Science - A word workout

Get pupils active to help them understand scientific terms

Simon Porter

Teaching in science is very much like teaching English - much time is spent repeatedly explaining and defining words that in everyday use have different or imprecise meanings. But by using a combination of physical exercise and role play, teachers can help pupils to negotiate the difficult path to accurate use of these scientific terms.

Pupils might think I am working as I write this, but to a physicist "work" is the energy transferred when a force moves in the direction of the force. In class this can be reinforced by getting pupils to do their own "work", performing arm curls. Pupils calculate the force required to lift a kilogramme mass and measure the distance covered in each curl. The amount of "work" performed during each arm curl can be calculated by multiplying the force by the distance. Pupils then see how much work they can do in one minute (I always demonstrate this and the pupils love to see me go red). Next you can introduce the word "power" (the amount of work done per second), which can be calculated for each pupil. This is a very motivating experiment for boys, who need to move as often as possible during lessons.

When discussing "pressure" and how snow-shoes, caterpillar tracks and drawing pins work, it is important to emphasise that force is spread over a larger area to produce a lower pressure, but that pressure itself cannot be spread. Getting pupils to act out rescuing someone who has fallen through ice or measure the pressure beneath their own feet (or even, with care, beneath their teacher's car) can reinforce the correct use of this vocabulary.

"Reflection" can be introduced by taking the class outside and getting them to play "Wall Ball", where they take it in turns to kick a ball between two marks on a wall. They are out if they don't succeed or if they touch the ball twice while kicking. Pupils realise that if they kick the ball at an obtuse angle to the wall it's much harder for the next player. This can lead to a discussion of the relationship between the angles (angle of incidence equals angle of reflection) and can be reinforced with more traditional experiments using reflection.

I assess pupils' understanding with a treasure map, which uses mirrors to reflect a beam of light from mirror to mirror to discover the location of buried treasure.

Simon Porter teaches physics at the British School, Warsaw

What else?

Show pupils how doing arm curls is "work" or take pupils out of the classroom for "pressure" and "reflection" activities using Simon Porter's resources.


What challenges do science teachers face? Share your views in the TES science forum.

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Simon Porter

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