Snow Days and Seat Time

Snow Days and Seat Time

Just as a record-warm February lulled us into a false sense of Spring, a snowy March swept in like, well, a snow storm. Two snow days and a two-hour delay later, some of my students lost over two and a half hours of Earth Science last week. The snow days arrived at the end of our unit on Rocks and Minerals. Initially, the students were destined for a rock lab and final rock and mineral lab quiz. However, as snow days erased instructional time from the calendar, I had to make adjustments. The new question became, “How do I assess my students’ understanding in two fewer days, with sporadic return attendance, and fewer minutes of in-class practice time?”

My CT, special education teacher, and I sat down to discuss our options. Ideas like pushing the schedule back by two days, online take-home tests, and re-teaching at the end of the year bounced around. Eventually we landed on a combination of all three: pushing our plans back by a day, assigning open-note online take-home tests for students who could not drive out in the snow, and planning for several days of re-teaching during regents review prep days in May. As teachers, we had to ask ourselves what was best for our students, and how they would learn most effectively in the time we have left.

The lost instructional snow days got me thinking about “seat time.” Particularly in small towns with unpredictable transportation and lax family cultures surrounding education, student attendance is often inconsistent. As teachers, there is very little we can actually do about getting our students through the door and into our classrooms. What we can control is what we do with the students who do make it through our doors. Everyday, we decide, “What can I do with these next 80 minutes?” As a new teacher, I am constantly discovering the importance of my actions in the classroom. In many school settings, I cannot depend on students finishing homework or attending class everyday, so the in-class labs and activities I design will probably be the only science that my students experience each week. As the weight of this responsibility falls heavy on my shoulders, I am reminded of the importance of education. As teachers, it is our job to make sure that all students learn and experience as they can during the fleeting few hours of they spend in our care.

Vet tech, not vet?

– “She wants to be a veterinary technician.”

– “Not a veterinarian?”

– “We have to be careful about encouraging students to pursue realistic goals.”

When a teacher and I had this conversation, I struggled to wrap my head around what he was trying to tell me. I thought to myself, “Shouldn’t we, as teachers, encourage all of our students to pursue ambitious career goals? Why would we encourage this student to become a vet tech, when she could be a veterinarian?” As the daughter of a veterinarian and the sister of a veterinary technician, I know the difference between the two careers. My inclination to encourage the student to consider a career as a veterinarian stems from a desire to push my students to dream big, rather than to “look down” at veterinary technicians. From a social justice perspective, I was initially appalled by this teacher’s’ apparent pigeon-holing of this student.

I pressed the teacher, asking why he wouldn’t encourage the student to consider being a veterinarian. I voiced my concerns about the implications of setting lower standards for students from poorer areas. His response surprised me. Rather than speaking disrespectfully about the student and underestimating her intelligence, this teacher explained that he was concerned about the student amassing debt and losing motivation before finishing veterinary school. He explained that the student had failed two science classes already, and was in danger of not graduating on time. He noted that many of his students come from families of lower socioeconomic status where school and higher education is not valued or talked about much. Coming from this type of background, he worried that this student would not have the family or cultural supports to motivate her throughout college and veterinary school.

This teacher’s worries for the student and explanation for encouraging her to pursue a career as a vet tech instead of veterinarian, forced me to think critically about my blanket policy of pushing all students to dream big. Although I still believe that all teachers should support all students as they aspire to ambitious career paths, I am now disturbed by the realities this teacher voiced.

In poorer communities populated by families working blue-collar jobs, going to college is not the only socially acceptable path for high school graduates. In many cultures, students’ parents do not push their children to pursue higher level careers or go to college. This type of culture can profoundly affect student motivation in school. As Cobb writes, “Children frequently grow up in a variety of social settings (e.g., in day care, with babysitters, in school, and among peer groups) that function together with the family and home communities to raise them” (Cobb). In this quote, Cobb reminds us, we do not teach in a vacuum, and students’ out-of-school experiences greatly affect their attitudes about school and education.

As teachers, it is our job to see our students as whole people and respect the cultures that raise them; however, an equally important part of our job is to encourage students to be ambitious and support them to the best of our abilities as they battle socially-constructed obstacles and pursue their dreams.

