The Simon Wolff Motivation for Science Award

Science Starter Cards

by Andrew Jackson (Head of Science at Groby College)

The original brief was to introduce science ideas in a real world context; the rationale being that this would encourage students to be engaged with key ideas at the start of the lesson and therefore be more motivated to interact with these ideas through the rest of the lesson.

The key thing to consider has therefore been what context, or contexts would engage our students. We needed something that would be adaptable to a large number of scientific situations, universal in its relevance to a wide cross section of students, and appealing to the “average” (if there is such a thing!) 14 to 16 year old. After much discussion amongst ourselves and with students we came up with the idea of a context which is of almost universal relevance, and also extremely flexible, that of the family and home. It is in this context that much science is used, although often without realising it, and also where many questions are asked, particularly by younger brothers and sisters.

It was with these ideas in my head that I came to teach a lesson on using models to represent alkanes. I noticed that despite the perceived lack of immediate relevance all the students enjoyed using the ball and stick models, particularly for making models of people, dogs, cats etc.! It was from this experience that the Family Thane were born. So we now have a range of ball and stick people and pets who help us introduce the Starter Activities. The students are then asked to help a member of the family with a problem or provide them with information. I have tried out these ideas with one of my classes on a limited scale and they seem to respond well to the opportunity for humour and appreciate the context. Perhaps a couple of examples will help you to get the general idea.

One Starter has the family out for a walk when all of a sudden little Eddie Thane pipes up “Mum why is the grass green” The students are then asked to help by writing down what answer they would give. This leads to students discussing what they know (as well as how annoying little brothers can be) and has been a good introduction to a lesson on chlorophyll and photosynthesis.

Another Starter has one of the family sitting down with the newspaper reading about how cars are to be taxed depending on how much carbon dioxide they give out. The students are then asked to write down if they think this is a good idea. This has been an excellent introduction to a lesson on fossil fuels and global warming.