Guidelines for Observing Science Classes in Secondary Schools

These notes are meant to help student teachers and other observers of science classroom lessons. They may also be applicable in part to observations in other subject areas in secondary education. Laboratory and fieldwork learning are not included here.

A. How Lessons Begin

What do teachers, and students, do to get the lesson started? what are the routines they are used to at the start of the lesson? how do they signal to each other that it is time to begin? what are the first activities that are really part of the lesson? the first activities in which the whole class is expected to participate? the first activities in which science is being taught?

B. Motivations and Demonstrations

What does the teacher do to get the class engaged with the lesson topic and concepts? How is the topic related to life outside school and matters of importance and/or interest to students and people in general?

What does the teacher do to make the topic vivid, concrete, visible, and/or 'hands on' for the students? what demonstrations, equipment, specimens, audio-visual aids, or computer-aided teaching are used? how does the teacher try to insure that all students participate and are involved?

C. The Art of Questioning

Which questions that the teacher asks get the most and fullest responses from the class? why? Which questions are the easiest? which are the most difficult? why?

How does the teacher phrase questions designed to get more than one answer?

What does the teacher do when a student's answer is wrong or incomplete? what are the possible options in this situation?

D. Boardwork and Student Notes; Literacy Skills

How much of the lesson does the teacher, or the students, write on the blackboard? is it in outline form or complete sentences? are there diagrams? how much of what is on the board finds its way into student notebooks (look, don't assume!) ... What gets left out or mis-copied?

How often do students have to exercise reading and writing skills in the class? E. Student Participation

How many students typically raise their hands for each question asked? how many of them are the same students each time? what percentage of the class participates at least once during the period? more than once? frequently?

When students answer questions how often do they say a complete sentence? more than one sentence? When in the lesson does this seem to happen most often?

When do students ask question? are their questions easily understood by the teacher? by you? How is the phrasing of their questions different from that of the teacher's questions? What kind of vocabulary do they use? how often do they use technical terms?

E. Group Work

Do all students participate equally in group work? Does one student dominate? are groups cooperative or competitive? How much talk about science happens during groupwork? what else do students talk about?

What kinds of science questions arise from groupwork? procedural question? Do students seem to have a clear idea of what the task of their group is and how to go about it? have they had practice working in groups before?

Think about what most often goes wrong in groupwork and what could be done to make it more productive and effective for students.

How do groups report the results of their work? Which is most effective: a single spokesperson, oral reports from each individual, one group written report, written reports from each person, a combination of these (which combination?)

F. Reasoning and Judgment

What does it take to get real discussion going, with more than one viewpoint being presented and responded to?

When do students engage in logical reasoning, linking one idea or fact to another in longer sequences? how can the teacher stimulate and assist in this process?

How often do students consider alternative viewpoints or interpretations and the evidence for and against each? how can teachers promote this kind of discussion?

How do teachers stimulate imaginative and creative thinking in science classes?