Girls in science classrooms

A few weeks ago, I started student teaching at a rural public school in western New York. After my previous student teaching experiences in Rochester city and suburban schools, nearly everything about this rural setting seemed different. Surprisingly, the biggest change at this new placement wasn’t political climate, socioeconomic demographics, or student personality…it was gender.

From the moment I stepped into the classroom, I thought, “Wow, this is a difficult environment for girls.” The distribution and division of male and female students caught me off guard. Nearly all the students in the class were boys. Startled, I counted the number of girls in the room: in a class of eighteen students, only three were female. The trio of girls sat in the corner of the room, several tables away from the larger cluster of male students. Although my cooperating teacher engaged them in conversation at their table, they never integrated with the rest of the students.

I wondered how this section of high school Earth Science had ended up with so few girls. I assumed this particular class was unusual, but when the students for the next class filed in the gender trend continued: I counted two girls in a class of fifteen students; although I should note that another girl was absent this day. I watched the two girls closely. They sat together the whole class, and spoke only to each other for the entire period. The girls pretty much ignored the boys, and vice versa.

I asked my cooperating teacher (CT) his thoughts about the gender structure of his student body. He noted that the girls usually stuck together in the class, and that he was glad they had each other. I pressed him further, asking about their participation in groups and class discussion. He replied the girls were generally quiet, even though they were relatively bright students.

As I continued to observe and teach at this new school, I paid special attention to the gender dynamics in the room: How often do the girls speak? Where do they sit? What roles do they take during group work? I noticed that the girls rarely spoke to their male peers. When my CT placed the girls with male students for collaborative group work, they simply worked with each other and struggled to engage with the male students. The boys in the class did not seem to mind working with each other, but rarely made an effort to collaborate with the girls. When the two genders did speak, interactions ranged from tense to apathetic. I continue to wonder if these types of interactions are specific to the Earth Science class environment in which the girls are so outnumbered, of if this is general social trend of the school.

The next logical question, of course, is why are there so few girls in Earth Science in the first place? When I asked my CT, he hypothesized that since Earth Science was not a graduation requirement, the rest of the high school girls might have chosen to skip Earth Science in favor of Chemistry. He mentioned that a woman taught the Chemistry classes at the school, which might have influenced the female students’ decision to skip Earth Science and opt for Chemistry. Upon hearing his theory, my mind immediately flit to conversations about role models in science. Were the other high school girls gravitating towards a woman scientist because they  unconsciously or consciously longed for a female role model? What would that mean for my students?

As a minority female in science, I often muse about my role as a science teacher. Is it arrogant to believe that I could serve as a role model for minority girls? For my students’ sake, I sincerely hope that my presence as their teacher will positively affect their opinions about women in science. I could go on for pages about my feelings on gender and race in the classroom, but perhaps that is a topic for another post. For now, I will end by reaffirming yet another teacher goal: Be an ally to all students, particularly those who are underrepresented in the classroom.

Advocating for collaboration in schools

As a preservice teacher, scanning the horizon for first time teaching positions, I always seem to be refining my interviewing talking points. I began noticing certain buzzwords flitting into my speech. As I say words like, “multi-modal,” “engagement,” “technology,” and “collaboration,” I imagine administrators checking off boxes in the handbook of education catch phrases. Of course, all of these words have value–that’s how they became buzzwords in the first place. However, I find myself wondering how many education professionals define these terms.

I’d like to focus particularly on the term “collaboration.” What does this mean to teachers, administrators, students, parents, and others involved in education? We hear principals say, “Administrators and teachers collaborate together at annual meetings.” Or we hear teachers say, “I collaborate with my special educator co-teacher every time we chat in the hallway.” Indeed, it seems as though people throw around the term “collaborate” to describe any interaction between multiple people. This phenomenon is documented in education. As Johnston-Parsons writes, “Collaboration is more often advocated than practiced” (Johnston-Parsons, 2010, p. 287).

