Last week I had a friend on Twitter ask how we deal with this idea that class should be fun all the time. There are lots of times when life is not fun, so how do we teach them perseverance and grit for these times? My first gut thought was that science in the classroom should be fun, but still rigorous. I had this idea that we should teach them to learn with joy. It was quick, and not quite saying what I wanted to say, but in response she summed it up that it's about teaching them joy in the journey not fun in the moment. I had that Ah-hah moment! That fits so well into how I want my science classroom to work. I want the kids to have a problem so that they can go and look for the answer.
Science is not always fun, there are so many vocabulary words, complicated processes, and sometimes educational gaps that keep kids from enjoying it. In my classroom I try to tie big concepts with hands on learning, lecture, open ended labs, and inquiry based learning. For example, I teach and 8th grade physical science class where we work with getting kids ready for high school science classes. I work with them to learn how to study, make note-cards, and also great ready for a test. I also try to teach them how to ask for help, work with others, and how to find an answer when no one is around to help you. By looking at my classroom with this idea of helping to prepare them, while also teaching them the desire to want to know the information, I can tie together science and also the learning journey.
It is definitely easier to want them to love learning than putting it into practice, but I do have a few great examples where kids love the learning process. In that 8th grade class, students spend 8 weeks learning about motions, forces, and buoyancy. During this unit we create student organizations that are tasked with creating a boat that can carry a student made only of cardboard and duct tape. They have to create websites, budget their time and money, and also come up with a theme. The students have to make several weekly blog posts over the design process. We have two in-class labs that we do to prepare for the boats; an online simulation, and clay boats demonstrating hull shape. Students them have to draft and create a working scale model. After this small prototype they then can create the actual sized boats. The rules are simple, and each year I am thrilled with the level of engagement of the students. They do the work, they ask the questions, and they work through the problems. Students are in charge of their projects and they want to learn more so that they have the best boats.
In my environmental science class, we had a unit where the 11th and 12th graders were in charge of teaching 4th and 5th graders about water quality in both oceans and freshwater. By putting the older students as the teachers, they were highly invested in making sure they understood the concepts well, and could explain them to other students. To cap the unit, we tool all of the classes to the Oregon Coast where they high school students walked the elementary students through water quality sampling and learning about the ocean. The students were highly invested in the project and I thought that they learned the concepts better. I also got a much higher percentage of my students involved and turning in class work.
The science class is often thought of as hard and complicated. Students check out before they even start a class. However, if we can get students to change from this idea that a class should just be fun, but should be about learning about our world, we change the dynamic. The learning can be rigorous, intensive, and hard. If you can make a concept excite the students, they will want to learn about it and then it becomes fun no matter the work. The key lies in reaching the students and letting them ask the hard questions.