Thoughts about Science and the Classroom

July 24, 2019

Being a part of a research team gives me street cred, as well as empathy with my students.  I’ve been a part of a lab team, had to rely on others, and had to ask “dumb questions” about how and why to do lab tests and measurements – just like my students. I’ve been bored to tears doing routine water filtering and moved to tears by the beauty of a sunset on the ship I’ve been part of the excitement of finding Daphina and rotifers and even plastic fibers and nurdles. Just like in the classroom, some parts of science are more exciting than others – but they’re all necessary. So as we engage in the science and engineering practices and crosscutting concepts in the classroom, I can pull from my experiences here to understand how it feels to be given directions and not understand the lab process; how it feels to rely on others to make the process work; how it feels to find something new in lab samples, and to have questions answered by someone who knows what they’re talking about…and how it feels to finally have some of it “figured out.” I want to ensure that my students have the same sense of satisfaction and come back for more after they have struggled. 

As a science teacher, it’s revealing to see that the process of “doing science” is not linear or scripted.  I’ve seen that the best-laid research intentions are sometimes scrapped and rethought; the lab equipment doesn’t always work as planned, sometimes you find things you weren’t looking for.  New questions are generated and established questions are refined. We use math and engineering every day to analyze data and solve equipment problems. None of it is purely biology, or geology, or physics. Real science is integrated.  If we want our kids to experience “real science” we have to allow our classroom and our curriculum to be a little non-linear and even a little unscripted. If we don’t, how will our kids ever get to use the science and engineering practices, and experience the joy of answering their own questions or solving their own problems?

I have become fascinated with real research scientists and their work. I was a science teacher for nearly 20 years before I knew a real live working scientist…and now all I want to do is hang out and watch and learn from them. As a young woman growing up just after Title IX, I actually went to elementary school when girls couldn’t wear pants to school; being a researcher never crossed my mind. I desperately want to make that career path seem possible to my students and especially underrepresented groups like girls and minorities. The first-hand experiences I’ve had on the Lake Guardian can help me share what it’s like to be a researcher and make it a career path that seems possible for my students.

– Christine Geerer (July 11, 2019)