How to provide a multilayered science offering in your classroom

| September 5, 2017 | 0 Comments

BY DON DUFFIELD

As we move deeper into the 21st century, knowledge becomes ever more accessible through the internet, social media and open online learning platforms.

This presents a challenge for us as teachers, as at the touch of a button, learners in our classes are able to access information they find interesting well outside of the syllabus, and that we are tasked to teach them. So, this begs the question: “How do we keep what we teach them relevant and interesting for them, while covering the prescribed syllabus?” Providing a “multilayered offering” is one way of doing this. While this approach can be applied to a wide array of subject areas, this article will focus on structuring and implementing a multilayered science offering.

A multilayered science offering

The goals of structuring and implementing a science offering should be to provide learners with an overall experience of science that extends beyond the classroom and syllabus; one that is exciting, learnerfocused and strives to expose the learner to the true nature of science.

Layer 1:

An innovative classroom experience First and foremost, we need to teach the syllabus correctly. No amount of fancy accessories to our teaching will excuse neglecting to teach the syllabus properly. Good resources and well-planned and well-executed lessons, together with regular high-quality assessments, form the foundation of every highquality offering.

Learning science requires the mastery of abstract concepts, problem-solving and application of the scientific method in carrying out investigations into physical phenomena. Free, online, web-based PhET simulations1 help deepen learners’ understanding of abstract concepts. These simulations can also run on mobile phones. Practical investigations in the laboratory are absolutely necessary.

Augment these with virtual practicals such as the free, online Direct Measurement Videos2, where data can be generated from “superslomo” videos and analysed for experiments that would normally not be able to be carried out in the ordinary school laboratory. With the advent of apps such as Google Sites, teachers can build personalised websites that marry notes, simulations, relevant video clips and extension activities onto a common platform. Their learners can then use this platform to learn, even when outside the classroom. This contributes to a more learner-focused approach.

Layer 2:

Learning through extension activities When learners enjoy and are shown the relevance of what they learn, they retain knowledge and skills far better. Projects have long been used to do this, but with the advent of the internet, projects can be taken to another level. For example, collaborative projects between schools across the globe can be carried out using Skype sessions, Google Classroom and other Google apps such as Google Drive.

This helps to develop global citizenship in our learners. “Citizen Science” projects are also now a possibility, thanks to websites such as https://www.zooniverse.org/, where learners can be tasked with analysing “real-world” data and contribute to real-world discoveries. There are a wide range of science and technology competitions available that can be used to extend learners by getting them to apply scientific method and design process in a real-world context.

Examples include the ESKOM Expo for Young Scientists,3 the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement (SAASTA) Natural Science and Physical Science Olympiads,4 Sangari South Africa’s F1-in- Schools5 and the South African Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE) Bridge Building competition.6 Running a science club or young engineers’ society at your school can help to bring in the fun element of learning, by giving learners the opportunity to experiment and learn without having to worry about being formally assessed.

Layer 3:

Learning from experts and role models Learning from role models is extremely powerful. This can be facilitated by approaching a local university, research institution or enterprise and inviting scientists to speak at your school about the research and career opportunities in their field. More often than not, they will make the time to do so, because they are aware of the need to invest in the future of science through speaking to young people. Another resource that is often left untapped is the parental community within a school. Investigate which learners’ parents work in scientific or technological fields, and then approach them to speak at your school. Depending on whether the school has the means to do so, it can be beneficial to take learners on excursions into industry and to scientific research facilities to meet experts in their professional environments. Taking smaller groups of interested learners results in gaining access to more places of interest, as it is less intimidating for the hosts than having to cater for very large groups of learners, many of who are not necessarily interested in the excursion.

Enrich the learning experience

Schools that have used this approach can testify to the value of a multilayered offering, in that it provides their learners with a rich learning experience. This prepares them not only for success in their final examinations, but also guides them when they make career choices. Financial constraints need not prevent a school from implementing such an approach, as web-based resources and platforms are now more freely available than ever. A passionate and innovative teacher can overcome what seems to be insurmountable odds in striving to enrich their learners’ experience of their subject area.

Don Duff ield is head of physical science at Parklands College in Cape Town.

 

References:
1. See: https://phet.colorado.edu/
2. See: http://serc.carleton.edu/dmvideos/
3. See: https://www.exposcience.co.za/
4. See: http://www.saasta.ac.za/competitions/national-science-olympiad/
5. See: http://sangarisa.co.za/f1-in-schools/
6. See: http://saice.org.za/events-and-awards/saice-bridge-building-competition

Category: Spring 2017

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