as they held the dog toy. The words said were listed on the board as a means of providing support for the next activity in which students were asked to pass the toy around and a student, with back turned, would yell, "stop". The student with the toy in hand would then have to talk about the topic for about twenty seconds. This activity continued until I felt that we had covered a number of key points within the area.I then mentioned to the students that the following activity would require their support. They would have to exercise their imaginations and help build belief to make the activity work. I said that I was going to play the part of a mountain and that they would have to ask questions as if in a press conference. I asked the students to enter into a contract with me in which they would help to build and not break the belief. I asked for a show of hands. One student chose to sit out – not a problem – I praised his honesty. I then left the room and came back to my chair in the role of a mountain. The students asked me questions that I responded to directly or vaguely: "How tall are you? Have you been there for long?" I mentioned about the changes I have seen over the years with how people have used me for worshipping to riding motorbikes and subsequent environmental activity. A key point to this activity was keeping the answers relatively obscure so as to keep the students guessing and exploring my characteristics.In the final task I left the room and entered as a facilitator of a meeting. Here the students were placed in a role – "I have called you here today because of the serious problems we are facing in the community. I know that you are all experts but need to say that what is discussed here cannot under any circumstances leave the room."I then chaired a meeting in which the students, cued as members within the community – "We have a tourism expert here" – explored the scenario of a nearby mountain having been found to be volcanic and ground movement threatening the economy and lifestyle of the town. This generated lots of interesting discussions on the effects of ground movement/volcanoes on towns and regions. Finally having wound up the discussion I showed a text and spoke about the much under-recognised tragedy of Martinique in 1902 and how 30,000 people were killed by the eruption of Mount Pelee – we perhaps focus too much on Pompei without realising how a relatively recent phenomena had an enormous impact upon a township. Here are some extracts from the text "The Day their World Ended" Thomas/Morgan Witts and websites with follow up material."He (Dr.Eugene Guerin) had just finished breakfast when the sound of screaming came from the kitchen. Moments later Mary Goodchild, the English nurse and Governess, raced through the dining room slapping at her body and shouting: "Fourmifou! Fourmifou!"The cry was taken up in other parts of the villa, and from the sugar factory. Dr Guerin rushed outside to see his head overseer, Joseph du Quesne, organising the workers to fight the plague of ants and centipedes which had swarmed in the banks of the Blanche River.They had been driven further and further down the slopes of Pelee by the ash falls: the Fourmi-fou, speckled, yellowish creatures whose bite stings like a red-hot needle….In the mulatto quarter, nature had unleashed a new attack upon the town: a swarm of ferdelances, deadliest of all the snakes that roamed the island, had slithered in from the interior, driven, like the ants and centipedes that had attacked the Guerin household earlier, by a search for food. In minutes they had struck terror into hundreds of people."
VolcanoesHere are some websites on volcanoes.
One of the key points that came out in my teaching of media studies was just how much students knew before they entered the classroom. Students have a great knowledge of media forms and whether these are game shows – see Case Study #1 – you can draw upon this knowledge to present scientific knowledge in newer ways.
A good way to define the media is to see it in terms of the electronic or print media. You can even read obituaries in newspapers to explore the real life of scientists – see this section.
As mentioned in the focus group you can also do many great things with advertising.
The list of possibilities is endless and is only limited by your and your students’ imaginations. An important point to take into consideration is the audience reading the media form.
This can then allow students to explore these media forms and learn a great deal as they are faced with the challenge and deep learning of translating the scientific knowledge into the appropriate form.
You may even like to look at old print adverts – see this – to discuss how science has been used in print advertising over the years.
The electronic media provides just as many opportunities. Students, with the aid of a video – so you can stimulate next year’s class – can create their own weather report, news report, or television game show or interview show.
Think of all the television game shows there are and how their styles can be utilised to explore knowledge within the classroom. Students will get a great deal out of writing questions and hamming up the shows. This is also a great way of putting fun back into revision prior to a test or exam.
