Teaching Science Today
“I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think.”
Community of Learners
This eternal words of Socrates’ quote are as contemporary as they are wise. In the time of ‘teaching paradigm shift’, ‘student centered learning’ and implementing ‘the 21st century skills’ these words are completely ‘nailing it’. Education of today is essentially about introducing lifelong skills of problem solving and metacognition. We are shifting education into a permanent ongoing process for life, therefore being a science teacher of today is not exactly the same as it was even few decades ago. With implementation of constructivist pedagogies based on research of Dewey, Piaget and Vygotsky, teacher’s role is shifting from a lecturer to the leader of learners’ community.
Being the leader of learners’ community requires teachers to fulfill some new roles, while some other classic roles of teaching are sent to the back bench. From being a central point of your classroom and the only (and sometimes absolute) source of knowledge on which all students are dependent upon, teachers are becoming role models, demonstrators of knowledge and primarily supporters and enhancers of the learning process. Students are becoming the focal point of the learning process and the main executors, by establishing personal goals and working towards the desired outcomes, while teachers guide this process. As community of learners is the main stakeholder in my practice, therefore what students need creates the major influence in my practice.
Science is a great subject!
One of the first practical experiments that Y9 students perform is the burning of magnesium. They are taken by surprise when bright white light flares up and their faces light up with excitement immediately afterwards. “Can we do it again?” and “This was cool!” are the usual comments. Every experienced science teacher has a set of such ‘cool stuff’ that will inspire the students into science topics. That is exactly why science is such a great subject. It can easily ‘spark the light’ in students interest and ‘hook’ them into wanting to know and find more.
Science was traditionally already combination of hands on experiments and academic concepts, therefore the shift into project and inquiry based learning is a natural continuum. Implementing digital technology just enhances such teaching methodology and expands students’ research horizon. This new approach is acknowledged by New Zealand Science Curriculum as one of the most fluid national curricula worldwide.
Within the classroom students are engaging more by collaborating, elaborating and creating. Collaboration continues out of classroom between students, and teacher and students alike.
Making deserts in ‘pizza box solar cookers’. Practical and delicious lesson on sustainability and reusable energy.
Back to the Future
Our school introduced BYOD policy for Y9 cohort this year after trialing it on a limited class size previous years. Next year all junior classes in Y9and 10 will be BYOD classes and in 2017 we expect the whole school to become completely blended learning environment. This year we became GAFE school and students across the whole school are introduced to Google Classrooms. All teachers are already implementing digital and collaborative learning to various degrees.
Introduction of Google classrooms allowed me as a teacher better communication and collaboration with students, monitoring their work and providing them with resources for their topics. Students are collaborating digitally by creating class summary topic notes, glossaries and tables on Google docs, group presentations with Google slides, uploading their reports, images and videos of experiments, sharing their digital cartoons etc. via Google classroom as their portal of communication.
I’ve taken a journey of creating websites by using website builders like Weebly and Google Sites, to create digital course and topic resources, which is still ongoing process. (See links in the recourse list.) In the next few years I expect to implement more of gamification and augmented reality into my classes and continue the shift towards completely blended learning by using Design Thinking and Agile Learning methodologies.
And as much as I like science and I like to operate within scientific domain, I am very aware that in the near future I might become more intercurricular teacher, where my specialization will be blended and collaborated with other curricular areas. If we are moving towards forming all-rounded future citizens armed with life skills, then more integrated and holistic approach to teaching is just a logical consequence. However, teaching will always remain about lighting the sparks in students life.
Comic strip created by the student on a learnt content.
Additional Readings and Resources:
Dewey, J. (1997a). Experience and education. New York: MacMillan Publishing Co.
Dewey, J. (1997b). How we think. New York: Dover Publications.
Piaget, J. (1972). The psychology of the child. New York: Basic Books.
Piaget, J. (1990). The child’s conception of the world. New York: Littlefield Adams.
Vygotsky, L., & Vygotsky, S. (1980). Mind in society : The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Vygotsky, L. (1986). Thought and language. Boston: MIT Press.
NZ Science Curriculum Rationale: http://seniorsecondary.tki.org.nz/Science/Rationale
Websites created by me:
Science Level 1 – http://bbsci11.weebly.com/
Chemistry Level 2 – http://bbchem12.weebly.com/
Biology Level 2 – http://bbio12.weebly.com/
Science Y10, sustainability & renewable energy topic – https://sites.google.com/a/westlakegirls.school.nz/sustainability-year-10/home