Home' Teacher : March 2010 Contents LOOKING INTO PRACTICE 27
'She's such a dinosaur.' 'She's so old.'
'Science is so boring.' 'I don't need Science
in my future.'
This is how I imagine my Year 8 girls
think about my approach to Science teach-
Yes, I've worked hard to break up my
75-minute lessons to include experiments,
explanations, written work, textbook ques-
tions and reflection time, but I felt that I
needed to do more, that something had to
Getting started means letting go
The issue came to a head with a very diffi-
cult Year 8 class. Many students had become
uninterested and even disruptive. I thought
that if I could improve their engagement,
then maybe their motivation would improve.
Attending the Monash University Sci-
ence Teaching and Learning (STAL) pro-
fessional development program, sponsored
by Melbourne's Catholic Education Office,
empowered me to act. I realised that I
needed tohave a sharper focus on thelearn-
ers, to develop their sense of ow nership in
I introduced the topic of forces using a
predict-observe- explain approach to mag-
netic shielding. I had a paperclip held up
by a magnet in a retort stand. Im mediately
the students were interested. I asked them
to predict what they thought would hap-
pen when I put various materials between
the paper clip and the magnet. They wrote
down their predictions, with some even
volunteering their explanations. Then they
voted, eyes shut, for options about what was
going to happen with each different mate-
rial. It was great to see their increased levels
of interest and ownership.
After we tested the first three materials,
something extraordinary happened. The
students spontaneously began asking ques-
tions about the scenario. Instead of feeding
them answers, I adopted the delaying judge-
ment strategy I'd seen in the STAL sessions.
The effect was impressive: the girls began
to argue and discuss the experiment among
themselves. Even those who rarely contrib-
uted had something to say. 'That means that
all metals aren't magnetic.' 'Does thickness
affect the results?' 'There's more than one
force acting on the paperclip.' 'That means
that forces can affect things without touch-
ing them.' 'Gravity and static electricity also
affect things without touching them.'
The girls were discussing all the impor-
tant ideas that I wanted to cover. Not only
that, they were demonstrating sophisticated
thinking. Not bad for a Friday afternoon
lesson in a non-lab room.
A more risky venture
Feeling confident after that effort, I decided
to introduce some more open-ended tasks.
Instead of providing a series of structured
experiments about magnets, I gave one
instruction to the girls: 'You have 10 min-
utes to find out as much as you can about
how magnets behave. You and your partners
have a tub of equipment and one magnet.'
I watched as the girls set about their task
with enthusiasm. Most of them stayed on
task and carried out many more experi-
ments than I'd anticipated.
As I moved around the room, I could
hear them talking about their ideas. After
10 minutes, I handed out a second magnet
and asked one additional question: 'What is
the strongest part of your magnets?'
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