July 2014 – Vol. 26 No. 11

What Makes for an Effective Science Demonstration?

Posted: Saturday, September 1st, 2012

by Laura Henriques

You are standing at the front of the classroom, poised behind some apparatus. Students are watching expectantly. Something exciting is about to happen, but what? The tension in the room is palpable as students eagerly await the moment when you make the magic of science come alive. You make a motion to start the demo and then pause, pulling the students along with you to further build the anticipation. When you do the demonstration and it works you have their attention, you’ve piqued their interest and they are ready to learn.

This happens in your classroom every day, right? It could! Science demonstrations have the power to engage our students in a variety of ways. The ways in which we use our demonstrations make all the difference in the world.

Demonstrations can serve a variety of purposes. I had a friend who started every single day with a quick demo. He did them only once, and right as the bell rang. Students were required to write a brief description of what they saw and what they thought was going on. This was his daily warm-up. It was great for getting kids to class on time as he only did the demonstration a single time – if you were late you missed it and you weren’t able to get points for the warm-up without having seen the demo.

The same demonstration can be used multiple times for different purposes. At the start of a class or lecture, they can serve as a common experience to which you refer back to during class. On the other hand, if used at the end of an instructional segment they can illustrate a concept just explained. During the middle of instruction a demonstration can be used to review content or introduce new ideas. They can prompt lively discussion or be the prompt for a quick write.  Some may choose to combine these approaches, for example, doing a demo at the start of class to pique interest and provide a shared experience, then repeating it again after some learning has taken place so that students can apply what they have learned as they try to make sense what happened. Demonstrations can also be motivational, giving students a reason to pay attention, read and learn. Discrepant events are really good for that purpose as they captivate student interest because of their unexpected results.

More often than not, we shouldn’t spend too much time explaining during the demonstration. You will have time after the demonstration to ask questions and teach content. Silence is golden for some demonstrations. It builds the drama and focuses attention on the phenomena. Sometimes we do demonstrations to teach a particular skill. In this situation you will want to explain while you demonstrate.

Here are some tips to consider when doing science demonstrations.

  1. Prior Practice Prevents Poor Performance. A teaching buddy of mine used to drill into me these “5Ps of science demos” (and labs). We have to try them ahead of time. Know how it works, be comfortable with it and be aware of the tricks needed to make it work well. Demonstrations do not always work the first time we do them. Being comfortable with the materials enables you to be confident and comfortable in front your class. If it does not work as expected during class you’ll feel better about setting it up and trying again. (As an aside, don’t spend too much class time trying to make the demo work if it has failed a few times.)
  2. Don’t tell us what is going to happen before you do the demo. If you take away the element of surprise by telling us exactly what to look for and what to expect (and why) then you don’t really need to take the time to do the demonstration. Consider doing the demo without any explanation at all as a way to engage the class and pique their curiosity. This creates a teachable moment – students have seen something and now they want to know how and why it works. After the explanation you can do the demo again, this time talking about what is going on while performing the demo.
  3. Make sure people can see! You won’t want to go to all the trouble of putting together a demonstration if your students can’t see it well. Think about how the demo will look from the back of the classroom. Is it big enough? High enough off the lab table so that all can see? Does it need a solid background to be easily seen? Perhaps you need to use a document camera to project the demo so all can see it, or you need to raise the entire demonstration by putting it on a pile of books or a box so kids in the back can see. Maybe it would be more visible if you put it on the overhead and shined light through it or projected it. If you are doing something which relies on color changes it won’t help if you are wearing a multicolored shirt, maybe you need to hold up a piece of white paper behind the apparatus.
  4. Consider getting students involved in the demonstration. Some demos need an assistant or a shill. Enlist the help of your students! Some of the demos are easily replicated with common materials. Consider having students try the demonstrations at home, to teach family members. Not only does this get the kids talking about science with their families, it helps them verbalize what they know as they are explaining the science. Teaching the content helps them learn the content.
  5. Consider recording your demonstration. Some demonstrations are very time consuming to set-up. Some take place really quickly. Some are a bit persnickety and don’t always “work” exactly as planned. For those demonstrations it can be helpful to record the demo and show it in class. This method allows you to watch the demonstration in slow motion, pause at key points (to ask questions or reiterate key points), and you can watch the demo over and over without having to set up the equipment again.
  6. Showmanship matters! Not all of us are comfortable being goofy in class, but doing so can make a big difference. Compare these videos of the same demonstration. While we aren’t as funny or talented as Dom Deluise, we can all ham it up a little to build tension and build interest. The demo is exciting all by itself, but Dom Deluise gets the viewer (student) more involved and invested by pretending to be nervous about the outcome.

Mrs. Dowdle’s Inertia Eggs   (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B20GRM64JU8)

Dom Deluise on Johnny Carson (http://www.staged.com/video?v=4Vkc)

Doing demonstrations in your science classroom does not take the place of doing labs or activities, but they can greatly enhance your instruction. Try some and see how they work. If you find a collection that work well, consider sharing them with your colleagues at the CSTA Conference in 2013 or via an article in eCCS! I encourage you to share your favorite demo via the “comment” box at the end of this article so we can all learn from each other.

