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Role-play – building science knowledge

Duration: 4:35

Michelle is a primary teacher of a year 5 and 6 class. She adapted a Science Learning Hub activity to focus on the life cycle of the longfin eel. She discusses how she developed her students’ knowledge so they could participate in a role-play activity that demonstrated the precarious state of New Zealand’s longfin eel. She provides her reasons for choosing a role-play to develop students’ science learning.

To find out what happened next, see Role-play – playing the game and reflections



Hi. I am Michelle Parkes and I teach at Aberdeen School. I’m a teacher of a Year 6 class and I’ve got 7 Year 5’s in it. Sort of a learning age between my class from 6 to about 14.

Why is it important for students to learn science?

For me, it’s… in learning, for a child, the more they know about something, the less ignorant they are about it and the more they care about it and become quite passionate about it because they feel like an expert.

So for me, first off it was ‘what do they already know’. And children like to think they know everything and will show you, but what they start to realise is actually this is quite hard.

I adapted the bird hotel. I went onto the SLH looking for something that was going to be purposeful for the children. We were going on camp and I needed it for myself. I needed it to link into what we were going to be doing. And what I did see was the eels and so we looked at the life cycle of the eel and there was nothing of that on the SLH [Michelle’s eel resources are now available online] but there was the life cycle of the bird migration. And so we went into Bird Hotel and looked at it and just had a think about how I could adapt it and change it.

So the first task we did was to draw what they knew of an eel. And they could draw it, they could label it, they could write what they knew. And I said to them ‘I would like you to write and I wanted 5 things for them to write about.’ I also asked them to draw everything that they knew. So they did that. A lot of the eels were very vicious looking. A lot of them had very sharp teeth. They were quite evil. They were very pointed in their drawings and very sharp angles.

The next task was to then become an expert about an eel. And so we researched the eel. We looked at what endangered the eel, where they went, what they went. And through that I supplied a lot of resources for the children. I had sites, videos and I call it a bit of a knowledge dump. But it is one that involves a lot of discussion, a lot of talk. Children learn through talk, they learn off bouncing ideas and there was an awful lot of discussion, a lot of reading too, a lot of sharing. So once a group had information about the eel they would share it with the class. We had a wall that we had our journey of the eel and on that wall we pinned up new information as the children had, found it, and located it. And they’d write their names on that piece of information so that they could shine and feel good about it.

The scenarios were important because there were positive scenarios where a hoop would be put back, but there were others; the other side was the negative scenarios, which endangered the eel. And it had to link in with the children’s knowledge so that they could listen to what scenario it was and they could react in that time.

I was actually talking to a parent and saying to here that I had been trying to locate some eels. And I’d gone through some avenues but they had sort of fallen flat. And a parent said well actually her father out on their farm was cleaning out some drains and had come across two long fin eels. It was just a real coincidence. So it was actually just before I did the game. They brought them in. And it was an amazing experience and I really think that’s what really nailed it for the children; that they were a living creature, that they could care about them, and, they were actually quite lovely. And so the children were able to observe them up close hand. We had them on ice so they actually were in a very dozing state and they were very still and placid. So they were able to look at them very, very carefully, see them up first hand. And I think it was ‘what do you notice?’ what do you see.

They were taken from the farm where they were being cleaned out and the mum came in. We only had them for about half an hour and then she went and took them to the Waikato River.

Michelle Parks
Aberdeen School