Making science relevant

Science Scope cover, March 2008Why are we studying this? What good will this do me? I know there are teachers who enjoy the challenge of students’ asking questions such as these and others who consider these questions to be disrespectful or distracting (and from some students they may be!). But I must confess that I was a questioner in school. If we were studying a new topic or doing an activity, I needed to know what the point was. It really didn’t matter to me what the teacher said the point was, as long as I could see that there was a point, beyond getting a grade or doing something for a test. And, regardless of the subject, if the point involved anything creative, I was hooked!
Some students find topics in science to be inherently interesting. The teacher could read from a textbook, and these students would still be interested. But for other students, teachers need to help students to see how the content is relevant. And even if students aren’t particularly interested in a topic (my own high school economics class comes to mind), the teacher can hook the students with personal anecdotes, interesting questions, cooperative activities, hands-on projects, trade books, or multimedia. The focus of this issue of Science Scope is on how to make science relevant.
The article Volcano Resumes shows how students can be engaged by a new twist on the typical “report.” In addition to the websites suggested by the author, the SciLinks keywords volcano or ring of fire can help students get started on their websearch. Students could also use websites to find volcano pictures for the resumes. And if the students would plot the coordinates on a map, they could see the “ring of fire” concept.
Who hasn’t an idea for an invention? I saw a quote today that said “If necessity is the mother of invention, laziness is the grandmother.” Middle-schoolers may relate to that! Problem Solving with Patents adds another dimension to the topic of inventions by looking at the patent process. Go to SciLinks and enter the keyword inventor to look at the inventive process through websites such as Invention Dimension from MIT with a searchable archive of inventors and a handbook for patenting an invention. You can also use the keywords Alexander Graham Bell or Thomas Edison for sites on these important inventors.
For information related to Bumpy, Sticky, and Shaky: Nanoscale Science and the Curriculum use nanoscience as keyword in SciLinks. Two of sites in this topic could be of interest to students: Introduction to Nanotechnology and Nanokids.
Investigating your own neighborhood and reporting the observations to a national database can be both relevant and authentic (two buzzwords in one sentence!). In addition to the projects described in Wanted: Citizen Scientists (Project Feederwatch, Bird Sleuth, and Monarch Watch), I recently heard of Project BudBurst, in which students, gardeners, and other interested folks observe flowering plants in their gardens, schoolyards, and lawns and then enter the observations into a national database to help scientists study the effects of climate change through the timing of flowers and foliage. The site has lots of ideas and resources (use the “Participate” link to get to the teacher resources).
Going on a Science Trek shows how students can demonstrate what they are learning in creative ways. I’ve seen a lot of lessons where the objective stated that the “students will be able to create a PowerPoint” (or diorama, poster, report). But in a science course, creating a report or exhibit is not really the objective. The PowerPoint, diorama, report, or poster is a way for students to communicate what science concepts they are learning. And this article makes this point with lots of ideas! What can be more relevant than providing many ways for students to use their creativity to solve a problem and communicate the results?

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