Making students think.

A while ago I saw this tweet from Jasper Green (@sci_challenge) and as I was in the middle of teaching my Y7 class about particles I thought I would take a closer look.

particles task.jpg

I spent quite a long time looking through the resources on the site and was keen to try many of them out in class. I really liked that they go beyond just recall of facts and are asking students to apply what they know to new situations. I used the resource above with both of my Y7 classes and it led to lots of interesting discussion and more importantly for me it enabled me to spot misconceptions and to address them. Students were keen to share their ideas and to explain why they thought they were right and what the potential problems with some of the ideas raised by others might be.

Another resource that I had spotted was one for photosynthesis about a green child. Link 

green child

I had just taught photosynthesis to Y9 and thought that this would be a really good homework task. One of the things that I liked most about this task was that it encouraged students to make links with other topics that we had studied. I spend a lot of time either pointing out to students the links with other topics or asking them to think about them. I want them to move away from the idea that science is taught in discrete units and to appreciate that each unit is linked to other ideas that they have encountered (or will meet later on).

The task had to be introduced carefully to my group as there are a number of students in the group who need guidance with creative tasks and who might take the idea too literally and be worried. One of the best bits about the task is the guidance that is offered – the list of questions provided a structure that the students could use and this was really helpful to those students who find creative tasks difficult. I told my class that they had a week to complete the task and that I’d like a paragraph for each question – one of my students enthusiastically handed me his work the next day and told me that he had really enjoyed this work and that we should have more of the same!

Every single student (out of 31) handed this work in on time. This class is generally quite good with homework anyway but there is usually one or two who hand in the next lesson. Reading through the stories that they had written was really interesting. All students could explain why the child was different and why they would be hungry at night time. There were some interesting ideas about how gases reached cells with some students thinking that the child was like a leaf and would have stomata; other students appreciated the need for a circulatory system. The most interesting answers were for the last two questions. When asked whether all of the cells could photosynthesise there were a variety of answers:

  • Yes – because all of the cells will have the photosynthestic bacterium.
  • No – light will not be able to reach all of the cells and this is essential for photosynthesis. This might be because some parts of the body are covered (by clothes) or because the light can’t pass beyond the skin.
  • No – not all of the cells in the body have the same job. Some are specialised. The example that was commonly given was red blood cells and they described how these were different to other cells because they had a different job to do.

The answers that referred to cell specialisation surprised me as this isn’t something that we had talked about this year.

The final question asked whether they would expect the cells to contain mitochondria. This question helped to identify misconceptions that  students had about plants and respiration. Some of the students were confused about what mitochondria were and did not answer this part. Others had looked up the role of this organelle but then said that the cells wouldn’t have them as plants do not respire! This was definitely something that we had talked about in class as we had built a cross section through a leaf as a class and discussed the roles of the cells and talked about gas exchange.  Maybe I need to make sure that mitochondria are added to the plant cells here (this is an old activity that I have recycled).


I would definitely use this resource again and I would recommend checking out the resources at ‘the science teacher‘ as there are lots of great ideas to challenge students and to encourage them to think about science. I will definitely be incorporating more of them into future lessons.

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2 Responses to Making students think.

  1. Chris Macfarlane says:

    Interesting post Sue. As you know I like thinking and teaching about plants too! I think this could be useful with most of my groups. Regarding, combining respiration and photosynthesis I really like the picture problem of three pairs of bottles filled with bicarbonate indicator. One of each pair is in the dark. The first pair of bottles has plants, the second snails, the third pair has both plants and snails. They predict the colour change and why, what’s respiring, what’s photosynthesising etc. I find that it is a good measure for me and when the pupils get it they enjoy the problem solving.

    • aegilopoides says:

      Thanks Chris. I’ve used something similar to the picture problem that you have described but I don’t think the one I have used had them in pairs. I like your variation and will try that next time. If I ask students to tell me the characteristics that all living things have in common, respiration is usually the first one that they mention – this is partly why I am surprised that when we talk about whether it happens in plants they often say no.

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