Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Notes Notes Notes: The Sound of My Heart Breaking

I asked my niece in high school, "What did you do in Science Class today"? She said, "I took notes, then answered some questions from a booklet, and then recorded some data from an experiment my teacher was doing for us".

My heart is breaking.

The teacher has a prepared booklet containing the entire course with "fill in the blank" questions stemming directly from the textbook. The laboratory investigations are truly not investigations as the outcomes are predetermined, and the teacher only does the investigation once for three classes so he doesn't have to waste materials. Talk about sucking the curiosity and wonder out of students.

A robot could teach the course.

Why does this happen and what can be done to fix this?

The front matter of the Alberta Program of Studies in Science clearly articulates that curiosity and wonder are fundamental to science education. Somewhere this message is lost on some educators. I am not blaming the teacher; I'm sure that this science teacher is doing the best job he can. He may not realize that his methods are not effective in the classroom and that the learning will be short lived.

Students must DEMONSTRATE their understanding to the teacher. Filling in blanks and writing notes is not understanding and means nothing to students (or their parents).

There are so many great teaching practices that could be used to teach for understanding. Here are a few:

1. Understanding by Design:
2. Performance Assessments:
3. Inquiry Circles in Science:
4. Using music in the science classroom:
5. Science Song Links:
6. Lesson and Tools ideas for Science Teaching:
7. Role Play in Science Education:

Watching students generate their own songs to demonstrate why the line spectrum of hydrogen has four distinct colours is a beautiful thing. It is greatly satisfying to have discussions with the students after they perform their song; far more satisfying than marking "fill in the blanks" where really you have no idea if they understand or can just copy a glossary.

When students are knocking down the door to get into class asking, "Are we singing today?", or "Do we get to build with our playdough?", or "Are we becoming the protein again this class, because I need clarification as to the difference between secondary and tertiary structure?" you begin to feel like you have really made a difference in their understanding and motivation for learning.

1 comment:

  1. As a new science teacher I find that students are never more excited and interested as when they have freedom to explore during a lab. Granted I do not yet know how to enable students to create genuine scientific investigations, something I am sure this blog author will help me with, but I do remember how boring following the text book lab procedure steps was when I was in school, and I can see how interested students become when they are allowed to play and mix and explore outside of the step-by-step textbook rules.
    I know I am missing something in the genuine inquiry and scientific discipline side of things (good thing I am jr. high), but I can see the potential for real science coming out of student excitement when they have the freedom to explore their world.
    Thanks for the post.