It’s no secret that teaching a science course is tough! Many students have an inherent fear of science, math, memorizing and worst of all, *gasp*, application of knowledge! Essentially anything that sounds, looks or smells like real work can cause instant mental melting and total inability to function above the third grade level. But don’t despair! All is not lost, even the most reluctant student can be brought around with enough patience (some days you’ll feel down right saintly) and the right tactics. And don’t forget; one of the most important components of our job as educators is to help our kids bring their fears under control and show them the way to understanding what they’re learning.
Here are some of our best tips and ideas to help your reluctant learners shine.
The first floor? Uh? Here’s what we mean: most of these science-fearful students have never had the fundamentals brought into clear focus. They’re in over their heads from day one in your class. Think back to your toughest subject and how hard it was to get a grasp on even the most basic concepts. Everyone around you seemed to be gliding along with zero effort and passing with flying colors. Meanwhile, in the third week of class you were still reviewing the first day’s lecture material. Remember that feeling? Well, if you’ve got a student at that point in your class you need to meet them where they are. It’s going to be extra work to help them get unstuck; they’ll need remedial material and a lot of repeat explanations. But if you both stick with it you’ll see a really amazing transformation happen by the end of the year. And the icing on the cake is that these students often become your most appreciative and memorable. Getting them off zero makes you their hero.
To run a successful class in any subject you’ll need to establish mutual respect with your class. The absolute best way to do this is to be yourself. There’s nothing more off-putting to students than a teacher with a fake personality. Let them get to know you, at least a little, add some stories about your life and school experiences. They don’t need to know the first names of your family out to third cousins, or your most embarrassing moments from childhood, but at least a splash of who you are outside the classroom can work wonders. Get to know them, what they like, what they want to do. They all have personalities and stories, let them share now and then.
Admit your ignorance. Don’t know the answer to a question? Fess up! Be honest with your students if you don’t know or don’t remember the answer to a question. If you do this openly and in an almost matter-of-fact way your students will respect you for being honest. Try to bluff your way through the answer and they’ll know. No one respects bluffing in this situation, it’s not poker, don’t hide your cards from your students. Tell them you’ll look it up and get back to them and then follow through with that promise the next day. Student may not have good memories for course material but they’ll remember your promises forever. Don’t let them down!
Nothing puts students to sleep like a long, monotone lecture. Although it’s the classic way of relaying information to students and will always have it’s place in teaching there’s no harm in getting the students busy in teaching themselves. Try mixing up your class format now and then. Make a couple days a week into ‘flipped classroom’ days. Get the students up to the board and have them work problems in small groups. Give them “Cheat Days” where you do the homework with them as long as they’re actively involved in working through the problems.
The best way to get students enthusiastic about class to be enthusiastic yourself. You don’t have to be hyperventilating with excitement but if you enjoy the subject matter of your class it will show in how you talk and interact. That’s an infectious environment for students and will have a positive impact on how they learn and how much effort they’re willing to put into the course. If you’re not enjoying what you teach then it’s time for a change! Now before you run off an look a new job or apply for a new credential take a look at your current class and spend some time thinking of ways to make it fun to teach. Add some projects, find some new labs, give yourself a break now and then with some video lectures. Anything you can do to stay engaged or get reengaged will have a good outcome on your class!
The Penguin Bay Team
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