Academic journal article The Science Teacher

The New Teacher's Toolbox

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

The New Teacher's Toolbox

Article excerpt

Engaging Them Early

Welcome to another school year. This column provides tips to help you tackle the many challenges that new science teachers face. I've gleaned these techniques from my own experiences and from those of colleagues and readers eager to help you succeed.

Engaging students in science is a challenge that teachers face year-round. Some content lends itself to flashy demos or engaging lab activities, but much of it does not. The first week of school tends to fall into the latter category: Tedious tasks and repetitive lessons can turn off teenagers. Here are some first-week ideas for building engagement early and setting students up for an exciting year of science.

Start with a bang

Most of your students will travel through each class on the first day of school in much the same way: going over class expectations, signing out a textbook, and listening to the teacher talk about the course. Let your class be the one that flips the schedule. Start with an engaging demo or activity. I pass around a series of "toys" to my chemistry students (hand boilers, fake snow/sodium polyacrylate, "magic sand," etc.) and we discuss the chemistry behind them. My physics colleagues introduce Newton's laws by pushing a teacher's car in the parking lot. On the second day of class, take time for housekeeping tasks. Your students will appreciate the break from the monotony and will receive the message that yours is a class where they'll be doing science.

Break the ice

Consider an icebreaker activity so you can get to know students and they can get to know one another. In my marine biology classes, I toss around an inflatable globe. When students catch the globe they share their name, an interesting fact about themselves, and a favorite marine animal. I then ask them to look at their fingers and count how many are touching water; I record this number on the board but don't explain why. When the activity is finished, I average the numbers. As long as you have a large enough sample size of students, the average tends to approximate the percentage of the planet covered in water. Students are amazed and expend some energy on an otherwise routine day, and I learn a little bit about each one while reinforcing names. …

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