Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Letter to My Colleagues

Quick, off the top of your head, why did you become a science teacher?

Now, I'm not talking about the whole, "I wanted to make a difference in a child's life" type* of answer.

I want to know why you became a SCIENCE teacher?

Was it because of the textbooks? Because you like to hear how smart you sound when you lecture? Let me guess, you like nice, neat, orderly rows of chairs, right? Good Lord, tell me it isn't because of the math....

I'm going out on a limb here and guessing that your answer has something to do with the fact that SCIENCE IS JUST FREAKING AWESOME!!! You get to build things, discover things, manipulate things, and, yes, every once in awhile, you get to blow things up.

THAT'S why we went into science, am I right?

So how the hell did we end up spending all this time writing on a chalkboard (or horror of horrors pointing at a powerpoint) and having to "find time to do a lab"?

We can blame the standards. We can blame the textbooks. But the fact remains that we have gotten away from what science truly is. It's mostly the way I was taught, both in high school and college. It's the way I knew, so it was the way I stuck with. And then, one bright shiny day, a little gargoyle crept in and whispered in my ear, "pssst...you're doing it wrong."

And suddenly, last summer, I found my way out of the abyss. I accidentally took a Modeling workshop and completely changed the way I teach my kids.

Modeling is not a set of materials that you use in your classroom. I refer to it a lot as a curriculum, but it really isn't that, either. It is a WAY of teaching, a METHOD of getting students to use their own data and observations to construct their own knowledge of the world around them.

Did you get that? Those kids OWN their learning. And that's pretty powerful.

You can describe Modeling with nearly every past and present education buzzword you can think of: cooperative learning, inquiry, student-centered, constructivism, differentiation, critical thinking, problem solving, formative assessment. The list goes on, but it doesn't need to. I have seen what it can do in a classroom, and I don't need any edujargon to convince me.

I have taught both ways to kids on every end of the learning spectrum, and I can say with certainty, that for me, this is the way to go. I have seen brilliant kids take off and run with it, reveling in the challenges the class presents. I have also seen lower kids finally have the success in school that they never would have experienced in a traditional classroom. Modeling can reach them all.

Now, I am not going to claim that there is absolutely no other method that is effective, but I do know that Modeling has been extensively researched and tested in the classroom since the early 1990s. I have met many other teachers who have had the training and have yet to hear one speak negatively about it. This is not to say that it is an easy way to teach. This is one of the most challenging things I have ever tried in my classroom but it has also been one of the most rewarding.

Oh, and have you heard of the Common Core? How about the Conceptual Framework? These documents are soon going to shape what happens in your classroom. I have sat in on sessions on both of these, and you know what the big question that is on everyone's mind? How am I going to learn how to teach this way?

Get thee to a Modeling class, that's how.

Try it, because really, what do you have to lose? It'll put you out of your comfort zone, but that's what needs to happen if you want to change. I have heard one story (undocumented and purely anecdotal) about a teacher (one) who has gone through the training not fallen in love with it. Want to know my first (undiplomatic) reaction?

Go teach math.**

*Don't get me wrong - that's an excellent reason!

**KIDDING! KIDDING! Math teachers don't hate me. In fact, want to truly integrate math and science? Go to a Modeling workshop. That's where I truly learned about the quadratic equation.

P.S. This was written as an assignment for my Modeling workshop as a way to convince a colleague to give Modeling a chance.

1 comment:

Jane Jackson said...

Thanks for blogging on your Modeling Workshops and your implementation -- they are insightful and helpful to others. For teachers who would like to take a Modeling Workshop, here is information. Modeling Workshops in high school physics, chemistry, and physical science are offered each summer at two dozen or so sites in many states. Modeling Workshops are peer-led. Modeling Instruction is designated by the U.S. Department of Education as an Exemplary K-12 science program. Some sites offer stipends, usually for in-state teachers. Graduate credit is available at some sites. (Biology Modeling Workshops are in initial stages in 2012.) Visit http://modeling.asu.edu/MW_nation.html or http://www.ptec.org/pd .
cheers, Jane Jackson,
Co-Director of Modeling Instruction Program.

My Menu