With a growing quest for independence and an insatiable desire to be social, trying to motivate seventh-graders to buckle down and learn science may seem like an insurmountable task. With the right attitude and carefully planned lessons, you can turn these characteristics into motivators. Give plenty of opportunity for choices and allow students to express their ideas, personality and creative talents. Even the toughest kid needs positive reinforcement, praise and recognition in order to be motivated to learn.
Give Choice and Freedom of Expression
Ask your seventh-graders to present a scientific process in an artistic way, like a poem, hip-hop song, play or painting. Those more comfortable with technology could create a computer game or the schematics to their invention. Students may choose to write a play about photosynthesis or, for thermal expansion, paint a picture of a bonfire with ashes rising into the air, demonstrating how the heated air becomes less dense when it expands.
Into the Laboratory
At this age, seventh-graders need concrete examples and opportunities to get up and move. Exploring and experimenting are two big ways to motivate them. When studying the digestive system, students learn about enzymes -- chemicals that assist the breakdown of food. Have them chew a saltine cracker until it tastes sweet, demonstrating how amylase, an enzyme in saliva, is breaking the starch into sugar. Have students put a cracker they have chewed into one test tube and a crushed cracker into a second test tube. Add water to each and wait 10 minutes. Add iodine, which turns purple in the presence of starch. The chewed cracker will not turn purple because the enzyme changed the starch to sugar, but the crushed cracker will change color because the amylase has not changed the cracker from a starch to a sugar.
Tap Into Social Nature
Traditionally, students label the names of bones on a skeleton diagram. Use their social nature and desire for choice by giving seventh-graders a skeleton puzzle page to cut out and allowing them to glue the bones in any pose they like -- throwing a football, riding a skateboard or doing a split. Encourage peer feedback while they work. They will still need to label and learn the bones of the skeleton, but why not make it fun by offering choice and encouraging their expression of individuality.
Showcase Student Work
With upward of 150 pupils, middle-school teachers tend to display a few, select pieces of student work. Some students will never experience the recognition and positive reinforcement that comes from having their work on display. Solve this problem by gluing a sample of all your seventh-graders’ work onto a long roll of paper. Hang the paper vertically from high on the wall so that you can display every piece.
- The Science Education Resource Center at Carleton College: Student Motivations and Attitudes: The Role of the Affective Domain in Geoscience Learning
- Orange County Register: Classroom Hero: Hands-on labs motivate students
- Education.com: Proteins as Enzymes: Saltine Crackers and Amylase
- Go Bookee: The Human Skeleton -- PrimeSCI!, Monash University
- Scholastic: Teachers: Motivating Middle School Students
With degrees in biology and education, Jennifer VanBuren now utilizes her research and instructional skills as a writer. She has served as educational columnist for "Austin Family Magazine" for four years and also reports on area businesses for "Faces and Places" magazine.