About the Author

Sarah Drake is a Living Environment teacher in Brooklyn, NY. She graduated from Northeastern University and is currently working on her Masters Degree at Pace University.

Five Ways to Improve Any Science Lesson

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We’ve all been there. You spend half of Saturday planning a lesson that is interactive and relevant to your curriculum, and you expect it to be a home run. Unfortunately, when you implement the lesson, it falls somewhere between a walk and a strike out. There are a wide variety of problems that may have occurred, anything from time management to students missing the point. Whatever the issues may be, here are five tips for getting the most out of your next science lesson:

1) Incorporate a visual.

Students are much more likely to recall something if they have a mental picture attached to it. All too often we rely on notes alone to present complex concepts to our students. Bring models, perform demonstrations, use PowerPoint presentations, or show brief video clips. You can even draw diagrams or have students refer to their textbooks to look at images while they are learning. In order to truly comprehend the material, students need to be able to picture what they are learning about.

2) Give detailed instructions.

An activity may seem brutally obvious to you, but the students are often confused by anything that is unfamiliar to them. If the students spend half of the period trying to figure out what to do, they will be less likely to understand the scientific concepts involved in the assignment. When initiating the activity, write instructions on the board or give a handout that states the steps to follow and the final product that is expected. When introducing a project, it’s best to show an example of complete work. The more details you provide, the better the lesson will be.


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3) Ask difficult questions.

As a mentor, one of the mistakes that I see new teachers making is that most of the questions that they ask begin with “what” or “where”. While it is fine to incorporate these kinds of questions, students will learn and retain more information when you encourage them to analyze the concepts that they are learning. Questions that begin with “how” or “why” will force them to take their understanding to the next level. Also, questions that force students to state an opinion and back it up with information are a great way to get them to state what they have learned. Any activity should be followed up with questions that guide student thinking toward the objectives of the lesson.

4) Let the students figure it out.

The buzz word for this is “inquiry learning”, and it basically means that teachers guide students as they discover the concepts that we want them to learn. This is interesting for the students, and can be done in a wide variety of ways. When studying diseases, I give students a description of a patient’s symptoms and ask them to perform research to come up with a diagnosis. Any lesson can become inquiry learning by having students perform an activity first and then coming up with the notes as a class, based on what was learned. These lessons allow students to develop critical thinking skills, as well as teaching them to look for the lesson in each activity.Rock-Swirl

5) End with a summary.

At the end of the lesson, it may be difficult for teachers to determine if the students understood the objective. At the same time, students may be struggling to decide which pieces of information that they were exposed to are the most important to remember. By finishing with a summary, it allows teachers that chance to see if the class is ready to move on, and it also allows students to see the goal of the lesson. A great summary can be the lesson objective, phrased in a “how”, “why”, or opinion question. If your class is working toward a standardized exam, you can give the students a few questions from past exams on the lesson topic. This allows them to see how their knowledge will need to be applied, and provide much-needed exposure to the exam.

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