Thursday, September 4, 2014

Teaching Science, Or Teaching As A Science?

Photo from Lokesh Dhakar at Flickr.

This post is part of the 30-Day Blog Challenge from TeachThought. To learn more about the challenge go to

DAY 4: What do you love most about teaching?

I am not one of those educators who knew for a fact when I was a child that I wanted to be a teacher. My mother tells me that I did have a brief moment when I was about 8 years old when I proclaimed that teaching was my chosen profession, but I don't remember it. What I do remember is loving science from the very beginning.

It wasn't a hard decision for me to pursue a Biology degree when I went to college. What I was going to do with that degree was more uncertain. I considered the medical field and research, applied to to graduate school. But it was a faculty member in the Biology department at college who first planted the seed in me that I might enjoy teaching. Beginning with my Sophomore year of college, I was a teaching assistant for introductory Biology courses as part of my work-study contract. The lab director for the department was my supervisor, and one day she casually suggested to me that I might consider teaching. That option was nowhere on my radar at that point, but after I graduated with a Biology degree, it reappeared from the buried recesses of my memory.

So, to make an already-long story a little shorter, here I am, 15 years later, teaching high school science in rural Minnesota. So what is it about teaching that convinced a young woman, focused on science her entire life, to turn her focus to education? Well, it turns out that teaching is a science all it's own.

Inquiry: I'm constantly evaluating the student learning in my classrooms and asking questions about "why." Why do my students always seem to struggle with error analysis? Why are photosynthesis and respiration such challenging topics for students? Why do some student teams stay focused while others are easily distracted? There is no end to the questions that circulate in my mind on a daily basis. Once I've developed some interesting questions, I instinctively move into the next phase, which is...

Experimentation: This might make other people feel uneasy, but I love that the classroom is my own little laboratory. Every day, I manipulate variables and watch the results unfold. If I want to know if peer evaluation will help my students be more reflective learners, I try it out and observe the outcome. Curious about the impact of flipped learning? Attempt a couple lessons and see what happens. How many other professions allow for this level of experimentation and autonomy?

Problem-Solving: In the midst of experimentation, I often observe some unexpected results. Let's say students aren't responding to that peer evaluation experiment mentioned above.  It's time to dig deeper, chat with students, evaluate some work, conference with other teachers. At this point, I pool my resources to evaluate the problem more closely. I try to tease apart the variables to understand what is truly influencing the results I've observed.

What do I love most about teaching? I love the science of teaching. I love its ever-changing, ever-challenging, ever-questioning nature. It pushes me to be a better scientist, and thereby a better educator, one day at a time.

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