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  • It is necessary for teachers to adapt activities that are externally sourced and created by others to optimise their students’ opportunities for learning science. Activities are productive when they are interesting and relevant, encourage co-operation and reflection, involve talk and multimodal opportunities and focus on science (Halen & Qualter, 2014). One way of providing rich learning experiences is to use drama, as it can provide high motivation and opportunities for students to develop a feeling of ownership of their learning and promote opportunities for classroom discourse (Dorion, 2009).

    The research

    This project was undertaken over one term to investigate how teachers at different levels of schooling used and adapted Science Learning Hub (SLH) resources for their science teaching. The project involved six teachers from four schools comprising year levels 3 to 10. Two teachers were specialist science teachers. Data was collected through videotapes, audiotapes, observations, field notes, interviews, student work and teaching materials.

    This research brief focuses on how year 5 and 6 teacher Mila adapted an activity by changing the topic and accompanying scenarios.


    Mila’s science unit was on the New Zealand longfin eel (Anguilla dieffenbachii). She was taking her students on camp where they hoped to find longfin eels. With camp in mind, she wanted her students to develop an understanding of the eels and their endangered status. Her specific learning outcomes for the unit were for students to:

    • become experts on the longfin eel
    • be able to explain and draw the life cycle
    • build awareness of the eel
    • name the threats endangering the eel
    • describe the culturally specific relationships between Māori and the eel.

    Mila started the unit by doing a ‘big knowledge dump’, including watching videos, drawing pictures, classroom discussions and science readings. The students looked at the life cycle as a class and then copied it into their books.

    To deepen their knowledge of the life cycle and introduce the notion of threats to the eel, Mila adapted the Bird hotel activity, where students act out the role of migrating birds. In the adapted activity – Eel hotel – students became eels, acting out the various stages of their life cycle.

    The activity was done outside on the school court. Hula hoops were laid out in four areas around the court to represent the different life stages and habitats of the eel:

    • Ocean – eggs/larvae
    • Estuary – glass eels
    • Freshwater – elvers
    • Freshwater/ocean – adults.

    The students were divided into four groups and started the activity in one hula hoop. The hula hoops were the eels ‘safe’ place as they travelled through the life cycle.

    Mila described the activity: “This is the life cycle of the eel. This is you being an eel. What you have to do is remember the life cycle we drew this morning and the journey they take. As you go on your journey, these areas [hula hoops] are your safe places. But on your journey, if something happens and I take away a hoop and you can’t get into your hoop, you’re a dead eel. We’re going to be learning that this is the life cycle and how difficult it is for the eels.”

    As the students/eels travelled through the life cycle, Mila blew a whistle, the students froze, and Mila read out a scenario.

    For negative scenarios, hoops were removed. For positive scenarios, hoops were added. If they could not find space in a hoop or were mid-journey, they were out of the activity – a dead eel.

    Mila used seven scenarios from the Bird hotel activity but adapted three so they were applicable to the eel:

    • Pollution in the area is building up. Eels get sick and die (negative).
    • The number of fish hunting for food in the area increases. This puts eggs and larvae at risk (negative).
    • The Department of Conservation runs an education programme highlighting threats to the longfin eel (positive).

    I think it’s acting it out and seeing it and understanding. It’s understanding that they felt the urgency, so what must it be like, and it’s building that empathy nature.

    Mila felt that the adaptation to ‘Eel hotel’ was successful: “I think it’s acting it out and seeing it and understanding. It’s understanding that they felt the urgency, so what must it be like, and it’s building that empathy nature.” Mila also commented that the competitive nature of her students became apparent, and as the activity went on, it became less about the eels and more about a race. So Mila stopped the activity early and they went back to the classroom to reflect on the activity.

    Concluding comment

    Adapting an activity to a topic that can provide a rich learning experience for students optimises thei opportunities for learning science. When the topic is relevant to their lives, in this case, New Zealand students going on camp to search for the endangered longfin eel, students become actively engaged in learning and have opportunities to develop an empathetic view.

    The students were engaged and enjoyed the opportunity to get out of the classroom and participate in a physical activity. For example, Emery (10 years) said, “When we played the game, it showed how hard it is getting around the cycle and not being killed. I got out quite quickly because I think there was a dam in my way. I think it was quite cool how they converted learning into a game, which is quite cool because you always remember that. In class, you always think this is boring but then when you’re outside having fun but you’re also learning about how tough it is to be a longfin eel.”

    Related content

    Learn more about exploring science through drama our recorded webinar Understanding science through drama with Dr Carrie Swanson.


    Dorion, K. (2009). Science through drama: A multiple case exploration of the characteristics of drama activities used in secondary science lessons. International Journal of Science Education, 31(16), 2247–2270.

    Harlen, W. & Qualter, A. (2014). The teaching of science in the primary school (6th ed.). London: Routledge.

      Published 27 August 2014 Referencing Hub articles
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