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Information for teachers

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Teaching science

See also

Science and culture

Western concepts of the world are defined by science. Our perception of reality is based on scientific facts and our systems are dominated by scientific precepts. Science determines how information is organised and influences almost every aspect of our daily lives. However, this is not true for many cultures, resulting in a different world view.

The systems of organisation fundamental to western education are also science-based.  This is in direct contrast with other systems. We frequently deal with information, for example, by creating and testing hypotheses, but in many other cultures knowledge is based on concrete examples from the past hypothetical vs. concrete thinking. Critical thinking is also an essential part of scientific thinking, but in cultures in which education and the written word are considered relatively absolute, the focus is on rote learning and students are not trained to use this skill.

The patterns of organisation we use in English are not reflected worldwide. We often use a linear organisational pattern, for example, marshalling information into sequences which represent the chronology of events or the steps in a process. Many cultures use different formats. Where time isn’t perceived as important information may be organised according to what the narrator considers important or as it occurs to the narrator in a ‘stream of consciousness’ manner.

In the classroom we use processes which may not be clear to students from other cultures. We ask them to analyse, hypothesize, criticize, classify, summarize for example, processes which may be new to them. They may also have been taught to focus on different aspects of a process -- required to focus on reporting observations rather than analyzing results, for example.

ESL students

Science classes hold double learning potential for ESL students. They can improve their English and learn vocabulary in context, as well as improve their knowledge of science. Science is easier to understand and follow than subjects with a high literary content and at lower or introductory levels, it’s concrete. Even at higher levels it lends itself to visual and motor illustration with diagrams, demonstrations, experiments and field trips. The vocabulary is complex but finite.

Lessons for ESL students should include specific elements; pre-teaching vocabulary; step-by-step movement from concrete to abstract; linking previous and current instruction; the use of hands-on experiments. Visual aids should be used wherever possible, especially at higher levels when advanced concepts cannot be demonstrated experimentally. ESL students find it easier to participate in small rather than large groups.

Pre-teaching vocabulary helps ESL students participate in the science classroom. Many science words have a different meaning to that in general contexts, for example, base (measuring acidity), polar (referring to magnetism), element (one of a class of substances), excitation (the energy level of an electron, atom or molecule).  A science vocabulary includes not only concrete words, but descriptions of processes: analyse, summarise, classify, describe, explain compare, define, infer, hypothesise.

Materials and textbooks

To learn to use scientific language, students need practice. A variety of materials can be presented in class; informative texts, instructions, models, activity-based materials. However, encouraging a ‘science’ consumption reaching beyond the classroom also encourages the development of science skills and there are many options these days; science-based novels or TV programs, popular science magazines, computer program and the ubiquitous internet.

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Contact: Ngaire Jehle-Caitcheon | Email: info@culturesintheclassroom.com

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