One of our potential partners for this project is BSCS (Biological Sciences Curriculum Study http://www.bscs.org), an organization that specializes in 1) curriculum development and evaluation 2) professional development design and implementation and 3) Research in the areas of learning, effects of PD on practice, and a myriad of other topics with respect to education.
I was first introduced to this organization in 2001 when I was part of a Chemistry Curriculum selection committee in San Diego City Schools. I was a Chemistry teacher and completely unaware of what professional development, instructional design, and quality teaching materials meant. They opened my eyes in a way that has changed me forever. I was briefly overwhelmed by how much I didn’t know, but they assured me that they would hold my hand through the paradigm shift and learning process. I am sooo deeply appreciative of their investment in me that I consider it an honor to return as a colleague working on this project together.
Here is a brief summary of the enlightening that took place through their professional development of me.
1. Quality instruction must be purposeful. Every teacher move I made should have a purpose, otherwise it wastes the little time I have with this group of students. I began to ask myself,
Why am I doing this with my students today?What understanding or skill is this developing? Is it an expected understanding or skill, based on a set of science education standards or have I picked it because it’s a favorite? How is this exercise or activity going to help my students better understand this idea?”
2. Research-based methods need to replace style. I was under the impression I could rationalize any instructional method by the statement “this is my style,” since many teachers do. But I realized this was unprofessional and irresponsible given the many research projects done to determine the best ways people learn. I had to ask myself,
What does research say about the methods I am using? Is there a better way to have students engage with these ideas? How do I learn to teach this way without making a mess of my classroom in the process? I’m afraid to open up to some of these methods because I have limited content understanding and I don’t want to look dumb, how do I push past this?
3. Assessment is the only way to know what students understand, but a culture of “testing” is not conducive to learning. I had been teaching with no regular measuring of the learning. I had to ask myself,
If learning does not happen, did teaching? How do I measure understanding? How do I assess approximated understanding and deepening of understanding? What tools are available to help me with this? How do I track 36 students to determine if they are ALL learning?
4. Students must be engaging with the ideas to learn them. I had a false sense of being effective because my students were doing the assignments. But completing an assignment does not equal engagement with ideas. I was forced to ask myself,
What does engagement with ideas look and sound like? Am I giving my students a chance to engage with ideas or am I the only one engaging with the ideas? If I talk up front about the concepts, who is REALLY engaging with the content? How do I manage a classroom if I give them the opportunity to talk together about the ideas?
5. Instructional materials should provide tools to support all of these kinds of teacher needs. In reality most curricula, especially at the secondary level, is driven by a textbook with some ancillary materials for summative assessment. This leaves the teacher with a huge responsibility to develop relevant lessons outside of the adopted curricula or revert to lecture or read and answer questions as the predominant teaching strategies. I had to ask myself,
Where do I go to get better materials? Do these tools exist or do I have to develop them myself? Why don’t instructional materials incorporate research-based methods?
6.Professional Development is necessary to shift a paradigm and leading it requires as much patience and support employed with teaching our 5 year-olds to read. I was called on to lead the kind of instructional change I had been going through myself. I had to ask myself,
What made me endure the pain of this kind of paradigm shift? Since this change made being a teacher harder, what is the payoff? What support helped me? What are the benefits in the classroom? What did research say about adult-learning that could be helpful in working with teachers who had been doing their “own style” for 20 years and it was working?
All of this and much more my perspective on and practices in education have dramatically changed. And I thank BSCS for that eye opening and look forward to working with them as a colleague. I have come to this very important conclusion…
To be a teacher who practices the kind of instruction that has a relevant impact on children, one must spend more time than is humanly possible. Thus those of us who understand these needs, have a responsibility to develop tools that will support this kind of instruction and the teachers who are working toward it. We at Trailhead are doing just that and with partners like BSCS we will bring tools to education that will revolutionize the educational industry.
Watch and be ready!!!