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Skip to 0 minutes and 8 seconds MARK LANGLEY: One practical activity we can do with students is get them to try and form an explanation for what’s inside this box. We can do a quick demonstration and get them applying some of their scientific knowledge and understanding to try and explain what they see happening, but we’re not going to give them the answer and right now, we’re not going to give you the answer as well. What we would like you to do is to maybe suggest what’s going on inside the box and how you might replicate similar types of practicals with students. So I’ve got a fluorescent tube, which I’m going to hold against this box. and if we can dim the lights, please?

Skip to 0 minutes and 45 seconds And it lights up, and I’m not getting an electric shock, And this box is cardboard, and surely electricity doesn’t come through cardboard, it’s an insulator. And actually if I move the fluorescent tube away from the box, it still glows. And if I slide my hand up and down the tube, then the light follows. So what’s going on? What’s inside the box? And with my students, I wouldn’t be telling them what’s in there I’d get them to elucidate what they can find out, what they can understand from what they can see, how they can apply their own scientific knowledge, but maintaining the mystery of what’s inside here, and we’re not going to tell you the answer either.

Skip to 1 minute and 26 seconds Hopefully in the comments section, you may come up with some ideas of what’s going on and also suggest some activities yourself that can be used to engage students and get them thinking without just going straight to giving them the answer.

Demonstrations to challenge thinking

What are the factors that should be considered when deciding whether to do a demonstration?

In this video we show a practical demonstration which can be used to challenge thinking: The mystery of the box and the fluorescent tube.

Quick activities like this can be used as a starter, or for students to come up with explanations of why they think something happens.

Demo: the movie

A teacher-training film…of sorts! In an amusing film called Demo the Movie Alom Shaha explores the art and theatre of delivering scientific demonstrations, why we do them and how to ensure they deliver the desired learning outcomes. He stresses that it is important for teachers to consider what it is they want students to observe before carrying out a demonstration.

The teaching notes at the bottom of the resource provide a useful set of training materials which look at how we can use demonstrations to develop student’ thinking and observations skills, with notes on how you can use it with your colleagues to support the planning of demonstrations.


What is your favourite demonstration for challenging students thinking? You could describe the activity, or share a link to a resource.

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Curriculum Design for Secondary School Science

National STEM Learning Centre

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