Have you ever watched children at play? They ask questions, observe, test, ask more questions, and, well, experiment. Children are curious and creative, yet by the time many of them reach high school they rarely identify themselves as such. As a teacher, especially as a science teacher, I feel responsible for re-introducing my students to their creative and curious selves. How can I spark students to question natural phenomena and look for patterns in all that is around us (and in us, for that matter)? Why is science literacy important? Do all students have what it takes to be a “scientist?”
These questions drive much of what I consider my greatest contributions and accomplishments in instructing my students. I want them to appreciate nature, from the astronomically large world of stars and galaxies to the infinitely small world of subatomic particle as described by quantum mechanics. More importantly, I want my students to see the connections from one extreme to the other. How can astronomy help biology and medicine? Will the current pace of discovery in an area like biotechnology truly revolutionize society? My greatest contribution and accomplishment is awakening students to their inherent curiosity and the importance of their questions and inquiries.
In doing this I seek to understand my students’ motivations and opinions regarding science. What about science do they like and dislike? I encourage students to take risks via enrichment, course selection, extracurricular activity, and academic competition. This often results in a customized approach to their learning, which validates their hard-work, focus, and drive, all while continuing to learn and understand more about scientific progress. It’s not uncommon to find several of these students conducting experiments outside of class time to explore their questions and observations of nature.
I also identify many of our “bored” students only to find out that most have tired of rigid and close-minded content delivery. These students often know a tremendous amount about current and cutting-edge research that demonstrates quite a bit of traditional content knowledge. I encourage them to ask their questions and incorporate as much current discovery into our course. Many times this approach re-ignites the students’ curiosity and results in an increased level of engagement and confidence.
Reading scientific journals, articles, and blogs and networking with science teachers across the country help keep me up-to-date with current discovery. Learning new material, coupled with my roots in research biochemistry, allows me tremendous flexibility when assessing my students beyond the exams, laboratory experiments and activities that anchor my science classes. Sometimes one-on-one conversations, alternate assessments, tutoring sessions, emailed webpages, articles and blogs help spark my work with students and connect with them so as to further encourage creative thought and follow-through.
My goal is to influence my students to remember their creative beginnings and connect with science in such a way that they will never again doubt their abilities to ask questions, investigate, and construct meaning from their observations of nature and the world around us.