January/February 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 4

President’s Message

Posted: Thursday, September 1st, 2011

by Rick Pomeroy

It is the beginning of September and classroom teachers around the state are preparing for the start of a new school year. As you begin this annual rite of passage, I encourage you to think about ways that you can incorporate critical thinking and problem solving into your classes. If you are teaching in an elementary school where classroom science minutes have been reduced or eliminated, I encourage you to think about how you could incorporate your students’ curiosity of the natural world into your otherwise scripted curriculum, if you are in a middle school with pacing guides and school wide assessments, think about how you can tap the energy and curiosity of your young adolescents. Finally, if you teach high school and beyond, consider how you can focus on the processes of science, scientific thinking, and applying knowledge of science to novel situations. In short, it is time to commit to a year of “Thinking Science.”

For many teachers, this time of year begins with reports of past test scores, renewed dialog on how to raise those elusive API or AYP scores, and new strategies for organizing the school day to enhance learning in the classroom. If this sounds like a replay of past opening day speeches, it probably is. Granted, some schools have seen appreciable increases in their test scores, some which can even be attributed to one of the above strategies, but many are faced with another year, another mandate, and another strategy. Unfortunately, the thing that is often left out of many of these approaches is the sheer joy and curiosity that is the science that we love. It is time to look for ways to engage our students, whether they be kindergartners looking at insects with hand lenses or physics students investigating ways to use lasers to detect changes in the density of liquids and gases.

As you plan your year, look for those places where a real, hands-on, interaction with the natural world will give a better experience than reading about it. Focus on asking students to ponder what they see, to categorize and organize their observations, to draw conclusions from real data and to propose ways to investigate what they are seeing further. Don’t be afraid to ask questions before telling answers.

Many of us, who have been teaching for a number of years, remember the “Wait Time” admonitions of Mary Budd Rowe. Unfortunately, we have lost the courage to endure those endless seconds of silence that are so valuable in helping students to generate thoughtful responses. We are tempted to move the discussions along by responding too quickly when a student takes a breath in the middle of their answer. In short, we have been driven by the artificial pace of an all too packed curriculum at the expense of the luxury of thinking deeply about a question or a problem.

As you begin (or finish) planning for the coming year, please think about how you can reintroduce your students to thinking about the natural world. Yes, we will continue to be measured by the results of the STAR Tests but we don’t have to let those tests rob us of the joy in a student’s eyes when they have solved a difficult problem for themselves, when they have drawn a conclusion that is based on evidence or proposed an experiment to test an hypothesis. The ability to do these higher-order thinking tasks is not automatic. Just like the star volleyball player or the lead clarinet in the band, this is a learned skill. To do it well, we have to practice. We have to devote as much time and effort as we can to helping our students develop the ability to think for themselves. For the children’s sake, find that little sliver of time when you can set aside the script and delve into their curiosity.

I am looking forward to the coming year. As I have said in previous columns, these can be exciting times for science education in California. If and when the opportunity to move forward with systemic change comes, we want to be ready to embrace it. We don’t want to have to start thinking about thinking at the same time we are developing new curriculum. We want thinking and curiosity to be the tools that propel us into a new and more vibrant tomorrow.

I welcome comments about this or any articles that I have written or, if the mood strikes you, comments about how CSTA can support your efforts to provide the highest quality science education for all children in California. I can be reached at president@cascience.org.

Rick Pomeroy is science education lecturer/supervisor in the School of Education, University of California, Davis and is CSTA’s president.

 

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Written by Rick Pomeroy

Rick Pomeroy

Rick Pomeroy is science education lecturer/supervisor in the School of Education, University of California Davis.

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