As teachers, we are constantly looking for new ways to engage pupils, yet we often overlook resources that are right under our noses. In my case, it was my 83-year-old grandfather John Smart, a retired hydrologist who probably knows more about some aspects of the science curriculum than I do.
But it took months of discussing various scientific concepts and experiments with him over the phone before the penny finally dropped and I invited him to be part of a lesson. He was thrilled and the results were priceless.
My grandfather worked for the Institute of Hydrology on a project in the Hafren Forest of Mid-Wales, where he focused on the management, monitoring and protection of water quality and its sources. So setting up a Skype call with such an expert, recording it and showing it to a Year 7 class to help facilitate their learning about acid rain seemed like a logical thing to do.
What was it that made it so special, and so different from me being centre stage? First, the access to such a specialist is often hard to come by. So finding friends or family members who can describe their experience in the field to pupils in the classroom is vital in giving purpose to young people’s learning.
A new face is also engaging and, when used as a voice-over to pictures or videos, can give a whole new slant to the lesson.
The process was simple but effective. I showed a three-minute video of my grandfather to my Year 7 class, accompanied by footage from his home. This focused on how acid rain was formed and the effects it could have on the environment, a key element of the key stage 3 science curriculum. We then investigated the effect of acid rain on plants.
In a follow-up lesson, pupils Skyped my grandfather. The lesson flowed, pupils were guiding their own learning and everyone got to talk to an expert. Not bad for 60 minutes.
Such e-learning approaches are easy once you keep your eyes open for opportunities. There might be a pupil in your class whose parent is a journalist, for example, or one whose relative runs a catering business.
Since the video of my grandfather was first uploaded to the TES Resources site it has received more than 6,500 views – 2,400 of them in one day – boosted by Twitter and @tesscience.
So if you’re a teacher searching for inspiration, look in your own backyard for ways to produce innovative lessons.
Gavin Smart is a science teacher and e-learning coordinator. He is also a member of the TES science panel.
Watch the video of Gavin’s grandfather explaining acid rain on TES Resources.