Go onto a newspaper CD-ROM, such as the "Melbourne Age", and type in key words such as:
Some of the most moving writing in newspapers is in this section
A colleague pays tribute to a scientist’s life: this is a great opportunity to show your students the lived and human side of science.
Introducing Students to Chemical Elements
A somewhat difficult and over-excited class of year nines!
Student seating was arranged in a circle and we played an activity called "Anyone With."
A student sits in a chair in the centre of the circle and must get into the outer ring of chairs by asking a question that gets those students moving. For example he or she can say "Anyone with a sister?" If a student has a sister they must move into another chair before the person in the centre grabs an outer chair. The person who misses out becomes the new person in the centre.We got the students warmed up, we explored the types of questions asked – open and closed – always debrief learning in activities! I gave each student a chemical element card with properties that I had collected from an online periodic table: Li : lith·i·um (1818): a soft silver-white element of the alkali metal group that is the lightest metal known and that is used in chemical synthesis and storage batteries.
Students were then asked questions and they had to move if the question related to them. It did not matter if the students were a little unsure of what they were. This was an introduction to get students familiar with the element's name, its properties, when it was discovered and its symbol. Here are some of the questions that were asked: Move if you are:
Liquid at ordinary temperatures, Used In coins, Used in pipes, Can be polished, Are poisonous, Good at conducting heat or electricity, Bluish in colour, Used in lamps, Metallic, Non metallic, Light, Flammable, Whitish, Abundant in nature, Your symbol starts with the letter M, Heavy, Used in batteries, Discovered before 1815, Soft, used in photography, burn, resistant to corrosion, used by a dentist, used in jewelry, used in medicine, in the Hindenburg, used in paper, used in rubber industries.
A good gateway for websites on science is to look at Science Web: this is a very comprehensive index: www.scienceweb.org/
Here are some interesting websites with information on scientists as well as e-text sites that give examples of very old science writings by famous scientists. The following site contains some links to Newton E-texts: www.lucidcafe.com/library/95dec/newton.html#etext
Here is the site for Project Guttenberg – http://promo.net/pg/ – not much on Newton but there may be more from other scientists – it seems Sir Isaac may still have copyright. This is a very broad site – no need to buy a book again.
is one other Newton website:
Here are two entry
points for the Science in Schools SiS Research project focusing on the "development
of a model of change to bring about effective teaching and learning in
There are many ways in which we can use history within classrooms to explore science. Just think of the many fantastic stories from the past that involved scientific discovery: the space race, the search for longitudinal time measurement or even the discovery of vaccines.
Behind many scientific discoveries are many fascinating stories that students can be referred to.
The search for scientific answers can involve the great drama of mistakes, discovery and chance.
By tapping into these stories we may be able to further engage students as we show that science can involve as much passion and emotion as it does quiet patience and reflection.
There are also scientific journeys in which science has connected with history to explore a truth behind cloudy events.
Here scientists discover the truth of what happened in history. Events that come to mind include: what happened to the Franklin expedition that failed in its search for the North West Passage or what is the real story behind the prehistoric man discovered in a glacier in Austria.
Here are some websites that give fascinating information on these scientific projects. You may know many more scientific endeavours in which scientists join with archeologists to find new truths.
The story of the
iceman can be found at
Details on the failed Franklin expedition can be found at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franklin%27s_lost_expedition
Using old texts to teach scienceA great way of introducing students to nutrition and health is to explore old cookbooks. These provide really interesting examples of how people once dealt with healthy eating. Here is an example of a tonic from about the 1950s in the days when home remedies were the norm:
Put juice of 6 lemons over 6 eggs (shell and all) in a glazed basin. Stand for 4 days, turning 2-3 times. Mash down with a masher and strain. Add 1 cup cream, ½ pound of honey, and half a pint of brandy. Shake well. Take 1 tablespoon 3 times a day. Wonderful "pick me up " after the flu.
