It’s always a tricky one, isn’t it? Do we show them the experiment, knowing that a half-dozen or so will be messing around at the back or comparing nail varnish with their friends? Or do we let them loose with glassware and clamp stands, waiting for the crashing noises or the blank looks to begin?
Okay, I’m exaggerating. A bit. But for most of us, it’s probably taking a bit of time to think about the kinds of practicals we do, and why. Are we focused enough on what the students will learn from it? Or are we doing a particular practical or demonstration because it’s in the scheme of work, or because we’ve always done it?
I’ve used among other sources David Sang and Alom Shaha’s workshop at the ASE Conference and materials from Getting Practical and SCORE Education to produce a checklist (downloadable below, simply click on the image). The focus is about the benefits of a demonstration or a class practical. It’s an easy way to think about what can be added to an activity, or ways to tweak it to improve outcomes. Simply sharing with the students what they might be trying to gain from a practical is worthwhile – although in some cases as a plenary to avoid spoiling a surprise or insight. Simply take a moment to read through the lists, and see if you can justify the activity in terms of learning. If you’re not sure, what could you change?
There’s loads of good ideas online – the National Stem Centre eLibrary is of course one place to look – and it’s often possible to convert a practical into a demo or vice versa. For example, I demonstrate heat transfer in fluids using the two chimneys apparatus and a convection square, plus hot and cold water with food colouring in gas jars, which I first saw in ‘Nina and the Neurons’. By the third demo the kids can predict and ex0plain what’s going to happen quite well. I then give them coloured ice cubes to float in water, and to predict, explain, describe and explain again (PEOE) what they see. Bonus points for a commentary that uses key ideas such as ‘density change’.
I hope this kind of reminder is useful, for experienced teachers as well as those more recently joining the profession. Feedback would be very much appreciated, as this is my 100th post and I’ve had less than 1 comment for each on average…