Increasing Science Understanding Outside of the Classroom
Science is a living and breathing subject. It explores biology, space, waves, forces, weather, ecosystems, and so much more. It connects students to the outside world through concepts that exist both inside their own bodies and in the world beyond their home and classroom. Many students are naturally interested in science: Elementary kids love to investigate weather, study plant growth, and learn how water can naturally erode terrain, and middle school students enjoy exploring genetics, experimenting with chemical reactions, and learning how things work.
So the question is: how do we foster that interest and encourage further exploration into the wonderful world of science?
That is the question we asked ourselves here at TCI when we were creating our science curriculum. Not only is each unit we’ve created built for the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), but they are also focused on helping students have hands-on opportunities to interact with the concepts and to see and experience how they work firsthand. Our science curriculum is engaging for students of all ages, and we have heard and seen great results from teachers and schools who have used it.
However, we can only do so much within the confines of a school schedule. If teachers want to educate students thoroughly and completely, teachers and their students must look beyond the classroom. If kids spend about 40 hours per week in school, that’s 128 hours per week that they’re outside of school. How can we, as educators, encourage students to look outside of the classroom for learning opportunities, educational exploration, and personal and academic growth?
Change the Approach Inside the Classroom
A teacher standing in the front of a classroom and lecturing gets old very quickly for everyone involved. To add to that, some kids can get easily distracted and need more involvement and activities in order to stay engaged in lessons. The best way to combat this and ensure students are learning and understanding the material is to change the approach inside the classroom. Instead of simply drawing a diagram of a cell and explaining the various parts, get students involved in the explanation. Assign them “parts” of the cell and have them work as a team to create a cell with their bodies. Not only will this help them learn the information more effectively, but it will help them stay engaged with the concepts and encourage their interest in what they’re learning.
Beyond that, students are more likely to take the interesting lessons they learn inside the classroom back home with them. Students might not necessarily go home and tell their parents how thrilling it was to see a diagram of a cell on the board in science class, but they may share about how they played the role of “cell wall” and had to stand around other students to contain the contents of the cell. This hands-on approach within the classroom will drive students to take what they’ve learned outside the school walls and not only share their knowledge, but explore more thoroughly the concepts they’re studying. TCI’s science curriculum is all about alternative delivery when it comes to science concepts. Our lesson plans include hands-on activities for teachers to utilize to more thoroughly engage students and to teach concepts in a new and engaging way.
Focus on the Experience, Not the Lesson
Kids learn best when they’re having fun. When they don’t even realize they’re learning, they tend to absorb more information that they then retain for longer periods of time. Tests are such a huge focus in education nowadays, and while we can’t change that fact, we can do our best to teach our students for more than just testing. Yes, they need to pass the tests. But when we focus too much on the lesson and the test and the grades, we dissolve their interest in actually engaging with their material. Learning can therefore become more of an item on a checklist rather than an actual exploration of a subject. Focus on letting kids delve into the subject matter in the way that interests them, and use their perspective and personality to shape the way they learn the material to bring about more interest and retention from your students. At the same time, when you camouflage a lesson in an experience or activity, students may be more willing to actively participate, which in turn can help them learn content more thoroughly. We know you need to present the standards of the science curriculum, but when you focus more on the experience of the activity than the lessons the students are getting out of it, it tends to be more beneficial and enjoyable for everyone involved.
Connect Science to Real Life
Connecting science to real life goes hand in hand with focusing on the experience rather than the lesson. Life outside the classroom is full of science, but kids don’t see it as “scientific” when it’s just a part of everyday life. Embrace that! When you’re in the classroom, give them real life examples of when they might use a concept. Explain to them how combining yeast with various other baking ingredients causes a chemical reaction that, when prepared correctly, gives us bread. Teach them about how professional athletes study the mechanics of their throws, kicks, and swings to fully optimize the energy and force they put into each motion. The more you can connect science to the real world that exists outside of the classroom, the more students will understand key concepts and be interested in exploring them further. You can also encourage them to find examples in their everyday lives of science concepts, which will have them thinking about science when they’re outside of the classroom and going about their daily lives.
Assign Projects Based on Scientific Inquiry
Every student, despite how disinterested in science he or she may appear to be, can find some sort of scientific concept that they are interested in. Maybe it has to do with the chemical components of cooking, the force behind a golf swing, or the science behind video game creation. Assign projects, papers, or presentations based on students’ scientific inquiries and encourage them to explore their own individual questions and interests from a scientist’s perspective. When students engage in things that interest them, even if it’s for a class assignment, they are more willing to work harder and push themselves further to find the answers they’re looking for. When students challenge themselves with understanding the science behind an everyday occurrence and then understand the explanation, there is also a sense of accomplishment. That feeling may encourage them to further explore the concept or to seek out more answers to another scientific phenomena they’ve been wondering about.
Host a STEM Night
Parents and educators are seeing the increasing importance of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) applications. From helping students think critically and solve problems to real life implementation and eventual career utilization, STEM applications are incredibly important for kids of all ages. Schools all across the country have been hosting STEM nights where students can come and explore STEM concepts and learn from experts in various STEM fields. Students can learn how certain technologies work, how science applications assist certain industries, why math is applicable to every area of life, and how engineers design and build equipment, structures, and more. Your school can reach out to local companies and invite engineers, scientists, mathematicians, and more to attend the event. You might also reach out to your local high school or college to bring in older students to educate the younger kids on robotics, building simple machines, computer animation, rockets, and more. You can even utilize the TCI science curriculum to get ideas for various hands-on activities that you can do at a STEM night, or you can look for a professional to display a particular concept that you are teaching your students about.
No matter how you go about it, increasing science understanding outside of the classroom is a great way to encourage personal and academic growth in your students. It will also foster a love of learning and exploration, as well as will provide students with critical thinking and problem solving skills that will continue to grow well beyond their schooling years.
Be sure to check out TCI’s science curriculum for more ways to engage your students, get them involved in their education, and nurture their passion for learning, all the while giving them a quality education based on Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and years of educational experience.