2 Sets Brains
We also looked at a Chemical and Formulas book from 1933: it is amazing how some people once made their own shampoo, soap, glue and pyrotechnics.
Movies can be a great resource for connecting students to science. Movies represent science in many ways whether it is the representation of scientists in films such as Dr.Frankenstein, The Island of Doctor Moreau, Jurassic Park or The Nutty Professor.
Other fiction films such as Star Wars continue certain impressions of space that are physically incorrect i.e. sound in space. 2001: A Space Odyssey is an example of a well researched film that has taken pains to represent space accurately – quite ahead of its time considering man had not even landed on the moon when it was made.
(CSF ESS 5.3/5.4/6.3)
Movies give students an opportunity to explore clichés and stereotypes and how accurately or inaccurately scientific truths are stated.
A plethora of volcano films in recent years has given us lots of opportunities to explore and trigger discussions on volcanic activity.
The recent entry of DVD into the market also means that teachers can show segments of films without the painstaking task of fast forwarding or rewinding to find specific film segments.
Listed below are a number of film websites and website examples that may help you in triggering interesting discussions on scientific phenomena.
Here is an example of an article from the website: The Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics.
This site also has a range of interesting lesson plans that can support students in the exploration of physics concepts."While not perfect, we must admit that Titanic is one of the biggest physics movies around. Apparently the water leaking into the Titanic was magically warmed for the comfort of passengers. The hero and heroine seemed to be able to slosh through it for much of the Titanic's final hour without so much as a shiver. Our soaked-to-the-skin hero and heroine also appeared immune to the cold night air as they stood on deck bravely awaiting the final moments of sinking.Perhaps they were warmed by the glow of romance. Once in the water, however, things did seem to cool a bit, at least in the thermal sense. At first we wondered how the hero and heroine of the movie were not pulled under to their deaths by the sinking ship, especially Di Caprio, since he had no life jacket. Like many moviegoers we had been indoctrinated over the years to believe the undertow from sinking ships was certain death. However, a little consideration of the doomed ship's free body diagram gave us the answer. There were probably large trapped air pockets in the ship which made the upward acting buoyancy force almost, but not quite, equal to the downward acting gravitational force.
In other words, the stern section probably had only a small net downward force on it. This would have been enough to sink it, but given the ship's huge inertia, would have resulted in a very slow rate of descent (at least initially). Hence, the ship could easily have slipped gently under the waves……
(CSF PS 6.3)
Human stuff aside, the big screen portrayal of the sinking was awesome. It had it all: linear and rotational velocity, acceleration, and inertia with torque, forces, Archimedes principle, and fluid dynamics included on a, well, titanic scale. We resorted to the right hand thumb rule no less than three times in order to determine the direction of rotational vectors: first as the ship's stern rotated upward, then as it rotated downward when it broke off, and finally as it rotated upward again just before sinking... a three right hand thumb movie, wow!"
Other Science Movies websites worth exploring are:
An article on the creative teaching of science – http://www.creativityatwork.com/articlesContent/teaching-creativity-science.htm – by Professor Lee Gass from the University of British Columbia.
The whole of science is nothing
more than a refinement of everyday thinking.Science is an attempt to make
the chaotic diversity of our sense experience correspond to a logically
uniform system of thought."- Albert Einstein, "Out
of my later years" 1950.
- Robert L Fried, The Passionate Teacher: A Practical Guide, Beacon Press Boston 1995 Excerpts.
This small text is only a start into further discussions on how science can be taught even more creatively.
I thank Ballarat High School, the teachers concerned and DEET for the support and opportunities within this project.
The Focus Group, and the teaching and reflections have even more connected me to the possibilities at offer within the science classroom.
If we can engender this in our students then the classroom can be an even more fun environment in which there is little separation between the teacher and the learner.
Best of luck in your endeavours and feel free to contact me if you wish to discuss anything further.
