Science and students’ interests

Middle school students typically have a lot of energy and enthusiasm. Channeling these into learning opportunities is the challenge for teachers. The Editor’s Roundtable lists key points in designing student-centered, interest-based instruction: get to know your students, use authentic tasks to build conceptual bridges between school and everyday life, design tasks at the right level, and give students choices (see the article for more in-depth on these). The featured articles in this month’s issue have examples of classroom activities that fit this description.

I suspect that many principals think of the word “circus” when they walk into a middle school science class! But Science Circus: Preparing Students and Engaging the Scientific Community* uses the word in a very different context—the three interconnected “rings” of core areas (life, physical, and earth science). The authors describe a community event (similar to science fairs and family nights) that involves students with the local scientific community in projects/demonstrations in these areas. They provide timelines for planning such an event and examples of “exhibits” that students could make and demonstrate, along with related exhibits from community partners.

The author of Using School-Yard Restoration to Engage Students in Water Stewardship notes that sometimes students are more aware of rain forests and polar bears than they are of the issues in their own communities. The article has suggestions and resources (such as a sample lesson and activity sheet) that ties into the Water Stewardship project.   [SciLinks: Watersheds]

“Sense of place” is defined as the integration of the geology, ecology, and cultural history of an area. The authors of Field-Trip Pedagogy for Teaching “Sense of Place” in Middle School describe how to transform a traditional field trip from a superficial scavenger hunt to an authentic, multidisciplinary learning experience. Although the examples in the article are from the desert and mountain regions of Arizona, the authors note that every location has a geological history, native plants and animals, and a cultural history of the people that live there. The article Sense-of-Place Writing Templates: Connecting Student Experiences to Scientific Content Before, During, and After Instruction* has suggestions for writing activities that ask students to reflect on their experiences and connections with their surroundings. A sample template for meteorology is included in the article.

“This transformation from challenging to interested student is not uncommon when students are engaged in project-based learning.” Most of us have experienced this! Fossil Finders: Engaging All of Your Students Using Project-Based Learning describes how projects that are open-ended, challenging, and relevant can enhance student interest. Fossil Finders is an authentic investigation that can be implemented with middle or high school earth science classes.  [SciLinks: Fossil Discoveries, Fossils, Looking at Fossils, Fossil Record]

Upload, Download: Empowering Students Through Technology-Enabled Problem-Based Learning illustrates how student interest in technology can be channeled into problem-based learning. The article includes an overview of problem-based learning and an example of a challenge for students to address. Middle school students are social beings (most of them). So rather than ignoring this, the authors of Using Social Networking Sites to Facilitate Teaching and Learning in the Science Classroom have many suggestions for selecting and using information and communications technology in the classroom. They provide an example of what this would “look like” in a classroom, including a lesson on photosynthesis: researching a topic, organizing and illustrating their data, presenting their findings. [SciLinks: Photosynthesis]

Movies, IMAX theatres, even television—three-dimensional images are becoming more common. But what do students know about these images, the technology used to produce them, and how our eyes process these images? An In-Depth Look at 3-D* (this month’s Everyday Engineering article) features a 5e lesson (including images and an activity worksheet. (And I did have a Viewmaster similar to the one described in the article!) [SciLinks: Vision]

Choice: The Dragon Slayer of Student Complacency (this month’s Teacher’s Toolkit article) has an example of how giving students choices can be engaging and challenging for students. To investigate pendulum motion, the author describes three approaches to inquiry—structured, guided, self-directed. Students can choose their level of investigation. Each level begins with the same basic steps and safety information and then the levels are differentiated according to the input from the students. [SciLinks: Pendulums]

*For more ideas, check out the Connections http://www.nsta.org/middleschool/connections.aspx for this issue (March 2013). Even if the article does not quite fit with your lesson agenda, this resource has ideas for handouts, background information sheets, data sheets, rubrics, etc.

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