Imagine how rewarding and beneficial it would be to run a school-wide event based on a scientific theme. Read more to learn how one pre-service teacher did exactly that and how her high-needs elementary school built a strong school spirit while actively participating in meaningful science experiences.
As I am now at the end of my year as a pre-service teacher and I reflect back on this year and the many experiences that I have had, there are several that stand out as my proudest, most successful, and most fulfilling moments. In this paper, I will outline one of these memorable occasions: my involvement in planning and running a Science Olympics event at a high-needs elementary school.
I have been fortunate to be working in this school since September along with several other Bachelor of Education students from my program. Three primary/junior students and I decided that during our reading week this year, we wanted to run a Science Olympics for the entire school. It was a very interesting and eye opening opportunity that allowed me to grow and learn while providing a fun, engaging, and educational experience for almost 200 students.
When our team of four students decided we wanted to plan this event, there were a number of steps we had to take: getting approval from the principal and school staff, as well as permission from our Faculty of Education to run the event, and from our science teacher to allow us to use this project as our final science assignment of the school year. We met with the staff at the school on a weekly basis to discuss curriculum connections, the specific activities, and all of the logistics of the day (schedules, teams, resources, etc.). We also enlisted the help of other Faculty of Education students to volunteer on the day of the event, to run stations, take pictures, and ensure that the day ran smoothly. While the four of us oversaw the entire project, we would not have been able to carry out our plans had it not been for all of the support we received from the elementary school as well as the staff and students from UOIT.
We chose the theme of “The Science of the Olympics” since the event took place during this year’s 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. We created 8 stations where students completed a variety of activities, including creating bobsled ramps to measure speed, a global warming station where students used different insulators to try to stop ice from melting, a Jeopardy game about the Olympics, and a nutrition centre where students learned about how to properly care for their bodies. The staff from the school organized all of the students into teams, and we organized a rotation schedule for students to follow during the event.
The event was extremely successful. It was my first time being involved in this type of event and while it was at times chaotic, we had been very diligent in our planning and overall we had no major problems. Students learned concepts that were directly related to the current curriculum, and they were able to be involved in a school-wide event, which built morale and reinforced the strong school community that is so important, especially in a high needs school.
Saying that the event was a success does not mean that everything went perfectly as planned, and as I have learned a great deal in my teacher training, nothing ever goes exactly as planned. We had volunteers who did not show up on the day of the event. When we put all of the students into their various teams in the morning, we went through a period of absolute chaos with 200 students in the gym. We also struggled with one of our stations that turned out to be too difficult for some of the younger students to complete. However, despite the issues, I think that we learned what many teachers already know, that a positive attitude and the ability to make adjustments when necessary will ensure success no matter what. We knew that this event would not be perfect – nothing ever is the first time you do it, but we also knew that what was important to us was giving these students a fun day in which they were able to learn new things and grow as a school community, and we were able to make that happen even with the glitches we encountered.
As a pre-service teacher who began this program feeling very intimidated about teaching science, I feel that what I have learned this year has effectively prepared me to not only teach a rich, effective, and engaging science program, but instill a love of science in my students. Teaching students in meaningful and engaging ways may seem obvious as a teaching strategy, but is not always put into practice in the classroom. If I learned anything this year, it is how essential it is that the concepts as well as the activities make a connection with students in an authentic way. Teaching science through the theme of the Olympics allowed students to connect to a current event, and have a better understanding of the Olympics through learning about ramps and how to make things move faster, and how to take care of your body as an athlete. What I observed throughout the day of the event as I visited the different stations were students who were excited about science and were actively participating – sharing their ideas, cooperating, thinking critically – which are all major elements in the current Ontario curriculum.
What I will take away from the experience that I had at this school was the importance of giving students meaningful experiences in which they can have fun and be active participants in their learning. For me, teaching is about helping students reach their own personal success. I think that we did that with our Science Olympics event, and I hope that I can continue to influence students in a positive way going forward, with the help of the lessons and experiences I had this year as a pre-service teacher.
STAO2014 Pre-Service Teacher Award of Excellence – Shannon Lebel, University of Ontario Institute of Technology