Why we use role-play in our science activities

By Anita Brown, Activity Facilitator, UNE Discovery Voyager

As a drama teacher, I witnessed first-hand the benefits of experiential learning. Students learned by doing. Even at senior level, we would often dive into dramatic play before the students were made aware of the learning objective. Their felt experience informed their intellectual understanding and stayed with them as physical memory to draw upon in the future.

The use of play is integral to our Discovery Voyager philosophy. Play often extends to role-play. Role-play gives children a feeling of ownership of their education. The use of role-play allows children to ‘both express themselves in a scientific context and develop an understanding of difficult concepts …. the reason why role-play can help to make science relevant to many children, is that it is based upon play’.

That time we became a melting iceberg, the method by which tillite was formed millions of years ago.

What is it like to be a scientist, specifically a chemist? We could stand at the front of the classroom and show you a film, read you a book, lead a discussion or have you complete a worksheet. Or …. we could dress you, all of you, in lab coats, safety gloves and glasses …. you’re starting to feel like you ARE a chemist, aren’t you? Of course, then you get to do a real experiment, to hypothesise and discover and experience firsthand what it’s like to mix chemicals and see the reactions.

How are different rocks formed? Our geologist, Dr Kieran Meaney, could tell you everything and answer all your questions, with large servings of enthusiasm and passion. So why would we bother with coming up with any other way of exploring geology? Because adding role-play to the mix, will impress upon your physical memory. In our interactive show, Rocking through Time, engaging the audience’s imagination allows them to witness the genesis of a geological wonder, to create a physical memory of the time they became a melting iceberg, the method by which tillite was formed millions of years ago (“it was so cold …. then we meeeeeelted!”). Or the time they were transported back in time to sit on the sand which became the sandstone we find today (“what was that dolphin like animal diving in the ocean? Ah yes, the icthyosaurus!”)

Diving into science through play and role-play engages the whole child, enabling them to learn through their heads (imagination and critical thinking), hands and hearts. We love seeing the students’ faces light up, we love hearing their laughter and we love helping them to discover the answers to their many questions. We love being a part of their learning journey in STEM, with the addition of a big ‘A’ – arts. Full STEAM ahead for the use of role-play!

Reference: Role-play in science teaching and learning Gabrielle McSharry and Sam Jones. School Science Review, September 2000, 82(298) https://secondaryscience4all.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/776-sept_2000_73_82-role-play-in-science-teaching.pdf