Are there any more planets after Pluto? What lies at the bottom of a black hole? These were some of the questions asked by my Year 8 science class at the start of their astronomy topic. Children love discussing and exploring new ideas and concepts. I use science articles as the basis of class discussions, usually at the start of a topic. They can be from magazines such as the New Scientist or from press agency websites.
Newspapers are particularly good sources for topical science news stories.
You can also get pupils to bring in their own relevant articles and lead the discussion. This usually takes about 10 to 15 minutes and can be whole-class or group focused. The activity can become a lesson starter or plenary in nature, but it is important to encourage pupil feedback to the class or group. I try to use some prompt questions to start the discussion, such as "Who is the article written for?" or "How will this report effect your life?" I also try to get reasons, not just answers.
Putting a copy of the article on the lab door for pupils to discuss while lining up for my lesson often works well. I have heard pupils having heated discussions while entering the lab.
I also get pupils to write down three questions they would like to find the answers to by the end of module. This helps them focus on contemporary and controversial issues surrounding a topic.
Richard Waller teaches Science at Comberton Village College, Cambridge