Thursday, November 12, 2015

4 Ways to Keep Science Engaging in the Classroom

I haven't written a new post lately because I'm in Antarctica, working with a research team and communicating the science back to classrooms through PolarTREC journals. This reminds me of a key aspect of teaching science which is hard to remember in the day to day standards, tests and curriculum mandates: keeping science engaging!  Below are four ways to help keep (or get) students interested in science, which might significantly change the way they look at the discipline!

1. Connect Students with Exciting and Current Science

One of the hardest things to do is to include the cutting edge and often most exciting aspects of science into your lesson plans. I often struggled with this since I had to cover so much content. A way I learned to manage this was to include Science Pictures of the Day in my classroom. 

Here in Antarctica, I am posting "Ice Pictures of the Day" every weekday on my PolarTREC journals. You can download PowerPoint Slides with notes describing each picture. I try to align them to NGSS standards as well.

An example of an Ice POD. You can download the PPT slide from the 11/12/2015 PolarTREC journal page.

2. Connecting with Real Scientists
Michelle and the science team waiting to deploy to Antarctica

Another way to keep science engaging in the classroom is to connect students to scientists. Programs like GK12 are an excellent way to do this, but those opportunities are limited. You also can share students with the Cool Careers books from Sally Ride Science

I am happy to connect teachers and students with scientists while I am here in Antarctica. My journals have a section on each page where you can "Ask the Team" research questions. I also have access to geologists, glaciologists, chemists, biologists, physicists, astronomers, and meteorologists here who I am happy to feature on my journal or send a video to a teacher for. Email me at if you would like to collaborate!

3. Personal Stories Behind Science

One way to keep science interesting is to have a good human story behind it. The story of how Alfred Wallace was close to being as famous as Charles Darwin, but because he did not promote himself as well, his name is unknown.  Other stories I enjoy to tell are about Marie Curie and how she sacrificed her life for science due to the radiation she was exposed to. I also like to talk about Rosalind Franklin, the dark lady of DNA whose name is not often remembered along with Watson and Crick.  I also like to talk about current scientists, like Tyrone Hayes, a very charismatic biologist who studies how frogs are affected by pollutants. He also has become a political figure, speaking out against companies like Monsanto. Seeking out stories about scientists who model the demographics in your classroom (gender, race, ethnicity, etc.) is a great way to keep science interesting and relevant to your students.

4. Push Your Own Boundaries as a Science Teacher
Michelle peers down an Ob Tube outside McMurdo Station

I think the one of the best ways to keep students engaged in science is if you are as well. When I start to forget why I want to teach science, I find engaging programs that re-ignite my love of learning. The GK12 program, NASA's Galileo Educator Network, the Radiation Belt Storm Probe educator workshops, and the PolarTREC program are the more influential programs I have joined to stay enthused. Not only do these programs educate you and connect you with scientists, but it also helps you find a community of engaged, committed science educators who you can lean on for support.

For the time being, please join me virtually in Antarctica to keep your students engaged in science!  Here are the biggest ways you can get your class involved:

  • Read daily journals about science and life in Antarctica:  
  • Write questions or answer questions posted in the journals in the "Ask the Team" section of the journals. I often write postcards and send them from Antarctica to participants who respond!
  • Register here to participate in a live webinar on December 1st, where my research team will talk about our work while we are in Antarctica and classes can ask questions in real time
  • Email me at: if there are other ways I can collaborate with you while I am in Antarctica--I am eager to make connections with as many science teachers as possible!