Students who are 11-14 years old are undergoing changes that are unique to this age group. In addition to bodily changes, they’re also moving from elementary towards high school. Although students in sixth grade are less experienced than those in seventh and eighth, all three grades may be taught in a similar manner.
The following tips may help you as you teach science to this age group.
- Science courses for this age group are usually Life Science, Earth and Space Science, and Physical Science. Physical Science includes introductions to chemistry and physics. Memorizing specific science concepts and tools, such as the Periodic Table of the Elements and animal classification (taxonomy), prepares students for high school science. Success in these foundational science courses can make upper level classes more enjoyable.
- Utilize developing math skills and problem-solving. With expanded math skills, these students can solve more complex problems than students in earlier grades. Students should calculate all the math used in science classes, with the teacher assisting only when needed.
- Engage students by asking questions. Expanding critical thinking skills gains significance with this age group. Building upon elementary lessons allows you to ask complex questions, such as: You learned about color change in leaves in fourth grade; why does the leaf stop manufacturing chlorophyll? Use the element of surprise to challenge students’ thinking. Examples are dressing like a scientist, or using humor, like a play on words and science comics found on the internet. Encourage science interest any way you can, as students at this age need their attention captured.
- Build confidence through experimentation. Allow students to experiment in a safe environment so they become more confident in their understanding and capabilities. Evaluating evidence through experimentation encourages students to draw their own conclusions, building confidence in what they know and what they’re capable of.
- Make science class fun, relevant, and challenging. At 11-14 years old, students may think science is boring. Hands-on experiments, field trips, and interaction with others will help students discover which areas of science interest them. A field trip example is the waste water treatment plant, as students may find learning about how water gets clean interesting. Some students will be challenged by group activities that involve problem solving.
- Alleviate boredom through activity. These students thrive on their own interests. Whenever possible, encourage independent exploration of topics that interest them. Use a multidisciplinary approach (incorporating other academic subjects, such as literature, art, music, or history) with science lessons to keep kids interested. An example is writing song lyrics about the science topic they’re studying. For students who enjoy hands-on learning, provide additional projects and experiments. An option is an insect, rock, or plant collection that’s carefully labeled. Students may become bored while waiting for experiments to finish, so plan related activities to maintain their focus during waits. Some students also will enjoy reading topical books.
- Encourage skills through the science notebook. Students develop their increasing written communication abilities by using a science notebook. It’s a permanent place to record thoughts, data, and drawings about observations and experiments, as well as results based on experiences. Using a science notebook also strengthens students’ grasp of the scientific method as they record each step of an experiment as it’s performed. A new science notebook may be needed if the student has used theirs since elementary school. The science notebook may also help students keep thoughts organized, which is often a challenge for this age.
- Encouraging independent investigation. Students in sixth to eighth grade are becoming independent and capable of doing their own research and investigation. Assign students a study topic to research and share, and provide opportunities for group work. Communicating knowledge and sharing results are both effective learning tools. Challenge this age group to write a short paper on a scientist, planet, or another area of interest. Again, whenever possible, encourage students to pursue their individual curiosity to keep them interested in science.
- Developing the mind further through vocabulary. Memorization of vocabulary is helpful in preparing for future science classes. Encourage using science language to build confidence and understanding. When you ask a question, expect students to respond using scientific jargon, such as proton, bacteria, or specific part of a microscope.