Learning Challenges

Bring Science to Life

Energize teens in the classroom with these electrifying science-teaching strategies.

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

High school science is a challenge for most students. Memorizing the terms in chemistry and physics is tough enough. Then there are the group experiments and mastering complex concepts that seem unconnected to students’ lives. Teachers can bring science to life with strategies that teach to a child’s strengths while bypassing his weaknesses.

Tools for Teachers

> Survey students. Ask students if they learn more by doing projects instead of reading about them. Find out if they prefer to draw, create a video or a poster, or make things out of clay. Students with ADHD may need creative methods of showing how much they learned.

> Let students work alone on projects. Not all labs have to be done in groups. Some students with ADHD prefer to work alone. They may be shy or need to talk through the steps of the lab out loud. Give these students a worksheet or a topic that allows each to work by himself.

> Introduce background music. Let students listen to music while they work. Music, especially classical, tends to calm students. Listening to music got me through high school physics class.

[Experiment with These Science Class Strategies]

> Incorporate hands-on activities, such as drawing and labeling. Students who like to draw should be asked to go outside and sketch body parts on the sidewalk with chalk. Ask them to draw and label the heart, for instance, then trace the path of a droplet of blood as it flows through the heart and the rest of the body.

> Plan hands-on group projects. Assign students a hands-on project every month. All projects should be worked on in the classroom, so that students do not have to take supplies back and forth from home to school.

> Use YouTube. Show a clip of a skateboarder injuring himself. Ask the students which bones were broken, or, depending on the lesson, which muscles were being used. These video clips elicit a strong emotional response that increases the odds that the students will remember the information.

> Develop activities to teach complex concepts. When my physics students study gravitational and kinetic energy, we do not read about them; we build an elevated racetrack that shows these forces in action. We use a marble to demonstrate how the differences in mass and elevation affect velocity.

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> Put study reviews in mp3 format. Put test reviews online, so that students can download them to their mp3 players. I include a silly joke at the end of the review. If students remember the punch line when taking the test, they earn extra credit. A little humor makes listening to the review more fun and enhances the learning experience.

> Make lectures interactive. Talk with students about their personal experiences with anatomy, physics, and chemistry. Ask a student to tell you what happens when she has a physical or what the doctor is checking when she has an eye exam or a hearing exam.

Pointers for Parents

> Create flash cards. For memorizing the names and locations of bones or other scientific facts, flash cards are helpful. Make your own or visit quizlet.com to create cards that will capture your child’s attention. The site allows you to make cards that show sections of the skeleton with one bone, such as the clavicle, highlighted in green. The name of the bone is written on the opposite side of the card. Review the cards with your student.

> Practice texting answers. Using different kinds of study methods helps students retain information. Ask your child to text-message you the answer to key review questions, or type the answer on a computer, or e-mail it to you.

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> Create a “foldable” for a study review. Have your child fold a sheet of notebook paper in half vertically. On one side cut every third line to create tabs. You can adjust the number of lines, to vary the size of the tabs. Label the tabs with, say, 10 elements of the periodic table, and write the symbol and scientific number underneath each. The website chemicalelements.com allows you to click on an element and immediately find the element’s symbol and number.

> If your child’s teacher has created an mp3 study review, listen to it and discuss the material with her. Students who talk about what has been presented in class are much more likely to remember it. Parents may also ask key questions from the review tips to prepare the student for tests.

> Help your child create a mnemonic. A mnemonic for the bones in the vertebral column could be the absurd sentence: “An asphalt sack cut the lion.” This stands for Atlas, Axis, Sacrum, Cervical, Thoracic, Lumbar. The more absurd the sentence, the more likely the student will be to remember it.