SA NC Doing Investigations/Chapter 3
The wisdom of the winners: hints and ideas for science and mathematics educatorsEdit
saying truths clearly that everyone else says confusedly." (Anonymous)
"Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers." (Alfred Lord Tennyson, the English poet)
In the Mathematics and Science Teacher of the Year competitions, finalists are asked to list classroom management tips, projects they have found successful and general suggestions for educators that they have found personally useful. Many of these pieces of teaching wisdom come from finalists in the retired educator category. It is wonderful to meet older educators who are still enthusiastic about teaching and willing to sift through their years of experience to pass on good advice to their younger colleagues.
In a workshop attended by all the finalists, a brainstorming session produced still more ideas. Here are some pearls from the brainstorm and the portfolios of the 2003 Mathematics, Science and Technology Educator of the Year winners and runners up. They provide ideas, suggestions and food for thought. Bear in mind that the list is not meant to be exhaustive Â it is just a resource to spark better ideas in your own mind. If you like anything you find here don't copy it blindly. Assess it carefully and think how it could be adapted for your circumstances, your school and your classes. On the other hand, don't just dismiss it saying "that could never work for me because my learners are too poor and my school is too rural and the roof is leaking and I am too overworked ... ." Good ideas apply everywhere and anywhere if you have a will to make them work. Development for the professional educator means constantly trying new ideas and strategies and making them work. The educator who doesn't try new ideas will never develop and isn't very professional.
One can see from the suggestions and hints that follow why their authors are amongst the top science and mathematics educators in the country. Most of them, it must be said, also teach in the most disadvantaged communities in the country. The lists are categorized alphabetically for easy reference:
A. Assisting memory
B. Change and the dynamic classroom environment
C. Classroom atmosphere
D. Classroom management
E. Developing an interest in science, technology and mathematics
F. Developing a relationship with your learners
G. Enlivening your presentation style
I. Groups work; working in groups
J. Language issues and development
K. Links and continuity in science and mathematics teaching
L. Motivating learners
M. Policies, preparation and planning
N. Professional relationships amongst colleagues
O. Projects in and around the school
P. Respect for others
A. Assisting memoryEdit
- Mnemonics (eg: "All Students Take Coffee" = In trigonometry All functions are
positive in first quadrant, only the Sine is positive in second, only the Cosine is positive in third and only the Tangent is positive in fourth) help learners to recall and link content.
- Use music to memorize geometry theorems (and to relieve stress!).
- Compose rhymes and songs; reciting and singing them to memorize lists and orders.
- Dramatize events or ideas.
B. Change and the dynamic classroom environmentEdit
- Assign seating in the classroom according to the nature of the activity. Balance this
with opportunities for learners to sit where they want to.
- Do block tutorial where all educators co-operate in setting tutorials for learners on
key or difficult concepts. a bit confusing- which educators
- Vary your teaching and use different techniques. Don't become dull, stale and
stereotyped in your approach.
- The element of surprise: surprise your learners; give them information they were not
aware of e.g. did you know that the fuel gauge in a car uses an electric circuit with a variable resistor to detect the amount of fuel in the tank? This encourages learners to start asking themselves "how?, stimulating inquiry and hence learning in science.
C. Classroom atmosphereEdit
- Make the classroom welcoming and enjoyable to be in.
- Every lesson should be planned with an activity in mind. Lessons without activities
are like movies of actors standing still. Activities stimulate learner interest; improve understanding; stimulate inquiry; and make learners more aware of their environment.
- Use photographs and other visuals and maintain a notice board.
- Change the notice board's contents regularly so that it does not become a static
(and boring) display.
- Encourage learners to bring science articles from magazines and newspapers etc.
especially those that relate to problems in their community.
- Collect resource books and keep these handy in your classroom.
D. Classroom managementEdit
- Be friendly to learners but avoid the familiarity that breeds contempt. (A variation on
this theme is "don't smile before Easter"!)
- Know and take into consideration any problems specific learners may have.
- Allow learners the freedom to discuss ideas amongst themselves. Specify the time
allowed and make sure that learners stay "on task."
- Keep equipment and apparatus in containers or cabinets in the classroom for
security; have teams of learners act as "lab assistants" to keep things clean, report breakages and maintain equipment.
- Use waste material available in the community for teaching purposes e.g. volume
bottles made from 2-litre cold drink bottles.
