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New and creative ways to teach science! - (Apr/05/2012 )

Hello friends! My good buddy is a biology teacher in LAUSD and searches for new ways to inspire his students. Check out this rap video he made for them!

I'm interested in hearing some of the ways that you may use to help others understand science!

Being able to offer creative ways to present information, I believe, is the corner-stone of good teaching.

I'm hoping everyone can share a creative presentation, story, science experiment, etc, that will inspire students and the science educating community.

Thanks, and looking forward to reading your ideas!

-Dave Mason-

I recently watched a documentary about a teacher (not this one) that used (rap) songs to help his students. And it turned out that the students got better scores...

Now I found that nice, but on the other hand: if I was a student.. and I had to listen to such songs.. I would feel rather irritated (and it would not stimulate me at all).
It can help some students, but at the same time some students wont like it... I think its important that teachers keep this in mind (for example: do not push students to learn this song if they dont care about it.. everyone has is own style of learning and its important to keep this in mind and not just focus on the weaks for example)

ALso: its nice to use technology, creative presentations etc.. But keep in your mind that this is not the most important thing..
I do not like the evolution I am seeing more and more in schools.
Its true, some things are better and we need to use certain aspects about technology, but dont forget the main issue about schooling.

A big question I always ask: you have 60 minutes to teach something, if you fill in 30 minutes with a movie or song.. you have only 30 minutes left for the rest ... Will you still be able to learn the same amount? Maybe yes, but not sure it is always the case...

A very important thing for me is that a teacher uses a good handbook or hand written text! This has to be very easy to understand and contain many figures/ drawings to understand it.
And of course many excercises with answers.


your friend's "song" and dance could benefit with some illustrations of the cell parts about which he's rapping (the closest he came to illustration was when he moved is arm in a wavelike motion when talking about the smooth er).

a song is a good way to get the attention of the student and may even work in the same way that a mnemonic helps a student remember a subject. but, illustrations are necessary if you want the student to be able to identify the parts.


I am a big believer in getting people/kids involved, I am a UK based scientist and I regularly go out into schools. The best responses I get are in my practical demonstrations the best example I can give is how bone is a composite material ie protein (collagen) and mineral (calcium). The way I demonstrate this is using concrete platform with and without steel bars in (bear with me) I get the kids to jump use hammers and any thing else they can find to try and break these materials, gets a bit mad and a health and safety nightmare. One set they can break easily the other hard as they might I have only had one class manage to break the reinforced concrete (very angry children :) ).

But shows in a practical way how different materials are stronger than other and how this relates to how your skeleton and many other areas of science.

As a research scientist, I get to go into schools on a infrequent basis and get to do cool "showy" things, but I have so much respect for the teachers who can make their subjects interesting on a daily basis.

Hope this helps


I just got to teach biology to first year medical students. I hope they don't require such huge amount of creativity as school kids. But.. I showed them some invertebrate I found in my lunch salad that day, in a microscope. I call that creative way to teach microscopy
(also, since the first clas was all about condenser and diaphraghm i put a logo of Aperture Laboratories and image of a cake a few slides later and incidentally used frase "wibbly-wobbly.. while describing phase contrast, so as my boyfriend said, now they must have a feeling that their teacher is desperately trying to make fun by geek popculture references )


pito on Thu Apr 5 16:20:30 2012 said:

Now I found that nice, but on the other hand: if I was a student.. and I had to listen to such songs.. I would feel rather irritated (and it would not stimulate me at all).
It can help some students, but at the same time some students wont like it... I think its important that teachers keep this in mind (for example: do not push students to learn this song if they dont care about it.. everyone has is own style of learning and its important to keep this in mind and not just focus on the weaks for example)

Totally subscribe to that. I would not be a scientist if my biology teacher would have been like that. Actually in highschool I hated biology because of the teacher. I changed my mind in my first year of the university (while I was studying physics) during my first biochemistry and cell biology intro course. And it was not the way of teaching, it was how excited the prof was about what he was teaching. For me everything was gibberish but I was like: this dude is certainly fascinated about this biochemistry stuff, so it must be cool but I cannot see it at the moment because I am too ignorant. And I busted my ass to understand what he was talking about.

My bottom line is that Pito is right: different people learn differently and the question is who do we want to teach? Do we want to lose the attention of the people who would have aced the course while forcing the not-interested ones into the matter? What would be the result? If there are statistically significant numbers about these novel methods, I would adopt them; if these methods only lead to slight increase in the average while decreasing the standard deviation... I would think twice.

Actually, what Pito said about different people having different learning styles: I took a 2-day seminar in teaching to come to this conclusion. Which I see now that it was a loss of time since Pito would have anyhow argued it convincingly for me that this is the case.

