Friday, August 5, 2011

How Smarter Science Changed my Teaching Life OR How I got My Students to Stop Regurgitating and Start Thinking Like Scientists

As a passionate science teacher who came to teaching as a second career the one barrier I could never smash was “How do I get my students to think?”
 No matter what course I was teaching it seemed the students, who actually cared about their marks, just wanted to know what page the answers were on and had no interest in understanding the whys of science or the beauty of the universe. I’ve been teaching high school science in Ontario forever. I’ve experienced any number of Ministry mandated initiatives including four curriculum changes, streaming, destreaming, transition years, TAG and don’t even get me started on professional development. My list of credentials is as long as your arm, I’ve loved every course I have ever taken or given, yet still I struggled with “How can I get my students to think?”
 Then, in August 2010 I attended a two day work shop on Smarter Science. I came into the conference with no preconceived notions and having no idea what Smarter Science and the Smarter Science framework were. All I knew for sure was that “getting students to think” is a universal problem in our education system. For two days I engaged in hands-on minds-on Smarter Science activities. As a trained scientist everything they said and did made sense to me, here was the scientific empirical method presented in a non-threatening and engaging way with well constructed pedagogy to appeal to every age group from K – 12!
 Eureka! This could be the key to “getting my students to think” was my gut reaction. When school started up in September I was teaching courses and curriculum that I knew like the back of my hand. And although the names on the register change let’s face it, grade nine students are grade nine students. Despite our understanding of 21st century learners some things will never change about our minor niners. Gung ho, I used the Smarter Science framework. They got it! They really got it! My classroom became one of the most exciting places to be in our entire school So much so that every single day during every single class I would have to ask the students who were in the classroom that were not actually enrolled in the class to please leave the room!
 My students were using the Smarter Science framework to design their own inquiries! They would identify dependent and independent variables, set up controls, predict and plan the inquires prior to starting them, measure and record all the data using appropriate instruments, analyze and explain their outcomes, communicate their results, recognize sources of error, and even extrapolate what inquiry should be done next to lead on from their discoveries! Eureka!
The students were so engaged in the scientific process it was unbelievable. As a classroom teacher who is known for taking risks this is the biggest payback I have ever received. I had students and parents both thanking me for showing them how exciting science could be. I had teachers, administrators and superintendents visiting my classroom to find out how my students were achieving such incredible success in their science courses, my marks were through the roof and my students’ punctuality and attendance was second to none! 
I have used the Smarter Science framework with university, academic, applied and locally developed science courses. The results have been outstanding! Will I continue to use the Smarter Science framework in the new school year? To find out continue to visit my blog, or follow me on twitter@EurekaTeacher. I welcome your questions and look forward to meeting you at STAO 2011.