Wednesday, December 7, 2016

When Your Students are a Blessing

Yes, I own a seflie-stick. No I'm not embarrassed about it. I'm also wearing a Christmas sweater
with a T-Rex on it (wearing a Christmas sweater of its own, of course) I don't embarrass too easily.

This crew.

This was the group of students I was privileged to teach in my "Teaching Science Pre-K through Middle School" course this semester.

We just has our last class meeting, and I am truly, truly sad to be finishing things up with them.

To celebrate, I brought candy canes, and wore a horrible-amazing Christmas sweater, and we made slime, because science.

This group of students was an absolute blessing for me this semester.

I have taught science methods for quite a while now; this semester is the 17th time I've taught the course, actually. And I have refined it, and refined it, and refined it throughout those years, getting it a little better, a little tighter, a little more focused on what I think students need to be successful teaching science in the elementary and middle school classroom. We do a lot of science together (like making slime, for example...) and we try out different techniques for teaching science. They write a unit plan, and teach a science lesson, and present discrepant events ("it's a science magic show!") Throughout the course we talk about their experiences learning science, and their perceptions of science as a discipline, and their feelings about teaching science to someone else. Towards the end of the semester, we talk about how to approach teaching challenging topics, and how to be sensitive to different perspectives, and we reflect together on what makes science such a joy-challenge to teach well.

After 17 times teaching this course, I have found some things that work well. I have a collection of hands-on activities that are never-miss, I know the topics that are going to cause strong reactions, I understand some of the misconceptions they have coming in. I never quite feel like I have the course in my back pocket, because I know it can always get better. But I do feel pretty confident and comfortable with this course.

And then, I have a semester like this one.

Normally, I have about 20 students taking the class. This time around, through some foibles of the scheduling, I had just five students; the fabulous five pictured above with me.

As I said to them almost every time we met together, "This is weird." I couldn't use a lot of my typical "moves" for the course. It felt strange--false, even--to lecture in such a small group. Many of the lab activities I've done so many times felt weird, because managing a group of 20 students all over the classroom is such a different experience than working with just five.

Very quickly, my approach turned toward making the class more like a seminar. We still did a lot of science together, but we also just talked a lot about teaching. Teaching science, sure. But we talked a lot about the profession, about our calling as teachers. Almost every class period started with a random (but meaningful) conversation about things only tangentially-related to teaching science, driven by their questions, their wonderings, their experiences.

And you know what?

I think I learned as much as they did.

This semester helped me to rethink my teaching practice, to re-envision my role as an instructor, to reflect on the mentoring role I play as a professor. It gave me a new perspective on the impact of what I do, and the importance of practicing what I preach.

My students--all of my students--are a blessing to me. But this group? I think there was something different, something special that is going to continue to impact me into the future, and shape the way I think about teaching this course (and the rest of my courses, probably) into the future.

So, to Gracia, and Erika, and Hannah, and Lydia, and Dylan...thank you. You are a blessing to me, and you have made a difference in my life.

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