Saturday, May 14, 2016

Teachers, It's Time to Transform

When I was a kid I was amazed at the brilliance of my teachers.  They seemed to know everything, I mean everything!  I was convinced that teachers were the smartest of the smarties.  This was only confirmed when I was in college and these smarties knew EVERYTHING about their subject matter.  They were so smart that they even did RESEARCH on their topic!  WOWZERS!!!!

Ok...so maybe I was a bit naive.  No, a lot naive.  But it wasn't my fault.  I had the best rose-colored glasses ever.

Anywho, when I first started teaching I had a real "oh crap" moment when I realized I didn't know everything.  I had a B.S. and M.S. in biology.  My research in grad school had been focused on the serotonergic system in the rat brain and how hormones affected this system.  Sounds smart, right?  I worked in research for a time being.  I even worked in a crime lab.  I was smart!  I knew my stuff!  Um, not really.   You see, I didn't know a single thing about ecology, which is a huge component of high school biology.  And photosynthesis?  No.  I knew DNA inside and out.  I could PCR with the best of them, but evolution?  Um....I know Darwin.  I.was.in.trouble.

I spent the bulk of my first year of teaching learning not only how to teach, but my content matter.  How could anyone possibly know all of this content in depth?  I was studying all the time and when having conversations with my coworkers I realized, they didn't know the topics in depth.  And then it hit me....teachers really aren't as smart as I thought.

I felt cheated. But in reality hHigh school and middle school teachers  know a little about a lot of topics.  College teachers know a lot about a few topics, specifically their area of research.

Hmmmmm.  So, is this a bad thing?

Well, up to this point, not really.  Knowing a little about a lot of topics has allowed us teachers to cover the breadth of material required by our states.  However, NGSS is gonna flip this upside down!  If we think that we can just ADAPT our classes to NGSS, then we are fooling ourselves.  NGSS is a process of transforming our pedagogy.  Let me say that again...OUR PEDAGOGICAL APPROACH TO TEACHING SCIENCE IS ABOUT TO CHANGE!

Allow me to explain.  The other day I was at a NGSS workshop in my district.  I was sitting at a table with some awesome bio teachers.  We were dissecting a performance expectation that has students constructing an argument for evolution based on evidence (HS-LS4-2).  It took us awhile to even understand what this PE wanted.  Eventually we were talking about skin pigmentation in humans as a possible evidence.  As we continued in our discussion, it became evident that not everyone understood the purpose of pigmentation and how it protects from UV.  No biggy.  We are life time learners.  I don't teach biology anymore, but I was totally geeking out over this topic.  We all began google searching and had some powerful A-Ha moments as a group, developing some awesome thinking questions for students.
  • Why do people who live near the equator have darker skin?
  • Why does our skin get darker when we are in the sun?
  • If your skin becomes tan to protect you from UV, then why is tanning dangerous?
  • Is there a lower incidence of cancer in people with darker colored skin?
But how do you teach this idea of arguing from evidence to the kids?  Through lecture?  Videos?  Conversations?  Projects?  How do you teach them what is considered good evidence?  What does an explanation even LOOK like?  And how do you assess any of this? Do we just give them a test?  Why do we have to use a test to show knowledge?  Because that is what tradition says?  WHY do we use scantron?  Because it is easy to grade?  What about portfolios?   The conversation kept going deeper and deeper. 

Teachers, it's time to transform.

NGSS will force us teachers to know a LOT about the concepts.  We legitimately need to have a deep, conceptual understanding of our content in order to truly deliver the intent of science.  NGSS isn't about breadth.  It is about depth.  We need to transform our understanding of science! We need to be experts in content.  We need to know the application of concepts, not just vocabulary words.  

Teachers, it's time to transform.

Let's be honest.  Most teachers have never done research or engineering.  This is a problem. We need to DO the process of experimentation and DO engineering.  We need to attend workshops where we can think like a scientist and engineer. We need to design experiments and MAKE things.  We HAVE to do this if we expect our students to do this.

Teachers, it's time to transform.

Teachers, we will need to work together to develop great lessons.  The idea of Professional Learning Communities will be an absolute necessity.  Any teacher who tries to fly solo in this effort will NOT be successful.  So teachers, let's create networks and PLCs from afar.  Let's use social media to share lessons that work.  Let's learn from our failures and apply what works!

Come on teachers.  No one is going to hand you a box with pre-made lessons.  You are gonna have to get down and dirty.  I am tired of hearing, "Just give me the curriculum so I can teach my class." Become the curriculum designer.  You are the expert so be the expert!  Tear these performance expectations apart!  Allow yourself to be vulnerable.  Be willing to learn something new, to try something new.  Be willing to admit that there could always be a better way to deliver content.  Be willing to admit that you were wrong.  Don't just adapt!  Adaptation will lead to failure for your students.  You must transform.

Teachers, it's time to transform.

NGSS will transform our classrooms and how we teach.  We need to allow this transformation to occur.  We need to embrace this change, get excited about this change! Kids should look forward to going to science and be bummed when class ends.  But this transformation is dependent upon teachers WILLING to change.  We have to disassemble our pedagogical approach and ask ourselves 
WHY WE DO WHAT WE DO in the classroom.  Is it because that was how we were taught?  Is it because that is what parents expect?  

And don't freak out over grading and preparing kids for a test.  We need to be focused on what kids KNOW, THINK and can DO.  That isn't a test.  That is SCIENCE!!!!!!

Does a student HAVE to pass a multiple choice test to show that they understand electricity?  Or can they build a circuit that causes all the lights to turn on?  What is more important?  Does a student have to be able to identify all the cell structures in a picture?  Or can they pose an explanation as to why a cell died when it didn't get any sugar?

Maybe if we stop focusing on the test, we can start focusing on science!  We need to consider what does learning look like in this NEW science classroom.  It doesn't HAVE to be what it used to be. Now is the time for change!  Maybe traditional tests are a thing of the past.  Maybe we should  assess through experimentation and projects. Why not!?  It is up to us to determine what competency looks like.  Which means, we need to be competent as well!  

Teachers, it's time to transform.

I truly believe that if we science teachers choose to embrace NGSS, that people are going to look at what is happening in our classrooms and be amazed.  Not only will we be considered true professionals, but students are going to fall in love with science!!!!!!  We not just paving the way for future scientist and engineers, we are MAKING future scientists and engineers!

The real question is, are you ready to transform?

Let the transformation BEGIN!