Teaching practical science: developing confidence and linking to context
Practical work in biology, chemistry and physics has an important role in giving students hands-on experience in understanding the world around them. As a teacher, your ability to connect practical work, theory and examples that students can relate to from their everyday lives, can really bring science to life. For many participants on our online CPD courses, improving these connections, and so bringing context to practical work, forms one of their main development objectives.
Each of the three courses on practical science provide examples of context-driven experiments: from lactose-free cat milk when teaching enzymes in biology, to the radioactivity of a banana in physics. The discussions on the courses are rich with ideas shared by both experienced and new teachers. These discussions are also valuable spaces for participants to talk through how they improve practical work and build their understanding of the subject.
Below are three steps selected from STEM Learning's online courses currently running, to get you starting to think about the role of context in supporting learning through practical work:
- What do we mean by context? (Biology)
- Example of context: smoke detectors (Physics)
- Teacher's example: context to engage students (Chemistry)
"Teachers are often required to teach outside their first subject specialism and CPD can give them knowledge and confidence in a subject that may not be familiar to them." – Gatsby Good Practical Science Report
Improving confidence in teaching practical work is another development goal that our participants set when they start the courses. Some participants are newly qualified teachers, others are teaching a subject they do not have post-A level qualifications in, and the online courses provide structure to thinking about the role of practical work in a subject.
Benchmark 3 from the Gatsby Good Practical Science Report highlights the importance of subject-specific professional development as a way for teachers to develop both confidence and subject knowledge. This confidence only comes through practice and reflection, both of which are encouraged and supported online.
“It’s helped to reignite my passion for teaching science. It’s given me new ideas and ways to approach the subject and I’m genuinely looking forward to implementing the different approaches more.” – Teaching Practical Science: Biology
If you’re looking to improve how you use contexts to help your students make sense of your subject, and reflect on the role of context in practical work, then I hope you will join us online soon.