Less wow, more how.

After getting a link from a friend about a science demo site with several misconceptions and activities that don’t work, I noted that having elementary students work with lemon batteries promotes wow, but not the how for students. What I mean by this statement is one of the biggest problems with efforts to engage students in learning science.

Too often we as science teachers (and educators in general) try to entertain our students into learning.  While learning doesn’t have to be boring, often times real learning is not fun – my deepest learning is usually achieved after extremely difficult mental and emotional work.  But I’m getting into a tangent…sorry.

When we “wow” students with demonstrations and then simply explain how the demo works, we are not teaching, we are telling.  Next time you do a demo, get your students thinking.  Ask them to make predictions before the wow event. Ask them where they have seen something similar.  Ask them to draw what they saw with a partner.  Ask them to attempt to explain what happened. Use the wow moment to get the students deeply mentally engaged in the how. Don’t waste your opportunity showing off how much you know, get the kids speculating about what they know!

P.S. When I go to science teacher conferences I am always disappointed by how overcrowded the “101 demos to really wow your students” sessions are while the “How to promote transfer of knowledge” sessions end up with so few people in them.  Perhaps we as a science teaching community ought re-evaluate our priorities.  Perhaps I’m just bitter cause I’m usually leading sessions like the latter. 🙂

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4 Responses to Less wow, more how.

  1. mrcmyoung says:

    Thanks for the excellent advice regarding demos. I try not to do too many because I’d rather have the students doing then watching me, but these ideas will definitely help me make demos more meaningful.

    • jerridkruse says:

      I’m not anti-demos, some are necessarily done by the teacher for safety concerns or to ensure certain observations are made. I’m just against demos that are mentally passive and focus on the glitz and glare rather than the learning….I feel much the same way about technology in education.

  2. It seems that you have read my mind on this post. I agree that many students are asked to do some kind of lab/activity and they never get a chance to make that “transfer of knowledge” you mentioned.

    When I gave students an opportunity to simply ask general questions about Physics or Earth Science class, every single class asked “Are we going to do labs?” and “Are we going to have fun?”. I really hoping those two aren’t mutually exclusive. The problem I’ve seen though with some teachers is that they lab the he!! out of their students but the students don’t really understand how the lab connects. They just know to follow the directions.

    Unfortunately, for me at least, I found that much of my undergraduate education classes tended to be full of a lot of flash and fluff with no real substance to it and that pattern seems to hold true more often than I’d like when I am able to observe other teachers.

    Oh well, the change starts with me not someone else! Just as I do with students, it’s time for me to model good practice to others and hope for the best.

    • jerridkruse says:

      Yes, the change does start with individuals. I hate whole-scale reform efforts because they cost a crap-ton of money and don’t change anything because they don’t address the fundamental agent of change: the teacher! We can have all the common standards we want, but if teachers aren’t doing something different in their teaching, nothing will change.

      Unfortunately the predominant message of k-12 and college level teaching is “drill & kill”, lecture, and memorize. These pervasive messages makes it very hard for teachers to “break the mold”. I wish you tremendous success this year!

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