I know that if, at the start of the school year, if I tell the students that we are going to learning a lot of science that they’ll almost be bouncing off their seats, smiling, talking to their neighbours with such excitement that you would think I’d just put a thick gooey chocolate cake in front of each one of them. That’s the same of level of excitement that I would like to see at the start of every science class throughout that year instead of just at the start of the year announcement. If you, as science teachers, get the impression that your students are bored of their science class, then asking them will probably only confirm it. In a recent study of over 1500 US students, a massive 81% of teenagers said that they were, in fact, interested in science (this would be the equivalent of your start of year announcement). Unfortunately, only 37% of students stated that they enjoyed their science class, and even fewer – 33% – said that they liked biology class. In comparison, 48% of the same students said they enjoyed non-science classes. So maybe what we as teachers think of as fun and engaging lessons, the students don’t and are preferring other lessons instead.
The report from the AmGen Foundation, a philanthropic organisation that has given away over $300 million to local, regional and international non-profit organisations and who places a strong emphasis on strengthening science education, has shown that while teenagers tend to enjoy the more hands-on experiences of experiments and field trips, these are usually the least common elements of the science lessons. There has been, in the last decade or so, a push for schools to encourage more enquiry-based learning and a more hands-on approach, yet the results from the survey show that we are still very slack in providing the learning techniques and experiences that our students desire. From the results of the student survey, it was found that field trips are student’s second most popular teaching method but were, in reality, the least common, that they experienced; what the students got instead were textbooks which were the students least popular teaching method.
The report also highlighted the fact that 80% of students are more likely to be interested in science and possibly follow a career in science further down the line if they already knew adults within the field. In reality, only about a third of the students surveyed knew adults working in the science industry. Both of these figures were dramatically less when geographical locations and socio-economic status were taken into account. Geography and socio-economic status are also major factors in the quality and availability of STEM subjects taught in schools and is having a dramatic detrimental effect on student engagement and outcome.
So once again it comes down to engagement, enquiry-based learning, hands-on experiments and enjoyment. I believe that once you have these four practices in place, then you have your students in the palm of your hand. To me, it doesn’t matter if you’re a small school or a big school if you have a large budget or a small budget, every school can afford a tray full of safety goggles and a rack at the back of the class with some white lab coats. Just the simple act of slipping those two items on at the start of every lesson will get your student’s enthusiasm soaring. And, like I’ve said it many of my posts, make sure you have a hands-on experiment for every single lesson.
Infographics courtesy of the AmGen Foundation.