- Allow learners to explain their thoughts or answers to their peers. Do not allow these
occasions to lapse into aimless (and noisy) debates based on untested assumptions rather than logically set out arguments based on well-founded information or knowledge.
E. Developing an interest in science, technology and mathematicsEdit
- Have a positive attitude to science and mathematics because like any other subject,
they can be learned and understood.
- Stress that every learner has the potential to learn and understand mathematics and
- Take part in science and mathematics competitions (Expos and Olympiads). You
learn from others and improve your skills and abilities.
- Make learning mathematics and science fun.
- Let learners enact moving or bonding molecules, the motion of planets or the relative
motion of two moving bodies etc.
- Form a science and a mathematics club at your school.
- Hold regular science awareness weeks (posters, presentations etc.) especially when
they can coincide with major events.
- Hold demonstrations (with appropriate permission) to protest important local issues
(for example as part of environmental education).
- Hold mock conferences to resolve environmental problems.
- Identify patterns formed by numbers and marvel at what numbers can do. Then
start playing around with numbers to make your own patterns. You will love it!
- Make discoveries with numbers.
- Let learners do practical science and mathematics e.g. measure a tile and the whole
classroom's dimensions; now calculate requirements for tiling the whole room. How many off-cuts etc.?
F. Developing a relationship with your learnersEdit
- Know your learners and not just the subject.
- Try to find out what learners' own expectations are.
- Encourage learners to set goals and aims and have a vision for where they want to
go / what they want to be.
- Tell learners in advance what your expectations are and set them high.
- Plan a session to explain rights, duties and responsibilities of the learners in the
class. Explain their right to free, quality, public education but also their responsibility as learners to learn. Explain other rights like privacy, clean water, shelter etc.
- Individual attention to slower learners to make sure they are not left behind but
learning still continues in the rest of the class.
- Don't say outright that an answer is wrong as it might discourage sensitive learners.
Rather ask probing questions so that learners can see for themselves where their thinking is illogical or incorrect. In other words work with learners towards a correct answer or understanding.
G. Enlivening your presentation styleEdit
- Do little demonstrations throughout a lesson. (Bite-sized chunks!)
- Use color to highlight important issues/facts and to make associations.
- Use teaching media e.g. flip charts etc. as it enhances the teaching atmosphere and
makes learning more meaningful.
- Using the media (magazines, newspapers, radio, TV etc.) in class wherever possible.
- Games play a role in learning even if the learning is not conscious.
- Play games to illustrate principles e.g. Monopoly in EMS.
- Play mathematical and number games to do remedial work and assist with
I. Groups work; working in groupsEdit
- Let class work in groups or pairs and encourage team work. (Make sure they work
as a group and not just as individuals sitting together in a group.)
- Let groups set their own rules to make the group work effectively
- Encourage learner flexibility by assigning tasks within a group and then rotating
these tasks. Make tags with responsibilities written on them.
- Composition of learner groups should be varied.
- Group work (cooperative learning; whole group participation) encourages learners to
J. Language issues and developmentEdit
- Impact of language on the teaching of science and mathematics; always point out
the differences between the formal, colloquial and mathematical/scientific meanings of words and phrases e.g. "at least" which, to some learners, means "the least" or "the minimum."
- Because of the language we use, some concepts can be misinterpreted.
- Write poetry and short passages on scientific or mathematical ideas to assess what
a learner understands by them and to develop their ability to express themselves.
- Do sessions of reading aloud.
- Use the language of the subject and of the examinations so that learners can
understand terminology and the particular form of language usage from the onset.
K. Links and continuity in science and mathematics teachingEdit
- Before you teach something find out what learners already know. (This is the
concept behind constructivist teaching.) Brainstorming can be useful.
- Link work being done currently with work done previously to make links and ensure
- Relate subject matter to real life experiences.
- Make science a living subject, relevant to real life situations. Take relevant examples
from learners' experience e.g. applications of gas behaviour in car tires and combustion engines etc. Science becomes meaningful because it is linked to the world beyond the classroom walls.
- Use the school's local environment and community as much as possible in your
- Rational debate on important scientific and technological issues. (Make sure that
debaters research their topics beforehand. Great outpourings of passion based on incorrect facts and poor assumptions are counter-productive to science and technology education.)
- Integrate learning areas through events and/or joint investigations and surveys e.g.
arts, culture and technology through investigation of local technologies (A&C and Technology) or survey to determine how cell phones have influenced local social and business practices (SS, EMS & Technology).
