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A great classroom explanation

This months #blogsync topic is a strange one, and I didn’t really know where to start. I’ve taught many many lessons now, and in each of them I will have explained many things. I’ve also observed many lessons, and likewise, in each I have heard many explanations. I’ve even heard pupils come up with some brilliant explanations, both during lessons when they were using prior knowledge to estimate what was next and in revision where pupils who remembered how to do something would explain it to their peers.

I’ve been thinking a lot this month about the explanations I give, as I knew this was the topic of the #blogsync, and I’ve had a plethora of explanations to choose from.

This week, off the cuff, I used a simile to contextualise simultaneous equation to a pupil who was really struggling, “is instead of 2x + 3y = 11 is said “2 cups of coffee and 3 cups of tea cost £11″” etc. This real world application, however convoluted it was, help him realise what was going on and he can now solve them.

Also this month I sat in awe as a yr11 pupil (who has yet to hit the c) explained to his girlfriend, perfectly and concisely, how to create a cumulative frequency diagram then use it to draw a box plot.

These were just two of an abundance of brilliant explanations I can think of to mention, but I want to dig deeper and share with you an explanation that has stuck with me for a long time. An explanation I remember from my own school days!

The lesson in question was a chemistry lesson, and the teacher was quite mad! He had some non-verbal behaviour management techniques which would surely be frowned on now. I.e. He would flick chalk at the head of anyone chatting and was a great shot! If chalk didn’t do the trick, the board rubber followed. He also had a giant pestle and mortar and used to walk around with it slung over his shoulder. He would periodically bring it down with a crack on the desk in front if those who were off task. He stopped that the time he smashed one if the desks in half! Anyway, I digress, time for the explanation.

The lesson in question was on bonding, ionic and covalent. He explained it all through simile regarding human relationships with devastating hilarity. He likened covalent bonds to elements who gave found their life partners, fallen in live, gotten married and spent the rest of their lives in wedded bliss “holding hands”. He then moved onto “dirty” ionic bond and likened them to one night stands, a quick switch of electrons and off they go, never to meet again. He also spoke about catalysts, likening them to nightclubs where people go, have a drink and meet people. Showing that the catalyst doesn’t cause the reaction, just gives it somewhere to happen and thus speeds the while process up.

The reason I wanted to share this is that this classroom explanation is the one I remember most vividly. It occurred at least 15 years ago, but I remember it as clearly as yesterday. So what made this explanation stay with me all these years? (As that is the key to a great classroom explanation, one which the pupil will remember.)

Well, the humour was a big part, and so was the clarity. The clarity of the explanation put the topic in terms that I understood, and as such could make sense of. If it hadn’t, then I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t have stuck. But also the humour, it added am element of fun and kept my attention throughout the explanation. I think more goes in, if you are having fun, and I think that these two elements combined in this case to make a great classroom explanation, and for this reason they are two elements I try to include in my explanations.

  1. ChemistryPoet
    June 27, 2013 at 11:01 pm

    Now you mention it, I remember an explanation that my mad chemistry teacher gave us for quantum energy levels in atoms, 33 years ago. He likened the energy levels to the stories of a local, big toy shop (Bodgers; I even remember the name of the shop…now long gone), and the energy levels like the lift in Bodgers only able to stop at these discrete levels. It was effective for many reasons; including that Bodgers was a place like heaven for kids (even though I was in the sixth form at the time), few local shops had lifts….and it made perfect sense. I even remember writing in my notes “Bodgers story”, because I knew that this would help me remember the main point – electrons can only occupy discrete energy levels in atoms.

  1. August 16, 2013 at 10:03 am
  2. October 16, 2013 at 10:28 pm

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