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Editor's Corner

Moments in the Science Classroom

Compelling, Creative, and Charismatic

A new year is upon us. What mysteries will 2022 bring? What surprises are in store? What trips will you take? What new methods will you try with your science teaching?

Teachers have two New Years: the one on January 1st and the one at the start of the school year. Do you make resolutions for both? How do you structure your resolutions?

In this editorial, I am suggesting our resolutions center around moments. Moments that provide novelty, memories, and evoking emotions. If you did make a list of New Year’s resolutions, then take a look at them and see if they focus on creating moments throughout the year of 2022.

Also consider having a one-word theme for the year that supports your goals and ambitions. Words like focus, grace, awareness, repurpose, novelty, spontaneity, and others are all starting points for you to consider your theme. You can write your word on the homepage of your phone to serve as a constant reminder.

For 2022, consider going off your script. Did you know that novelty occurs primarily between ages of 15–30? When asking older people about their most vivid memories, these memories occur back when the people were between the ages of 15–30, because of the novelty of these years involving proms, winning athletic tournaments, graduations, first memorable traveling experiences, weddings, first jobs, first children, and marriage (in some cases).

Time speeds up when novelty ceases—surprises stretch time. With our science courses, I am not suggesting that we want our science classes to seem longer to students. Instead, we want our classes to be novel, spontaneous, and provide emotional moments that lead to long-term memories.

As we age, our lives become more normal and more routine. Stretch yourself with something that scares you, elicits emotion, and takes you out of your comfort zone. Try project-based learning, or using more inquiry-based instruction. Try infusing storytelling into your teaching repertoire.

“Learn to recognize your own scripts. Play with them, poke at them, disrupt them.” (Heath and Heath 2017, p. 85). Create emotional learning experiences with your students. Instead, ask yourself what will my students remember from my science class in 5, 10, 20 years? PowerPoint presentations, lectures, and worksheets do not elicit emotion, nor are they novel for our students.

Instead, address your science standards with learning experiences that bring the content to life. If you teach physics, consider centering some of your course around the physics of the upcoming Olympics, using sports as the anchor of such concepts as force and motion. Life science teachers can use the destruction of the rainforest as a way to introduce ecology, evolution, and photosynthesis into their classrooms. One teacher transformed her classroom into a rainforest, complete with a waterfall. I had my students create an informative booklet about the rainforest that was distributed to teachers around the United States.

Does your science teaching provide moments of insight or deliver a jolt? Eureka! moments of creative discovery must permeate our science classes. Provide experiences for your students to make discoveries surrounding the content you are uncovering. Serendipity in science occurs at the intersection of chance and wisdom—be sure to set up an environment where serendipity is part of your students’ learning.

Some of the most compelling serendipitous moments in science include the creation of Velcro by a hiker who found burrs on his socks and thought “Hmmm… I could create a product that replicates the action of burrs in connecting two things.” The birth control pill was also somewhat of a serendipitous finding. The researchers were looking for a way to increase fertility in rabbits and rats (to assist infertile women), but instead the ovulation ceased when given the hormones. This backwards design would later become the essence of the birth control pill. Note: Under today’s standards, the experiments Gregory Pincus and John Rock did with the birth control pill would be deemed unethical.

Other serendipitous findings in science include finding a second population of living coelacanths in 1997. A graduate student of marine biology, Mark Erdmann, was on his honeymoon and strolling through an Indonesian fish market with his wife, who pointed out a strange-looking fish. With his expert knowledge, he immediately recognized it as a coelacanth. Part of serendipity comes from having the background knowledge to recognize a surprising finding when it occurs.

Other serendipitious scientific findings include the discovery of X-rays, which sprung from Roentgen’s inquisitive mind and further study, penicillin, Viagra, and Jocelyn Bell’s discovery of pulsars in 1967 to name a few. In each case, there was a moment of insight.

When in your science classes, do you provide opportunities for students to have moments of insight? I recall teaching the fundamentals of microbiology to my 9th graders in a biology class. One student happened to be going to the bathroom and noticed his sister’s tampon box. He actually took the time to read the box and noticed the warning on it. He discovered the phenomena that toxic shock syndrome (TSS) was actually caused by the bacteria, Staphyloccous aureus, when using super absorbent tampons. He had his eureka moment and, as a result, microbiology came alive for him.

When thinking of the spring semester, ask yourself to complete the following exercise:

Fill in this sentence: 3-5 years from now, my students still know________, Or they still are able to do __________. Or they still find value in ______________.” (Dream Exercise, inspired by an idea in L. Dee Fink’s book Creating Significant Learning Experience).

If you complete this exercise, the trajectory of your science courses might just change dramatically. I know mine do when I complete this creative exercise. Also, remember that action leads to insight more often than insight leads to action (Heath and Heath 2017, p.117). As mentors to our students, we must push, and as a result, our mentees can stretch. Our high standards for our students must be met with assurances that we believe in them, support them, and make science moments come alive for them. Remember, “I have high expectations for you and I know you can meet them. So try this new challenge and if you fail, I’ll help you recover.” (Heath and Heath 2017, p. 123).

References

Fink, L.D. 2013. Creating significant learning experiences: An integrated approach to designing college courses. New York: Jossey-Bass.

Heath, C. and D. Heath. 2017. The power of moments. New York: Simon and Schuster.

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