Throughout my experiences this year, I have seen this happen over and over again. For example, at my first field observation placement, my CT and the special education co-teacher talked about collaboration everyday. They would say, “We need to get together and collaborate on ways to help this student,” or “Let’s collaborate. I’ll send you the lesson plans for this week, so you can help during this lesson.” Although both my CT and the special education co-teacher were competent, well-meaning professionals, they spent more time talking about collaboration, than actually doing it.

So what does this mean? Are education professionals irresponsible people who talk-the-collaboration-talk, but fail to walk-the-walk? Why do we say we want to collaborate, but rarely do? Why do we say we’re collaborating, when we’re really just having conversations that won’t result in change?

If you ask me, the word “collaboration” has lost its meaning. The term has become something we say because it is the right thing to say, but does not really describe most of our interactions. Collaboration–true collaboration–means that all people participate, share responsibilities fairly, and share a vision and purpose when they meet. Collaboration is an action, not simply a conversation in the hallway. It involves working together and equal investment.
If we expect teachers to collaborate according to this true definition of the word, then the way we treat teachers needs to change. Teachers, administrators, and specialists need to agree on a central vision and set goals. Additionally, teachers must be given the time to collaborate together. This goes beyond “common planning time” or “meetings with specialists.” Time dedicated specifically for collaborating with other professionals needs to be explicitly built into teachers’ schedules. This is one step we can take toward a vision of a more collaborative education system.

A teacher’s treasure chest: Science “Junk”

I slid across the snowy school parking lot, my arms cradling a fish tank filled with an odd collection of materials: a triple beam balance, an infrared thermometer, some colorful balloons, a couple of pipettes, some beakers, and a myriad of other less recognizable science “junk.” A few students open the door of the school, and I make my way up the stairs. Ready for another day of teaching…

As a new teacher, my car as become a treasure chest of lab and demonstration materials, reimbursement receipts fill my wallet, and my kitchen counter looks like the lab table of a mad scientist. My non-teacher friends constantly tease me for my piles of seemingly useless junk, but they just don’t understand.

Students’ favorite teachers always have piles of “science junk” littering their cars and houses. “Science junk” teachers understand that learners must be motivated by engaging opportunities to experience authentic science, and tackle mysterious phenomena.

“Why does water boil at room temperature when it’s placed in a vacuum?” “How can I make an aluminum can implode?” “What makes the blobs of wax in a lava lamp move?” “Why don’t water balloons pop when held over a flame?” These are all questions driven by engaging experiences and demonstrations students can investigate in the classroom.

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Materials management and preparation time might be more challenging for these types of activities, but the value of engaging student experiences cannot be overstated.

As a new teacher, I set a new goal: Strive to maximize engagement by incorporating authentic and puzzlings experience for learners.

It’s time to get a bigger “science junk” treasure chest…

Jumping a big hurdle

I’ve never known more about thermal energy heat flow processes than I do today. Conduction, convection, radiation, specific heat, latent heat, phase changes, you name it. If it had anything to do with heat flow, I researched it in the past month. Nothing in my undergraduate experiences–exams, presentations, internships, or research assistantships–motivated me to fully understand heat flow processes than having to teach it to a class full of middle school students.

As part of the GRS program, each candidate (like yours truly) teaches a series of three lessons about a science topic. I taught thermal energy heat flow processes. Over the past month, I’ve planned lessons, practiced demonstrations, prepared labs, written practice problems, and designed assessments teaching everything from convection to latent heat. Up until Monday, I thought planning would be the toughest part.

Monday was Day 1 of my series. The day focused on three types of heat flow: conduction, convection, and radiation. I greeted the students at the door and asked them to sign a “Safety Contract” before entering the room. As kids entered, they sat down at a “heat flow” station studying one of six examples: lava lamp, heat lamp, candle, kettle, mug of water, or an iron. As the lesson went on, I engaged students in discussion, limited my “lecture time” segments, and introduced a lab task for the day. To my delight, the day unfolded according to plan. The students eagerly participated in the activities and discussions, and responded well to my questions.

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Tuesday was a surprise. I was not scheduled to teach, but my CT needed to call in sick that day, so I was on. That was my first experience teaching a class with very little preparation or notice. As I taught classes that day, I felt the students getting used to me as the lead teacher. I relaxed a little. The day flashed by.

