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This content is taken from the National STEM Learning Centre's online course, Managing the Practical Classroom in Secondary School Science. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 7 seconds During this section of the course we shall discuss the role of the demonstration within the practical classroom, the focus, outcomes and process of the demonstration. First up we shall discuss the aim of the demonstration. It is important to establish the learning that students

Skip to 0 minutes and 24 seconds are going to do: are you demonstrating the use of a piece of apparatus? a particular technique? or the result of the demonstration (usually because an experiment is too hazardous to be completed by the students themselves.). Next we consider the timing of the demonstration, if you are to complete the demo at the start of the lesson, do you need to demonstrate the entire experiment? After all, science is about a journey of discovery and if we demonstrate every practical to completion, what is there for students to become excited about? What is there for students to discover themselves if you have shown them the outcome within the first ten minutes of the lesson?

Skip to 1 minute and 5 seconds The desired learning outcome of the demonstration will depend on how you proceed, if it’s a piece of apparatus can you demo without reagents? With demonstrating a technique, can you demo the use of the equipment without giving away the result of the experiment, and so keep the element of discovery within the lesson? Finally, as we all know, the art of the demonstration is not so much being able to perfectly demonstrate the apparatus, and techniques involved in the completion of an experiment, but to do this whilst observing and managing the behaviour of the class at the same time. You’ll also be explaining the technique and science behind the demonstration.

Skip to 1 minute and 46 seconds This is not an easy task, and, during complex demonstrations it is important to consider the use of other adults in the lab at the time (or those which can be drafted in to provide assistance).

The place of the demonstration

Now we are going to consider the place of the demonstration to support student learning. There are a number of places in lessons or schemes of learning where you may wish to demonstrate a practical experiment. In some cases, demonstrations are used at the start of a topic to initiate a question, spark interest and engage students. They act as the hook for the topic. At the end of the sequence of learning, a demonstration might be used so that students can evidence their learning by applying it in a practical context, for example to explain what they see happening in the demonstration.

As with planned practical work it is important to consider the purpose of the demonstration. It may be that the experiment is too hazardous for students to undertake and therefore must be demonstrated. In other cases it could be because the reagents are expensive, however it’s worth considering whether students conduct a microscale version of this practical instead.

As we mention in the video, you should also consider whether you demonstrate the whole experiment or just part of it. Like planning learning outcomes for student practical work, there should be a learning intention for the demonstration. This might be to show a particular skill or how to use new apparatus.


What are the main reasons you use demonstrations in your current scheme of learning? Share these in the comments below and reflect on how the place of the demonstration in a sequence of learning is considered to support students’ understanding.

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This video is from the free online course:

Managing the Practical Classroom in Secondary School Science

National STEM Learning Centre