Vocabulary or terminology building is a difficult task for many students. A variety of teaching techniques and strategies are needed to help them develop a true understanding related to concepts.
Typical science and math textbooks introduce ten to 30 new vocabulary or terminology words every chapter. Considering curriculum requirements, students are faced with making sense and learning these new terms. Along with the need to make connections to concepts in a relatively short period of time.
These new terms must are also influenced by students’ prior knowledge and experiences (PKE). Unfortunately, their PKE is often laced with misconceptions regarding the meaning of science and math terminology.
The following techniques are designed to help students correct any misconceptions, develop a deeper understanding and make those all important connections with concepts.
Strategies and Methods
To develop a real understanding, students must encounter new vocabulary words at least six or seven times in different circumstances (Incidental vocabulary acquisition: The effects of task type, word occurrence and their combination, Batia Laufer, Language Teaching Research, 2011).
The following example techniques provide ways to use vocabulary terms in different learning situations.
- KWL Organizers
- Venn Diagrams
- Student Created Videos
- Hands-on, Minds-on Explorations
- Explaining Using Their Own Definitions
- Student Created Illustrations
Additional strategies include writing in math and writing in science. These two strategies involve students writing to incorporate vocabulary terms in a manner that helps them develop a better understanding of the concepts behind the words.
Now let’s look at some more strategies and methods.
Using Graphic Organizers
Two examples of graphic organizers you can use to help students learn science and math terms are:
Concept or Definition Map – begin by placing a new vocabulary term in the center of a graphic organizer. For example thermal energy.
Then descriptive words associated with this term are placed in the concept definition map boxes surrounding the term. For example – heat, energy transformation, etc.
Vocabulary Concept Cards (VOC) – in this vocabulary building technique students write the term on one side of a VOC (4 x 6 index card). Then divide the other side of the index card into for quadrants.
The left-hand side quadrants are:
- What the word is using own words
- What the word is not using own words
The right-hand quadrants are:
- Examples (next to what the word is) using drawings, words, or sentence
- Definition (next to what the word is not) provided by textbook or teacher provided resource
Students in all science and math classroom have a wide range of learning abilities, presenting differentiation challenges. The following strategies are designed to help you address these everyday challenges.
Differentiate Vocabulary Lists – addresses the needs of all students. For example gifted and talented or advanced students, struggling students and students with learning disabilities.
Required vocabulary terms are divided into three sections.
- Basic science or math terms all students must know in a chapter.
- Enrichment vocabulary words for gifted and talented students who need the extra challenge
- Essential words for students struggling with concepts and students with learning disabilities must learn to remain on grade-level
List-Group-Label - a form of structured brainstorming designed to help all students identify what they know regarding a concept and terms related to that concept, while provoking a degree of analysis and critical thinking. Directions for students:
- Think of all the words related to ______. (a key “big idea” in the text)
- Group the words listed by some shared characteristics or commonalities.
- Select a label for each group.
- Try to add words to the categories on the organized lists.
Why Use These Strategies?
Vocabulary building requires more than using the following traditional methods:
- rote memorization
- looking them up in the glossary and to copy definition
- writing a sentence without knowing the meaning
Why? Because they only lead to short term knowledge, with no real understanding. The goal is long term learning and retention.
If your students are having difficulty learning and applying science or math vocabulary, then these strategies and methods are ready to help. So give them a chance. Also share ideas you found that work in with your students.
Flipping a classroom is not a teaching technique, it is more in line with a philosophy or way of teaching. It involves using technology as a tool, not the main focus, for helping students increase their understanding of science or math concepts.
Effective use of this way of thinking helps reduce student anxiety and frustration when studying science or math, especially when homework is involved. Unfortunately, failure to complete homework is a common problem among students, because they typically work in isolation.
This aggravation causes students to view homework as a maddening waste of time — leading to incomplete assignments and ultimately poor grades as they fall further and further behind.
Contrary to perceptions some may have about flipping a classroom, homework is not eliminated. It uses an entirely different approach (Learning 4 Mastery, Student Impressions).
How does Homework Change?
Homework becomes a series of shortinstructional videos, teacher lecture screencasts, and podcasts on your blog or wiki designed to replace in-class lectures.
Why is this a good thing?
Lecturing Does Not = Learning
Have you ever experienced the glazed look in your students’ eyes when lecturing?
Do you observe them taking copious notes and not really paying attention to you as you talk or place notes for them to copy on the overhead, chalk board, whiteboard, or smart board?
Also, this delivery method provides students limited time to make sense and formulate questions regarding new information, i.e., they do not have time to assimilate the information or make connections.
Impact of Lecturing
Lectures result in a one-way transfer of knowledge that does not pass through your students brains. It goes straight from your mouth or screen to their pen or pencil onto paper — passing go (the brain), proceeding directly to a potentially never opened notebook.
Through your best efforts to teach the important concept(s) in a lesson, they have learned little and typically cannot apply the information. This is why traditional home work is frustrating and viewed as a waste of time by most students. Typically, students do not remember enough from class to complete their homework assignments.
Impact on Homework
Using the flipped philosophy, students learn from podcasts, lectures, or videos at their own pace. Also, they can review them as many times as want. Of course questions will come up, even higher-order questions. Why? Because students now have time to think about what they are observing — this is a good thing. Now lectures and content videos are passing through your student brains! Homework is now useful and a beginning point for the next day’s class.
The following is a short list of vieo resources for science and math.
- Kahn Academy an extensive list of short videos of science and math concepts and procedures.
How Does In-Class Time Change?
Classes now become a center for student learning. You have more time to interact with students on a one-to-on basis. Additionally,:
- you address student higher-order questions concerning homework.
- your opportunity to discover student misconceptions and procedural confusion is increased.
