Personal perspectives

How do you maintain passion as a Science teacher?

Four minutes
Ryan Breeze Monday, July 30th, 2018

Let’s face it, Science is awesome.

Find anyone who has ever asked ‘why?‘ about the world and you don’t have to go deep into their psyche to find a tiny mad scientist eager to take a screw driver to the world and look under the hood.

Look even further and you will probably find someone who once saw what is there, who wants to tinker a little to see if they can make it work better or even do something else with it entirely.

Science is exciting — it is about pushing back the boundaries of what is known and diving deep into the abyss for the sole reason that ‘we don’t know what’s down there’.

Which is why, to be honest, Science textbooks, as some of my students are fond of saying, sometimes ‘suck’!

Don’t get me wrong, I am in no way a good enough teacher (yet!) to be able to pull exciting lesson after lesson from thin air. I, like many teachers before me, have raced into the staff room, grabbed a teacher’s edition of the textbook and thanked the gods of high school that there is a nice simple experiment, with a full methodology written out that I can photocopy and hand out to the class. Awesome! They even often have what results to expect.

But, on those rare occasions when I actually have enough time to prepare properly for class, I think a textbook can really kill your passion for the field.

I didn’t fall in love with Science for it to be a cook book for me. Sometimes much of it goes along the lines “Add X to Y and you will get Z.”

As my students would say ‘Great, wonderful. I can follow instructions. Isn’t that awesome!’ (I draw your attention to the heavy dose of sarcasm there.)

No wonder the students become obsessed with grades, tests and assessments – which are really the only ‘unknown’ left to them.

To them, Science is conveyed as a ‘done product’ — where is the excitement, where is the exploration? This is why I love project based learning in Science!

Project based learning — for those of you who don’t know — is where the learning occurs within a paradigm of student investigation to real questions, problems or challenges.

You can see that this approach overlaps strongly with areas such as inquiry based, problem solving and probably 100 other different pedagogies.

It really doesn’t matter what you call it though, in Science the whole point is to bring back the concept of the unknown, of exploration and creating new knowledge rather than simply learning facts and figures. It is awesome!

Using Project based learning, I have had kids designing and building bee hotels, creating new and exciting ways to breed edible insects, using fungus as not just a food source but also a building material, programming weather stations and even attacking ooblecks with baseball bats to see just how ‘solid’ they get!

It hasn’t been all smooth sailing though. Building a project from scratch is tricky, particularly when you have never done it before.

For me, it has been a rather steep learning curve and it has taken a while to realise that you can’t simply just implement projects as part of your lesson plans.

The students need to learn how to run a project and to be honest, I needed to learn how to teach how to run a project.

I am still not 100% sure how you go about doing that, there is a lot of theoretical material out there and not a lot of practical instructions. Is it just me or does educational research really seem to avoid anything ‘evidence-based’?

But hey, delving into the deep unknown is what being in Science is all about.

That, and getting to wear the sweet lab coats!

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