Educators. Students. Community members. Much more unites us than divides us, particularly knowing we all wear multiple hats. Building relationships. Thinking BIG.
Challenging and supporting one another. Developing engaged, empathetic citizens. Please join me in pondering how best to nurture these common ground connections.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Relevance and Authenticity

I had the privilege of attending the Hellenic Museum's Fall Gala Sunday night at the Ritz Carlton in Chicago. It was a formal affair, filled with an incredibly attentive wait staff, delicious food, beautiful tables and lots of VIPs. It was probably one of the fanciest evenings I'll ever experience, and yes, the majority of the people who attended were very financially secure. But I was even more impressed with how highly educated, passionate and sincere the attendees were.

We were invited to this dinner to celebrate a number of things, but the focus for us was the the announcement of the project that Spiro and his teaching partner, Dean, will be doing. They proposed a project which will focus on the Greek Civil War. At the dinner, it was announced that the museum is allocating funds to make their project a reality. So now the work begins!

As I listened to Dean and Spiro explain their ideas to the dinner attendees, I was fascinated by how interested the listeners were. They had stories to add, were willing to help facilitate the process, and were thrilled that this project will involve a curricular piece for high schools and universities. Dean and Spiro would like to include more than just the traditional Ancient Greek teachings in our history courses. Greece should still be considered a tremendous influence, not just a country with an influential past.

It was the conversation Spiro had with the Ambassador of the Republic of Cyprus, Andreas Kakouris, that really caught my attention. They were excitedly throwing ideas back and forth on how to make this particular piece of history come to life in the classroom. His Excellency said things like, "Cyprus is a test case. We are a country where Muslims and Christians live side by side, and it's in our constitution..." Of course, the content mostly escaped me as I am a chemistry teacher, but I followed the big picture. They were trying to make the stories relevant and authentic for our students. They were making history come to life in front of me. If I had had teachers like that in high school, I might very well be a history teacher today!

It is these types of impromptu, passionate conversations that have always enhanced my teaching and rekindled my curiosity. It is so fulfilling to brainstorm the "how and why" of our curriculum and the stories that make it come to life. It happens in those moments where a friend's experience is brought up at lunch and the idea sparks a lesson plan idea. So what should we do to promote more of these discussions? On the ride home from this dinner, I realized how important it is to keep involved with our content, to grow in our understanding of science, particularly the science of today, of our everyday lives. These stories invariably end up being the most intriguing for us and our students.

I know how difficult it is to keep up with reading current journal articles, as my days and evenings already have too much filling the hours. So I've had to figure out a way to stay involved in science without spreading myself too thin. Here are some examples of what some teachers are doing to keep the science alive. Perhaps this will spark ideas that might work for your individual schedule.

•It's exciting to hear about teachers going to opportunities to connect with the world of science, things like Science Cafe and the Field Museum Educators' Open House. When you see a conference or activity in your mailbox, consider attending as a group.
•Perhaps using an aggregator to subscribe to specific blogs or articles that interest you might save you time, while still keeping you informed with current science investigations. This is where I found a wonderful site, Science Debate 2008 that showed scientists being interviewed, discussing why the topic of science was important for our future elected officials. And this particular subscription, science blogs, has all branches of science being written up.
• I enjoy downloading podcasts and listening to them as I jog/workout. I particularly like NPR Science Friday. The podcasts are short, interesting and span the spectrum of science fields.
• I also feel lucky to have a friend who is a scientist. Talking through the planning and development of new class projects has aided in my own understanding of what professional scientists do and helps me create lessons that are meaningful for my students. Perhaps one of your students has a parent who is a professional scientist. This might be a place to start.
• And then there are teachers who regularly participate in the process of science by doing research at local universities or in industry. Listening to them, reading about their stories perhaps may inspire you.
• I, too, have enjoyed being enlightened by participating in the world of science education research. Investigating how students learn, what they learn and why has given me a knew perspective on curricular development.

Relevance. Authenticity. Making science come to life. This is what makes science interesting. This is how we get students to engage in science conversations. This is how we bring science to life.

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