Wednesday arrived: Day 2 of my series. I started the day with warm-up questions reviewing content from the previous day. I debriefed the lab they finished on Monday, and solidified the concepts of thermal equilibrium and conduction. The Day 2 material focused on specific heat–a tough concept for many adults to conceptualize. I facilitated a few demonstrations and tried to get the students involved in the discussion. “Touch the plastic part of your chair. Now touch the metal part. Which feels colder?” I asked the students. “The metal!” They responded unanimously. I used an infrared thermometer on the plastic and metal, “Why are the plastic and metal at the same temperature if the metal feels colder?” I prompted the shocked students. The lesson continued: I brought up volunteers and handed them “job roles” on index cards to hang around their neck. The students collected data for their specific heat lab, and helped each other fill in their data tables. I finally began to feel comfortable leading the students as a class. I started to look forward to seeing and teaching again on Friday.

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Then Friday finally came. Today was Day 3 of my series.  Today was an ambitious day: I finished discussing specific heat, introduced phase changes, and began discussing examples and implications of heat flow processes in our world: geothermal energy, thermohaline circulation, plate tectonics, etc. Although this lesson didn’t include a lab, it did include exciting demonstrations for the kids, the most challenging of which was the demonstration of thermohaline circulation: I lugged in a giant fish tank, filled it with water, lit alcohol burners underneath one end, plopped some ice cubes on the other, and injected food dye above the hot burner to model convection in our oceans. It looked a bit like this example. The kids loved it. They had been waiting all day to see what crazy trick would involve a fish tank filled with water.

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By the end of the day I was exhausted, but I’d never felt better. Finishing the series of lessons felt like jumping a big hurdle. I know that until the day I die, I will be grateful to the students in the room with me this week.

Ready-Set-Sub!

Last Monday, my cooperating CT spent the day at STANYS and imgreshe offered me a few options to choose from: take the day off and get some work done, shadow a student, observe other teachers, or teach his classes for the day. I choose the latter. It’s perfect, I thought. An excuse to experience a full day of teaching, with a substitute there as a safety net in case my day goes up in flame.

When Monday rolled around, I woke up before my alarm. 9dec7c6fbefa224c9b5f800798ff9f94All the molecules in my body seemed to be vibrating more than usual, and I
could have sworn that I was about to undergo a phase change (thought I’d throw in a little science humor there). I got
ready in approximately thirty seconds and still had 45-minutes before I needed to leave for school. I must have mentally run through the day’s lesson plans a thousand times and I still felt unprepared.

Unable to bear the anticipation, I drove to school early, set up the classroom, and waited for the day to start. Homeroom, meetings, math lab, and prep periods flew by. I greeted the homeroom students, met the substitute teacher, ran through the lessons for him, established that I would run the class, and set up all of my technology and materials. Then the moment came–my first class.

The students tumbled through doors with the usual 8th-grade rumble and immediately began rolling around in their chairs, charging their tablets, and peppering me with questions: “Where’s our teacher? Who’s that guy (the substitute)? What are we doing today? Do we have a lab? What was the homework? Are we still learning today?” I felt like the sun with planets orbiting around me, one after another.


urlThe bell rang, and the curtain went up: “Good morning everyone! I’m excited to see you. Your teacher’s at a conference today, but you’ve still got me, so let’s get started.”

The agenda my CT and I had established was simple enough: go over questions from their last exam, introduce Newton’s three laws of motion, facilitate some demonstrations about force, and introduce free-body diagrams and calculations.

As I reflect on my day, I remember the lessons as a series of moments with time fast-forwarding in-between. The students arrive in a flurry of adolescent energy. Time flits by as they settle into their chairs. A student raises her hand to ask a question about the test, and I invitehqdefault answers from the students. Minutes flash by in a blur. I introduce vectors with a video clip from Despicable Me and the kids imitating a cartoon. More minutes speed past. We begin our demonstrations of force and student volunteers join me in the front of the room. I bring out giant arrows made of cardboard to represent vectors. A student gets too excited about the demonstration ropes, and we exchange a tense stare before he giggles and apologizes. net_force_diagram1We applaud our volunteers, and kids are eager for their own spotlight moments. I invite students to the front of the room to draw free-body diagrams, and they hold up their whiteboards proudly for
the class. We watch a cheesy video clip about unbalanced forces and the students and I share a moment of laughter.  A student has an “I get it now!” moment as we discuss net force. The minutes zoom by. The bell rings. The students exit: “Thanks Ms. Z! See you tomorrow!”

