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How can teachers make science beautiful?

A flower is beautiful. A rainbow is beautiful. A painting is beautiful. Can a science concept be beautiful?

This is how Science concepts appear to us in the school:

Most children find this image to be informative, complex and 'some sort of a chemical reaction'. No one finds it to be beautiful.

And that is unfortunate. Science is filled with many equations, paragraphs and formulae that look boring but they are in fact: BEAUTIFUL.

Science teaches children many things. It makes them more creative and develops the habit of deep thinking. But, children would not learn Science because they want to become a deep thinker. They would learn science if they find it beautiful. They would learn science if it leaves them with a feeling of awe. And that is the feeling we must develop in children.

If teachers can make Science appear beautiful for children, then children would learn to think deeply as well. How can teachers make science beautiful? Let us read on.

First things first, is Science beautiful?

Many scientists find science amazing. Many researchers find science amazing. Hear Richard Feynman describe how the beauty of flower is beyond the colours and shape of the flower:

But most teachers, who teach science every day, do not find science to be an amazing subject. Can we make science amazing for children without teachers finding the subject amazing? Absolutely not.

Before we discuss the solution, let us look at some Science concepts and see what is amazing about them.

1. How many engines does a human body have?

A car has one engine. This engine burns fuel and produces the energy required for the car to move. If the engine has a failure, you car is stranded on the highway.

On the other hand, our human body has 30000000000000 cells. Each cell has many mitochondria. Each mitochondria functions like an engine. This means our body has many trillions of engines. Like this:

This is the amazing concept of Respiration. This is how it looks when children study Respiration:

What a way to make it boring and complicated for children!

2. We are all stuck on the Earth!

Every time you jump on the Earth, you return to the Earth. Try throwing a ball really hard, and the ball always comes down. You'll see that it is incredibly hard to escape the Earth. Ask the rocket scientists and they will tell how hard it is to make the rocket escape the pull of the Earth.

Earth is like a magnet that pulls every thing towards itself. This mysterious force is only because of the mass of the Earth. This is the amazing concept of Gravity. It looks like this in teachers' teaching slides:

3. How many living beings are there in your room?

You think first think of you and your family. May be your dog. A few ants crawling on the floor. But, what about the billions of little creatures on your teeth, on your skin & on your table? Your mouth is home to 700 species of microorganisms. They are so tiny that you never see them. If you did, you would be disgusted!

These little creatures are impossible to see. In fact, no one had seen them until 1665. Before this people thought that fleas was generated from dust and maggots from dead flesh. People had a poor understanding of how certain diseases spread from one person to another.

This is the amazing concept of Microorganisms. It looks like this in our classrooms:

Each Science concept has something amazing to offer. But, these amazing concepts are currently buried into diagrams & definitions.

What should teachers do?

It is important for teachers to have a sense of appreciation for the concept that they are going to teach. If teachers find science amazing, it will show in their eyes & in their voice. This sense of WOW will then flow into children. Here are some ideas that can help teachers in developing concept appreciation:

  1. Learn Science deeply: You can not find Science amazing without learning Science deeply. Pick up Science books and courses and learn science at least 2 grades higher than the highest grade that you are teaching.
  2. Dig persistently: They need to sit back and think: What is AMAZING about this science concept? They should read articles, watch videos and think hard to find out the hidden beauty in Science concepts. If teachers can not find anything amazing, then it means they have not thought hard enough.

This is a lot of hard work. But it is necessary. After all, the learning of students is at stake. Imagine how wonderful it would be teachers start loving Science?

Once teachers find the hidden amazement in the Science concept, you can't just tell the children how amazing the particular Science concept is. You need to enable children to discover the amazement themselves.

Teachers can design a question or an activity that brings out this amazement before the children.

What does research say?

An educational researcher, Mark Girod went on to evaluate the effect of making Science beautiful on student learning.

In his research, Mark studied two 4th grade science teachers. One of these teachers, Ms. Parker, was an experienced teacher who taught science in the traditional way, focusing on facts and diagrams. The other teacher, Mr. Smith, was also an experienced teacher, but with a different focus. Mr. Smith’s class was designed to foster excitement and interest. She would frame questions that help explain, say, where a flower gets its color. Or, why is a flower colourful?

Mark’s research showed that at the end of the day, students in Mr. Smith’s class performed better than the students in Ms. Parker’s class on standardized tests. They also showed greater engagement with scientific ideas speaking about how they had discussed these ideas with their family and friends outside of the classroom. In short, students in Mr. Smith’s classroom were drawn to wonder and enjoyed seeing the world through the lens of scientific ideas.

How is Open Door solving this problem?

Open Door is helping thousands of teachers in finding Science amazing. Teachers who were teaching science for 10 or 20 years are now finding a new way to look at the same science concepts.

Open Door digs into Science, creates beautiful Science questions for the teachers to pose to the children in their classrooms. Before teachers use them in the classrooms, teachers answer each question themselves and devise a teaching strategy around them. These questions makes teachers think and helps them in becoming better. Slowly, they start to inspire a sense of wonder for Science in children.

Open Door offers Thinking Assessments and Thinking Classroom program to schools. Both programs have many thought-provoking questions at their core.

I would end with this quote from Albert Einstein: “He to whom the emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand wrapped in awe, is as good as dead – his eyes are closed.”


Aneesh Bangia

Aneesh Bangia is the co-founder of Open Door. He writes about the past, present and future of education.

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