Inside: First day of school! It is every science teacher’s nightmare. Check out some great tips for inspiring young scientists on the very first school day.
What to do on the First Day of School: Science Edition
First day of school! It is every science teacher’s nightmare. Kids are coming back to science class after weeks away for summer vacation. So…what do I say on the first day of school to make sure they are super excited to be back in the classroom?
In my early days of teaching high school, the first day of school was a pretty boring affair. It was suggested by the science department that I go over the course syllabus. Let the kids know what they’d be learning. Go over the marking scheme. Last half of class would be devoted to all the safety rules relevant to exploring science in a classroom setting.
Thus, it was a pretty boring 72 minutes of class.
Time travel ahead more than a few years and I learned some better strategies to making the first day of school more exciting. Getting the kids involved in activities is key to creating that excitement for what is to come in their semester of science. The same techniques can be used in primary and middle school science as well.
First Day of School Talk: What is Science?
I was amazed early on in my science teaching career at how little some kids knew about life in general. Many of my students had no idea that their grocery staples came from anywhere other than the grocery store. The idea that packaged meat came from animals raised on a farm seemed like an idea out of science fiction. Grains used to make bread and pasta….grown on a farm! How could that be?
So, you want to get the kids pumped about science. Then, dress the part. Make sure you have your lab coat on. Have science equipment on your desk. For a general science class, a microscope, beakers filled with mysterious fluids, magnets, a plasma globe or lamp are all bound to spark some curiosity.
Start off your day asking kids what they think science is. Remember my example in the first paragraph. Kids often have funny ideas about how the world works. Point out the objects on your desk. What do the kids think they’re used for. Give them some post-it notes. Ask them to fill out 5 of them with their ideas of what science involves. You might need to give them some time to get the brain gears working after a long summer off.
Categorize Student Responses and Start a Conversation
Give them 10 minutes…maybe fifteen. Then collect them and go through them one at a time. You could line them up on the board in categories. Kids might record what scientists do. They might write down personality traits of scientists. If they have parents or some pretty specific experiences with science they might record ideas in specific subject areas like biology, chemistry, physics. Don’t worry it will get easier to do this as you go through their responses.
What is Science, Really?
Next start a conversation on what science really is. Hopefully someone pointed out in a response that scientists ask questions. That is the basis of good science. Learning how to ask good questions is an important skill. Look at the world. When you see something you don’t understand start asking questions about it. Those questions become the basis of experiments to help understand all the cool things that happen around us. Share the post: Asking Scientific Questions is an Important Skill, with your class. It goes through 3 kinds of scientific questions: verification, theory and experimental. Use the quiz from that post if you like allow them to see the difference between the question types. I’ve included it below.
Try this Quiz
Make sure you look at what science is not. Pseudoscience, conspiracy theories are not science. Science is not influenced by who funds the project. Science research does need funding. But results are heavily peer reviewed. Public opinion does not influence true science. There is a saying, “Science is true whether we believe it or not”. I believe that was penned by Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson.
I’ve got a freebie in my library that will help strengthen kids’ understanding of science questions. Sign up to my newsletter that gets you access to the library below. Print, cut out and laminate and you’ll have an exercise you can use everyday on the first day of school.
What do Scientists Do and How Have they Impacted Your Life?
Let your students know that the primary function of scientists is ask questions and develop experiments or studies to answer those questions. Use the post-it note method again or brainstorm on the board ways in which scientists have impacted their lives. Some responses will hopefully include the recent Covid 19 vaccines but there are scores of others they should be able to come up with. Since all kids have experienced home life and likely school life during the current pandemic it would be appropriate to ask them how they think science has contributed to the handling of this serious illness. Vaccines are one example but personal protective equipment, intensive care equipment and measures have all been available due to science.
Finally, get the kids to come up with a list of scientists they know of. Hopefully a few of them are still alive and kicking. I’m sure many will know some of the more ancient contributors to our science knowledge. Choose a few before class so you’re prepared to discuss some examples of how particular scientists have contributed to our knowledge.
I think this would make up a great first day of science. If you are in the semester system with longer 72 minute periods you’ll have plenty of material to keep you busy. If you’re working on a 40 minute schedule or shorter time in primary or middle school, this plan might cover you for a couple of days. Feel free to improvise and add or subtract how you see fit. Every class is not the same. But all kids can be inspired to love science.