Hello old friends!! Christmas is rapidly approaching and I have failed to provide updates on the events of my first semester of teaching. However, I have a paper due Monday for one of my grad classes that asks me to describe my philosophy on Science Education. At least this anecdote will provide some insight into my thoughts:
Like any egocentric teenager, while in High School, I loved talking about myself, thinking about myself and trying to figure out how things related to ME. Therefore, when I was younger, I always enjoyed English because I could relate it to my life in so many ways, whether I was reading a novel or play in which I could find ties to myself, or writing an essay or paper during which I could express my own thoughts and emotions. I was invested in English because I felt a connection to it, one which I did not feel in Math, History or Science Class. However, during 10th grade Biology with Ms. Bruce, I finally realized the vast connections Science had with the outside world and more importantly, to me and my life. Ms. Bruce tried to relate Biology to everyday things we experience with our bodies and the earth, and it was in this class that it clicked: Science is LIFE. Science governs the way we act, the way we eat, the way we grow, the way we live. For me, this realization changed my entire perception of Science, and of my own future. When I became invested in Biology, I started performing extremely well on quizzes and exams, and my love for Science continued to grow. It was this class that really put me on the path I am on today, as a Chemistry teacher.
Therefore, I believe one of the most important things a teacher can do for students learning science is to relate Science back to everyday life as much as possible. If students feel as if the topics are abstract, and cannot be related directly to them, then they become disinterested and thus, disinvested in the content and the class. I have found this to be true in those topics which I found much more difficult to relate to everyday life, such as balancing chemical reactions, or the role of the mole. Many times these topics have corresponded to math-based standards, which the students fail to see real-life applications as it is, potentially due to years of their Math teachers failing to invest them, and years of my urban students failing Math tests, and thus becoming further and further behind. Due to this realization as well as the belief that in order to build new knowledge, one must build off of old schema (Carey, 1986), and therefore, must be able to relate topics directly to their lives in order to be invested in the content, it is EXTREMELY important to relate the new material to things the students already understand. I plan on incorporating many more opportunities for students to read articles, watch videos, etc. that explain how the content we are learning relates to them. In the times that I have done this with material in class the engagement and investment has been much higher, whether it is for that lesson, or the entire unit as a whole. I am excited about my next unit coming up, acids and bases, because these topics have such an important role in our lives and our bodies.
The second thing that teachers need to do for students of science (which I believe is equally as important as relating science topics to students’ everyday lives) is to show students the Science. To me, this means allowing the students to either see demonstrations, or allowing them to have hands-on experiences with the Science as much as possible. This can be as simple as showing them a candle demonstration in order to introduce solids, liquids and gases (which I did do in my classroom), or having students perform labs about endothermic and exothermic reactions, and test the pH of household substances when covering acids and bases. Not only do these demonstrations and hands-on activities get students more engaged in that particular class period, it makes them more invested and interested in Science and learning for the long-term. Furthermore, while tracking my data for each unit and the specific standards which we have covered, I have found that my students have performed much better (or achieved a higher % mastery) on the standards for which a demonstration or lab was performed. For this reason, as well as those above, I plan on continuing to incorporate as many hands-on activities as possible in my classroom, with the little-to-no resources I have been afforded.
This last anecdote about the limited resources I have at my disposal brings me to my last and final point on my philosophy of science education. Finally, I believe that sufficient funding of Science Programs is of the uttermost importance to the success of our students in science. Without sufficient funding, schools fail to have the resources science teachers and students need to experience science hands-on. This last point comes from my own experience at _____________ Senior High School. I arrived at ______________ Senior High school on August 11, 2010, and was shown my classroom sometime later in the afternoon. I had heard through the grapevine that I had an amazing classroom, much to gawk at in comparison to the open-concept floor plan that my room had shared with four other classrooms in the years prior. I turned the key with much anticipation, and saw before me an entirely empty classroom with three sinks, each with one cabinet underneath. In the next two days, my 12 lab tables were assembled and the stools were brought in. I wondered, “Where is the gas? Where is the eye wash? Where are the beakers?” But these things never came. As the year began, I had to try and find creative ways to try and do hands-on activities with no science equipment whatsoever (literally—none), and very little money, as I was fresh out of college and fresh out of money.
On the first few days of class I did demonstrations with flaming dollar bills, un-poppable balloons and anything else that I could find that was cheap and easy. But the questions kept flowing: “When are WE going to get to do Science?” “When will WE get to touch chemicals and blow things up?” The truth was, I really had no idea if they would ever be able to do real experiments, so I broke the news. “Class, during the construction, all of the science equipment was thrown away or lost, so we have nothing left. So until we get beakers, thermometers, and anything else, we are going to try our best with what we have.” I was heartbroken, and so were they. So I began writing grants, emails, letters, etc. in order to try and obtain SOME type of science supplies. A few weeks later, I received a large amount of donated materials from science suppliers and various companies, but my “laboratory” still fails to have any type of safety equipment to use, and thus, my students and I are still reduced to mixing together non-toxic or non-caustic grocery store agents so that we can abide by safety regulations. What message is this sending to our students? Not only that, but in my school, which has a SPED population over 40%, I teach a Chemistry class of 35 students alone. My students ask, “Why do you not have a co-teacher like our other classes Ms. Frigolette? Why is our class so big? Why is there not another Chemistry teacher?” Until Science becomes a priority for all schools and all districts, teaching our students Science will continue to be an uphill battle, where we risk the chance of students being less invested and less engaged in what I feel, is the most engaging subject of them all.