Some countries traditionally believed to be leaders in scientific achievement seem to be losing their edge. In the UK, research has shown that fewer students are choosing science subjects at A-level and beyond. However, there are an increasing number of jobs that require expert scientific knowledge. Technology is rapidly evolving and many scientific debates, such as the impacts of future climate change and the development of alternative fuel sources, are central to contemporary society.
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Without students who are able to think like scientists, these jobs will not be filled. Thinking like a scientist will benefit pupils more than just allowing them to pass exams and choose valuable careers. However, encouraging an interest in science can be difficult. Here are a range of techniques that teachers can employ to support scientific understanding and achievement.
Many famous scientific discoveries were made accidentally, whilst investigating something different. Everyone knows the story of Alexander Fleming and the chance discovery of penicillin but young students may be more interested in the accidental concoction of the popular soft drink, Coke. Pharmacist John Pemberton was experimenting with different ingredients, attempting to make a cure for headaches.
Pemberton applied his scientific knowledge to developing medicine, but whilst doing this, he created Coke. If these accidental inventors were not curious about their creation, they would have discarded it. Curiosity is the key to thinking like a scientist.
Relate Teaching to Real-World Problems
Relating scientific understanding to real-world situations will show students that the discipline is not only used in the classroom. Science is a way of understanding the natural world, so the perfect way of explaining and encouraging it is to get pupils to think about this.
Demonstrate the impacts science has on society; such as through climate change science, the search for life on other planets or even its use in food preparation. Pupils who become bored with traditional scientific experiments may respond better to concepts they can relate to or have seen in the media. Research has shown that the more students are able to understand and enjoy science, the more they will progress in this field and begin to think like scientists.
Show Links between Science and Other Subjects
Another important idea to encourage is that science is not just limited to the biology, chemistry and physics classrooms. Students need to see that scientific reasoning and methods feature across the curriculum; for instance in maths, geography and even physical education. Few pupils consider these others ‘scientific’ subjects, as they are not classified as such until degree level education, but the links are clear, even in the primary school curriculum.
For instance, volcanoes are examined in both chemistry and geography, and a basic knowledge of muscles is needed for sports as well as biology. Demonstrating the relationship between science and another subject (which the pupil may be more interested in) will encourage them to think more about the nature of science.
Use a Variety of Teaching Methods
Studies have shown that many children are put off by excessive writing tasks or the constant use of textbooks. Similarly, step-by-step experiments are useful for showing pupils the logical nature of the scientific method, but alone they are not enough to encourage students to think like scientists. Employing a wide variety of motivational tips and teaching methods in science can really benefit children.
Making students responsible for their own learning will also encourage them to try new things and take risks, which have formed the basis of most scientific experiments and discoveries. Computer-based tasks will provide pupils with a change from laboratory or classroom lessons. Technology is increasingly important to scientific development, so combining these in your teaching will give the students a wider variety of life skills.
Invite Scientists for Guest Talks
Many children discover their dream career by reading about it or talking to people who work within that profession. Although dreams will change or develop as the child grows, their interest in a subject tends to stay strong. Inviting past students who use science in their careers, or even employees from local companies involved with scientific research, will allow pupils to hear things from a different perspective.
Guest speakers will be able to show pupils that the step-by-step scientific process is useful both at home and in the workplace. They may even be able to tell students who or what inspired them to continue their interest in science.
In conclusion, teaching students how to think like scientists will give them a methodological and enquiring mind, which will benefit them throughout their entire lives.
If you have any further tried and tested ways to develop scientific thinking in your classroom, please leave a comment below.
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Louise Blake is a writer and mummy blogger from Bath. She fondly remembers the beakers and Bunsen burners from the science lessons of her youth. But she wishes that she had been encouraged and motivated a little more within the subject. She specialises in education and parenting articles.