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Science is like marmite...

...rich, powerful and full of B vitamins.

What did you study at university?’ 

‘Chemistry’

‘Urgh… I absolutely hated chemistry at school’.

If I had a pound for every time I’ve had this conversation, I’d be able to buy my own rotary evaporator. 

Science divides opinion unlike any other subject; some students look back on their high school science education with fondness, whereas others recall an arduous, confusing and seemingly endless grind. 

As science teachers we’re lucky; our subject is inherently cool. We’ve got blood and guts, drugs and explosives, robots and galaxies - basically, an evil genius’s Christmas list. With such a diverse and fascinating subject, no student should leave thinking that science isn’t for them; they should be leaving with a fully fledged plan for world domination. 

Here are three tips to ensure that every science lesson is engaging, accessible and effective.

Contextualise

Do not teach in a vacuum - the kids won’t be able to hear you. 

After being stripped down and homogenised, many topics in the science curriculum can feel abstract and irrelevant. Without context, it isn’t clear to students why we teach the topics we do. Comments such as ‘when am I ever going to need to know this?’ become commonplace and act as a barrier to learning. Before students start to consider the ‘how’ and the ‘what’, they need to know the ‘why’

Here’s a few easy ways to provide context in your lessons:

  • Start your lessons with a question about everyday life. ‘Why does toast always land butter side down?’, ‘Why do headphones tie themselves in knots?’, ‘Why do they turn the lights off in an aeroplane when it lands?’. This is a sure-fire way to get your student’s brains in gear and incite a dogged determination to understand the science underlying everyday phenomena. 
  • Keep an eye out for science in the news. Regularly featuring articles in your lessons will help your students to appreciate the social, cultural, and political context of scientific developments and can act as excellent discussion prompts. 
  • Adopt a multidisciplinary approach. The once well-defined boundaries between the sciences are becoming increasingly blurred. Highlight the conceptual threads that connect the scientific disciplines to better prepare your students for the modern scientific landscape. 

If you are using Firefly, create ‘kickstart’ pages at the start of each new topic. Embed video content from YouTube, ClickView or TedEd and challenge your students to explain what they see! This is a great way for students to develop an appreciation for the importance of science to everyday life. (Here’s one for the physics teachers - showcase the harsh and unavoidable reality of Newton’s laws with a Youtube ‘fail compilation’.)

Demonstrate

It must be seen to be believed.

Practical demonstrations are powerful teaching tools that are unique to the sciences. They can spark curiosity and leave classes awestruck. Whether you’re turning stomachs with a dissection or shocking students with a Van der Graff generator, everyone loves a bit of hands on science. Demonstrations don’t have to be flashy - I’ve had a room full of teenage boys completely transfixed by pulling a cornflake with a magnet. 

This being said, demonstrations aren’t a magic ingredient; they need to be executed well, explained clearly and linked back to key learning objectives. Encouraging discussion around demonstrations is one way to engage students and develop understanding: ask your students to predict what might happen or develop theories to explain certain observations. 

Why not record your demonstrations and share them on Firefly pages? Drive departmental development by encouraging your colleagues to incorporate new demonstrations into their lessons! 

Investigate

*Cue the Pink Panther theme.*

Scientific research is powered by investigation and experimentation; why should science lessons be any different? 

With all the time pressures of the academic year, the temptation is to fall back on good-ol’-fashioned chalk and talk: you lecture, students listen. This might allow you to cover syllabus content in record time, but does it equip your students with the skills they need to think critically and reconstruct knowledge for themselves? 

Investigations don’t have to take weeks out of your teaching time, nor do they necessarily require a plethora of equipment. ‘Micro-investigations’ give your students the freedom to question, develop theories and draw conclusions without taking up too much of your teaching time. One example of a ‘micro-investigation’ might be using Phet simulations to explore how current and voltage behave in different kinds of circuits, (add these directly into your Firefly page). Get your students to briefly plan a few tests, run them and use the results to write their own rules of electricity. And the best thing… no tidying up!

You can create project sections in Firefly to support in-class experimentation. Collate resources and reference material to act as a springboard for your student’s independent research. Embedded Google Docs can promote collaboration during project work. Have each group present their results and conclusions on a Firefly page and share their findings with the entire school community.

How can Firefly help?

Firefly has a wide variety of tools and features which make it an ideal tool for supporting inspiring and effective science teaching:

Science is a fantastic subject. It’s exciting, interesting and relevant. Let’s make sure that every student leaves school with a curiosity about the physical world, a passion for science and a good anecdote about the time their chemistry teacher blew up a sink.

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