I studied through the book by Marcia Tate, "Worksheets Don't Grow Dendrites." This book focuses on instructional strategies that remove worksheets from the norm of a classroom and implement strategies to lead students to think critically and allows them to be more interactive with content.
When I purchased this book, I thought it was going to give me some idea that I could use in my classroom to engage my students more, little did I know it would transform the way that I run my classroom and my instruction as a whole. The opening quote of this book led me to think long and hard about my classroom and the way that I run it.
"Teachers are those who use themselves as bridges over which they invite their students to cross, and then, having facilitated their crossing, joyfully collapse, inviting their students to build bridges of their own."
This quote made me think, I was sure that I was doing a decent job at getting my students to cross new bridges but I wondered how well I was doing at inviting them to build their own.
Before I even began reading this book, I began to reflect on my instruction, I made a list of things that I was currently doing in my classroom that invited students to build their own bridges and then I made a list of things that I was doing that was a hindrance on their ability to build new bridges. Shockingly, the second list was larger than the first. This got me really excited to use this book as a tool for transformation.
The two largest hindrances that I wrote in my list that prevented my students to build their own bridges was, fostering a reliance on me for their knowledge and not allowing them to explore content enough. These two things can go easily unnoticed if you do not keep an eye on how they play out in your classroom. I knew these were not positive practices but at the same time they had found a way to sneak into my classroom. My focus going forth through the book and through my classroom, was to rid of those two negative practices.
This book goes through 20 different strategies that can transform the way an educator teaches. Each chapter focuses on one strategy and discusses “What” the strategy is, “Why” the strategy is relevant and beneficial (research), “How” the strategy can be implemented, and “When” the strategy can be used. At the end of all of this there is a reflection piece that allows you to reflect on how you can use this in your classroom and what it could look like in your instruction.
For me there was one chapter that stuck out more than any other, “Project Based Learning.” For me, science is a fun, exciting, thought provoking, and hands on subject. I have never understood how a kid could not like science unless it is being taught the wrong way. Science is all around us and used in everything, as a science educator it is our job to get students to see the connection between science and their lives. Once that has occurred, it’s hard for a student to honestly say, “I hate science.” Once I read the chapter on Project Based Learning, it instilled a new passion in me to pursue a classroom built on this strategy.
Every unit I taught after reading this book began to replace worksheets and lectures with projects. Every project looked different but what was expected from the students never changed. These projects are not projects for the sake taking up time, but instead they were thought provoking, engaging, required creativity, and most importantly fostered critical thinking. Don’t get me wrong, this took time and was by no means perfect in my first few attempts. Although, no longer were my students relying on me for everything, now they were being given a problem to solve, they had to use their knowledge, their resources, and their “BRAINS” to work through the problem and create a solution. The best part is during all of this “thinking” the students were using their science knowledge, getting hands on with the content, and solving problems that they were able to make real world connection with science.
There were two big things I got from this book, the first is realizing how important it is to reflect on your teaching frequently and to be sure you are doing what is best for your students. Secondly, we have to allow our students to think for themselves and the only way we can do that as an educator is to provide them opportunities to think, create, and problem solve without drowning them in worksheets and lectures. Our student’s learning is about them, not about us and how much we know.
Attached is a sample lesson from one of my very first Project’s used in my class.
Post by | Ryan Dahm | High School Science
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