Posted by David R. Wetzel, Ph.D.
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