- Spend time regularly on keeping up with current events that relate to science,
mathematics, engineering and technology.
- Relate any particular section of the work to its applications in commerce, industry
and further education.
L. Motivating learnersEdit
- Motivational talks from successful former students.
- Offer small prizes and incentives from time to time for a significant piece of work or
improvement e.g. a pen to a learner who does not have one. (Do not overdo this kind of incentive otherwise it loses its value and significance.)
- Encourage learners to ask the question "how?" (how does it work?) and encourage
them to read books on "how it works" as many scientific applications are found in them. In general encourage them to find answers themselves.
- Find or devise activities that involve all learners.
- During class allow time for Independent learning
- Publicly or privately appreciate and acknowledge good work done by learners.
- Point out that science and mathematics underpin the world's technological advance.
- Demonstration of mathematical content by real life examples.
- Do geometry orals where learners solve geometric problems orally. (This is also a
good assessment tool.)
- Focus on study skills by holding short but regular seminars. Start early in the year.
- Encourage inquiry by constantly asking the two critical questions: "why?" and
- Look for books in the library on the subject "How it works" and discover a wide
range of scientific applications in almost every item we use in our daily lives.
- Always make an effort to find relevant, practical, everyday applications of every
concept you learn (or teach) in your science class. This way the understanding of science and the importance of science in your life becomes real.
- Active participation by learners is essential. Ask directed questions to keep
everyone involved and focused.
- Do informal investigations which challenge learners to come up with different
solutions. (You will be surprised at how fulfilling completing even a small project is.)
- Encourage learners to do self assessment after each lesson.
- Let the learners evaluate you.
- Encourage learners to make their own mind maps, especially at the end of a section
- Provide materials and opportunity for learners to do their own research.
M. Policies, preparation and planningEdit
- Draft school homework policy and include parent body to get their "buy-in" and
willingness to control homework.
- Establish a school academic support program based on enrichment and diagnosis.
- Prepare lessons. A well prepared lesson gives an educator direction and helps her
to work towards the outcomes of the lesson. She can spend time figuring out the best method to use, the materials and teaching aids needed, the type of questions to ask and generally how to get learners to where she wants them to be by the end of the lesson.
- Always be prepared for the unforeseen.
- Always select a variety of examples to use and select according to the way a lesson
- Plan lessons to accommodate for special needs.
- Thorough planning is vital for success.
- Do long term planning (broken into weeks, days, hours).
N. Professional relationships amongst colleaguesEdit
- Hold educators' phase and grade meetings to discuss what educators have learnt
during their teaching recently. The strategy of class visits by educators to colleagues also helps in that one sees problems that other educators encounter and how they remedy them e.g. learners with disabilities and measures for coping.
- Hold phase, grade and subject meetings for strategic- and year planning.
- Team teaching helps all to move at the same pace; all know more or less what every
one is doing.
- Continuous reporting back from workshops and other in-service training helps to
keep all abreast of latest developments.
- Evaluate and reflect on one's successes, failures and ways of improving
O. Projects in and around the schoolEdit
- We organized an HIV/Aids awareness campaign in the community by involving the
Department of Education, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and an international funding scheme. We exchanged views about getting across the message of HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention. The community was sensitized to the scourge of HIV/AIDS by children placing cards with their writings on the school walls and other places where the community usually congregates. People in the community started talking and advising others on the epidemic. An HIV/AIDS centre has been established as a result.
- Train learners to collect and obtain equipment and items (often thrown away) that
can be used in the science, mathematics and technology classroom.
- Give your learners projects to work on. They will use scientific principles, at times
even without knowing it. You then have a chance of highlighting the principles when you assess their projects or when they explain them. A project like building a model of a house with an electrical light system lets learners discover how, in practice, bulbs are connected in a house.
- Allow a reasonable time frame to complete a project. Children deduce real-life
situations from doing things themselves and making informed judgments.
- Calculate the cost of materials and labour for paving the school courtyard. Sketch
the area to be paved, choose the tiles, their color and suitable texture/finish of the material. Do calculations.
P. Respect for othersEdit
- Encourage punctuality as a mark of respect for educators and others learners.
- Explain the importance of respecting the rights of others, just as every individual
would like their rights to be respected.
- Respect the rights of each other and their property.
- Establish a classroom code of conduct with regard to mutual respect.
- Learners should feel free to participate in lessons in the knowledge that they won't
- Respect each other's language.