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Keeping science relevant

Design programmes that students recognise as interesting and/or relevant to their lives and aspirations.

A science programme may be relevant to a student when it:

  • makes connections with issues, events, and topics that are familiar and important to them, either in their personal lives, within their communities, from other school subjects, or as informed citizens – for example, an investigation into vaccinations for teenagers against human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • helps them meet their personal learning goals, such as the ability to progress to further study or prepare for a science-related career.

Helping a student relate new learning to their existing knowledge and interests by making these connections explicit will help maintain their interest in the science programme.  All teachers should get to know each of their students’ background, interests and goals.

A student who is a competitive athlete, for example, could wish to investigate the science concepts that have contributed to the improvements in the performance of athletes. Other themes could be the use of technology in sport (such as swimsuits that are designed to mimic shark skin) and how the laws of physics apply to golf swings.

This aspect of effective pedagogy is underpinned by the learning to learn, cohesion, and inclusion principles embedded in The New Zealand Curriculum. It encourages students to develop the key competencies of “thinking” and “managing self”.

  • You can use diagnostic assessment or “know the learner” activities to identify students’ relevant prior knowledge and involve them in planning activities or courses. A KWL chart can be a useful tool for helping students identify what they know, what they want to know, and what they have learnt.
  • When establishing the focus for a science programme, cross-curricular discussions could identify common themes. Liaising with teachers from other learning areas may identify shared approaches and resources to enhance student learning.

    For example, the level 2 biology and geography departments could plan a shared trip to Mt Ruapehu or Mt Aoraki to investigate the features of the landscape and the history and significance of the area.  The field trip that would include concepts and standards from both subjects and lead to internal assessments in Geography and Biology.  The trip could include a biological investigation into the patterns of distribution within a community on the mountain, as well as the positive and negative impact of humans on the area.

    The physics and physical education departments, or the biology and physical education departments, could plan a topic together that makes links to the science concepts and the human biology content common to both.

    A focus on emergency medicine enables level 2 biology and outdoor education students working towards First Aid and safety standards during a joint field trip.

  • Build students’ confidence by using familiar contexts. A field trip early in the year can give all students a common frame of reference. Video clips of operations observed on the field trip can be used throughout the year to reinforce their understanding of concepts.
  • Look for opportunities to take science learning outside the classroom and into real-world contexts. Pose real-life problems, by drawing on issues that affect the local community. Use field trips and technology to facilitate shared learning and help build connections to the wider community (LEARNZ field trips).

Keeping science interesting

An interesting learning programme or activity could:

  • stimulate students’ curiosity by allowing them to build on their interests and existing knowledge to plan and carry out their own investigations
  • provide appropriate levels of challenge, by taking student needs into account
  • include a range of learning experiences, such as investigations, practical activities, field trials, field trips, speakers, and group and individual activities
  • provide opportunities for students to engage in their own scientific inquiries either individually or in small groups
  • utilise the varied learning experiences available through scientific resources in the local community such as laboratories testing soil samples, fertilizer, food quality or DOC officers
  • require students to ask their own questions, search for relevant information and ideas, and explain their thinking (that is, use learning focused on scientific inquiry and metacognition strategies)
  • challenge students to use or apply what they discover in new contexts or in new ways.

Develop thinking about thinking

By teaching students how to think about their own thinking (that is, to engage in metacognition), teachers encourage them to become independent, self-regulating learners.

Teachers can support students to think about their thinking by:

  • verbalising their internal thought processes as they model to students how to work through a problem
  • emphasising scientific problem solving
    • Students could be given opportunities to develop critical thinking, argumentation theory, ethical decision-making, futures thinking, systems thinking, co-creativity, and other innovative thinking skill sets.
  • introducing students to the interactive futures and ethics thinking tools at the Science Learning Hub
  • teaching the value and use of strategies such as mind maps, key ideas, summaries, and question starters
  • using the three-level reading guide to help students interpret, evaluate, and relate to information in science texts.

Encourage reflection

Self-reflection and peer assessment help students take ownership of the learning process and develop competence in thinking and self-management.

Reflective thought and action is promoted when students are encouraged to:

  • evaluate different techniques and strategies
  • justify, compare, and contrast solutions to problems
  • evaluate data and think about the purposes for which it was created
  • discuss socio-scientific issues relevant to them
  • use self-assessment tasks to reflect on their learning. (To be effective the tasks need to be supported by clear criteria and exemplars. Graphic organisers or templates, reflective questions, and other tools may also be of value.)

See also:

  • Sharra’s story, to discover how one science department used learning guides to allow students to work interdependently and benefit from more learning conversations with teachers, with significant results in learning achievement.
  • The questions on learning progress page of assessment for learning.

Learn more:

Last updated June 8, 2018



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