An Invitation

For those of you who teach physics or physical science in the LA area, California State University, Long Beach hosts a monthly Physics Demo Day. The 2nd Thursday of each month from 4:30-5:30 p.m., we gather to share our favorite physics demonstrations. Topics vary each time as we move through the physics curriculum. To find out more and to RSVP for parking visit PhysicsAtTheBeach.com.

Written by Laura Henriques

Laura Henriques

Laura Henriques is a professor of science education at CSU Long Beach and president of CSTA.

Leave a Reply

LATEST POST

CALL FOR PUBLIC COMMENT ON Next Generation Science Standards Systems Implementation Plan for California

Posted: Monday, July 28th, 2014

The California Department of Education (CDE) is pleased to announce that the first draft of Next Generation Science Standards Systems Implementation Plan for California is available online at the CDE’s Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) Web page at: http://www.cde.ca.gov/pd/ca/sc/ngssintrod.asp  The purpose of this document is to assist the CDE, California local educational agencies (LEAs), and support providers in implementing the Next Generation Science Standards for California Public Schools, Kindergarten through Grade Twelve (CA NGSS). The plan identifies eight strategies and accompanying elements and activities for the implementation of the CA NGSS. By utilizing this plan, the CDE, LEAs, support providers, and all stakeholders will have the potential to transform science education in California to create a different way of thinking about teaching and learning science.

Comments and suggestions for improvement may be submitted to ngss@cde.ca.gov by close of business Monday, August 25, 2014.  If you have any questions, you may call the CDE’s Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Office at 916-323-5847, or submit questions to the NGSS mailbox at ngss@cde.ca.gov .

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Speak Out for Science – Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) Regulations Need Stronger Support for All State Standards

Posted: Monday, July 14th, 2014

CSTA and others are requesting that the State Board of Education change the language used to describe the “Implementation of State Standards (Priority 2)” so that all subjects, including science, are addressed in the LCAP.

On Thursday, July 10, CSTA addressed the California State Board of Education to seek a change to the State Board approved LCAP (Local Control Accountability Plan) template. This change will serve to clarify for districts and stakeholders that the state’s priority #2 should address all state adopted standards, including science, and not just Common Core. A quick review of the LCAPs submitted for approval by county offices of education reveals that many districts approached addressing priority #2 as only the implementation of English and Mathematics Common Core Standards. Missing or lacking from many plans is support for the recently adopted Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) for California.    Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Get Ready for December’s NSTA/CSTA Joint Conference!

Posted: Tuesday, July 8th, 2014


by Laura Henriques

This year’s NSTA Long Beach Area Conference is being hosted in collaboration with CSTA. There are all sorts of exciting events planned for the conference and we hope you’ll be with us to take advantage of all of them!

The official conference is December 4-6, 2014 but there are will be two full-day field trip options on Wednesday, December 3rd. There will be an array of field trips and short courses as part of the conference. The field trip choices include The Science in your Beer: Chemistry, Microbiology, and Sensory Analysis at Smog City Brewing, Up Close & Personal with Ocean Critters: Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, Slip-Sliding Away: a Palos Verdes Geology Tour, Looking to the Future: Visiting the Endeavour Space Shuttle and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, Journey into Space at the City of Downey, Columbia Memorial Space Center, and Wet & Wild Adventures with the Southern CA Marine Institute. Learn More…

Written by Laura Henriques

Laura Henriques

Laura Henriques is a professor of science education at CSU Long Beach and president of CSTA.

NGSS Implementation Update

Posted: Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

by Jessica Sawko

The following provides updates on the status of various aspects of implementing the Next Generation Science Standards in California. Topics covered are statewide assessments for science, curriculum framework development, and NGSS professional learning opportunities.

Assessment

July 15 – 18, 2014 two two-day meetings of science education stakeholders will be held in Sacramento to start the process that was set forth in legislation (AB 484) last year to develop new statewide assessment for science that will comply with federal assessment requirements and align with the Next Generation Science Standards for California Public Schools. The participants of the stakeholder meeting are California science teachers, individuals with expertise in assessing English learners and pupils with disabilities, parents, and measurement experts. There will be several CSTA members serving as participants in the stakeholder meetings. Our thanks goes to those members who answered CSTA’s call for volunteers and are committing two days of their summer to participate in these important meetings.

Learn More…

Written by Jessica Sawko

Jessica Sawko

Jessica Sawko is CSTA’s Executive Director.

CSTA Says Good-Bye and Thanks to Board Members

Posted: Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

by Laura Henriques

I would like to use this month’s column to publicly thank our outgoing Board Members. Our spring elections bring new faces and talent to the CSTA Board, but that means we also say good-bye to some colleagues.

There are five Board members whose term just expired, four of whom will be leaving the Board. Their last official Board Meeting was June 14th but we look forward to their continued involvement in CSTA. We also appreciate all that they have done for CSTA.

Heather Wygant joined the Board in 2008. She was fresh from Texas, where she’d been active with STAT (Science Teachers Association of Texas). She served two terms as the CSTA High School representative and one term as Treasurer. She brought us ideas from the Lone Star State and enthusiasm for all things science (especially earth science). While she is officially leaving the Board, Heather will stay active with CSTA serving on the NGSS Committee and the Electronic Communications Committee. Jeanine Wulfenstein, middle school science teacher in Temecula Valley Unified School District, is taking over Heather’s position as Treasurer. Learn More…

Written by Laura Henriques

Laura Henriques

Laura Henriques is a professor of science education at CSU Long Beach and president of CSTA.