How to engage students by using stories in science teaching?

Jukka Rahkonen, Finland

As a former film producer I just love stories! And I like to use them in my science teaching as much as I can.

I sometimes ask my students to take pictures of the physics phenomenon we have been just studying about. For example: “For your home work this evening, take five pics which present somehow friction in your everyday life! And prepare to present your Friction Story with your pics to the other students!”

This is something my students like very much. And it’s also a good way to help students to get to know each other better because they usually show pictures taken at their home and from their hobbies.

I also like to tell them about my own experiences on everyday physics. It’s always amazing to notice the magic and the power of a story! Even if my students happen to be tired and my stories are not always so cool, they just seem to focus when I start to tell them about my personal physics stories. And the more embarrassing the stories are to me, the more they seem to like them!

For example, they love to hear about my not so successful trip to the beach in Portugal twenty years ago. We were planning to sleep overnight on the sandy beach with my friend. It was so warm and beautiful! And there was plenty of room for us to make our camp between very high cliffs and the sea. We just didn’t know that there would be a total lunar eclipse and completely dark, a very strong high tide, thousands of weird worms coming up from the sand to crawl toward our campfire, a huge octopus rising from the sea (after sunrise it showed up to be a plastic bag), …

After telling this story, it’s very easy to start teaching about solar and lunar eclipses and about low and high tides! Students have usually so many questions and they are so eager to try to explain why the sea level got higher and almost reached our camp.

Of course there are also many other ways to use stories in science teaching… but that’s another story!

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