5 Ways to Support a Love of Learning
Questioning, exploring, analyzing and finding out are the core tenets of science and of lifelong learning. Middle school is a critical time for students to see themselves belonging in this process of scientific thinking and understanding the world around them. Yet, it’s a time that many students disengage from STEM learning.
While there are many intricacies to connecting with middle school students, here is a short list of ideas that work with our UL Xplorlabs™ modules for maintaining, even building, your students’ love of science.
Connect to the real world
When the learning is relevant and meaningful to students and tasks are connected to students’ questions about their world, students engage in their learning. Consider who your students are and the concerns that they have. Every day students are forming understandings and, more importantly, questions about what they see in the world. Start with student questions about the next unit to discover prior knowledge, questions and concerns, then throughout the investigations revisit those questions. Let students see how science is relevant to their lives to create a connection to their personal experiences.
The UL Xplorlabs modules from Underwriters Laboratories are deliberately designed to help middle school students understand the connection to real-world challenges in safety science, such as hoverboards and forensic science! The Portable Electrical Power module connects students to the real-world engineering challenges involved in helping guarantee the safety of hoverboards, while the Fire Forensics module invites students to become fire investigators.
Show them career role models
Nothing helps build relevance and meaning in classroom learning than meeting a real-life scientist, engineer, firefighter or other STEM professional. Seeing and hearing from an expert who is passionate about her or his work increases students’ investment and engagement in a project according to a 1999 study by Crawford and Marx. Think about bringing an industry professional to the classroom in-person or via Skype to conduct an interview or help with science lessons.
Teachers in Cobb County, Georgia, have partnered with local firefighters and fire investigators to create meaningful interactions with experts in the community. When students share their experiences back to an expert, ownership of their learning increases.
Get their hands on the materials
Science happens outside of books and screens. It’s meant to be touched, poked and tested. Students gain understanding of the nature of science and the concepts learned in the classroom through hands-on activities and investigations. Yet, middle school classrooms vary widely in lab set up and equipment.
Transform your classroom space
When planning the science classroom for middle school students, less is more and safety is first. Consider how the students can move around to collaborate, tinker and mess about. How does the setup of the space motivate discourse and investigation? Science classrooms can promote collaboration by setting up seating in groups alongside cabinets and counters that are organized with science equipment and materials. Keeping clutter down helps students focus on the task at hand and keeps them safe.
What we place in our students’ daily physical environment can not only influence their academic performance but also their identity and sense of belonging as a scientist, according to a 2014 study by Cheryan, et.al. One way to honor your students’ learning is by taking photos of them engaged in scientific investigation and post them around the classroom. While blank walls feel bare at the beginning of the school year, the progression of learning throughout the year is evident visually as the wall of your student scientists builds out over the year.
Collaborative classrooms foster a learning environment where students can ask each other questions and work to find the answers together. This chemistry teacher’s bulletin board for burning questions encourages students to be curious about science by asking questions and discovering answers together.
Build deeper understandings of technical or specific vocabulary that students encounter in science using the powerful literacy tool – the Frayer model. As shown in this math teacher’s classroom, there are variations to the model to fit the science classroom which include student generated questions from classroom.