Being a teacher can sometimes feel like you are spinning plates, trying to keep everything going until the end of term. However, sometimes “keeping the plates spinning” during a lesson is one of the best ways to have time to talk to students individually.
My favourite lesson, which is really a lesson format, is the “Circus”.
Activities arranged around the class are visited by each group as they move from stage to stage; the “Circus” title comes from the activities being organised in a rough circle around the class. The number of stations depends on the size of the class, classroom and activities undertaken.
Students normally move at the same time on a signal from me and it’s amazing how many types of activities can be fitted into this format.
A number of small “experiments” or objects at each station gives you time to circulate around the class discussing, teaching and assessing as you go: wind-up toys, pendulums, lighted candles etc. are great for discussing energy transformations (for example a candle converts chemical energy stored in the wax into heat and light energy).
While the students write the energy changes you can circulate and discuss/question.
Different foods could be used to get students to list the main nutrient types in each food. A selection of salts with their relevant hazcards could be used to investigate the properties of ionic compounds.
Using blocks on slopes, masses on springs, balancing rulers, balls floating in water and similar experiments, students can sketch and label the various forces involved.
A straightforward worksheet can be enlivened by separating the questions and taping them on different tables around the room. The students going in pairs to each question have to discuss with each other before answering and then moving to the next station.
Boys in particular get the physical movement they must have if they are to focus for a whole lesson.
I sometimes also do “speed-dating” as a revision exercise.
Again tables are arranged in a roughly circular fashion. Candles on each table and some moody background jazz adds to the effect.
Students take turns explaining to each other a particular topic before at the sound of a bell they move to the next table to explain another topic etc. This can also be used for students to be able to ask other students for help with parts of a topic they are unsure of.
Incidentally, how do you kill a circus? Go for the jugular!
Simon Porter teaches physics for premium international schools operator Nord Anglia Education