Breathing Life into Lessons

I find it challenging to engage elementary students in the life sciences. What are some hands-on activities that work? Are there anchoring phenomena that you recommend?
—C., Utah

Depending on your curriculum, you could pursue several avenues to capitalize on students’ innate curiosity about nature and engage them in their learning.

One of the easiest is to explore your school grounds. Observing how natural processes and organisms take advantage of almost any condition can be powerful anchors for lessons. Questions like, “How can weeds grow in sidewalk cracks?” or “How can ants survive on a playground?” can lead to broad-reaching inquiries. The questions students raise or phenomena they observe are almost limitless.

Consider introducing a classroom pet or aquarium and make the students the caretakers. Focus lessons with the presence of these living things. Tending a school garden can be enjoyable and educational at the same time. Sharing their harvest will also build a community spirit among your students. Individual projects like terrariums or pop-bottle ecosystems will develop a vested curiosity and motivation to keep them thriving.

Field trips to nature centers or zoos are always memorable and introduce students to experts, careers and role models. Many conservation groups have outreach programs to bring nature into the classroom.

A good introduction into genetics and heredity is for the class to go through a list of human genetic traits and collate their results. Funny traits to track: widow’s peak hairline, hitchhiker’s thumb, attached/detached earlobes, tongue curling, convex/concave nose, and so on.  To avoid conflicts with family privacy, keep this introductory activity as a simple survey among the students in your class.

Hope this helps!

Image by photosforyou from Pixabay

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4 Responses to Breathing Life into Lessons

  1. Andrew Black says:

    I really liked the insight on this topic! Keeping students engaged is as important as keeping the information that’s being taught relevant. I couldn’t agree more on assigning jobs for students and introducing the importance of those jobs to them. I think that’s one way for students of all ages to be accountable as well as integrate your teachings firsthand. It really opens students eyes when you do things as simple as observe the things around a school setting and then expanding on it. By doing that I believe the students can really understand how these processes can be close to them or potentially affect them.

  2. Gabe Kraljevic says:

    Thank you for your comments, Andrew!

  3. Jennifer says:

    Mr. Gabe Kraljevic,

    Going outdoors to explore and using your students’ traits as an introduction are great examples as to how educators can use the resources that are just beyond them. What advice would you give to first-year teachers who want to give life to their lessons, yet they have a budget that is small? What advice would you give to first-year teachers who have no budget?

    Jennifer Steen
    Wartburg College 2021
    Elementary Education

    • Gabe Kraljevic says:

      A quick list of ideas:
      – go to the administrator or department head and make a proposal. Do your research on how much you need, what you will buy and why you want to use it. Have a fallback plan.
      – collect living specimens in the school yard, park, or other outdoor space.
      – seeds are cheap and a single pack might be enough
      – call in speakers! Many organizations will visit for free.
      – advertise to your school community that you need some materials/supplies like soil, sand, containers, aquariums, etc. Old cell phones can still take photos for observations.
      – discount stores are your friend and there are many, many DIY science gizmos that can be great, cheap projects in your class.
      Hope this helps!

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