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Teach the Skills, Please!

Science classes can be crammed so full of facts and memorization that I am afraid that we lose site of what science is really all about.  Science is about discovery and inquiry.  Science is about investigation.  Science is about applying a method to solve problems and answer questions.  When I first began to teach, I thought long and hard about what type of science teacher I wanted to become.  In my years of schooling I had science teachers that never did an experiment and made me memorize a bazillion facts that I forgot as soon as I took a test.  I also had science teachers that set me on fire with curiosity and a desire to learn "more."  I wanted to become a teacher like this!

It is important to make your science class lab-based and inquiry driven.  As a teacher of biology, I know that Biology is full of facts and details.  I still try to teach all of these facts, but the facts are mixed in with as many science skills as possible.  No matter what the topic, you can have the students graph, analyze, predict, and describe.  Students need to be taught to design and carry out a controlled experiment.  At every opportunity, I ask my students, "What do you THINK would be the affect of changing this variable?"  And as often as possible we go to the lab to see if their predictions can be proven or disproven.

When I first began to teach, the science portions of many standardized tests were testing the students to see if they knew the "facts."  This is no longer the case! When I took the ACT, I received a score in "Science."  When my daughter took the ACT, she received a score in "Science Reasoning."  Standardized testing in science has changed!  The students must be able to read and comprehend scientific passages.  They must be able to analyze graphs and charts.  If you are not teaching these skills to your students, then you are not preparing them for these tests.

Please don't think I am a proponent of "teaching to the test."  Nothing could be farther from the truth. If you are teaching the necessary problem solving and critical thinking skills, your students will ace these tests.

What have I learned after 31 years of teaching science?

  • If I teach the necessary "skills" first, the "facts" will fall nicely into place.
  • Spending extra time at the beginning of the school year on graphing, metric system, experimental design, scientific method, and math skills such as scientific notation and dimensional analysis will make the rest of my school year much, much easier.
  • The skills we teach in science class are life-long skills.  By teaching critical thinking and problem solving, we are preparing students to be competent in whatever they decide to do as adults.

If you are a biology or a life science teacher who is wondering how to get started, you might want to give some of these activities a try.

How to Write a Clear and Concise Lab Procedure
Graphing and Data Analysis
Using a Graph to Find Area
The Student-Designed Experiment


  1. Reading this makes me feel like I'm totally on the right track for this year! Thankfully, I'm surrounded by a team of biology teachers that think and teach in this same manner.

    There will probably be at least 1 lab a week, if not more!

    Thanks for the great tips. They really really are helping me out!!! :)

  2. You can tell this topic is sort of a pet peeve of mine. I am really glad it helped you!