Evolution and the Nature of Science Institutes

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Tips From Years of Teaching
by Larry Flammer

Over the years, the single most important guiding light I have followed in my teaching is something I learned from internationally known educator (a local science teacher and friend) Harry Wong (see reference to his excellent book The First Days of School). I highly recommend this to all teachers:

"Do something every day in class to make it a special day for your students."

Do all you can so that the student experience in your class stands out in dramatic contrast to the usual background of the schoolday routine. Whenever possible, make it relevant to the current topic, but every day, do something crazy, off the wall, weird, dramatic or unexpected. Your students will begin to look forward to coming to your class, not knowing WHAT to expect. Your class will become the topic of conversation around dozens of dinner tables each evening (you'll have real "parent involvement!"). Most importantly, you will have your students' attention; and as you well know, you can't teach them much unless you have their attention! For example....

1. Learn some simple sleight-of-hand magic, or get some easy-to-use special effect devices from a magic shop, practice your presentation, then DO it in class in an appropriate context to make a point about your current topic (see the list of Classroom Magic Resources recommended by ENSI teacher Walter Wogee for more specific ideas. Just scroll down to "Other Resources" on that page.)

2. Spend extra time in preparing your daily lessons to think of some unique (and startling) way to make the lesson memorable. Do something which reaches all the senses. Remember, your goal as a teacher is for your students to remember and understand. We remember best that which is associated with a dramatic experience, so be dramatic! You may notice that many (most?) of the lessons on this ENSI site embody dramatic elements in their presentation. Use them! Create more! Visit toy stores, hardware stores, and magic shops with an eye for something that demonstrates a particular concept in science, especially if it's something large, so you can demonstrate it and the whole class can see it clearly. Often times it's just finding something that you can modify and adapt to show that concept. I have used flexible dryer ducts to illustrate giant chromosomes. Use shoelaces to illustrate telomeres. Use giant colorful beads (ntended for babies) to illustrate chromosomes. Use giant card tricks and dice to illustrate probability in genetics. Use styrofoam balls and straws to demonstrate giant molecules.

3. Use illusions, optical and otherwise, wherever appropriate. The real world is filled with illusions ("movement" of sun, moon, stars; size of moon, " bowl shape" of sky, seeming perfections of the intricacies of life (it all seems "designed"), seeming permanence of species (never seem to change or die out). Science has been so very effective in revealing the realities of nature, of cutting through those illusions. This more accurate knowledge of the real world enables us to better prevent and treat diseases, reduce pain and drudgery, and go to the moon and beyond. It is useful (and fun) to remind students from time to time of the existence of illusions and the power of science in dealing with them. Try the Optical Illusions site for many ideas. More ideas on our Resources page. For a lesson that teaches the nature of science AND engages students with illusions, try our "Perception is Not Always Reality" lesson, where students try to figure out why the T-illusion is an illusion.

4. If you play a musical instrument (even badly!), incorporate it from time to time, as appropriate, or even crazily inappropriate! Create and find online "songs for science"; sing them with students.

5. Take another look at all the topics you deal with in your course... especially the drier, less interesting or harder-to-teach topics, and brainstorm ideas to make those topics more exciting, dramatic or attractive.

6. IS YOUR COURSE RELEVANT TO CURRENT STUDENT INTERESTS? If your students seem unmotivated (all too common), make every effort to show how elements of your course fit into those interests. In fact, consider building your course around some practical theme. An excellent theme for most science courses, a topic always of some general interest, is FORENSIC SCIENCE, the subject of CSI (Crime Scene Investigators), currently enjoying popularity in a few TV series. This is one of the few examples of applied science which actually applies the PROCESS of science: solving problems based on the analysis of evidence. Furthermore, forensic science is largely an example of the historical sciences (similar to paleontology, astronomy, geology, and evolutionary biology). Take a look at our Crime Scene Scenario lesson as a start. If you scroll down to the Resources, near the bottom of the Teaching Strategy section, you will find a link to other resources for teaching forensic science. You can use these in chemistry, physics, biology, or earth sciences.

7. I was once taught that students learn best from those whom they love, those they care about. To be a truly fulfilled and effective teacher, do all you can to earn that love, admiration, and respect. It begins with caring about your students, their welfare, and their success. You can make it happen!

GOOD LUCK! HAPPY TEACHING! Send us your more effective teaching strategies... especially if they help in teaching about evolution and the nature of science.

Larry Flammer
ENSIweb Webmaster

Harry Wong's excellent book, filled with an abundance of practical, important, easy-to-find and use ideas for being the most effective teacher you can be. For practicality, this book may very well be the most important tool in your toolbox, the best well-spent money for your teacher education. Most critical is what you do the first day of school, and the few days which follow:
The First Days of School, by Harry K. & Rosemary T. Wong
Tel. (650) 965-7896