Wednesday, June 4, 2014

I'm not sciency!

"But I'm not sciency!"

I've heard that statement a lot and it resonates with me because I thought and said similar statements too. Yet, I wasn't half bad at science in school.  My biggest inhibitor was how I perceived myself as a learner.

In the field, Antarctica
Once I'd graduated with a Bachelor of Teaching in 2004, and had been teaching for a couple of years. My confidence grew and ideas about myself started to change. I got involved with Education for Sustainability and this became my passion. However, while developing an EfS programme in the school, I started asking more questions about the world than I was getting answers. This made me question the effectiveness of my teaching and grasping the 'big ideas' from different perspectives. To find those answers lead me back to my childhood obsession with Antarctica. I applied for and was accepted into the Post Graduate Certificate in Antarctic Studies at Gateway Antarctica, University of Canterbury in 2010.
Here, I thought I'd find the answers, but like any science, it lead to more questions. Instead, I went on a journey of discovery which had me identify the biggest barriers to my learning at school.
As teachers, we know what limits a student's learning is their own self-belief, so, for the whole three months of the course I was constantly battling with this and being conscious of what I was feeling in regards to it.  I felt like I was always on the edge of my Zone of Proximal Development. Whether
is was engaging with expert scientists, earning my stripes in the field or presenting my own work to those same experts. At one stage, due to my self-belief, I had what I can only describe as a panic attack. I had to go home and meditate my way out of it.  I had stepped too far out of my zone.
Since then, I have observed many students step outside their zones and their anxiety has manifested in many ways. Most often disruptive, as a way to avoid the task or the risk which comes from being involved in the task. I've noticed when the student has observed the task being carried out from the safety of their 'time out' area, they do reintroduce themselves back into the work.
Students' experimenting
That's why it's so important to provide science experiences from a young age, not only to build a student's scientific literacy, but also to give them the opportunity to take risks in a variety of different situations.
However, that starts with us as teachers. We need to take risks and acknowledge ourselves as learners with the students. We have a responsibility to provide these experiences to our students as there is the chance they will not receive them elsewhere. We need to get away from our own perceptions of knowledge and start exploring the ways of how we might know, and what's great is by relinquishing the control and opening it up to the students, we receive a variety of ideas based on their individual backgrounds to build from.
The Antarctic experience was invaluable. I expected to gain knowledge to enhance my teaching, but gained insight into being a learner and overcoming my anxiety around the learning process.
Now, I say 'I'm sciency' to my students and once discussing and building our ideas of what science and scientists are, hope they do too. Most importantly, we have fun while doing so.

TEDTalk explaining ideas of science

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