On another note: I am totally for this topic: sharing teaching methods. Because I was in this teaching seminar which was not quite focused on scientific stuff. As an example, we were told to take a course that we teach and work on it. I happen to teach a method (short labcourse) course in protein expression and purification. The course starts with 1 hour introduction in the theory behind different types of separation: affinity, gel filtration, ion exchange. The guy who was giving the seminar (with a degree in sociology) told me that this is not good. That I should allow the students to discover themselves the methods and think on their own with guided questions about how they would purify a protein, without knowing anything, based on their life experience. Now.... this might work in sociology when you have questions related to daily life situations. However, in science, you cannot tell a student to reinvent the things that took several years and several researchers working together to invent in the first place. I mean, how would my thing work according to him? I would just give them several purification columns and the Akta system (with a manual) and a cell lysate and say: you have two days to purify the protein from the cell lysate. fail of this particular course; two days of my life I will never get back.

Coming back to teaching methods. Some of the teaching methods I have observed as functioning at least from my side (me being the learner):
-I had this immunology course in which we were given the book and we were supposed to read on our own each week 1-2 chapters and come to the lecture and discuss the chapter. In the beginning of the class, we would collect questions related to the parts of the chapter we did not understand on a board and the prof (the same for whom I switched from physics to biochemistry , just a coincidence) would order these questions in the order they were presented in the chapter. He would just moderate the discussion. The answers for the questions would come from others in the class (max 20 people seminar) that happened to understand that particular principle. In the end of the semester you would actually get a grade based on active participation. The prof took care that he involves everybody in the discussion even though they are shy to raise their hand and try to answer one of the questions. I have learned more in that course than in any other course because knowing and understanding as much as possible would be rewarded in good active participation grade.
-when I was doing tutorials for the quantum mechanics course, I observed that the problem of most students is the vocabulary used by profs: too scientific. (the students came to the tutorial for a translation to simple English of their homework task ) Also observed by Trof above: using interjections and being descriptive rather than abstract works the best. Aka use slides whenever possible to illustrate (as well said above by mdfenko) On the other hand, I observed that things based on formulae/mathematical derivations rather than images (biological descriptive facts) are better presented with chalk on the board than on power point slides.
-practical examples always help. solve problems and exercises. show where that knowledge can be used in their daily life from the math formula for the biologist to the scientific fact in smart phones, playstation etc for the highschooler. it works like a reward system: how is your life getting better because you know this?
-debating on topics: make 2 groups that do real debates like the competitive ones about politics and stuff. Like: this house believes in evolution vs the house that believes in creationism. The point in competitive debating is that you are not allowed to choose your own side and you can draw the opposite side, the one you are against. But still you are stuck on the other side and you have to fight to find counter arguments and to convince people of your arguments. As a consequence you become more equilibrated/ open-minded and you start seeing also other point of views keeping in mind their weak parts and your own weak parts. I mean not all debates have to be as controversial as evolution vs creationism. You can pick different point of views to a field. There are several fields with things that are not settled and widely debated. Also, lighter topics could be chosen like: method A is better than method B for assessing this question.

On a last note: Pito mentioned above smth about if you rap 30 min, how much of the lesson is there for the real material? Well, the real question here is: what do we want to teach here? The entire Lehninger/Voet&Voet/Stryer as fast as possible or how to think out of the box? instigate students to look up in the internet, books, library whatever for more info about the stuff that was tangentially touched? you do not need to know everything is taught in schools; knowing how to find certain info and where to look it up is more important than knowing books by heart. I remember my metabolism prof when asked if himself knows all these details he is asking in the exam, without having the slides in front. He told us: well, I do not know, but I have to have a system to differentiate among everybody in the class and rank them somehow because if I would ask only the take home message of the course, what you have to remember in the years to come as researchers, everybody here would get only As and we cannot have that. This is why we will make the exams harder and harder every year to have a Gaussian distribution of the grades. How does this attitude help us in the end? Not at all. In the end, in science, as everywhere else, the best are the ones who know how to raise questions; how to get the info; how to be critical with the info out there: not everything that is published even in science journals is 100% correct; how to come with a plan to get a task done and follow the plan. wholesome understanding of everything and knowing everything is not in there. But this list is only according to me.



The biggest thing I have come across in my giving of seminars and demonstrating laboratories is to keep it simple - if you can put up one slide with a concept/result and talk about it in a manner that people can understand rather than putting up 2 or more slides, people will remember and understand the topic much better than having lots of bits of info thrown at them Typically an easy way to do this is to make an analogy to everyday events, for instance you could talk about energy levels and electron orbits when explaining fluorescence, or you could say it is kind of like bouncing a ball off the ground - the more energy you put into the throw then sometimes the ball will get away from you and escape.

I have also found that altering the wording of a question or changing the wording of an answer can make people go from Huh? to Ohhh, I get it...

There are (as already noted) many different learning styles - some people are more visual, some more tactile, some more aurally, so it pays to have a range of things about. Powerpoint or similar play into this a lot- visual and aural stimuli are good for most people... however it pays to make sure that the slides are not distracting - no silly animations/slide transitions and grammatical/spelling mistakes or people stop paying attention.