And it’s over. My first day running a classroom draws to a close.
The room is still intact. Nothing went up in flames. The substitute walks to me and I ask him how I did. “You’re a teacher,” he says, and it’s a high compliment.

What happens to the positive energy?

unknownI overheard a conversation between two teachers at my placement this week:
“She has the gift,” one teacher said, “She has a gift with high school students. They just respond to her.”

“Teaching high school, middle, elementary, and preschool are all so different,” the other teacher replied, “The students change so much as they grow up. It takes a natural gift to teach each age group.”

 

As I reflect on this conversation, I haven’t decided whether or not I agree with their viewpoint—that teachers simply have “a gift” for educating students of different grade levels. I’ve certainly seen teachers connect with younger students more than older ones, or vice versa. However, I’ve also met plenty of educators that have taught many different grade levels throughout their careers. My mom often tells stories about teaching preschool, but now her middle school and high school students love her. One of my college mentors switched from teaching high school students to undergraduates. Having met so many educators like these, I’m inclined to believe that although some teachers may be more comfortable teaching one age group than another, good teachers take the time to find the best ways to communicate with students at every age.

As a preservice teacher pursuing secondary science certification and a grades 5-6 extension, learning to teach different age groups is particularly relevant for me. This fall, I have the opportunity to observe high school students at my field placement, teach middle school students during STARS after school, and learn about elementary science education through one of my classes at Warner. Through these experiences, I’m exploring the pedagogical theory and classroom practices behind teaching different age groups.

unknown-2The biggest difference I’ve noticed between middle and high school students is their energy level. In middle school (more so in seventh grade than eighth) the students are still excited to learn, do, and participate in class. A fellow Warner student summed up this observation well: “Middle school students are young enough to play, and old enough to learn.” As a result, middle school students are filled with positive energy.

Though my observations of secondary schools, I would say that this is unfortunately not true for high school students. Unlike their middle school counterparts, high school students tend to walk into classrooms with low energy and little will to participate—at least in large group settings. This brings to mind a quote from A. Tweed in Designing effective science instruction: What works in science:

In elementary school, students usually want to please their parents and teachers and are intrinsically motivated to learn science. When students reach middle school and high school, they often are more interested in listening to and pleasing their friends. As a result, secondary teachers often find it challenging to motivate their students. (Tweed, 2009)

imagesAs I consider this excerpt from Tweed, I’m plagued by the elephant-in-the-room questions: What happens to students’ positive energy as they grow up? If they have it in elementary school, less in middle school, and almost none in high school, where is it going? Is this a natural progression of attitude toward life itself? Is it just about school? What changes in their lives, or in their schooling that steals the students’ positive energy over time?

As I think about the differences in motivating younger versus older students, I keep returning to these questions. I will continue to ponder these questions during my time at Warner, and throughout my career in education. For now, I will simply set a goal: create a positive science classroom environment that will encourage students to be active participants in their own learning. Yet another challenging goal to add to my list for becoming the best reform-minded educator that I can be…

Mahalo for reading, and a hui hou!

My 16th First Day of School

Between preschool, K-12, and graduate school, I figure I’ve experienced the “first day of school” fifteen times. Wednesday, September 7th 2016 marked my sixteenth “first day of school” as I started my field observation placement as a student teacher in an urban high school. I’ve been trying to think of ways to describe my experiences, and it seems nearly impossible to put into words, but I’ll give it a shot…

BEEP, BEEP, BEEP! My alarm blares at 5:45am. I open my eyes and stare into the dim shadows of my bedroom. A torrent of fear, excitement, anxiety, and anticipation gushes into my heart and streams through every vein in my body: It’s the first day of school. I tumble out of bed and center myself with 10 minutes of clumsy yoga to chase the tingles from my body.

I dress in “grown-up clothes.” I drive to work. I find my CT.

