Making science class engaging does not have to be a challenge, learn 10 different ways to have fun in class. Science is one of those subjects that it seems students either love or hate. Often, science is one of those subjects where students sit at a desk, read a textbook chapter, answer some questions, and maybe watch a few videos. Some schools are even lucky enough to have interactive science texts online. But, even those teachers will tell you, that still probably isn’t enough to hold student attention. As the teacher, we have the ability to change all this for the better.
Here is a list of 10 things you can do in your classroom to make science class engaging.
1. Be silly and enthusiastic about topics. Show your own excitement and interest.
Don’t we all prefer energetic and enthusiastic presenters who truly show us that they love and believe what they’re teaching!? Kids are no different! The more energetic and excited we can be about a topic, the more engaged and interested they will be. This doesn’t mean you have to like every subject or topic that you teach, but, as often as possible, fake it till you make it, as they say! Just be careful not to overdo it, students can sense that too.
2. Call in the experts
In connection to number 1, sometimes we might not be able to muster the right level of enthusiasm. So, when you need a little extra help, call in the experts! Students love having guest visitors/speakers.
Reach out to local attractions, museums, zoos, organizations/clubs, even your own friends or family. Most likely, with enough notice, there is someone out there with the knowledge and willingness to share their passions with your students. Always plan far in advance for this. People are seldom able to do this on last-minute notice, and some people/places may charge a fee. Also, always contact your school administration beforehand. Sometimes they can help pay for it, and sometimes a criminal background check is needed before the guest visitor can enter your school. This takes time and often requires the guest to spend additional time and money to cover the cost of the background check.
Lastly, it’s always a good idea to have a backup plan for the day a guest is supposed to arrive. After all, car accidents, family emergencies, and blown tires do happen. If the guest cannot (or does not) arrive, you will want to be prepared with an alternate educational activity. Something still fun and engaging will help a lot, as the students may be disappointed.
3. Use lots of visuals
Sometimes science can be difficult for students to picture in their minds, especially if students lack background knowledge of the topic, or the topic is abstract. The more visuals you can offer your students, the better and deeper their understanding and connections will be. Think images, videos, video clips, models, and diagrams.
Sometimes these things can easily be found online, sometimes you or the students can build them, and other times, you may be able to borrow them from a local library, organization, museum, etc. You might even be able to borrow an expert that can come along with them.
4. Make connections to real-world examples.
We’ve likely all heard a student say, “Ugh. When am I ever going to use this in real life [as an adult]?” The best way to answer that question, and to increase student engagement for any topic, is to connect the subject matter to real-world examples. This can be tricky for some topics. Use any resources available to you, including the internet, books, friends/family, fellow teachers, and experts or organizations to help you discover those real-world connections.
5. Hands-on and collaborative activities e.g., labs, explorations, experiments, inquiry, design challenges
One of the best parts about science class is all of the possibilities for hands-on, collaborative activities! Think about labs, explorations, experiments, inquiry-based activities, and design challenges! There are so many options! These activities can make science class engaging while helping to boost so many of the students’ skills!
What better way to learn how to use a ruler, for example, than actually doing it? What better way to understand Newton’s Laws of Physics than actually experiencing what they mean?
The collaboration required can also help foster social skills and classroom community. These can seem challenging and daunting at first. They might even take your students longer than they should, but with consistent routine and practice of certain skills, students should gain a better understanding and respect for science, a sense of confidence in their own skills, and improved knowledge of basic tasks (like ruler use!). Consider also finding ways to make the “dry” tasks more hands-on. For example, introducing a new list of vocabulary words doesn’t have to mean a full lesson of students copying down definitions from a slideshow. Check out my blog post on Creative Ways to Teach Vocabulary.
Keep in mind that hands-on activities can get expensive. Reach out to your school or district for help with supplies if possible. Ask family and friends, or students’ parents if you’re permitted. Don’t shy away from places like dollar stores, where supplies can sometimes be acquired really cheap!
Planning ahead as much as possible also helps. This allows time for others to possibly pitch in and help, but it also helps with your own budgeting if you have to buy the materials yourself. Lastly, consider that sometimes these activities can be done interactively online, which doesn’t always allow for the same experience, but it might help you save on the cost of supplies/materials when necessary.
