Sunday, March 16, 2014

Engaging Students in Science Presentation

 During my recent presentation to EnCorps teachers, I discussed the topic of “Engaging Students in Science.” I hope my advice will be helpful to you as well!

As the main purpose of my presentation, I focused on the difference between teaching at students and engaging students. I remember being an education student, and my professors would say: “Lecturing students is not an effective method of instruction” while giving a lecture. Ironic, right?

Just Say No to Lecturing Too Much

While lecturing can be an easy crutch for teachers, it is not often an effective method to engage students; therefore, I advise the following:

• Lecturing mostly teaches the instructor
• If you do lecture, it should lead to a more interactive activity
• Every hour should include three+ transitions

Engaging Vs. Entertaining

In our entertainment-saturated world, some teachers feel pressure to entertain their students. However, in the long run, engagement will be more meaningful and powerful for the learning experience than “entertaining” and you will gain your students’ respect through engaging, not just entertaining, them.

A few tips for engaging (not entertaining)

1.     Don’t be a magician, be a mentor
2.    Put the science in the students’ hands
3.    Students will gravitate toward hard science
4.    Share the truth of what you know

What Does Engaging Students Mean?

The teacher should be viewed as a facilitator of learning. Teachers are not the sole source of knowledge (or “sage on the stage”); instead, teachers should act as a guide on the path to learning. Teachers should facilitate access to materials that engage students in the experience of science. 

Meet students where they are and assist them in working in the zone of proximal development; you should know your students’ skill level and adjust the materials to suit them.


Hands-on experiences are extremely important, especially in the science classroom. These experiences will change students’ minds about misconceptions they may hold about scientific concepts. Furthermore, hands-on experiences make abstract concepts REAL to students.

Learning is a social experience and therefore students must discuss ideas often if they are to learn; as a teacher, you can create an environment that allows for peer discussion.

Instead of providing endless examples to illustrate a concept or principle, provide opportunities to grapple with the ideas in hands-on or other interactive ways.  All of these factors combined should result in individual students engaged in learning in your classroom. 

Six Methods of Engagement

The six methods below are often used in my classroom:

1.    Hands-on Activities
2.   Labs
3.   Demonstration
4.   Storytelling
5.    Connect with
6.   Student Interest
7.    Use of Video

Hands-On Activities

Doing science is an important step toward being a scientist. After all, you won’t learn circuit building from a book. Students can engage in many hands-on activities in the science classroom. I will share a few of my favorites. Our digital lifestyles deprive us of experiences, but seeing dry ice in person is way cooler than watching a video of dry ice floating around.  

What are some easy-to-provide hands-on activities?


  • If you do not have enough materials for all students, pair them up or use stations
  • Labs can also teach the imprecision of measurement


Start a class with a practiced demo to engage your students. To illustrate an abstract concept, use a demo, which will help students visualize the concept in action.

If possible, allow the students to try a simple demo themselves, individually or in pairs.

  •  Stories are very memorable
  • Make up stories or plays to help students integrate science ideas into their worldview
  • Improved reading comprehension can be a bonus

Student Interest
  •  Connect course topics with students’ interests
  • Know your students, talk to them frequently
  • Example: Dog Color Vision 

Video Clips

·        Start class with an interesting video clip. This video I made for LaserFest years ago has some cool laser demos.
·  Use a video clip later in class to hold student interest.

Conclusion: Goals for Science Teachers
  • Create a classroom where students learn to think like scientists.
  • Make your classroom a place where students question, discuss, challenge each other, like real scientists.
  • Inculcate the philosophy of science (observation, questioning assumptions, demanding empirical evidence, designing and carrying out experiments, etc.)
  • Act as a guide/get to know your students so that you can match them with the appropriate level of challenge and support their learning
  • Ensure that students experience science

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