The first bell rings, and my CT and I stand in the school’s main entrance watching the students enter. They tumble through the doors with grumbles of annoyance as they relinquish their phones and filter through the metal detectors. Theschool-to-prison-pipeline,” flashes into my head, as phrases from “Throwaway Youth” bubble into my brain. I’m surrounded by a pulsing crowd of bodies, and I move with the ebb and flow of students, soaking in the culture. A group of students bob at the edges of the lobby, scanning the crowd for their friends. Students approach their past teachers like cats, wanting recognition, needing reassurance, smiling as they receive their hugs. A high pitched scream; I look around with my heart beating in my ears: a group of female students reuniting after a summer apart. Two male students embrace in that brief manly hug filled with the quiet love that only comes from earned loyalty.

More bells ring. It’s second period—my first class.

My CT readies herself in the doorway. The bell rings and the hallways vibrate with movement. My CT greets her students as they trickle through the classroom door, so I follow suit. “Good morning, I’m Ms. Zane”—the title tastes weird as I wrap my tongue around it. “Mornin’” the students murmur back as they introduce themselves. Nervous smiles on both sides.

The CT closes the door. I watch her move through the class.

Students sit at their desks scribbling their responses to the “Picture of the Day”—a beach view of Diamond Head, my CT probably chose for me. I hover in the front of the classroom between the CT and special education teacher. “What do you think of this picture?” my CT asks the class. The students sit in tense silence, until one brave student raises his hand. “It’s a beach in the Caribbean,” he says. “Why do you think it’s the Caribbean?” my CT probes. “I don’t know, them’s not Rochester trees,” the student responds with bashful annoyance. The class giggles, and the tension dissipates for a moment.

The discussion continues as my CT coaxes words from her hesitant students.

“This is Ms. Zane,” my CT’s voice turns my chest into a beehive. “Ms. Zane would, you like to say something?” The bees in my chest buzz so violently, I’m sure this is what a heart attack must feel like. I heave a smile onto my face and will myself to speak. “I’m Ms. Zane, and I’m a graduate student at the University of Rochester…” That’s not interesting, I think to myself as I stare at those blank discerning faces. I interrupt my generic introduction: “Do any of you have parents that work in food service, as waiters or hostesses?” I ask with sudden inspiration. The students rumble, confirming my question. “I worked in food service too.” I say, beginning my piece. I tell them about my experiences with rude customers treating me like a servant or ignoring me completely. “Where my chicken wings?” I imitate an aggressive customer, and make a funny face. The students giggle, and I relax a moment. “I’m going to do my very best not to come at you with a ‘where my chicken wings’ attitude,” I say, “all I ask is that you try to do the same for me, and I think we’ll have a good year.” There, it’s done. I said something, I think to myself. Did it work? Guess I’ll find out soon.

The rest of the day passes in the same episodic manner: surging past and then slowing down for those memorable moments.

Of the thousands of thoughts that I internalized on my first day, I remember three in particular:

  1. Reading about urban schools is not the same as experiencing them.
  2. Teachers and students must earn respect and trust from each other.
  3. The first day of school is scarier for teachers than it is for students.

Mahalo for reading, and a hui hou!

A pre-service teacher’s Hippocratic Oath

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My grandpa has a copy of the Hippocratic Oath hung on his hallway wall. He was one of the best physicians in Honolulu in his day, and he cared about each and every patient that walked through his office door. For those of you unfamiliar with the document, The Hippocratic Oath is essentially a list of commitments that physicians pledge to uphold regarding patient care. Most people recognize the phrase “First, do no harm”, which comes from the Modern version of the oath put forth by the World Medical Association. Physicians like my grandpa in the Western world utter the Hippocratic Oath to remind them of their duties as they embark on their medical careers.

