For Teachers

Bored No More

This teacher’s advice for getting middle school kids involved in lessons: Fish around until you find what sparks their curiosity.

students with ADHD who are engaged and interested in science class
four students wearing eye protection in science class looking engaged and interested

After 15 years as a fourth- and fifth grade special education teacher, I was moved to the middle-school program and was told to be a science teacher. I understood the anxiety students feel when learning new and complicated material. Now it was my turn.

I opened the book to Chapter One, and as I scanned the room, I came to a disappointing conclusion: The students were not interested. I saw one student’s head down, another looked out the window, and the rest had glazed eyes. I was reading the chapter and discussing it with myself.

The classes were primarily made up of middle-school boys with several types of disabilities, including ADHD and learning disabilities. What would interest middle-school boys in science? I asked myself.

Dissecting things, I concluded. I didn’t have a background in science, but I had done several dissections in science classes in college. Suddenly I thought, “I can do this.”

YouTube became our guide for learning. I borrowed materials from the high school science teacher, and asked the school nurse, who also ran a bait shop, if she could bring in some fish.

Students were surprised when they entered the classroom. They saw different materials set up on their desks. “What’s that smell?” a student asked. It was 25 sawbelly fish.

Their eyes were bright and wide open. They were interested. They watched the demonstration videos, reviewed safety procedures, and got to it. Twenty dissections and a big mess later, students had found and labeled all types of marine body parts. The swim bladder interested them the most, which looked like a small, long balloon filled with air.

One boy, an avid fisherman, left class happy with the leftover fish to use as bait.

The dissection lessons changed the atmosphere in the classroom. Students came into class and asked, “So what are we doing today?” The curiosity became infectious. A student who hunts with his family brought in a deer heart. We used it to learn about the circulatory system. Another student brought in a crayfish; we observed him before releasing him back into a stream.

As weeks went by, the class became a “science class.” Even better, kids used their curiosity to spark their learning.


1. Use the natural curiosity of students to help them engage in lessons.

2. Try something completely different to keep your students and yourself interested and involved.

3. Read something new from different sources to stay fresh when teaching a topic.