3 ways to help students think and act as scientists

An award-winning teacher shares how he gets students excited about science

I enjoy challenging students to engage in hands-on scientific inquiry. In fact, I’m always telling my students and colleagues that I don’t want our students to think and act like scientists. I want them to think and act as scientists.

Here are three things we can do to make that happen.

1. Create an environment that helps students take ownership of their learning.
To effectively teach science, it’s vital to create an environment where students can ask questions and make discoveries, rather than simply being told what they need to know to do well on a test. Creating this environment requires teachers giving up some control, which can be scary. The rewards, however, are worth the risk.

I begin each activity with a driving question. I model how the equipment will be used; we discuss how to collect meaningful, replicable data; and then they get to work (usually in pairs or teams of three).

When we are in lab mode, which is at least half of the time, I am there to coach students but not to do the lab for them. If they get frustrated because an experiment isn’t working, we talk about why that might be happening but I don’t solve the issue. Instead, I give them space so they have room to stumble and figure out what they need to do to move forward. This helps them learn to identify and address problems on their own.

(Next page: More ways to get students excited about science)

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