As I think about my commitments for leading scientifically literate students, I’m beginning to construct my own Teacher’s Hippocratic Oath. As a teacher I pledge to…

  1. Nurture and revive students’ curiosity about the world around them
  2. Urge students to self-identify as scientists in harmony with unique cultural backgrounds
  3. Encourage students to use science in their communities
  4. Teach students the language and communication skills necessary to read about and communicate science
  5. Guide students through the scientific practices that are key to doing and communicating real science
  6. Continue to grow and learn as a scientist and teacher so that I can be the best possible example and educator for my students

Although I will surely add and revise these commitments, my Teacher’s Hippocratic Oath represents my feelings about what it means to lead scientifically literate students

Nurture and revive students’ curiosity about the world around them:file_151174As parents, teachers, and anyone in science knows, curiosity is the fuel that drives kids and scientists alike to learn about the natural world. This speaks to the basic nature of science, as a practice of inquiry. As Loucks states, “Curiosity about such issues is unique to humans” (Loucks, 2000). As science teachers, there is perhaps nothing more important than kindling and reigniting this instinctive human curiosity in our students

Urge students to self-identify as scientists in harmony with unique cultural backgrounds:
Self-identifying as a Water+color+changingscientist empowers me everyday as I tackle challenges in my life, and think about the world around me. I want to give that to my students. My goal is to help students realize that their experiences—in the context of their unique backgrounds—have value in the classroom. However, as Brown reminds us, science is often presented in such a lofty and inaccessible way and thus, “has the potential to heighten students’ potential identity conflicts as they attempt to manage the tension between maintaining their identity and the identity of a science student” (Brown, 2005). In my classroom, I hope to find a way to help my students incorporate “scientist” into their identity without replacing the unique identities they’ve already built

citizen-science

Encourage students to use science in their communities: Encourage students to use science in their communities: part of self-identifying as a scientist means using science in your own community. This helps students discover relevancy in science. I want kids to learn about solubility in the classroom, and then think about solutes and solvents as they suck on that ever-lasting-gobstopper they begged their parents to buy. I want my students to go home after a lesson on green infrastructure and identify runoff patterns in their backyards that afternoon. I want all students to learn about the greenhouse gas emissions in class, and be able to talk to their parents about the climate change initiatives discussed on the news that night. As DeBoer writes, “Ultimately what we want is a public that finds science interesting and important, who can apply science to their own lives, and who can take part in conversations regarding sciences that take place in society”(DeBoer, 2000). After all, creating scientifically literate students, means raising the next generation of scientifically literate citizen

Teach students the language and communication skills necessary to read about and communicate science: ChannaPosterWeb“Communicating information” and “engaging in argument from evidence” are two components of the Scientific and Engineering practicesof the NGSS Framework, and both practices require a language and communication skills key to scientific literacy (Quinn et al, 2012). As a future science teacher my goal is not to force students to replace their every day patterns of speech with the dry vocabulary of the stereotypical white-lab-coat-wearing scientist. Rather, I want to teach students the language skills they need to  confidently communicate their scientific findings, without feeling like they have to specifically “talk like a scientist.”

kids_do_Science_elec1Guide students through the scientific practices that are key to doing and communicating real science:  Students won’t pursue science in their everyday lives if teachers present it as a series of dull and restrictive steps. As an aspiring leader of science education reform, I hope to move away from the rigidness of the “scientific method,” and instead teach my students the messiness of “doing real science.” One premise of teaching the NGSS Scientific and Engineering Practices is to give students the skills to pursue their own experiments. Teaching students how to create a graph from data is merely a useful scientific practice that helps them organize information in a larger investigation; urging students to present a poster depicting experimental results is simply a practical tool to help students express what they learned to a larger audience. When we teach our students these “scientific practices” we do so to engage them in the authentic “actions” of science. As a teacher, one of my biggest goals is to help my students build a skillset or “toolbox” of scientific practices, that will help them pursue real world science investigations in their own lives.

Continue to grow and learn as a scientist and teacher so that I can be the best possible example and educator for my students: dreamstime_xl_44687031-1400x1024I think that this final pledge in my Teacher’s Hippocratic Oath will prove to be the most important and valuable commitment that I will make as a teacher. In the chaos of a classroom, I’m sure it will be easy to forget that we, as GRS members, hope to be agents of change.  It’s so easy to slip back into the “me teacher, you student” mindset. As a reform-minded educator, it’s my job to continually strive to grow as a learner and scientist, because that is the only way I will grow as a teacher.

As always, mahalo for reading, and a hui hou!