16 December 2010

Proposition 2 - Knowing your Stuff and how to teach it

Proposition 2: Teachers Know the Subjects They Teach and How to Teach Those Subjects to Students.

  • NBCTs have mastery over the subject(s) they teach. They have a deep understanding of the history, structure and real-world applications of the subject.

  • They have skill and experience in teaching it, and they are very familiar with the skills gaps and preconceptions students may bring to the subject.

  • They are able to use diverse instructional strategies to teach for understanding.

First of all, let's get this straight. There's no way I can be National Board Certified. I mean, my subject is Physics: the Study of How the Universe works. Some things in science are unknowable and Physics is one of those things. Of course, I am using a bit of hyperbole. There are some parts of Physics that I can know, but I'm not sure I'll ever be able to say "I know Physics." The fantastic part about this subject is there are all kinds of new things being discovered on an almost daily basis, so there will always be something to learn.

So let's get real. I am learning new concepts of my subject everyday. I am much further along than I was when I began teaching 4 short years ago. I spend a significant amount of time thinking about Physics and I encourage students to do the same. I try to challenge them to think deep thoughts and you don't have to look very far in Physics to find fodder for deep thinking. I have spent some time doing actual Physics research, specifically on particle Physics. It was a 6 week project and the amount of information I learned was invaluable. I've been able to use the knowledge I obtained to show the true nature of science and teach students how science actually works. Often, students come into my class thinking there is a "right answer" and this is a misconception I try to dispel as soon as possible.

But wait! There is some salvation in the first bullet point! After teaching for 4 years and digging a little deeper each year, I am finally beginning to wrap my brain around why physicists do the things they do. I am starting to understand the reason physicists think the way the way they do. It hasn't been an easy road and I've got miles to go before I sleep.

I recently read a quote by Henri Poincare' that sums scientific thought up: "The scientist does not study nature because it is useful; he studies it because he delights in it, and he delights in it because it is beautiful." This is exactly the kind of thought I try to get students thinking in class.

Oh Lord, from Feast to Famine in bullet number two! We go from the goodies of history and relevancy to the utter despair of student misconceptions. I really appreciate that NBPTS had the wisdom to mention experience and its importance when thinking about teaching. If one is an effective educator, experience will make them a master teacher. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying "I've arrived" or "I know it all" because I surely do not! However, I think I have gained some great experience over the last few years simply by encountering more and more students and hearing more and more misconceptions and ideas.

The last point has to be the most difficult for me. I recognize that I am a person who really, really enjoys routine. I used to be a bus driver and I thrived on doing the same thing every single day. Even though this is good for me, I do recognize that teaching every lesson the exact same way is not conducive to keeping students engaged.

It has really been a struggle to do this for me and is definitely the part of this proposition that I must work on the hardest. However, this has really brought about a passion for me: technology. I use technology in my classroom to differentiate instruction and to increase student engagement. My issue with this proposition will really rear its ugly head when I have to give evidence of my success on this. I'm not sure how I can do that unless they will take my anecdotal evidence but I don't really think that's going to fly.