Introducing a Topic

I heard this fabulous lecture by Amanda Gunning at Teachers College last night on Introducing a Topic. Lots of creative ways to get kids involved from the start!

Introducing a New Topic: Outside-In (showing students new information)

Show a video clip

  • The example below would be a great video to introduce static electricity. Another favorite is this video to introduce a wave unit using cell phones:

Have the students read something relevant

  • I love the idea of using literature in science class – this could range from current events in the newspaper to science fiction novels. A good way to introduce genetic engineering would be The Last Book In The Universe.

Read to the students

  • A suggestion for middle school would be Science Verse by Jon Scieszka & Lane Smith.

Do an demonstration

  • Demonstrations are often the easy way out for science teachers, so only use one if it’s relevant and you can explain it.

Play a song

Show a piece of art or photo

  • NASA’s image of the day gallery is brilliant! Several other websites have great science photography galleries as well.

Ways to Introduce a Topic: Inside-Out (using what students already know)

Find out what they know

  • List – write out all of the students’ responses to a question and narrow down later
  • Think-Pair-Share – create a list from the pair’s brainstorm
  • KWL chart – know/want to know/have learned
  • ABC – students fill in key ideas, one for each letter of the alphabet
  • Pass the chalk/pen – everyone has to use the chalk/pen and write something on the board, can be paired with ABC

Ask them to think about a scenario, idea, experience, or problem

Say there was a swimming pool with a shallow end of 3 ft. and a deep end of 8 ft. Point A is in the shallow end and point B  is in the deep end, both at a depth of 2 ft. Which point experiences more water pressure?

  • Using the situation above, have students Think-Pair-Share to develop an answer. The correct answer is that they both experience the same water pressure because they are at the same depth. Common misconceptions include: “A experiences more pressure because of the ground underneath it” and “B experiences more pressure because of all the water underneath it.”

Have them draw something (think-draw-share)

  • You might ask students to draw what happens to a ball when it is thrown horizontally.

Ask a question

  • Always make sure it’s open ended!

Take a poll

  • In a Mechanics Unit, you could ask which will drop first, a textbook or a coin? This can easily turn into a exciting classroom activity where students try to observe, measure, and calculate the answer for themselves.

Personal Experiences

  • Independent Student Observations
  • Share life experiences (briefly!) –> For a discussion on Newton’s 3rd Law: “Have you ever stubbed your toe? Why do you hurt and not the door/corner?”

Example: Introducing The Moon

  • Myths –> werewolfs, people to crazy things on a full moon, man in the moon
  • History –> Galileo
  • What is the Moon? What is it made of? –> cheese?!
  • Where did the Moon come from?
  • Readings –> Goodnight Moon, Hey Diddle Diddle, Sonnet of the Moon by Charles Best
  • Lunar landing –> was it staged or did it really happen? what were the social and political events leading up to it?
  • Student observations –> keep of Moon Log of observations of the sky each night
  • Find pictures of what people have imagined they see in the moon –> introduce different cultures

2 responses to this post.

  1. The fire caused by static and the popcorn experiment are excellent introductions.

    I recall the materials we had in the chemistry lab – a piece of cobalt, yellow phosphorus, sodium, potassium… Just seeing these materials being pared to reveal their surfaces free of oxidation was exciting.


  2. Posted by Leah on October 17, 2009 at 1:15 pm

    I really enjoyed reading the ideas on introducing new topics. At the beginning of each year my first question for my students is “What is science?” Then I read “What Is Science” by Rebecca Kai Dotlich. The students love the book and it gets them to start thinking that science is in everything they do and everywhere they look. Thanks for the great ideas.


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