Teach Courageously

As we embark on another academic year – this year takes on a new perspective as this is the year full implementation of the new Iowa Science standards is expected in our schools. (remembering that middle school grades 6-7 can phase in over 2 additional years).  The New Vision of Science Education provides us with some insight as to what our classrooms should be looking like this year.

So – we have the vision, what else might we need?  In a word – COURAGE. This year, allow yourself to “teach courageously.”  But, what does that mean?

Take chances – try something new, knowing it may, or may not, work out.  Let your students see you “fail” and see you use that experience to grow and learn.  After all – aren’t we asking them to do the same thing?

Get outside your comfort zone – Step back from the tools we might be using for our own comfort and convenience.  Toss out the step-by-step guides for students involved in lab work; let the students help determine how they will test the ideas or concepts being covered.

Say “good-bye” to your past units that are no longer in your standards – We all have them: those units we wrote years ago we love.  Saying good-bye to these beloved units isn’t easy; but if they are no longer applicable with your new standards, then it’s time move on and leave them in the past.

Re-think assessment. – Let the students “fail” with success. It is quite possible your old assessment system had one right answer, one correct outcome, one reasonable conclusion, and anything other than that answer resulted in a wrong answer for the student.  These wrong answers translated into lost points and lower grades. No wonder students constantly turned to teachers searching for the “right answer.” We need to re-think assessment so the focus becomes on the process over the product.  When we focus on the learning, a student can “fail” in an experimental attempt, but still have learned important concepts building toward your standard.

Stop feeling as if you need to know it all – In science, you can not have all the answers.  Nor should you – if we provide the answers to the students we deny them the opportunity to discover for themselves.  It can be daunting at first to admit to a student we don’t know the answer to something, but this can be a powerful moment of modeling what scientists do when they have questions – seek out experts.  As a classroom teacher – you do not need to be the expert they seek. Encourage students to seek answers from reputable resources and utilize skills they are developing.

There is a wonderful song that has become my theme song with science education.  “Try Everything” from the movie Zootopia. In the song, there is a line, “Nobody learns without getting it wrong.”  We want our students to learn courageously – not to fear getting it wrong, but to know that is part of learning. Feel free to listen to the whole song from YouTube.

So – how are you going to teach courageously this year?

This blog post is inspired by and respectfully dedicated to Mrs. Val Frey, an elementary teacher with the Denver Community School District, who passed away on August 17th, 2018.  Val embodied everything about “teaching courageously” in her inquiry-based, student-centered science program. She will be greatly missed.