My best lesson - Bring all the fun of the circus to your classroom

30th August 2013 at 01:00

My favourite lesson is really a lesson format. I call it "the circus". Activity stations are organised in a rough ring around the class - giving the format its "circus" title - and are visited by each group of children in turn.

The number of stations depends on the size of the class, the classroom and the work to be undertaken. Students normally move to the next station at the same time, on a signal from me, and it's amazing how many types of activities can be fitted into this format.

I'm a physics teacher, so my stations tend to be small experiments or objects. As the students work through the activities, I have time to circulate around the class, discussing, teaching and assessing.

The format can be applied to a wide range of topics. In one lesson, I put out wind-up toys, pendulums and lighted candles, which are great for discussing energy transformations - for example, a candle converts chemical energy stored in the wax into heat and light energy.

I've also used different foods to get students studying nutrient types, while a selection of salts was helpful for relaying the properties of ionic compounds. Or, if you lay out 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 to different tables around the room. Students tackle each question in pairs and must discuss their answer with one another before moving to the next station. In this way, the students get the physical movement that can help them to focus for a whole lesson.

Throwing in some jokes can help, too. Two cannibals break into a circus at night and start eating a clown. One says to the other, "Does this taste funny to you?"

Incidentally, how do you kill a circus? Go for the jugular.

Simon Porter collects science jokes and teaches physics for international schools organisation Nord Anglia Education.

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