Faculty Spotlight Series: Paul Lennihan on the Most Effective Science Instructional Strategy

Nicole Vitale

Paul Lennihan has been a teacher at The Windward School for seven years. He discovered his passion for science at a young age, and he enjoys bringing that enthusiasm to his students. An avid SCUBA diver, Mr. Lennihan loves to introduce his students to the wonders of the natural world. 

The Windward School is a learning community that recognizes the profession of teaching is a craft that takes an incredible amount of study, practice, and reflection to perfect. Thus, it is part of the School's mission to develop a faculty that is expert in teaching children with language-based learning disabilities. In our Faculty Friday series, we will be highlighting Windward faculty members and their expertise on a variety of educational topics.

What is the single most effective instructional strategy you have used to teach Science? 

Have you ever had trouble getting motivated? 

At The Windward School, all of our students have dyslexia or language-based learning disabilities. Multisensory instruction is critically important for teaching this population.  In the science classroom, this approach allows my middle school students to grasp and internalize complex and abstract ideas in science.  It involves several different instructional strategies, all of which are effectively applied to a mainstream classroom, but if I had to choose one as the single most effective strategy for teaching science, it would be the use of high-interest motivators. 

A high interest motivator, be it a model, a specimen, teacher demonstration, video, or visually arresting image, is a great way to introduce or reinforce concepts. This is a critical step in multisensory instruction, and it is one of the most enjoyable aspects of science teaching, as the content is often naturally highly engaging for students!  Bringing out a specimen or sample, showcasing a quick reaction, or displaying a new contraption are excellent ways to pique student interest.  This can even be done at the doorway before the students enter your classroom, which works especially well for younger students who visit your lab.  The purpose is twofold: it activates prior knowledge and initiates conversation of the relevant topic.  It hones students’ observation and communication skills.  And of course, it gets them pumped for the awesome lesson you’re about to deliver!  

A high interest motivator, be it a model, a specimen, teacher demonstration, video, or visually arresting image, is a great way to introduce or reinforce concepts.

For example, let’s say you are teaching and meet them at the door to your lab with a preserved specimen.  Have students make observations of the patterns and make inferences of why it is so colorful.  Then invite them in to start your lesson! 

Teaching about volcanoes?  Have a large chunk of pumice on your desk for students to observe at the start of class.  There are so many questions to be asked.  Why is it so light?  How did it form?  Why are there holes in it?  If you have reluctant students, model your thinking and questioning process.  Use it to springboard your lesson on volcanic eruptions.     

High interest motivators need not be physical objects.  An interesting picture on the smartboard, a quick video clip outlining a science process, or a provocative question can all be utilized to hook the students.   

After this step, your students will have bought into your direct instruction, inquiry-based learning, or laboratory experiments.  But don’t just relegate this technique to the science classroom.  Think of all the applications it could have in language arts, social studies, and may other content areas.  Motivate your students at the start, and they’ll be with you through the end!