I have 17 years of experience at the middle and high school level. I have taught a wide range of sciences, including upper high school biology and chemistry, middle school general science, and currently, eighth grade physical science and computer science. Currently, I am acting as a science consultant for Gale Publishing , where I have worked a middle school science book/interactive ebook entitled Ignition Science: Collaborative Projects that Inspire Learning. This 500-page, 2-volume publication features over 70 collaborative science projects for middle/early high school students. As an advisor, I provide guidance on the table of contents, main features, blackline masters, assessment tools, and most importantly, curriculum connections to the NGSS. My classroom activities provided the basis for over 85% of the published activities, and I wrote the 3000-word instruction guide which focused on collaborative project learning in the science classroom.
It varies: traditional lecture, flipped classroom, inquiry, problem-based learning. To promote self-directed learning in the classroom, I try to incorporate as many PBL techniques into my lessons as I realistically can. For example, I often present “real life” problems that are complex, ambiguous and have no easy answers. One method I use is to start a lesson with a scenario or demonstration of something unusual or counterintuitive. Another method I use is to introduce real or invented case studies that replicate the kinds of challenges faced by scientists in the field. Both methods require students to call on what they already know or what they think they know. By focusing on their prior learning, students can test their assumptions and modify them when there is a conflict with the new information. My ultimate goal is to introduce content through the process of problem solving, rather than problem solving after the introduction of content.
I am currently acting as science advisor/consultant for Gale Publishing and have helped publish a 500-page, 2-volume book/interactive ebook that features over 70 collaborative science projects.
In addition to my mother, I have been inspired by a number of other teachers in my life. I'd especially like to mention the professors whom I worked with as a student in the Biology and Pharmacology Program at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. This innovative program was built around the Problem-Based Learning (PBL) model and has since been copied by the Harvard Medical School, among other academic institutions. Each PBL class was made up of six students and one professor and typically lasted three hours. Unlike most university classes where the professor gives a lecture to a mostly passive audience, each of our classes was planned, taught and evaluated by the students themselves. In many ways, each lesson followed a script like the hit TV show “House”. The professor would present us with an index card that outlined a patient’s symptoms and a modicum of background information. It was up to the students to choose the best course of action to solve the problem. We we would typically start by collectively determining what we knew and what we didn’t know. From there, we would divide ourselves into teams of two and head down to the medical library to research our chosen aspect of the problem. The team would reconvene after an hour and we would teach each other what we had found out. Once all of the new information was presented, the team would then determine if our findings allowed us to come to a conclusion. If we were unable to do so, the team would repeat the process until we were fully satisfied. One of the most interesting thing about those classes was that the professor never told us if we had correctly solved the problem. I distinctly remember the first time we asked our professor if we were right. He slowly took off his glasses, smirked and said, “Who am I to tell you that? I am only your teacher.” Surprisingly, it was my positive experience in the Biology and Pharmacology program that stopped me from becoming an actual pharmacologist. With each passing course, I came to the realization that I was becoming far more interested in the way the content was being taught rather than the content itself; it was the methodologies of the program that I was most passionate about. In my final semester, I requested a meeting with the program director. I began our meeting by praising the professors, the students and the PBL philosophy and then proceeded to drop out of the program so that I could pursue a career in education. As a teacher of middle school students, I realize that I won’t ever be able to duplicate those Biology and Pharmacology lessons. There are practical limitations of class size, resources and time. There are also pedagogical limitations due to the fact that middle school students are young adolescents and not university students who applied and were accepted into a rigorous academic program. However, I believe that children of all ages are fully capable of the type of flexible, creative and collaborative thinking that my pharmacology professors tried to instill in us. Science is less a subject than a way of thinking. One doesn't LEARN/TEACH science as much as they DO science. In my view, one of the best things about science is that it can be messy, complicated, strange, challenging, fun, and exciting. What I see in elementary school science lesson is very young students approaching each topic with an incredible sense of wonder; every lesson offers something brand new for them to discover. The key to preserving that sense of wonder in older students is by presenting science as only one way of exploring the mysteries of life; mysteries where the teacher does not always have the answer.
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