Help for Struggling Science Students
Science classes are a challenge for many kids, and some kids can really get stuck. Sometimes it’s hard to know how to help them get unstuck. Here are five tips for helping and encouraging a child who is struggling in science class.
Allow your child to express her frustration and let her know that it’s okay to feel that way. If she needs to cry, bring on the tissues. A child that feels they are listened to will be more ready to accept help. Listen to your child talk about what she has been learning. Explain that she can help you to understand so that you can do a better job of helping her. A good place to start is “Tell me more about…”
Back to school?
For most of us, it’s been a few years since our last science class. You don’t need to be an expert, but having a basic understanding of a topic could help you to work through it with your child. Take a look at the textbook. Do a quick web search for videos or interactives. I have found Khan Academy incredibly useful for learning the essentials of key science concepts.
Match learning strategies with learning style.
Is your child a big-picture thinker? Or does he start with details and work his way up? Is he a listener? A doodler? A reader? A hands-on doer? Knowing how your child likes to learn will help you pick some learning strategies for taking on tough topics.
Visual learners can benefit from strategies that involve color or simple images. Try color-coding key words and phrases by category. Encourage your child to draw “reminder” pictures and symbols that represent important ideas. Help him make a chart that arranges information in a meaningful way.
Auditory learners will appreciate strategies that emphasize listening. Your child could try reading or reciting information out loud, and even recording this to listen to later. Ask him to discuss important concepts or processes in his own words. Work together to create rhymes or songs that will stick in his memory.
Kinesthetic learners like to get their hands on an object or a representation of what they are learning about. They may like to involve their whole bodies by acting out a concept or process. A helpful learning strategy for kinesthetic learners is to make cutouts or cards that can be arranged and rearranged. If you have a whiteboard or chalkboard, you can engage your child in using large movements to illustrate, write and organize on the board.
Learn the Language
There are times when science class seems like learning a foreign language. Science vocabulary can be challenging for all types of learners at any grade level. When a child struggles to understand essential vocabulary, she may quickly lose interest in the concepts associated with those words.
Help your child to grasp the context of new words by creating simple diagrams like the definition map shown here. Encourage her to describe key words using her own words, rather than just memorizing a definition. One strategy that can be helpful is making personal clue cards. These are cards that have that include the word, its definition, and a unique word or phrase that your child chooses to help her remember. You can also ask her to draw simple pictures to represent key words.
Make a Mind Map
A mind map, or graphic organizer, is an excellent way to organize information in a way that highlights connections and context. A mind map combines visual elements like pictures, colors, and symbols with information in way that promotes memory retrieval. It shows information arranged logically and grouped to emphasize connections. It’s the relationships between new concepts that give them meaning and will help your child to remember them. Creating a mind map gives him a multisensory experience while engaging with important ideas. You can draw a mind map by hand, or you can use an app or online tool. My favorite mind mapping app is Mindly.
A mind map made with Mindly
We all want our kids to struggle less and to love learning. Our interest and encouragement are important ingredients in their learning journey. When we take the time to listen and to recognize how our kids like to learn, we will be able to engage them in the strategies that help them the most.
Wong, L. (2015). Essential study skills. Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning.
Young, E. (2005). The Language of Science, The Language of Students: Bridging the Gap with Engaged Learning Vocabulary Strategies. Science Activities: Classroom Projects and Curriculum Ideas,42(2), 12-17. doi:10.3200/sats.42.2.12-17
Written by Dr. Erin Maloney, PhD
Science Professor of OHC
Droolees LLC Education Blog Contributor
Meet Erin Maloney, Phd - Erin Maloney is a mom and college life sciences instructor at Ouachita Hills College in Arkansas. She regularly teaches Biology, Genetics, Anatomy & Physiology, and Human Biology, and she enjoys teaching an occasional fitness class. Her non-teaching experience includes many years of molecular biology research. When school is out for the summer, she likes to spend her time digging for fossils in eastern Wyoming.