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Editor's Corner

What Will Be Your Legacy as a Science Teacher?

The Science Teacher—September 2019 (Volume 87, Issue 2)

By Ann Haley Mackenzie

Notes from the field editor

School has come roaring back into our lives after a busy summer of planning, professional and personal development, and traveling. What is your significant goal for the school year? The obvious answer is “Well, I am going to teach science.” Is that the best answer?

What is your legacy going to be as a science teacher? I contend our legacy revolves around the memories we make with our students. Having students complete mind-numbing worksheets that are quickly forgotten leaves science as a lifeless lump of coal in our students’ lives.

The part of the brain that houses long-term memory sits close to the amygdala, the seat of our emotions. If you want students to remember key concepts, then you must somehow make them come alive in a way to evoke emotion in your students.

In a biology classroom, if permissible, your student can connect with classroom animals and develop a close bond with them as they hold, feed, and care for these creatures. From these experiences, when you uncover the concept of homeostasis during a data-gathering lab, then you center it around the lives of the animals. The students immediately see the connection, and the data comes alive because of the emotional bond they share with the classroom critters.

On the other hand, if your science teaching primarily revolves around stressors such as tests, homework, and quizzes, the emotional state of learning becomes an anxiety-driven state in your students. I am not stating these arenas must be avoided, but we must realize they do not make science class memorable.

A physics teacher who engages students in creating a life-size boat that must float and move across a pond will live forever in the minds of the students. The students not only learn about buoyancy but crosscutting concepts such as structure and function, while using all the methods of creativity and problem solving needed in the 21st century.

An Earth science teacher can transform part of the schoolyard into an investigative journey where students examine dinosaur footprints embedded in concrete to ascertain their movement, their possible activity, and develop the skill of observing and making inferences based on the data before them.

When you think of “the real world” (what is its zip code, after all?), how many individuals spend their careers completing worksheets and answering questions at the end of the textbook? Why then do we ask students to do these obsolete tasks? 

Project-based learning, when done correctly, will build memories in your students because of the emotional connection the projects foster. Playing music at the beginning of class and while the students work creates an atmosphere of memory-making because of the strong connection music has with the emotional center of the brain. 

Years later, students will return to you and make comments about what they remember from your teaching. Trust me, it won’t be about a mindless task. They will remember the atmosphere of the classroom, your laughter, the memorable projects, and how you made them feel. Were they investigative scientists in your classroom or a herd of cattle moved in and out from period to period with no attention to the wonders of science?

Leave a legacy. Make memories. If we want our students to continue studying science, their lives depend on it.

Teacher Preparation Teaching Strategies High School

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