Dazzling props to the rescue

4th July 2008 at 01:00
Watch enthusiasm spark with Matthew Friday's hints on how to make teaching electric circuits fun

Watch enthusiasm spark with Matthew Friday's hints on how to make teaching electric circuits fun

Primary: Ages 6-7

When I looked at the medium term plan for Year 2 science - batteries and electronic circuits - my face did not light up. This is because of memories of doing these lessons myself: the frustrations of electronic components that never worked and the boredom that set in after making the single bulb light up, if we were lucky enough to have a working battery. No experimentation was allowed. Now it was my turn to do the teaching, something had to be done to make the subject fun.

Whenever faced with the need to inject fun into teaching, I always turn to my passion for storytelling. A story well told never fails to light up children's faces.

So out came the Big Red Story Box, my repository of magic and wonder. In it are all the tools of storytelling: books when I am reading; puppets and props when I am doing oral storytelling; masks and costumes when I put on mini-theatre shows with the children as actors.

At the end of every day I get out the Big Red Story Box; the delight it causes is a constant reminder of why I love teaching. Using the box in the science lessons was not, I was sad to realise, going to involve a story. The dry subject acted as a kind of black hole on my writing skills, sucking in any attempt to be creative.

Thankfully I remembered the fascination the children have every day when they try to work out what is hidden in the Big Red Story Box. This time it would be electronic components.

I struck on the idea of having some of the children play the role of science assistants to help reveal what was hidden.

On the first lesson about batteries my assistants took turns at wearing a huge pair of plastic sunglasses of a colour and style even Elton John would think twice about. Their first appearance caused hysterics for everyone except the boy who had to hold the sunglasses on his head while selecting other children to respond to questions.

For the lesson on making electronic circuits, I had my science assistants wear sparkly, coloured bowler hats that I bought from the local party shop for pound;1 each. I frequently swapped my assistants round to give as many children the chance of wearing the hats as possible; this desire became a wonderfully easy behavioural management tool. The chance of wearing a sparkly hat can make even the most fidgeting, chatty child sit up beautifully straight, lips tightly closed.

None of the props distracted me from teaching the safe handling of the components and, to my amazement, most of the equipment worked. I then had the opposite problem: the children achieved the object in about five minutes. Luckily, I had taken the secondary caution of having hidden away in my classroom every available piece of electronics equipment in the school. So I dished out all the additional wires, bulbs and batteries and allowed the children to experiment with different size circuits. We had all experimented together. The result was that all our faces were lit up with enjoyment.

Matthew Friday is a trainee teacher at the School-Centred Initial Teacher Training Centre at Swaffield Primary in south London.

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