For the first written assignment of my undergraduate degree, I was asked to answer the question “What is science?” for an introductory Science in Society course. While I thought this was a deceivingly tricky question, I managed to weave together (what I thought was) a cogent answer that simultaneously acknowledged the key characteristics of authentic science and its obscure, ever-changing boundaries. But when my paper was returned the following week, there was a big red “6/10” written at the top. No note, no feedback- just a number. Devastated and confused, I approached the teaching assistant (TA) and she told me that it was not the right style of writing for the course and that there was too much creative language. This was a crushing moment for me. I was a straight-A high school student, an expert at figuring out exactly what each teacher wanted and delivering just that. I had never come anywhere close to getting a grade as low as 60%, and I had no idea what I had done wrong! What was the right style of writing for the course? How was I supposed to make my language less creative?
While I still don’t know the answers to these questions, I made it through the rest of the course (with improved grades) and quickly switched from a Bachelor of Arts and Science to an Environmental Sciences program. I completed my undergraduate degree with significantly more hands-on and engaging courses, and I continued to develop my critical thinking and scientific inquiry skills by pursuing a Master of Science. Environmental science came alive for me as I spent countless days outside at the Mer Bleue bog collecting data for my graduate thesis. From surveying vegetative communities to measuring methane emissions to tracking the rise and fall of the water table, I became increasingly aware of the complexity of our natural world. However, it was not until I became a TA for a third year soil science course that I realized the question “What is science?” cannot be fully answered on paper. As I watched my students’ hands sifting through grains of sand during lab sessions, their fingers testing the stability of soil aggregates, and their eyes tracing the path of water through soil profiles, I realized that science is a mode of thinking, a way of viewing the world that one must experience in some capacity to truly understand it.
My educational experience not only ignited my passion for teaching, it also reinforced my belief that learning should be student-centered and connected to the real world.
My educational experience not only ignited my passion for teaching, it also reinforced my belief that learning should be student-centered and connected to the real world. Regardless of the subject area we are studying, our prior knowledge, personal experience and hypotheses about our surrounding environment influence how we construct new knowledge. Our learners are not blank slates, but rather they bring past experiences and cultural influences to each new situation. Learning happens as a process as we build upon, reshape, and rethink existing knowledge and, according to Piaget, students want to learn and construct new knowledge. My teaching thus focuses on the process of learning by providing varied opportunities for self-instruction, guided participation, scaffolding, apprenticeships and peer interactions. I activate my students’ prior knowledge, encourage questioning and abstract thought, and identify and challenge common misconceptions. I truly believe that all children have the capacity to learn, and my goal as a teacher is thus to meet each learner where they are and guide them by providing opportunities to interact with the physical and social environment around them in many different ways.
Accordingly, the learning environment that I create for my students holds great significance to my philosophy of education. The connection between healthy communities and effective learning has been made clear in the current educational literature, and by fostering a healthy, safe, and supportive classroom culture, I hope to create an intentional learning community that promotes growth and positive relationships among all community members (including students, parents, teachers, administrators, and community members). I believe that the classroom community should be managed in a restorative, participatory and engaging manner, where students work in partnership with the teacher and are held responsible and accountable for their own learning and behaviour. This inclusive classroom community is possible by taking the time to know all learners and creating opportunities for all students to be challenged and to belong. Not only is this a crucial step in ensuring that the learning environment is student-directed, it allows me to proactively adjust teaching and learning by differentiating based on individual learner’s needs.
This inclusive classroom community is possible by taking the time to know all learners and creating opportunities for all students to be challenged and to belong.
As there will always be a need to adopt new teaching strategies and techniques in order to reach every student, I am committed to my journey as a lifelong learner. The more experience I have in education, the more I become aware of the fact that I do not have all the answers! However, I am always willing and able to continue looking for those answers, and I demonstrate my commitment to professional development through building and participating in professional learning communities inside and outside the school environment. As a teacher, I see it as my responsibility to act as a leader and innovator within the classroom, school, and surrounding community by fostering the development of curious learners who will be able to make a positive impact on the wider community. I seek to emphasize the importance of innovation and change by helping my students to develop Deep Learning competencies, including: Citizenship, Character, Collaboration, Communication, Creativity and Critical thinking. Their learning is thus based on action, problem solving, and leveraging digital technology, so that students in my classroom can “dive into deep learning.”
Looking back on that first university assignment, I can identify many things that went wrong in terms of the quality of the assessment: the grading did not appear to be objective; success criteria were not clearly communicated; there was no opportunity to make corrections; and the assignment was an essay question that was assessed based on scientific paper expectations! I would have done things very differently as the teacher, but it emphasizes the importance of two crucial lessons. First, struggle and mistakes are important: they challenge your brain in a good way and contribute to a growth in the brain’s capacity for learning and solving problems (i.e. growth mindset). Likewise, resiliency is not one single trait that some students possess and others do not- it is part of healthy development and is influenced by the learning environment, including classrooms and schools. While I will not avoid the difficult questions with my students, I intend to explore every subject area (including the nature of science) together with the learners in my classroom through collaboration and guided inquiry. After all, education does not end when students go home or graduate, and I hope to equip my students with the tools and skills necessary to answer any question, even the ones that we have not thought to ask… yet!
After all, education does not end when students go home or graduate, and I hope to equip my students with the tools and skills necessary to answer any question, even the ones that we have not thought to ask… yet!
P.S. Check out this Prezi for my top teaching beliefs!