Science and Truth

This year, my school’s chapel theme is truthfulness. Each week, the chapel service focuses somehow on what truth is, and what it means to each of us as individuals. A few of the services were taken over by academic departments and the talks were centered around truth and a particular discipline. Math and truth. Literature and truth. And recently, my colleague Mark Schober and I gave talks on science and truth. Below is what I had to say.

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Reflecting on Unit 1

Unit 1 of the Chemistry Modeling Instruction materials is a great unit for teachers to modify according to the specific needs of their students. When asked how long this unit normally takes with students, I have heard answers from Modeling teachers ranging from two weeks to nearly an entire quarter. There’s so much to explore in the first unit, with regards to the content of basic properties of matter (mass, volume, and density), developing a basic particle model according to macroscopic evidence, developing beginning experimentation skills (e.g. taking good measurements, utilizing significant figures appropriately, analyzing data, and drawing conclusions), and solving problems in all three of these areas.

For my students, the content of this unit is already pretty solid. However, they struggle with science skills like taking good measurements or interpreting experimental data. This year I wanted to teach unit 1 in such a way that it became obvious that our focus was on improving these skills. I also did not want to spend a lot of time on this unit because 1) students in years past have mentioned that it drags and 2) we will be focusing on learning these science skills all year so they don’t have to become masters right away.

Below is a description of how my students and I addressed unit 1 this year. Each “class day” that is referred to is a 40 minute period. ***Please note that I feel this is moving through unit 1 at an extremely fast rate. I am not advocating that other Modeling teachers move this quickly. You know your students. You know what they are capable of. This is what was appropriate for my students this year.

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“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” – Henry Ford

The above is a quote that used to hang on the wall of my classroom, when I taught in a place where I had a classroom to myself and decorating choices were entirely up to me. It was meant to be encouraging to my students as they progressed through a year of chemistry, through a year of struggle and growing and learning. Our education system is designed in such a way that students feel they must always find the right answer, and find it quickly, or they have failed to meet some imaginary mark that measures their worth. Rarely do we reinforce struggle and failure in the education system as the most effective way to grow, so I wanted to remind my students that perfection, especially rapid perfection, was not the goal of the course.

Upon reflection I have found that I could be living up to this quote more fully in my professional career. I would not describe the last few years of my teaching career as a failure. Far from it. However there is (as there always is) much room for improvement, and this year I am intent on seizing those opportunities, challenging myself as an educator, and learning through my own struggle and failure.

I spent several years teaching at a high school in Arizona. In that environment I effectively employed a methodology of instruction known as Modeling Instruction. (If you are not familiar, I highly recommend you check out the American Modeling Teachers Association site for more information.) In 2013, I moved across the country to teach at a school in New York City. The last two years have been a steep learning curve for me as I adjusted to a new city, a new school, new colleagues, and students who had different needs than those I had experience working with.

After two years at my school in NYC, I believe I have a firmer grasp on who my students are and what they need. As those who attempt National Board Certification know, we as teachers must always evaluate these kids, at this time, in this setting when making decisions about what will happen in the classroom. This year I will be making some changes in how I approach Modeling Instruction in the classroom, changes that I am making based upon the needs to my particular student population.

In this blog post, I will describe the year outline that I used in past years, and then the outline I will be using this year, as well as some of the reasons behind my changes. Future blog posts will provide more detail about specific changes, as well as reflections on how the year is progressing.

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