What's the name of the game?

5th September 2003 at 01:00
Tony Sherborne talks to science's Mr Motivator, Paul Craig, about how to keep the subject engaging and fresh for students

It might be bad for the economy, but a sharp hike in interest rates is just what school science needs. Standards may be climbing, but pupils' interest seems to be on the slide. So does the passion that teachers used to feel for the subject. So what can you do if the thought of teaching photosynthesis yet again threatens your will to live? Time to call in Mr Motivator, alias Paul Craig. He's an expert in finding ways to engage pupils with science - however dry the topic, he'll liven it up. Paul, who is science inspectoradvisor for Salford, has been obsessed with pupil motivation for 36 years.

The schools he has worked with have made huge improvements, and his talks get packed with teachers searching for inspiration.

What's his secret? Involvement and active learning. Paul is big on using games. They may sound like just a bit of fun, but they are a wonderful learning vehicle. After all, how many other approaches are getting pupils as engaged with the material? Games are especially good for the less able students he's called in to motivate. And they make great starters and plenaries for the key stage 3 strategy. So, can Mr Motivator deliver the goods? I tested Paul on some of the more eyelid-drooping topics in science: Can you think of a fun starter on photosynthesis?

I like the "Cube" activity. Make a huge dice, with a picture on each side, to show different parts of the plant. Roll the cube and ask pupils to talk about the picture which lands uppermost and the role it plays in photosynthesis.

Is there any way to make Hooke's law interesting?

Forget stretching springs. I'd get pupils to stretch those "strawberry laces" sweets instead. It's more meaningful and interesting.

How about bringing revision to life, for electricity?

Try the activity "Circuit training". Produce circuit diagrams sheets. Give pupils red and green cards. If any of the bulbs will light, they hold up a green card. If not, a red card. They could invent the diagrams themselves.

What about injecting fun into the extraction of metals?

Blast furnace bingo always generates excitement. Make the bingo cards with the key terms. Read out the meanings of words. Pupils have to listen for a match, and cover the square.

Textbook work. How do you get kids involved in that?

Try the "market place" activity. Create a set of questions, where the answers are in books. Divide the questions between groups. Each finds their answer by reading. They then have to discover all the rest by "trading".

They set up stalls and go round teaching each other.

Do you know any games for ideas and evidence?

What about "Call My Bluff"? For the topic of light, invent some alternative explanations for how light travels, reflects and refracts. Pupils play in teams, taking turns to read out and guess which explanation is correct.

Finally, can teachers get more of your activities?

Yes. Simply email me: paul.craig@salford.gov.uk. I'll send you a big zipped file of activity templates. The ideas are not all mine - many come from teachers. I've just put them all together. And don't forgot, there are lots of "fun-size" activities on the ASE Science Year CD-Roms.

However good games are, you wouldn't want to use them every lesson. Variety is the key to good teaching, as Paul is the first to acknowledge. You could end up with cries of "Not another game sir, can't we copy some notes off the board?". But it does seem unlikely.

Tony Sherborne is at the Centre for Science Education

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