Home' Teacher : May 2010 Contents 20 TEACHER MAY 2010
Looking into practice
OUR JOB ISN'T TO CHANGE STUDENTS TO OUR WAY OF THINKING,
BUT TO CHANGE OUR WAY OF TEACHING SO THAT IT BUILDS FROM
OUR STUDENTS' INTERESTS, EXPLAINS DIANNE LODGE.
I often think that students today miss out on
so much by way of learning experiences out-
side ofthe classroom. While theyhave access
to infinite sources of information via a range
of electronic technologies, they don't seem
to know what to do with what they find,
and they don't seem to know how to apply it
appropriately to understand new situations.
I've found that students don't seem to be
able to link what they learn in their science
classes with what's happening in the world
around them. This issue of a lack of 'linking'
knowledge became very apparent to me dur-
ing my Year 11 Chemistry classes.
Part of the curriculum requires students
to look at a timeline of the development
of the different ideas that have led to our
current understanding of the atom. The
approach that I regularly use is to give
the students a prepared timeline, then go
through the timeline events with them and
try to stimulate their interest with attention-
grabbing, but not necessarily scientific, tid-
bits of information.
Did you know, for example, that Antoine-
Laurent de Lavoisier not only developed
the first version of the law of conservation
of mass -- that the mass of a closed system
remains constant over time -- but was also
an unpopular noble who was guillotined in
the French Revolution? He was accused by
Jean-Paul Marat during the Reign of Terror
in 1794 of 'plotting against the government
by watering (contaminating) the soldiers'
tobacco and appropriating revenue that
belonged to the state.'
Usually, my fascinating facts are enough
to stimulate student interest and discus-
sion, but this year was different. I was met
with blank faces when I expected a buzz
Still, I ploughed on. 'Has anyone heard
of Pierre and Marie Curie?' I asked.
'Yes Miss,' answered one student. 'They
were on an episode of The Simpsons.'
Students then spent the next few minutes
trying to work out exactly which episode.*
Things didn't improve when we moved
on to Niels Bohr and I asked whether or not
anyone had seen a recent SBS documentary
that looked at the rivalry between Bohr and
another scientist, Max Planck.
'We're not all rich Miss,' one student
explained. 'We don't have Foxtel.'
At this point, alarm bells were ringing
loudly in my head.
How could I expect my students to
understand the driving forces behind scien-
tific development if they didn't understand
the context in which the development was
taking place? Thankfully, the lesson ended
I made my way back to the staffroom,
bemoaning the fact to all and sundry that
students have no understanding of history.
Over lunchtime discussions with other
teachers, I realised that one of the problems
for my students was that I'd presented the
material in isolation and was expecting
them to make links that perhaps weren't as
obvious as I had anticipated.
In the days before our next class I
decided to take a different approach. I set
up a new timeline that had nothing to do
with Chemistry in general or the develop-
ment of our current understanding of the
atom in particular.
Instead, I made a timeline of my life and
alongside it I put a timeline of what was
happening in the world at different points,
including scientific discoveries, births and
deaths of world figures, wars, sporting
events and political events such as the fall
of the Berlin Wall.
My idea was that the students could use
this approach to the atomic theory time-
line that I had given them, and construct
alongside it a matching timeline of major
world events. I hoped that by doing this
activity, they'd be able to see some of the
Seeing the link
Making the link
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