6. Keep it at their level
Science can get very overwhelming and confusing when you don’t understand what you are reading or what the teacher is explaining. It’s very hard to keep science class engaging when students feel lost. These feelings of overwhelm often cause students to “check out” both academically and sometimes behaviorally.
The best thing teachers can do is to keep students engaged and on-task is to keep things at the students’ levels as much as possible.
If you know you have struggling readers, for instance, make plans to accommodate them and modify the reading assignments so those students don’t feel quite as lost and confused. If you know students struggle with the vocabulary, or don’t have the background knowledge for the given topic, set them up for success by modifying your lessons and activities to incorporate extra practice in those areas.
Making these changes will help to keep student engagement and interest, but also help them to learn and further their understanding of the topic without added stress and anxiety for them or you!
7. Let students have choices with research and assignments
Decisions, decisions! Who doesn’t love having choices?! Most of us, especially children (who are often given so few decisions of their own to make) love the opportunity to decide something for themselves. While it isn’t always possible, give your students the opportunity to make their own decisions in regards to their research and assignments whenever you can. When given autonomy, students will almost always be more engaged with a task they picked for themselves, versus one that was just handed to them by someone else.
8. Field trips (virtual and in-person)
One of the best teachers is personal experience. As with hands-on activities, field trips allow children to experience various things on their own, versus just reading about it or watching a video. Anytime you can put something in front of students, or in their hands, you should! Think about your local zoos, aquariums, conservation departments, planetariums, museums, farms, other local attractions, and/or traveling exhibits. Sometimes these places are even free or discounted for schools to visit. Don’t forget to monitor their social media accounts. These places often offer their own virtual experiences as well!
The following website, https://virtualfieldtrips.org/, also offers virtual field trips, but a paid membership is required.
Here are some other great options:
- This webpage from We Are Teachers lists over 25 virtual field trips that are free to access!
- National Geographic offers several virtual field trips via their Youtube Channel or on this page dedicated to student experiences.
- The Ontario Science Centre hosts a variety of online virtual events every month. These are each scheduled for specific dates and times, and you have to register in advance (usually for free).
- Discovery Education offers a wide variety of virtual field trips for classrooms, free! They can be watched live, or streamed later, and come with related hands-on learning activities that are standards-based!
9. Take students outside
Students love an excuse to get out of the classroom and take a random adventure outside. If you can get them outside to explore a topic or complete a task/assignment/experiment, do it! This will heighten interest and engagement. Just be sure that it doesn’t distract and cause a lack of attention and focus instead. Doing it more often may help so that it isn’t so overwhelmingly exciting that focus is actually lost. Always check in with your school administration first though, as sometimes there are reasons why you might not be able to go outside during unscheduled hours. Where I teach, teachers have to call the main office and notify the office staff when they take students outside. Don’t forget to bring students’ EpiPen® with you if they are allergic to outside factors like bees.
10. Use games
Games are extremely versatile! Use them to review, introduce or remind of instructions, or to introduce a topic and activate background knowledge. Games can also be used as a form of assessment, to see if students learned what you needed them to on that particular day. Games such as Kahoot!, Jeopardy, and Family Feud are great options, but there are many others. However, do be mindful not to spend an excessive amount of class time on this, especially if it’s only for a quick review. For example, if you know your technology isn’t always perfect and starting up devices and playing a game of Kahoot will take half your class period, perhaps plan ahead and enlist some student assistants to get things ready, or plan an alternative game.
Here are some other great study games to check out:
- Plickers ia a free and fun flashcard review activity. This tool is versatile and simple to use for quick formative assessment.
- Quizlet is another free flashcard tool. Some pre-made decks are available on a variety of topics. You can also use Quizlet for game show competitions in class, making it useful for both personal and group reviews.
- Gimkit is an interactive learning game similar to Kahoot, but where students can move through the questions at their own pace. This one was designed by an actual high school student to help make school more engaging!
I hope these 10 ways to make science class engaging give you some great ideas for your class.