- students spend more time on experiments and investigations.
- students work in groups or independently to solve problems.
- you can differentiate instruction as necessary.
Flipping Your Classroom: Things to Consider
Is this for you and your students? Think about the following, remembering that like anything new it takes time and should be implemented in steps to avoid frustrating yourself and students. A flipped classroom is:
- not a substitute for you.
- a place where you are no longer the purveyor (one way communication) of all knowledge.
- a place where content is stored on your blog or wiki for student review prior to tests and absent or home bound students can review.
Challenging the Status Quo
Why use this strategy? Because in far too many cases the status quo is not working.
Although there are a multitude of reasons why students drop out of school, the process begins as early as elementary school. The leading cause is poor grades and test scores. Students do not feel engaged in school and find it monotonous (California Dropout Research Project).
California Dropout Research Project, UC Santa Barbara, Gevirtz Graduate School of Education, 2008
Learning 4 Mystery, Flipped/Mastery Educational Model: Student Impressions, Accessed December 12, 2011
Should You Flip Your Classroom? Edutopia, October 26, 2011
The White House, President Obama Announces Steps to Reduce Dropout Rate, Office of the Press Secretary, 2010
David’s Google +
Hands-On Learning Using Math and Science
Your students’ future and education needs are not like yours and mine. For the most part, we are a product of an education system heavily influenced by the industrial age – lectures and rote memorization. This style of teaching was primarily designed to produce factory and skilled trade workers.
Due to the dynamics of today’s world economy, most students no longer have the same types of jobs waiting for them when they graduate. Their future is in the service, health, and technology career fields. However, there is still a demand for skilled trade workers (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2010).
A Need for a Shift in Teaching Strategies
Today’s education system is still following the demands of the industrial age. So how does this clash with students’ needs for the future?
When students are forced to sit in straight rows and listen to the industrial revolution style of teaching — lectures and rote memorization of facts — countless become bored underachievers! Primarily because education system is out of step with the information age.
Unfortunately, many students view math and science as the two hardest subjects to master. Why? Because there is way too much emphasis on lectures and memorization. This contributes to their boredom in school and does motivate them to learn.
So what must be done to stimulate their curiosity and engagement in a manner that makes them to want to learn math and science?
Tips for Increasing Student Engagement
Motivating underachieving students requires moving away from demonstration, telling, showing, and rote recall. Today’s math and science students need hands-on, minds-on experiences to stimulate and challenge them to think. The following are example strategies.
Technology Tools – must have specific learning objectives, along with real-world applications. Students use technology tools every day, so why not use their prior knowledge and experiences with these tools to challenge them to learn concepts.
Online Interactive Math or Science Programs – must address specific learning concepts. Not just means of keeping students occupied or as a reward for good behavior.
Problem Solving - solving real world problems frequently motivate underachieving students. Why? Because they are allowed to think out of the box to solve problems. Also, this strategy takes advantage of challenging higher-order thinking skills. This strategy works well for all students, not just underachievers. In addition, many students do not understand how to solve problems. These students must be taught how to solve problems.
Concepts – help students understand the critical features of a concept. This includes requiring students to develop examples and non-examples of a concept, assessing their true level of understanding. Also, require them to provide examples of a concept linked to one or more other concepts.
Lessons – must include opportunities for students to shift to a new, although still related to lesson objective, activity every 15 to 20 minutes. Examples include giving students opportunities to analyze, use or demonstrate what they learned, and show how to or explain what would happen if… This paradigm moves beyond completing worksheets (which in my experience, students view as busy work).
Higher Order Thinking (HOT) – requires the use of higher-order thinking questions. Open-ended questions to stimulate discussion. Do not use “yes or no answer” questions. Effective use of wait time “I” and “II.” Do not use questions which contain the answer. Example higher-order thinking questions, include:
- What might happen if ____?
- Can you summarize ____?
- What evidence supports ____?
- How is this similar or different to ____?
- How might you organize ____ into categories?
- What other ways can you show or illustrate ____?
Instead of showing your students the formula in geometry for determining the volume of an object, labeling variables, and how to solve the equation. Followed by endless drill and practice. Give them concrete and tangible objects to explore, touch, and measure. This leads to higher levels of thinking as they analyze and apply the concept of volume. After providing them with a variety of objects (regular and irregular shapes), ask them how they will determine the volume of these objects. Example higher-level questions include:
- Which object has the greatest volume?
- How do you know this true?
- How many ways are there to determine the volume of an object?
- How could you visually represent your solution? (looking for a graph, table, equation, pictures, etc.)
Instead of showing, demonstrating, or watching a video of a discrepant event. Allow students to participant through hands-on discrepant event investigations. For example: Air Pressure Materials – One Set for Each Group: one aluminum pan pie (non-smooth bottom), water, one 16oz clear glass, one candle (about 3 inches tall), and matches.
- Students attach the candle to the center, bottom of the pie pan.
- Now they pour water into the pie pan, about three quarters of an inch deep.
- Students light the candle.
- Now they place glass over the candle and observe what happens.
- Allow students to repeat as necessary.
After they have observed and recorded their observations, ask them higher-level science questions, for example:
- Why is ____ happening?
- What do you think is causing ____?
- You seem to be assuming that ____?
- What conclusions may be draw from ____?
- How is ____ different (like) ____?
Motivating underachieving students to learn math and science can be difficult or even challenging on occasions. With these teaching strategies students will no longer be bored by traditional lessons. They will find that math and science are not that difficult, because they are allowed to participate, think outside the box, and make connections.
Now it is your turn, do you have any additions to these strategies?
Occupations with the Largest Job Growth, Bureau of Labor Statistics, December 08, 2010.
HOT Skills Question Templates, Russellville Science Department Professional Learning Community