A Classroom Activity to
Connect Science to the Whole Student
The What Matters Map
This activity asks learners to explore the question: Where does science fit in my world? Or to put it another way, How can I study science in a way that is meaningful to me—that connects to what I know, what I feel, and what I believe? This is a middle-school, high-school or intro college-level activity. It is suitable to all ability levels. It is a good activity to use at the beginning of a science course. It involves making a poster that shows how the study of science relates to one’s inner and outer world—connecting science to what matters to that student. See the illustration for an example poster.
The intention of this lesson is to foster reflection on how science can be studied in a way that is meaningful. Connecting science to the student’s subjective framework of knowledge and feelings as well as the things in their physical world shows that this activity takes a holistic approach.
1. Each student is given a poster-size sheet of paper and colored pencils. They are asked to draw or write a statement of what matters to them—a What Matters Map. Encourage students to reflect on the tangible and intangible things that matter to them. Younger students will be more concrete in their thinking than older students. Examples of tangible things that matter could matter might be: My Friends, Clean Water, Nature, A Nice Car, My Dog, Good Food, etc. Example of less tangible or intangible things that might matter to students include: Peace; Fairness; Having Fun; My Health. Some things that matter are both tangible and intangible, for example Music or A Good Job. The point is for students to identify the major things they care about in life.
2. Once students have completed their maps, they are asked to augment the maps by showing how science can support, preserve, and enhance that which matters to them. If the student perceives that science does not support or conflicts with what matters, they are asked to show that on their diagram as well.
3. Sharing in small groups then as an entire class follows.
4. At the end of small-group sharing and whole-class discussion students individually write:
● A paragraph stating what they discovered about themselves and their relationship with science by participating in this activity, and
● A paragraph stating what they discovered about other people by participating in the activity.
The purpose of writing the paragraphs is to allow for reflection and closure.
About Student Outcomes: Some students will create maps that show they have a personal connection to science. These students feel that science relates clearly to what matters to them. On the other hand, some maps may reflect mixed feelings about science or no personal connection to it. Some students who create these kinds of maps may feel closer to science more after listening to their peers. However, there also may be students who do not find anything personally motivating about science even after doing this activity and listening to the ways in which their classmates relate to science. It is important to honor their feelings. At the same time, encourage students to see if they can look for the ways that science could be used to help them and what they care about if it does not already. Throughout the course, dialogue about students’ personal connection to what is being studied should continue.
Students can augment their maps with pictures cut from magazines or other printed sources. This can easily become a STEAM activity by inviting students to make their posters artistic.
Do this activity in pairs or small groups so that one What Matters Map reflects a consensus of opinions or a diversity of opinions.