Venier Science Education - December 2023


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Informal Science

Science Discussions

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Kennedy Funk Kennedy Funk 300 Points


I am working on implementing more science discussions in my classroom.  What are some strategies that are helpful in keeping the conversation on topic?


Gabe Kraljevic Gabe Kraljevic 4564 Points

Hello Kennedy,

I think the keys to successful science discussions are planning, preparing and pacing. 

Planning will involve making up groups, deciding on which approach to use, how to engage all the students, knowing what kind of end product you want, how you will manage transitions and how you will collate/gather up the ideas that have come out of the discussions.  Build in ways to accommodate students who are uncomfortable talking or need time to formulate their ideas.  A tip for engaging students:  “wow” them with a great demo, funny story or short video clip to introduce the discussion topic.  I would tend to make up groups rather than allowing students to self-select.  You'll have to judge that.

Preparing your students on how to scientifically argue, how to listen and how to respectfully respond cannot be taken lightly.  For a successful interplay of ideas you have to make sure all students get a voice and are not dominated by those who are more outspoken.  Graphic organizers can help record their thoughts before any interactions and will facilitate sharing.  I have attached one such organizer that I have used in the past.

Discussions will fizzle or wander off topic if you don’t keep the pace going.  Monitor discussions to make sure students are not lagging or sitting bored.  You may want to implement several small, quick introductory segments to get the ball rolling and build to a more protracted, deep-thinking discussion.  I think it helps to start in pairs and slowly build to larger groups.

The toughest part of class discussions is staying out of them!  Be a facilitator and let the young minds work.  While you may have a vision of what you want from these discussions, allowing students to get there on their own will be very powerful learning – and may surprise you!

Hope this helps!


Joy Miller Joy Miller 1455 Points

Hi Kennedy! 

One thing that comes to mind is the use of 'Claim, Evidence, & Reasoning' discussion. Using this as a model could help things stay on task. There are some helpful tips via STEMscopes. Some discussion strategies that I gained from a conference breakout session with STEMscopes included tips for argumentation: 

- student can only speak 3 times 

- students must segue between the last response and their own

- students must cite evidence to back up their claim, such as refering to text

- recognize that it is not a debate, but a discussion! 

A good idea for tracking which students have talked is to have a double sided card (or more, depending on how many times you want to allow them to talk) with one side being the color green and one side being the color red. Students start with the green side showing, but flip it to the red side once they have talked. 

I hope you have been able to facilitate some great science discussions this semester! Looking forward to the next - 


***I'm a preservice teacher who has not implemented this yet in a classroom. I attended the ISTS Iowa Acadamy of Science fall conference in Des Moines this year, and received this information from a breakout session there with STEMscopes.***

Jeremy Goforth Jeremy Goforth 1456 Points

I love the discussion part of teaching science to my middle school students. This uses two parts of literacy that are difficult to teach (speaking and listening) and are so essential to the way that science is practiced in research. I find that it is critical to post the group norms and to teach them right away to develop positive socialization during the discussion. When I present a question to the class, often I will have the students begin with pair-partner discussion where each pair-partner shares for 60 seconds and the other listens to allow them to develop some of their thinking. I then engage the class, where I will ask students to share their ideas. I have also randomly called on students to share through a popsicle stick name draw (they can always pass). We as a class, listen to each other's ideas and share when we have made a connection, can build on someone else's idea, or have an “Ah-ha” moment. Sometimes I will also award participation points which students keep if they participate positively.

Lily Albertson Lily Albertson 530 Points

I really like the suggestions made earlier. Give the students guidelines that they must stay within. This ensures there is no frustration on your part or the students. Having students brainstorm prior to the discussion with a partner may help prevent it from falling flat. It is always discouraging when you ask for input and just get blank stares.

Jenna Vojtisek Jenna Vojtisek 1460 Points

Discussions are a great way for students to dig deeper into their learning. It is also a great way to grow your classroom community! Some ideas to keep the discussion on the topic is to actually have the topic written down so all the students can see it. This will help students remember the topic and it can catch their eye if they're getting off-topic. Another idea is to let students think about the topic and discussion prior to having the discussion. This will allow students to think about things to say that are relevant and lessen the chances of run-off conversations. Lastly, spend a few weeks teaching your students what it means to be a listener. This can be the most difficult part of discussions because things may be said twice, someone might reply to something that is not yet relevant, and it'll help the discussion just go more smoothly. 

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