- extract from The Secret Family, David Bodanis, Simon and Schuster, 1997.
And then the dad goes ahead and wrecks it all by finally giving the baby that heaped spoon from the baby food jar.
Some baby foods are fresh and wholesome but many are simply the means for manufacturers to get rid of things they couldn’t sell any other way. In the past it would have been harder to do this because people could tell if something terrible was added in. It would just sort of float around and you could look in and run screaming. But there’s an excellent way to mask it all now. Insert a long polymer at the factory, one that swells when water is added, so much and so burstingly, that is stretches over the various added substances, making them impossible to distinguish from the food. As an extra bonus, the wondrously swelling polymer allows you to add in so much zero cost water that it is often the main ingredient in baby foods.
One slight problem is that the polymer that does this swelling tastes, to be honest, like wallpaper paste. But this should not be too surprising, as it is actually the main component of wallpaper paste. To cover up the taste, tomato purée is often used as it is easily obtained, at convenient low cost, from tomatoes that are too decrepit or just too bruised to be sold separately. The bright coloring also helps with the second problem, which is that the paste itself comes out a revolting grey when it’s first mixed with water.
To bulk it up, boiled and skimmed pigs' feet extract is often used, though in a pinch the scooped inner pith of discarded fruit can be added too. Chalk is often added next. It tastes about as you’d expect (though it beats the wallpaper paste), but it is white enough to mask any of the grey gloop that shows through the tomato coloring. Vacuumed straight from a schoolroom eraser it would be too dusty to swallow. But with the polymers of the wallpaper paste, it mixes so smoothly with the water that it is the main ingredient that it can be swallowed without a problem. Baby rice especially is color-masked this way, and it can be up to one third straight scooped up white chalk.
The paste and water slurry now looks better, but it’s still not a selling point to say on the label that chalk dust, pigs' feet, water and paste are the main ingredients. Something more obviously enticing needs to be added to sell the product. Often that’s meat from the animal we recognize as usual sources. But it's rarely taken from the parts of the animal we're used to. Cattle for example are largely fermentation chambers on legs and so have hundreds of pounds of mucus-lined digestive tubing inside. They need this to hold their gallons of bacteria and plant fibres in place until they are excreted. Such mucosal tubing would be hard to sell if it were labeled, but baby food has often been exempt from any requirement to label the exact part of the animal its meat has come from.
Bowels accordingly are one of the more common meat sources used in baby food. They are frequently put in great compression units with other hard to sell fragments – brains, testicles, and nostrils are especially common – and then they’re all blended, squeezed, and cut into tiny tubes for mixing. If enough fat has been stripped off, the result can be labeled as ‘lean’ meat. Sugar needs to be added to cover its taste. Kids wouldn't mind straight granulated sugar, but parents are fussy. Manufacturers, accordingly, often process fruit juices to yield a product that’s chemically identical to ordinary sugar but usually can be heaped in without the dreaded s- word ever appearing on the ingredient list.
The mix is almost done, but it still lacks the right texture. The bowels, nostrils, etcetera, that come out of the compression units don’t ooze with the connective fats that more normal meats would. Frothy chunks of animal fat get slopped in, to help with the vegetable fats as needed. A few herbs, an attractive label, some iron shavings to add mineral content, and there you are.
Usually that’s it.
But there are also some jars labeled as having extra ingredients which
make them ‘suitable for the hungrier child’. Sometimes it's processed
cotton shavings or other cellulose pulp that goes in, other times it's
just dollops of the dextrin glue used on the back of stamps. Both sound
odd, but they’re substances which swell exceptionally quickly once you
mix them with water. Put the full water, chalk, bowels, pigs' feet, paste,
sugar, fat, and stamp glue and cotton pulp mixture into a baby’s
mouth, and you can trust that he’ll be left quite full.
Supplement to 'The Argus' (Now defunct Melbourne Newspaper) December 30, 1947.
© Copyright In Clued - Ed 2009