STEM Educator Symposium: Day 3

This is the last of three guest posts from Chris Ryan, physics and philosophy teacher from Riverview High School in Riverview, New Brunswick. Chris is reporting from the STEM Educator Symposium in Fort Collins, Colorado. Enjoy.

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Writing this last blog on @preses14 I am at a loss to wrap up my thoughts.

What do you say about a conference that was so well put together by teachers that have not paused their teaching job in order to act as hosts?

There are many ways to understand something. You can watch it, feel it, experience it and live it. These are often the methods we expect our students to use in order to learn content and practice skills. One task teachers need to carve out more time for is reflection. We ca still earn by the above methods while layering reflection.

I have the privilege to work with Ian Fogarty (@ifoggs) and to see him almost everyday. I think I am starting to recognize more and more the need to step back from a colleague and observe what they do with fresh eyes. Conferences like this can give us the chance to take that opportunity. Today I watched Ian talk about what happens in his classroom and how students are engaged.

We watched a video of students working through a puzzle to solve a challenging question that had a simple answer. The Physics content we observed was to learn the colors of pigments and of light. The true learning was happening when the teacher stepped away from the SMART board and gave full control of inquiry and experimental design over to the students.

By defining what technology is to be used in the class and how content should be learned, we decide who will have success on written tests. By giving students a puzzle to solve, we challenge them to think for themselves and outside of the typical system that values the right answer above learning. It is this idea that I was able to reflect on in Ian’s session, and it might turn out to be the most easily integrated in my classroom when I return.

This piece of reflecting on eight years of my instruction makes me a better teacher immediately even if the changes are seen in my class incrementally. I wonder out loud how we can observe what other teachers do and then reflect on that in order to bring it into our own environment.

I will wrap up with the best quote that I heard from this excellent three-day conference. I think it is appropriate because Preston Middle School has shown in so many ways that there are many more things that are much more important than covering all of the curriculum. And if you do cover all of the curriculum, have you taken the time to teach your students to make their own meaning and overcome their own limitations?

Here is the quote that sums up my experience at this conference:

“Culture eats curriculum for breakfast.”

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See Chris’s first two installments from @preses14 here and here and follow him on Twitter here. For more information on the STEM Educator Symposium, go here.

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