Over the course of the last few months, I have had the opportunity to learn about classroom management strategies, dive even deeper into the state and national science standards, and develop a more concrete understanding of what it means to be a reform-minded science teacher. The Get Real! Science Cohort and I had the opportunity to reflect on our daily and weekly student teaching placements and read about the most effective teaching and management practices, and then implement said practices. Moreover, we established an even deeper understanding of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). These standards, which I am happy to say will be enforced by the state of New York for the upcoming 2017-2018 school year, considers science content, crosscutting concepts, and scientific and engineering practices. Through concept mapping, crafting goals and objectives, and writing our innovative science units, we were able to study each part element of NGSS and understand how it embodies and appropriately reflects the nature of science.
To further tailor our teaching styles, the cohort and I engaged in a variety of authentic science and teaching practices in our graduate class, Implementing Innovation in Science Education, to then implement them into our student teaching classrooms. We modeled many of the practices described in Windschitl & Thompson’s (2013) modeling toolkit, such as making before-during-after models and revising them, using student co-constructed checklists or “must-haves” as student concept guides, and crafting summary activity tables. Additionally, we discussed the individuality of each learner and how that warrants scaffolding, differentiation, as well as the need to teach for understanding and the use of student feedback to modify lessons accordingly. Most importantly, each week as the cohort and I met and developed these teaching practices, we took a constructivist approach to our own learning as we worked collaboratively and relied on discussion to teach ourselves and build new pedagogical knowledge.
As the cohort and I completed our second and final student teaching placements, as well as came to the conclusion of our semester, we had the opportunity to share our knowledge through a professional development event. As we designed and facilitated the event, we focused our conference around scientifically literacy, given that it makes up a core of our teaching philosophies, but even more importantly, since it is a social justice issue that teaches students how to critically evaluate information and be self agents of their own knowledge. We defined scientific literacy as the following:
“Scientific literacy is the ability to understand and implement the nature of science, scientific practices, and science content necessary to make informed personal and civic decisions.” (Get Real! Science Cohort, 2017).
Given its relevance both inside and outside the science classroom, we wanted to inform local pre-service and current science educators about what scientific literacy is, what its implications are, and why/how scientific literacy practices can effectively be implemented in the classroom.
Through all of these experiences, from my student teaching placements, coursework, and the most recent Science Literacy Conference, I have had the opportunity to reflect on ideal teacher traits as well as develop my own teaching philosophy. Of the most important traits, I believe an effective teacher is flexible, compassionate, a good listener, and passionate about the topic he or she is teaching. Above all else though, said teacher is his or her most authentic self. For many science educators, myself included, we strive to engage students in authentic science practices, inquiry-based, exploratory learning moments that embody the true nature of science. However, to engage as fully as possibly with the field, science learners (both students and teachers) must simultaneously build an identity within science. Doing so, not only enables the learner to understand and apply scientific practices more successfully, but develops the human connection piece of why does science matter to me and to society? This process of science identity development begins (for both students and teachers) with being your own authentic, original self.
When I think about my own teaching philosophy I want my actions, teachings, and classroom space to reflect that of a reform-minded, innovative science educator. I want my classroom to be built around community, one in which students are free to share their thoughts, argue, debate, and revise their thought process. I want my students to co-construct knowledge and develop their identities within science. Doing so, however, demands that my classroom learning environment and curriculum are linguistically and culturally relevant so that it resonates with each individual student. This also means that the curriculum provides learning experiences that are student driven, allowing students to learn through exploration and uncover and build knowledge. I think such can be achieved if I give students more autonomy in the classroom and also use NGSS as a framework for my units. In doing so, students will be exposed to not just discipline specific concepts, but also the practices and nature of science, as well as the crosscutting themes that unites the fields of STEM and makes STEM relevant and useful to the non-STEM fields.