Teaching science to K-12 learners requires demonstrating the real-world relevance of the material and providing context to keep students engaged. These three simple methods accomplish this and lead to inspired students who will develop a passion for scientific discovery.
If you catch a K-12 science teacher in an unguarded moment and ask them: What’s the biggest hurdle you face in getting your students interested in what you’re teaching? There’s a good chance they’ll tell you that it’s overcoming their students’ perception that the material is irrelevant to their lives. Every teacher, at one time or another, has heard students ask questions revolving around this idea. Their questions make sense, too. After all, how many of us understood in the sixth grade what we would need to know to function later in life?
That reality makes finding ways to provide context for students a critical part of any sound teaching method. The good news is, science teachers have it easier than most when it comes to doing this. They can use in-class demonstrations to highlight the utility of the material they’re covering, and can do so in fun, hands-on ways. But those tactics only go so far. To make connections between the work and the real world in the minds of students more must be done. Here are three of the best ways to make science learning meaningful to K-12 students.
Establish a Dialogue
One of the best ways to engage with students to help them understand the real-world relevance of a science lesson is to empower them to figure that out for themselves. To make it happen, the teacher should first come up with some constructive reasons of their own that answer the relevance question. Then they can lead off the classroom instruction by inviting students to think about the topic themselves.
What should follow is a robust back-and-forth that lets the students work out some ways they could imagine using the information they’re about to cover in their lives. Their answers can then form the basis for the lesson that follows. This is a way of putting the students in charge of their own learning, which will increase their engagement and provide the context they need to stay interested in a topic.
Bring in Real-World Experts
For young learners, there’s no better way to connect a lesson with the real world than by seeing someone who has put the very same knowledge into action. For teachers, the fastest way to facilitate this is to make expert guest speakers a regular feature of classroom instruction. To get started, the best way to proceed is to check with local organizations that may have experts on staff who are willing to donate their time.
If willing participants nearby prove difficult to find in the local area, consider connecting with the Skype a Scientist program. They can help set up 30 to 60-minute question-and-answer sessions with science experts in multiple fields of study at no cost to your school. It’s an excellent way to access a world of knowledgeable people who can get students acquainted with the myriad ways their science lessons can translate into real-world opportunities and careers.
Arrange Field Trips
An even better approach than an in-classroom demonstration is an off-site field trip. There’s no better way to demonstrate the real-world value of a science lesson than by going out into the real world so students can use their knowledge in practice. Again, science teachers have more options for field trips than most other disciplines might, so they should take advantage of that as liberally as possible.
To begin with, science centers and museums are always great destination options whenever they apply to a particular lesson. They’re not the only options, though, and creativity counts when finding the right fit for a given lesson. For example, when covering marine biology, consider going to collect samples at a local stream or waterway for further in-classroom analysis. Or, if a chemistry lesson is on the agenda, arrange a trip to a local laboratory facility. Getting to see state-of-the-art equipment like a BMG Labtech multi-mode microplate reader in action is sure to leave a lasting impression that will have students practically begging to learn more.
Making Learning Relevant
Employing these three relatively simple tactics offers an easy way for science teachers to increase student engagement and forge the kind of real-world connections that keep learners interested and motivated. The good news is that they’re all easy to put in practice and apply quite broadly to the vast majority of science coursework that K-12 teachers have to cover. And those grade levels are the perfect time to do it. And getting it right could inspire students to become lifetime learners with a passion for and a deep understanding of science – which is an outcome that we all can agree carries benefits that cannot be overstated.