How to bring science to life in your classroom

 The Benefits of Bringing Scientists into the Classroom

We all struggle with engaging students in science.  I know as a high school student I was really intimidated by chemistry and physics and all the memorizing in biology.  It was not until I did OAC Biology in the Galapagos Islands and Ecuador that I realized biology was also observing animal behaviour and exploring the rainforests and islands to understand ecosystems.  This hands-on experience led me to pursue a science degree in animal behaviour and then a masters degree in evolutionary anthropology.  To get students to see the value of science and that they can be scientists too, it is key for them to experience the science themselves and see the varied world that science has to offer.  Having a scientist come and visit your class is one way to do this.  

Stereotype of a scientist

Stereotype of a scientist

By exposing students to real scientists, who can relay and communicate their experiences to students, allows students to see that scientists are regular people. That scientists can be women, people of colour and minorities.  There is such a stereotype of an old white man with crazy hair in a lab coat as what most scientists are but that could not be farther from the truth ( I have rarely worn a lab coat in my research).

Science happening in the classroom with the help of scientists

Science happening in the classroom with the help of scientists

Bringing scientists into classrooms also results in students gaining a greater interest in science, a study by Clark et al  (2016) found that students showed a 60% greater interest in becoming a scientist themselves and a 70% greater interest in science overall after they had a graduate student come and speak to them about their research. Doing a Primate Tales presentation at a basketball camp for youth in marginalized areas of Toronto this summer  I could not keep up with how many questions and comments the kids had.  I blown away by their interest and excitement over learning about field research and primates.   During my presentations in high schools I have had many students ask questions about what the path is to becoming a primatologist or evolutionary anthropologist.  These are not careers I ever knew were possible when I was in school and I love being able to show students the paths to get involved in these areas of science.    

Another study done by Laursen et al (2007) found that teachers reports an 88% increase in engagement and involvement of their students during hands-on programs done by scientists about a variety of biology related topics (microbiology, evolution, primates, genetics).  Students were asking questions, concentrating on activities and stating their interest.  Also having an outsider or specialist come into a classroom piques students interest and changes the normal routine of their day.  I know when I have gone and done presentations, the students are buzzing with “oh we have the primate lady here”.   I have had young students come up and ask if I am a real scientist and when I say yes, give me huge hug.  It is unbelievably fulfilling to have students get so excited and show such engagement during my programs.  

Bringing a scientist into schools not only benefits the students but also the teachers.  Teachers  have to have a wide breadth of knowledge on all the topics in various grade’s curriculum.  They might not be experts in it all so it can be beneficial to have a scientist, who has deep knowledge in specific areas, to come and teach those topics and engage students in hands-on activities.  Also some topics, like human evolution and climate change, can be touchy subjects to teach given there is still some “controversy” around them and that might make it something teachers are not sure how to navigate.  By bringing in a scientist, who has the background and experience is these topics, can take that burden off the teacher, and put in onto someone who has more experience dealing with the push back that sometimes comes from exploring these topics.  By bringing in a scientist, teachers also come away with more ideas and topics to draw from and gives them more background in areas they might not have a depth of knowledge in.  

Hands on time with our skulls

Hands on time with our skulls

Two scientific studies have found that bringing scientists into classrooms  benefits the students and the teachers.  From my own experiences and feedback from teachers I know this to be true too. 

In a camp setting, it is often difficult to get students to engage with speakers but the opposite was true for Primate Tales, we had to pull kids away from the classroom.  With such insight into the world of Primatology our campers learned so much more then they would have just by reading on their own and they were able to get all of their questions answered.  We can’t wait to work with Primate Tales in the future!
— Nick Roberts, Program Manager, Lay-Up Youth Basketball
From my perspective the best parts where things that were unique to you and based on experiences that you have beyond the textbook.  Things like your expertise with features of those skulls.  Your experiences in research.  Unusual or interesting details about other hominids that may not generally known. The new discovery at the end of your presentation was great to show that there is lots more to this puzzle to be determined and of course the girl power focus.  A great ‘where do we go from here.
—   Brad Kitchen - Grade 11 Biology teacher at CHAT
On my recent trip to Madagascar  

On my recent trip to Madagascar  

If the above evidence rings true to you I would love to bring a scientist (me!) into your classroom.  It really brings me so much joy to see the excitement and interest that students gain from my programs and from meeting a primatologist.  This is my passion and I really think that by showing students this world of primates and evolutionary anthropology that I can get students to see this is a career option they can do as well and that science is interesting and valuable.   

 Check out our in-class program page for more information and book a program if you are interested.   

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