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.
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
Posted: Saturday, February 6th, 2016
by Jenna Porter & Rich Hedman
Over the next few years, school districts throughout California will need to decide which curriculum course model to adopt for high school science. Unlike middle school, for which there are two relatively straightforward course models (preferred integrated and alternative discipline specific), high schools will have more than 4 distinct course model options (see Table 1). Which model would be best for high schools in your district? To assist you in answering that question, we offer some resources and points to consider, and make a recommendation for providing equitable opportunities for all students to access the new science curriculum. Learn More…
Posted: Friday, January 15th, 2016
Are you a Next Generation Science Teacher? Have the science teachers at your school participated in current science safety professional development? Did you know that training in science safety is required by CALOSHA to keep employees safe? Do you know what documentation is required to reduce an individual teacher, administrator, and/or the school’s liability?
The Science Safety for Educators Online Course will provide participants with information to build a solid foundation to create a safe science environment for employees and students. It is recommended that schools, districts, and organizations have as a goal to prepare 100% of all science teachers and other related personnel for the ever-changing environment of safety for themselves, others, and students. Learn More…
Posted: Friday, January 15th, 2016
by Jill Grace
Teachers, the moment is NOW for you to take action to influence how your district supports science education.
I often get inquiries by teachers as to how they can gain access to financial support as they transition to instruction in the California Next Generation Science Standards (CA NGSS). This includes funding to attend professional learning opportunities (like the state-wide CA NGSS Roll Outs or CSTA’s California Science Education Conference which has a heavy CA NGSS emphasis) or sub-release time for teacher collaborative planning. The lack support in some districts and schools for these activities appears to be a “lost in translation” issue; many principals and district leaders are financially supporting these activities as they relate to English language arts and math, but not science. One of the reasons why we have a lengthy period of time leading to full implementation of the CA NGSS is to give teachers time to prepare: time to refresh on science concepts that are new at your grade-level and time to wrap your head around the shifts in instruction that the CA NGSS call for. The need for this time to prepare for the implementation of the CA NGSS is recognized at the state-level.
“We encourage local districts to begin implementation of the science standards now. The recently released draft of the new California NGSS curriculum framework can serve as an invaluable resource at all grade levels. We recognize the time required to build capacity among teachers and students for these new science standards,” said Mike Kirst, president of the California State Board of Education.
Trish Williams, member and NGSS Liaison on the California State Board of Education (SBE) added: “the State Board of Education knows that the NGSS represent a very different way of teaching from the 1998 California science standards, and knows that change takes time; teachers of science will need professional learning support from their district to explore and become comfortable teaching science with an NGSS three-dimensional approach.” Learn More…
Posted: Thursday, January 14th, 2016
by Lisa Hegdahl
“The overarching goal of our framework for K-12 science education is to ensure that by the end of 12th grade, all students have some appreciation of the beauty and wonder of science …”
A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas*
In 1985, I graduated from the University of California at Davis, with a Bachelor of Science in Zoology. In 1991, I began teaching 8th grade science in Galt, where our school’s science department determined the topics I taught which, for 7 years, were genetics, sound, astronomy, and body systems. In 1998, the CA Science Content Standards arrived and the 8th grade science curriculum became exclusively physical science – physics, astronomy, and chemistry – a far cry from my Zoological roots. As are many of you, I am now in the process of transitioning to the CA Next Generation of Science Standards (NGSS) 6-8 Integrated Model which means, once again, changing the core ideas I teach my 8th graders. Instead of strictly physical science, I will now teach Integrated Life Science, Earth and Space Science, and Physical Science (along with the Science and Engineering Practices, SEPs, and the Crosscutting Concepts, CCCs). Learn More…
Posted: Thursday, January 14th, 2016
by Anna Van Dordrecht, MA and Adrienne Larocque, PhD
Storytelling, which is fundamental to humanity, is increasingly being used by scientists to communicate research to a broader audience. This is evident in the success of scientists like Neil deGrasse Tyson. Capitalizing on this, in our classrooms we both tell stories about scientists under the banner of People to Ponder. Benefits of storytelling for students are numerous, and many align with NGSS. Specifically, Appendix H states that, “It is one thing to develop the practices and crosscutting concepts in the context of core disciplinary ideas; it is another aim to develop an understanding of the nature of science within those contexts. The use of case studies from the history of science provides contexts in which to develop students’ understanding of the nature of science.”
A Person to Ponder – Frances Kelsey
Frances Kelsey was born in 1914 in British Columbia, Canada. She graduated from high school at 15 and entered McGill University where she studied Pharmacology. After graduation, she wrote to a famous researcher in Pharmacology at the University of Chicago and asked for a graduate position. He accepted her, thinking that she was a man. While in Chicago, Kelsey was asked by the Food and Drug Administration to research unusual deaths related to a cleaning solvent; she determined that a compound, diethylene glycol, was responsible. This led to the 1938 passage of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, which gave the FDA control to oversee safety in these categories. In 1938, Kelsey received her PhD and joined the Chicago faculty. Through her research, she discovered that some drugs could pass to embryos through the placental barrier. Learn More…