How to Engage Students with Science? It’s a Mystery!

by Iris Nijman

Inquiry based science education has been adopted worldwide as one of the main approaches to introduce science in the classroom. With inquiry, students learn to construct their own understanding, with the teacher acting as a coach. But how can teachers implement this in the classroom? How do we engage students, make them curious and inspire them for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)? These questions were addressed during an international congress that took place from 15-17 April in Leiden, organised by the European science education project Teaching Enquiry with Mysteries Incorporated (TEMI) in close collaboration with Leiden University. The TEMI methodology has a special focus on creating curiosity among students by using mysteries: phenomena, events or stories that provoke the perception of suspense and wonder in the learner. During the congress, 200 international educators were shown new ways to come up with mysteries for different subjects and how to use them in the classroom. For example how card tricks can be used to teach mathematics, or bubble tea to teach chemistry. But, how to present these mysteries in the classroom? Many analogies have been drawn between the role of the teacher and that of an actor. Therefore magicians Tilman Andris, Kristine Hjulstad and Quintus van Amstel were invited to show the techniques they use to present magic tricks, and how teachers can apply these techniques in the classroom. The congress was a great opportunity for teachers across Europe to show what they’ve learned during the TEMI teacher trainings, and to share their best practices.

During the last three years, we at Leiden University offered teacher trainings for educators in the Netherlands and Belgium. At this conference, they had the opportunity to showcase the various ways in which they applied the TEMI methodology in their own classrooms. We were very happy to see all their great examples,’’ says Iris Nijman, project manager of the TEMI project in the Netherlands at Leiden Observatory, Leiden University.

The congress was opened on 15 April in the academy building by Leiden Mayor Henri Lenferink, Peter McOwan (Vice Principal Public Engagement of Queen Mary University of London) and Judi Mesman (Scientific Director of the Institute of Education and Child Studies of Leiden University), who highlighted the importance of science education initiatives for society-at-large.