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This content is taken from the National STEM Learning Centre's online course, Teaching Practical Science: Biology. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 4 seconds When we try to engage students in their learning it is so much easier if we can relate it to an everyday context which stops students asking the question “when I will ever use this?” Biology provides us with so many opportunities to use familiar contexts that students can relate to. With scientific investigation, you can help your students

Skip to 0 minutes and 27 seconds answer questions such as: Why should you be careful with food which has been defrosted? Were the Victorians better at hospital hygiene than us by using brass doors handles? Why do some wound dressings have silver in them? You may have used some interesting examples and novel contexts with your students already. We look forward to seeing your examples and also finding out how your teaching practice has developed through this course.

What do we mean by context?

This week we will look at how microbiology can bring practical work into a range of biology topics, and how using different contexts allows students to practice techniques.

By the end of this week you will be able to demonstrate how teaching through context can support engagement of students with their learning.

What is ‘context’?

Context is the way of placing a scientific concept into a particular situation or explaining a concept through its application.

Using engaging contexts can help students to see the relevance of practical work, act as hook to capture their interest and increase their awareness of careers which use science-related knowledge and skills.

“Context-based approaches are approaches adopted in science teaching where contexts and applications of science are used as the starting point for the development of scientific ideas. This contrasts with more traditional approaches that cover scientific ideas first, before looking at applications.” (Bennett, Lubben and Hogarth, 2006)


At what point do you introduce contexts into your teaching? Do you think it makes a difference if you use a context as a starting point, rather than bringing in context after you have introduced the scientific idea?

Share and compare your thoughts below.

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This video is from the free online course:

Teaching Practical Science: Biology

National STEM Learning Centre