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How Students Learn Science – Differentiating the Process

by Neil Finney

How Students Learn ScienceAlright class. Please open your science textbooks to page 32 on “Parts of a Cell.” Read the information and answer questions 1 to 4. When you’ve finished this, be prepared to share your answers in a class discussion.

Does this sound familiar to you? Whether it is reminiscent of your days as a student or your instructions as a teacher, how we learn science is highly affected by the opportunities given to us as a learner. By differentiating your approach to teaching science, you will be amazed at how your students excel at, and enjoy, their opportunities to learn about the world around them.



Here are some quick ways to change the process of how your students learn science:

1. Comparison activities – Challenge your students to make connections between a science concept and something else. For example, if teaching about cells, students could draw direct comparisons between the parts of a cell and parts of a factory. The nucleus is like the control room of a factory. It acts like the brain and directs the cell’s activities.) These statements will improve their ability to make sense of the information by using a visualizing strategy.

2. Debates – You don’t need to throw the textbook away – just change how you use it. Hold a debate in class about a scientific issue (e.g. Should the school install wind turbines and run fully on wind power?). Give students time to prepare and gather evidence (through resources like the text). Provide them with the platform (i.e. a debate) to discuss the scientific implications of a problem in a forum with their peers.

3. “Field Trips” – Any experience that changes the environment for learning should be considered a field trip. Take them outside to collect examples of the human-made and natural environments. Have a ‘microscope’ trip where students rotate from specimen to specimen drawing scientific diagrams of what they observe. Have an online media excursion where you view lab demonstrations by a scientist and then try to recreate them in your class.

4. Guest speakers – Whether you ask a member of the community, local politician or parent who works in a science industry, inviting a guest to speak to your class will bring a direct connection between the learning material and the “real world.” Use video conferencing technology to book online presentations from companies and experts as well – this can open up a whole new world of science dialogue for your students.

5. Inquiry-based projects – Through the use of student-created ‘rich’ questions that drive their research on a topic, students can learn using materials they select, at a pace they control and presenting through a vehicle they choose. How much more student-centered could their learning be?


By varying your approach to how your students learn science, you will allow them to use their personal skills and abilities to meet many different learning environments and activities. Surround them with choice and possibility and they will dazzle you with determination.


How do you differentiate your science instruction for students? Share a science lesson idea in the Idea Bank that will help others to try something new.   


NeilDuring Neilʼs 10 years of teaching experience, he has taught in London, England; Ontario; public and private schools; elementary and secondary; junior; intermediate; core french; developmental skills; and junior gifted (grades 4,5,6). He is a Reading Specialist that has been incorporating technology in his practice consistently throughout his career. Neil has recently published his first book entitled “Ignite. Incite. Inspire.” – Examining 21st Century Issues in Education, which is a collection of teaching articles and posts written from January to December 2011.

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    Teachers must really know about this kind of information in order for them to be guided and learn the things that they need to implement for their students to learn Science effectively.