Students learn about the laws and concepts of science in some unique ways in Roy Wahab’s classes.
On occasion, one might find a student standing against the wall while a bowling ball hanging on a seven-foot rope from the ceiling is held up to his nose and then dropped. The student must wait as the ball swings away and then back towards his face.
It’s one way to ensure students don’t forget the law of conservation of energy, according to Wahab.
On other occasions the entire class has been grouped around Wahab’s car, peering into the engine while the students label the engine parts with sticky notes.
Again, the goal is to maximize retention with a practical demonstration.
Wahab, a Grade 11 and 12 science and physics teacher at Kings Christian Collegiate in Oakville, has been recognized for his creative and effective teaching approach.
He says he’s trying to make teaching and learning more enjoyable for himself and the students, although he admits to sometimes missing the mark.
He also wants to make sure the students take away as much as possible from the class.
“When you know that what we talked about in the class has to leave the class eventually, if it doesn’t get put into a portable baton that they can take with them, it’s not considered an enduring understanding.”
Wahab, who has been teaching at Kings for three years, has “stumbled” on a number of strategies to enhance the classroom experience, engage students, and maximize retention.
Using hands-on demonstrations as much as possible and teaching concepts before the related math can boost learning in science and physics, he has found.
He always tries to start a class session with a “hook” or quick, attention-grabbing activity or demonstration.
“The idea is to engage their curiosity, which is one of the most powerful motivators for learning.”
Breaking the class time into increments is also effective for keeping students’ attention, says Wahab. Rather than lecturing at the front of the class for 40 minutes, he might do a demonstration, talk for 15 minutes, take up questions, return to a monologue for another 15 minutes, and then finish with another science demonstration.
This approach is based on something called the Hawthorne effect, which recognizes that when people are in an environment that has consistent change they’re more alert and efficient and they enjoy what they’re doing.
Last year Kings’ student council Wahab recognized for being the teacher most likely to run laps around the room.
He says he makes it a conscious practice to circle or “percolate” around the classroom, rather than standing at the front or the “womb” of the classroom.
“That way I’m not just talking down to them all the time,” he says, adding he does still find himself on occasion up front, lecturing “Socratic-style” and has to make that decision to be more interactive.
Wahab has found that using technology can be particularly effective with students for retaining their interest. He regularly solicits student feedback on his teaching, asking what students want to see stopped, started or continued. Students always tell him to keep using video demonstrations, which Wahab finds on a number of websites, including YouTube.
While Wahab had a natural childhood curiosity and passion for physics-related stuff and even built a go-cart that could travel about 50 km an hour, he admits he never did well in physics in high school.
He wants things to be different for his students.