I have noticed that when my students are in the right mindset, they tend to learn with more enthusiasm and are typically more focused. I have found that the following 6 ways tend to work well for creating a science mindset for my students when they are in my classroom working:
1. Have students dress the part! I had no idea that putting my students in lab coats with goggles and clipboards would: A- make them focus more in labs and B- Entertain me so much because they all look so adorable! They were so cute when I first told them they needed to wear lab coats during lab activities. One of my seniors, when putting his lab coats on the first time, walked up to his buddies in the class and said “Man, I feel hella smart!” To which I replied “You ARE smart!!”. I heard similar sentiments from many other students. I have also had countless students from other teachers classes say “we don’t get to wear lab coats in our class!” with a twinge of envy in their voice. I love this. I love that students are actually wanting to dress the part and look the part. Because this put them so much in the mindset of ‘being a scientist’, their behavior and focus was stellar! I was so impressed, but not terribly surprised once I stopped and thought about it.
In order to organize all of these lab coats, I got a department store style coat-rack and bought some plastic hangers. On the hangers, I labeled them with sizes (the lab coats did not have sizes written on them anywhere, so I had to guess). I trained the students to put the coats back on the appropriate hangers when they were done with them. That’s right, I got teenagers to hang up clothes! Ha!
Want to get some lab coats for your students? Ours were donated by a local hospital. As soon as the departments at the hospital heard they could donate them, they all started sending them to us. We ended up having to ask them to stop because we had a few hundred and did not need anymore!
Always have safety goggles around! Most of the labs that I give to my students do not require them to actually wear goggles, but I have them wear them anyway. It just serves as another reminder that they are in science class, performing experiments and taking it seriously. This one, they are less thrilled about (“ughhh these leave lines on my face!!”) but, I do notice a positive change in their behavior when they wear them.
Clip boards! I love having my students use clipboards! It allows them to write at their lab station without having to hunch over. It also feel that it’s more safe than having their papers just laying on the lab station (less likely to catch on fire or get chemicals spilled on them).
2. Have students pay attention to what is happening in the world of science! Every Friday, we have something called “This week in Science”. It’s a fun way to end the week and keep them thinking about science over the weekend! The students are allowed to pick any article pertaining to science that is of interest to them (it doesn’t have to be Chemistry; it can be anything that piques their interest). They fill out a short reflective sheet that accompanies it and present their article to the class (they typically only spend a minute talking). The article is posted and students are encouraged to go up and read them during any free or unstructured time. I have a special area on my wall where I post all of the articles and I leave them up until the following week so that students can read them at their leisure (which they do!)
Want to start this in your classroom? Go to my TpT store here.
3. Have students talk the talk. I encourage my students to use academic vocabulary in the classroom. I have even gone so far as to create sentence starters for them with examples (this was for content specific debates in class). I ask them to be specific when describing things both orally and in written form. I have been contemplating using a word wall in my classroom. Especially since my students informed me this year that although they would hate it, they would like to have more emphasis on vocabulary since Chemistry is so vocabulary heavy. I may have to also start doing vocabulary quizzes next year. If I try it next year, I’ll let you all know how it goes.
4. Have students share their experiences with others (social media, word of mouth, videos, etc). I used to feel weird about students taking pictures or videos of me. However, I have learned to embrace it (as long as I say it’s ok). For example, closer to the beginning of the year, I did a fun demo for my students with different colored flames. When I told them what I was going to do, one of my students asked if they could record it or take pictures to post on their snap chap and Instagram. I paused and thought about it. They were asking if they could post a cool thing their teacher was doing. In chemistry. To show other people. Ummm yes! I told them it was fine and then I announced to the rest of the class that they could do this also if they wanted. Almost instantaneously 34 phones came out and were pointed at me. No pressure! I explained what I was doing and what was happening. I asked them questions and engaged them in predicting the color of each substance I was mixing and burning. I also explained safety procedures and why I was doing what I was doing. For the rest of the day I had students coming up to me saying “I saw your demo on Snapchat/Instagram! That was awesome! I wish I was in Chemistry!” I also had a couple of students who were absent that day but they were able to see the demo because their friends recorded it. I think that this is a super successful way to bring social media into the classroom.
Going on a field trip? Ask them to use a specific hashtag with their posts for your trip so others can see what they were up to. You could also offer them extra credit if they post something, but I have a feeling they will gladly do it on their own with the given hashtag.
5. Model it for them! I absolutely LOVE all areas of science. I really do! I subscribe to various science magazines, I watch TV shows and documentaries and I listen to weekly podcasts about science (you should definitely check that out “Science Friday“). I am constantly sharing things that I learn with them. I tell them the things that are fascinating and good to know. I share my own experiences of being a student and learning about various sciences while in school, my experiences doing field research in South America and my time as a staff scientist at an engineering firm. I talk to them about friends of mine who are still active researchers as well as telling them about “my favorite Scientists” from various fields. It gets them intrigued and paying more attention to the possibilities for a future in science. It’s important for them to understand that being a scientist does not always look the same and it means very different things. It’s not just looking at test tubes in a windowless lab.
I added the science fact of the day to my whiteboard my first year of teaching and my students have always liked it. This was the first year that I added “This Day in Chemistry”. I did not realize how much my students liked these until I forgot to change it one day. Boy, did I hear about it! Give it a try!
6. Let them have fun with the content! When we were learning about the mole this year, I decided to really celebrate it by throwing a “mole” party! The students brought in their extra credit mole project as well as chips and guacamole! they loved it! The guacamole was inspired by the guac that they sell at Trader Joe’s with Avogadro on it (my students thought this was awesome). I had a fun worksheet for them to work on and we voted on their favorite mole creation. It was a really fun day and I am already looking forward to it next year! FYI- there are 2 “mole days” during the year that you could try to align your party with. Can you guess what days they are? October 23 and June 22! 6.022×10^23 :)
I hope this has given you some ideas for getting your students into the science mindset!
Until next time,
-The Ardent Teacher
Have you tried something like this or something different? Share your story in the comment section below.