Last Thursday I gave my “I am a scientist” lesson at Central Middle and was very pleased with the level of engagement that my students were able to maintain through a full 90 minutes! I was exhausted after three nearly consecutive iterations, but I learned a lot about what does and does not motivate my students.
One observation was that visuals were absolutely necessary to keep them engaged. The entire lecture was based around visuals with multiple science lab props, Powerpoint photos, a visual puzzle, and creation of their own posters. The few times that I asked them to write down something, they glazed over immediately. If I kept asking questions, moving things around, holding up objects, and pointing at the board, they stayed with me.
Second, I don’t think my students have ever been exposed to the variety of different applications of real science before. They were thrilled when they found out that jobs as explorers, i.e. collecting and describing biodiversity, are still a reality! I brought in three stuffed bird specimens from KU’s Natural History Museum along with photos of various expeditions, and they were hooked. Of course I didn’t just talk about all the flashy stuff, but introduced investigating relationships (phylogenetics/systematics), experimentation, scientist homework (publishing), and computer simulation/modeling with fun examples of each that I’ve worked on in the past.
The students’ favorite portion of the lesson was examining a ‘mystery’ object that I brought for each of the six lab tables of students. Their task was to try to identify it and ask testable scientific questions about it. Here’s a picture of the object—do you know what it is?
The students picked these up, smelled them, pinched them, and came up with all kinds of different explanations for their existence. They considered everything from dog poop to a hardened liquid foam.
The final task of the day was to create a poster showing what they learned. Ms. Reno took pictures throughout the day and I look forward to posting them when I get them!
My favorite moment of the whole day was when one of the students asked if they could have an autographed copy of my most recently published paper. How flattering!