Teaching perfection and Cats in Space!

Reflecting on what I’ve learned and experienced over the past year out of my GK-12 tenure is a little hard to explain briefly (I’m sorry!), but I have two experiences that have changed my views on teaching and learning in general.

My first revelation is that I’m NEVER going to be able to teach perfect, and that’s hard for a slightly OCD-affected perfectionist to admit. I came to this realization as I was teaching for the KU Duke TIP program, which is a program that allows gifted 8th-11th graders to come and take a class at KU for a weekend.  I’m an instructor for that program and I teach a class on tissue engineering.  Every time I teach this class, I’m constantly changing/adjusting/tweaking the way I teach it, and sometimes the changes are big (like when I first tried to incorporate inquiry-based lessons from my GK-12 experiences) and sometimes they are minuscule.   But one of the biggest pieces of knowledge that I try to get the students to discover on their own is that tissues are made of more than just cells, which is something that currently is not well covered in K-12 education.  For the past few times I taught this course, I gave the students a pre-assessment that asked some open-ended questions about my field and every student always answered the “what are all the components our tissues are made out of” question with “cells” until there was this one student who answered “cells and extracellular matrix.”  Additionally, most of the students in my latest class last March knew what engineers do, which has NEVER happened (I usually had to do a quick activity/lesson to help explain what engineers really are).

And I realized that if I continue to do my job correctly, perhaps these tiny bits of knowledge that are important for my field would slowly (although it seemed to travel at lightning speed for this round) trickle down and spread and one day I wouldn’t have to teach my class the way that I do because it will be of knowledge that the students already possess.  Unfortunately for me however, this means I can never perfect my teaching because perfect teaching to me is now a very fluidic and constantly changing substance rather than a rigid attainable goal.  In other words, not only will I have to continue to tweak how I teach, but WHAT I teach as the times go on.  Aaaah, good thing I’m only slightly OCD 🙂

So back to my Duke TIP class, what I teach in this class really could be something that’s taught in K-12 education.  And I believe with the new science education standards, hopefully this will be the case someday.  K-12 students really don’t seem to get quite the credit that they deserve, and I suppose I don’t understand why some things aren’t generally taught until college…statistics for example.

Yesterday I was given the opportunity to judge some high school physics students’ research projects.  The students actually chose their own research topics and they conducted a set of experiments to answer a question (this was very much like the research methods class I helped out with during my time as a GK-12 fellow…except this time I was a scary judge, not a mentor).  And man, was I amazed at some of these projects!  The teacher for this class should really be highly commended for even implementing this in her classroom, but this year was truly awesome because she had the students incorporate statistics in their work. So not only were the students collecting/analyzing data to try to answer their question, they then used statistics to reason through whether or not they were able to support their hypotheses.  MIND BLOWN!  THIS is something that I believe should be (if it’s not already) incorporated more into K-12 education, although one of my favorite quotes from the day was “we accept AND reject our null hypothesis.” 🙂

Even without the statistics though, this was really just a cool experience.  One kid started off his presentation saying he sent his cat to space (which I’ll admit, my eyes definitely widened for a fleeting moment as I quickly came back to reality and noticed it was a cat picture), and one student did a project on nuclear fission (where again I had another fleeting moment), but these kids were very capable and very smart, and it made me very happy and excited to be a part of the ever changing, fluidic substance that is teaching!

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About Emily Beck

I am a PhD student in Bioengineering at the University of Kansas and I am studying Tissue Engineering. I am interested in using nanoparticles and natural materials to create scaffolds that can assist in tissue regeneration/repair.
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