Science

Lights! Camera! Learning!

By Laura Donnelly — December 22, 2006 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

When teaching science to kids, a visual approach is good. Humor is also good. And blowing things up is really, really good. At least that’s what educators at the Exploratorium in San Francisco have found in the nine yearssince the museum began producing a live, off-the-cuff competition called Iron Science Teacher. Modeled after the Japanese cult TV favorite Iron Chef (and The Food Network’s American spinoff), Iron Science Teacher pits educators against one another in a fast-paced competition to produce the best classroom science activity that can be presented in 10 minutes.

All the teachers win, of course—even those sitting in the audience—since the real point of the contest is to produce ideas for science lessons that will hold students’ attention. IST “contestants” come from the ranks of middle and high school educators who attend the rigorous professional development Teacher Institute at the Exploratorium, a “learning laboratory” for science, art, and human perception.

The show, which is Webcast live four to six times each summer, has very few rules. Contestants’ experiments must include the “secret ingredient” revealed to the audience at the beginning of the show and be safe and replicable in the classroom. But beyond that, almost anything goes.

And most everything has, as more than 60 past competitions demonstrate—they’ve featured secret ingredients ranging from eggs to corks to fruitcake to crayons.

“We have an odd cult following,” says Linda Shore, director of the Teacher Institute and mistress of ceremonies for Iron Science Teacher. “People stay the entire hour. These fidgety little kids—I’m astounded that they sit the whole time.”

That is, after all, the point: to get school-age children to focus on the science that’s taking place before their eyes. And by all accounts, it’s working. Over the past eight years, archived IST competitions have been downloaded more than 450,000 times.

“I’ve learned a lot watching the other Iron Science teachers doing their thing,” says Brooklyn teacher Avery Pickford, who’s been a contestant twice. “My kids thought it was the coolest thing in the world that I was on ‘television’ talking about science.”

The heavy doses of audience participation also help captivate the budding scientists, who are charged with the important task of choosing the IST winner by the volume of their applause.

And young audience members take the competition very seriously. “Kids will come up after and swear someone else got louder applause,” Shore says. “We kind of have to tell them it’s not about the winning. It’s about the science.”

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the January 01, 2007 edition of Teacher as Lights! Camera! Learning!

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Classroom Technology Webinar
Academic Integrity in the Age of Artificial Intelligence
As AI writing tools rapidly evolve, learn how to set standards and expectations for your students on their use.
Content provided by Turnitin
Recruitment & Retention Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Chronic Teacher Shortage: Where Do We Go From Here?  
Join Peter DeWitt, Michael Fullan, and guests for expert insights into finding solutions for the teacher shortage.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Reading & Literacy Webinar
The Science of Reading: Tools to Build Reading Proficiency
The Science of Reading has taken education by storm. Learn how Dr. Miranda Blount transformed literacy instruction in her state.
Content provided by hand2mind

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Science Opinion Let’s Mobilize Our Youth to Address the STEM Achievement Gap
Youth can play a role in addressing the STEM achievement gap, too, writes a high school student in this letter to the editor.
1 min read
Education Week opinion letters submissions
Gwen Keraval for Education Week
Science Racial Disparities in STEM Start as Early as Kindergarten, New Study Finds
Socioeconomic factors and school environment explain some of the disparities, but not all of them.
3 min read
Photo of two boys handling model of atom.
E+ / Getty
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Science Whitepaper
Students Can Develop Computational Thinking Skills Without Tech
Learn how educators can address the globe’s growing digital divide by teaching STEM along a high-touch to high-tech spectrum.
Content provided by Carolina Biological
Science How These Teachers Center Student Voice in Science Class
Three award-winning teachers discuss connecting curricula to students’ lives and helping kids see themselves as scientists.
6 min read
New Mexico educator Christopher Nunez receives a Milken Educator Award on Oct. 21, 2022 in Las Cruces, NM.
New Mexico educator Christopher Nunez receives a Milken Educator Award on Oct. 21in Las Cruces.
Milken Family Foundation