“Teaching biology without evolution would be like teaching civics and never mentioning the United States Constitution.” –National Academy of Sciences (1998). Teaching about evolution and the nature of science (p. 7).
Science and religion is a murky area that up until this week’s readings I was feeling a bit worried about addressing in my classroom. I bookmarked and will most certainly reference every website that mentions handling the issue, especially as I begin my career as an educator –having no prior experience to draw from, they will definitely be useful resources. I think the part I particularly benefited the most from reading (besides the aforementioned quote) is the following sentence: “Because science limits itself to natural explanations and not religious or ultimate ones, science teachers should neither advocate any religious interpretation of nature nor assert that religious interpretations of nature are not possible,” (http://www.nsta.org/about/positions/evolution.aspx). This statement eliminates much of the murk I was experiencing by simply stating that it is neither my job as an educator nor my place as a person to “assert that religious interpretations of nature are not possible.” In Adolescent Development, I heard for the first time and learned the term “proselytizing,” definition: to try to convert somebody to a religious faith or political doctrine. This is important for me to understand as a science educator because the societal discourse surrounding evolution is so heated, it is critical that I am abundantly clear about what my role is and is not as an educator. My role as an educator is not to project my personal beliefs on to my students. I would be failing at my job as an educator if I were to do that.
This week’s readings emphasized that technology is an important learning tool and should be utilized by educators as one way to illustrate complex concepts and ideas. Science especially lends itself to utilizing technology as an educational tool because there are so many aspects within science that are difficult to observe without the use of technology. As I have previously mentioned, while I was observing classes at Nathan Hale High School, the biology sections were making use of a similar computer simulation program to the wolf/sheep example illustrated in our own class. I think this type of technology tool is useful because it allows students to grasp the concept of predator/prey interactions at their own pace. They can alter the inputs and view the simulation over and over again until they are able to make clear connections between the input and the outcomes in their own terms. I did note from the readings however that if used in isolation, computer simulations are not effective learning tools in and of themselves (Hsu & Thomas, 2002). Computer simulations are just one tool in a large toolbox. That seems logical enough. Any teaching method used in isolation is sure to be ineffective.
Our goal is “person formation, not worker preparation….”(Bruna, p. 113)
I have become fairly familiar with the eating as industry is not sustainable –both from the health of the person and the health of the planet point of view. I have read the book by Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma quoted in the article and books like Pandora’s Seed: The Unforeseen Cost of Human Civilization by Spence Wells, as well as another book by Pollan on a similar subject, Botany of Desire. I wasn’t exactly sure how Bruna was going to weave the issue of eating as industry into education equality but when the article culminated on the author’s main points, I found myself feeling angry, guilty, and sickened all at once (just like the readings for Wayne’s class on a regular basis…neat). The Mexican/Iowan student divide could just as easily be substituted with Mexican/Wisconsinite and then we’re talking about issues that were present in my schooling and upbringing to the exact same extent as mentioned in the article. Hence –the guilty feelings. Its disturbing how as a culture we can so easily accept this notion that other cultures have no knowledge and that the people from those cultures need to follow suit in our ways of thinking. As an educator, that is why it will be crucial that I not perpetuate the stripping of cultural knowledge so willingly embraced by some of my previous educators.
Differentiated instruction means doing what’s best for students.
I identified strongly with the quote by Dr. Hai Ginott (1993) as cited in the article “Fair isn’t always equal” by Rick Wormeli. Dr. Ginott describes the idea that his personal approach to the classroom creates the climate, or “makes the weather” as he states (p. 9). “I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration,” (p. 9) I agree strongly with this observation because when I was a student it often felt as if I was compelled to act out in a particular way out of frustration with the teacher’s specific approach. I couldn’t help it I was bored and under-stimulated during the lesson and thus felt compelled to be disruptive. I didn’t fully understand at the time why I felt compelled to be this way, but later I understood it to be not solely a result of my “bad” attitude but because I was feeding off the overall tone and mood set by the teacher. “…[I]t is my response that decides whether or not a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated, a child humanized or de-humanized,” (p. 9). It always felt that the way a teacher presents him/herself within classroom determines how much I respect or disrespect them as a person. As an example, I had a history teacher in middle school that would stand in front of the class and read softly, near mumbling, from the text word-for-word for long periods at a time. That is what he considered “teaching” and as a young person almost everyone in the class knew we were being short-changed. As a result, we put no effort into the class and everyone got bad grades. Later, at parent/teacher conferences, the teacher would point to all the bad grades the students were getting in his class and attempt to place the blame solely on the students’ lack of effort. We knew, and luckily my parents knew as well, that we were simply reacting naturally to his lack of effort. Everyday is what you make it, so don’t make it miserable for yourself or your students. Seems logical enough.
“No Learner is a blank slate….” (Cummins, p.126).
ESL students may experience being “pushed out” or feel they have been left out or even excluded from learning because educators frequently only consider the dominant culture’s perspective when planning and implementing their curriculum. Cummings’ (2001) chapters 3 and 5 discuss the importance of acknowledging and validating the non-dominant cultures in order to be an educator who does not unknowingly (or knowingly) leave out culturally diverse students. It is an unfortunate aspect of our culture that typically the Western European perspective is the “preferred” perspective and the only point of relevance in curriculum because non-dominant cultural capital is not validated or acknowledged. ESL students have cultural capital that needs to be acknowledged and validated by incorporating their varied lifeworld experiences into the curriculum, thereby validating the ESL students cultural identity.
Lesson planning: just a tad overwhelming…
After reading “Backward Design” by Wiggens and McTighe (2005) I have a much better understanding of why a seemingly reasonable learning objective like: students will be able to keep a detailed lab notebook, might fall short of my responsibilities as an educator, especially if coherent understanding (vs. simply knowing random facts) is my primary goal. Two important premises for backward planning are: lessons should be inferred from results sought, as well, lessons should be specific and purposeful, not arbitrary. Continuing with my example, keeping a lab notebook is an arbitrary objective because the “What for?” and “Why?” perspectives that a student inevitably brings to the table hasn’t been answered or addressed in my planning of this objective. Although it seems obvious to me that data collection and organization are important aspects of “knowing” Biology, students will likely not find anything “obvious” about why it is necessary to “know” such things, let alone come away with an “understanding” of why. Not to mention, they will not likely come away with any understanding of how such skills can be “transferred” to other aspects of life because I’ve simply asked them to “know” something.
In addition, the learning objective of keeping a lab notebook is not a results-based objective, therefore, as Wiggens and McTighe (2005) so wonderfully illustrate, I would be basically “throwing some activities at the wall and hop[ing] that something sticks,” (p. 16). As well, this type of activity-based learning objective would be leading my students to believe that the “learning is the activity…that their job is merely to engage,” as opposed to seeing that “the learning comes from being asked to consider the meaning of the activity,” (p. 16). Wiggens and McTighe make clear that lessons with specific and purposeful (concrete and explicit) goals of understanding provide students with “designed-learning” experiences and not “hope-learning” experiences. I have a lot to learn when it comes to planning lessons but this article is an excellent starting point. There were so many important concepts in this week’s reading; I suspect I will be referring to these articles quite often as I begin student teaching.