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Engaging Students in the Science Classroom


Imagine if students enjoyed going to all their science classes, regardless of whether they were studying science or the humanities. How do science professors get their students excited about learning the material? This question has continuously plagued most science professors, especially when teaching general education and introductory science courses. It is an unfortunate truth that many students feel that any type of science course is intimidating. While science is filled with many concepts, as well as mathematical aspects, it can be taught in a way that students can relate to and find enjoyable. After all, a great educator will find ways to keep students engaged and wanting to come to class just to see what will happen next.


Science educators should not only show passion for their discipline, but also care for their students. A great teacher does not assume certain content knowledge, regardless of the class level, but rather should adjust his/her teaching techniques after gauging the various levels in the class. The best way to do this is by engaging the students in problem-based learning as well as interactive activities using various examples, as well as personal life experiences.


The format of a typical science class is vastly different from that of a history, math, or language arts class, and that could be part of the appeal, but also part of the problem. Experimental learning can be fun and exciting for some students, while for others, it is nerve-wracking and requires social interaction, which they might prefer to keep to a minimum in the classroom. Teachers should use both hands-on learning and hands-off learning that would require students to apply ideas through homework assignments. For example, essays could be used to connect science to everyday concepts to appease the visual learners in the classroom, while typical hands-on experiments would be ideal for tactile learners.


One way that I have seen this approach work is with teaching a course called the Science of Food and Cooking. Students are easily able to relate to food because they all consume it, and in my experience, every student has had experience with cooking in some shape or form. Given that students could connect with the subject matter so effortlessly—speaking about food and dealing with recipes—by the end of the semester, they become not only conversant in chemistry concepts such as stoichiometry, limiting reactant, excess reactant, theoretical yield, and percent yield, but even learn to improve recipes with their new knowledge.


Additionally, students can be put off by one type of science, but not another, so a teacher should be able to relate biology, chemistry and physics within the confines of one type of science class. For example, heat is a concept that is discussed in all disciplines of science. Finding ways to relate heat in a chemical, physical, and biological sense will help students remember the significance and importance of the concept because the more a student sees and hears information, the more likely s/he is to remember it.


Could there be other ways to make science relatable to students, including using technology?


What kinds of essay topics would engage students and lock in learned concepts?


What are ways in which we could encourage teamwork among students who are shy or prefer to work alone?