…a week long science workshop (ToPPS), and I’m thinking about when I attended this workshop last year. Knowing it was geared towards secondary science teachers was intimidating enough (I teach 3rd grade, and for a very good reason). Then I took their pretest…hmm, feeling stupid didn’t quite cover how I felt (I’m not called the ‘UN’science teacher for nothing, folks).
However, here I am, back in Alva, OK for another week of this workshop. Why do I put myself through this, you ask? Aside from being a bit of a masochist, I’m also quite aware that the only way I will improve as a science teacher is to build up my background knowledge. That means attending this workshop that makes me feel incredibly stupid at first (okay, through most of it), but with help from the wonderful instructors and other science educators attending, I start to get an idea of how I can apply this high level instruction for my 3rd graders (or at least to grow my background knowledge so I can be able to help them find the answers to their ‘why’ questions).
This is one of the reasons I believe it is so difficult to get hands-on science in lower elementary grades (K-3). Many of us that teach these grades lack a strong background knowledge in science. This can cause many to just do the typical read a lesson, do a worksheet routine. It’s fairly safe. Don’t have to explain or hope the students can figure out why an experiment had a certain outcome. Hopefully if the students do have questions you are unsure of, you can find the answer in your trusty teacher’s edition (fingers crossed).
Of all the science workshops that lower elementary teachers can attend, they are generally on activities to do in the classroom. This is great, however, if a teacher already feels shaky on their science content knowledge, they are less likely to do these activities. It’s a huge risk for them, and so they may not even do the hands-on activity in the classroom for fear of mistakes and, for lack of a better phrase, feeling stupid if it goes wrong or they can’t answer or help find answers for their students.
Fear of feeling and (even worse) looking stupid is a huge problem for me. However, the last few years, I’ve taken the risk of wearing the ‘I’m with Stupid’ shirt (arrow pointed up in my case) when it comes to teaching hands-on science in my classroom. Why? Because it is the best way for students to learn. They are more engaged and more apt to remember what it is they are supposed to be learning. It can also be a memory that sticks with them for years (it was for me, thanks Mrs. Berg!).
If we want our students to take risks in their learning, then we have to be willing to take risks ourselves. Whether it’s trying an experiment that doesn’t work with our students (yep, that happened a couple of times to me this year), or going to intimidating workshops to improve our teaching (oh I just can’t wait to take that pretest in the morning…now where’s that ‘stupid’ shirt?), we need to be setting the example for our students. Learning doesn’t stop when you graduate, and it’s more than just a part of life. Learning is life.