Conducting science experiments, reading textbooks and writing essays are ordinary tasks that all students complete during their education. Teaching students how to engage in these activities, however, is an entirely different challenge.
Those teachers able to foster a love of learning are also helping their students develop social and emotional life skills. And if your students don’t learn to specifically enjoy reading and science, they’ll miss out on the many lifelong benefits that these skills and subjects have to offer.
Here’s what teachers can do to help students of all ages foster a genuine, lifelong love of reading and science.
Foster a Love of Reading
Students who enjoy reading are more likely to graduate high school and pursue secondary education, according a report by Business Roundtable. That same report found that literacy skills are also becoming more important in the workplace, and that current literacy skill shortages pose problems for companies in all industries.
Such data proves just how important it is to develop a passion for reading at a young age. For teachers seeking improved professional development on the topic, psychology professor Daniel Willingham is a strong starting place. His book, The Reading Mind, helps teachers understand what happens in the brain when children learn to read.
One of the most important factors in fostering a love of reading is instilling confidence in a child’s ability to read. According to the learning blog Noni, it’s important to praise children for asking questions about the things they don’t understand. By showing children that it’s okay to ask questions and explore ideas, they’ll be more confident in asking for help when learning the pronunciations and definitions of different words.
Another way to make students more confident in their reading skills is to help them become fluent readers early on in life. Education writer Jan Hasbrouck says that, according to research, students can improve fluency skills by reading aloud alongside a model of well-paced, expressive reader. Teachers can also use this exercise to monitor a student’s fluency progress and ensure they don’t fall behind.
One series of sight word books which helps pre-readers is Mush Mush Readers. Education blog Learning at the Primary Pond says that these books that are designed to help very young readers develop sight word fluency, vocabulary, 1-1 correspondence, concepts of print, and reading confidence.
While it’s always beneficial to read to students and assign book projects, Learners Edge suggests motivating students to choose books of their own. Giving students a choice about what they read can make them more interested in the book and promote a sense of independence that will help them read more as they progress.
To keep students reading over the summer, teachers can create a space for students to talk about the books they’re reading. Teacher and education blogger Genia Connell suggests using KidBlog to create an safe, online community where students can discuss books and ask for feedback from others.
It’s also essential that teachers establish a sense of community around books. Parenting Today from the Child Development Institute says to create a book club or help students join the local library. Another option is to start separate book of the week clubs, one for younger children and a separate one for older children. The weekly routine will help students associate reading with social fulfillment and belonging.
NPR education team reporter Cory Turner adds that the most important way to promote a love of learning is to be a strong role model. If parents, teachers and other adults in a child’s life all love reading, a child will learn to associate it with positivity. Teachers can instill these values by reading aloud to students in happy, positive situations.
Foster a Love of Science
Michael Soskil, winner of the 2012 US Presidential Award for Math and Science Teaching, says that students learn best when they feel free to express curiosity. “Develop a culture in your classroom where students feel comfortable asking “Why?” Be less helpful, more supportive, and give students control over their own learning,” Soskil adds.
Blogger Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley agrees, saying that elementary age children are especially curious and energetic. Curley suggests cultivating this curiosity through the use of hands-on STEM toys that require building and problem solving. One popular toy that combines these skills is Build & Imagine — a dollhouse building set that features adventurous, strong female characters. This award-winning tool promotes STEM learning and is equally engaging for both boys and girls.
Relate Subjects to the Real World
One way to get children excited about science is to make connections between their classroom lessons and the real world.
Main Line Parent explains that girls often respond positively to the idea that their actions contribute to the greater good in the world. By helping children understand how science can improve the world around them, they’ll be more interested in pursuing these fields.
To incorporate real world lessons into your classroom environment, consider the learning experiment launched by the Partnership for Innovation in Education (PIE). PIE asked Ohio schools to present middle school students with a particular problem: determining which material to use for a bandage. By testing different variables, like absorption and moisture depletion rates of different fabrics, students gained skills in testing, analyzing and research while also exploring new career paths.
Meanwhile, in the classroom of educator Cesar Harada, students learned science skills by tackling the problem of plastic litter in the ocean. Harada combined the creative ideas of all of his students to devise a machine that combats that specific type of water pollution. The result is a radio controlled sailing robot that detects and collects plastic in the ocean. By applying problem solving and science skills to this real world environmental problem, students learned how their skills and knowledge could make a difference in making the world a little greener.
It’s about Time Education suggests approaching STEM through multiple paths of engagement. Beyond simple math or science problems, opportunities for learning science can exist within unlikely situations, like cooking recipes or designing Rube Goldberg machines.
Although science can be a challenging subject to learn, it’s important help your students find confidence in their mistakes. Teacher and neurologist Judy Wills explains that it’s essential to give students an opportunity to discuss and deliberate their failures. As Wills puts it, “The strongest understandings we have do not come from what we’ve memorised but rather from what we’ve learned from failure.”
Another way to boost engagement in science lessons is to bring in the experts. Editor Stephen Fitzpatrick explains that in an Australian science program called MyScience, community members with advanced science skills are invited to work alongside students and teachers. The program provides teachers with a high level of in-person and online guidance regarding science inquiry — resources they may not have access to in an ordinary classroom environment.
Motivate Through Autonomy
According to Stephanie Jankowski of When Crazy Meets Exhaustion, students are more motivated when they have the power to own a project. With high school students especially, try giving them freedom to adjust their own curriculum. “If students have a hand in making decisions about their education, they are more likely to commit to them,” Jankowski writes.