Schooling Magazine

Make It Matter

By Mrsebiology @mrsebiology
**This post is a bit of a science teacher rant.  I apologize for that, but this is something I just had to get out of my brain.
So you've taught these 15 year-olds lots of big impressive science words.
Plasmolysis, molarity, electronegativity, hypotonic, hypertonic, tonicity, hydrophobic, hydrophilic, and many more multisyllabic big ol' science words that are deemed important by you for them to know.
You've taught them other stuff, too--like the structure of the plasma membrane and the parts of eukaryotic cells, having them dutifully label all of their parts; the molecular structure of proteins, lipids, and carbohydrates; the causes of microevolution; how energy flows through energy pyramids.  All sorts of important science stuff.
They've done labs and worksheets and taken copious amounts of notes you've projected at them on the overhead screen.  You've filled their little heads with facts and science stuff and big words.
And then you give them an assessment with questions that contain bigger, unfamiliar words, that ask them to apply in ways they've never practiced in your labs, worksheets, and notes.  To increase the rigor further, you even make them answer questions that are given to college students.  But they're all multiple choice questions, because, after all, those are objective measures of understanding.
You say this is how you're teaching them to think critically.  How so?  By not teaching them how to do that at all until the day of the test?  By focusing on the science stuff during class and then expecting them to have the thinking skills when you're taking a final measure of what they know, understand, and are able to do?  
It just doesn't make any sense to me.  And it's not doing right by the students.  Teaching them content and measuring how well they can think with the content are two admirable goals; however, how can you measure the latter when you've only focused on cramming students with the former?  The assessment professor in me wants to ask exactly what that says about the validity of the inferences you can draw from your assessment results.  The high school teacher in me wants to ask this: if you're assessing how they think, shouldn't they be practicing that before the assessment? 
The student in me wants to ask why you're making them learn all this science stuff presented as a series of isolated facts, words and concepts at all. 
But let's take this one step further: Why do they even need to know those words in the first place?  What's the point?  Are they learning them just to learn them, because you love them so much you think all students should know them?  Or are they learning them to do something with them, to create something new, to apply them to something they are passionate about?
Are you making all those big fancy science words and concepts matter to those 15 year-olds?  
Yes, making it matter is harder.  It's messier.  And you're not going to be good at it at first.  I'm still trying to find what matters to my students, and that can change depending on what 30+ kids are sitting in front of you each hour.  
But you need to try.
All I'm asking is that you ask yourself why you do what you do in your classroom.  And then I'm asking you to consider if the answers your give yourself are good enough, and are good for students.

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