A high school friend wrote in my yearbook so many years ago, “I hope you will be able to persuade your way through life as you have through Physics.” I never forgot that (depending on how you view it) inspiring statement as I have happily traveled the journey of an elementary teacher. Hating the study of science as a student, I have embraced it as a teacher once I discovered that science done right is a hands-on, interactive experience. I’ve never crossed paths again with that old friend since high school, but I often think about how he might chuckle at my attitude adjustment once I became a teacher.
For many years, I worked on science curriculum in my district and presented at science conferences. I taught all the science for my grade level, no matter what grade I was in at the time because it was fun! I even coauthored a book with a dear friend, filled with science lessons using food. Unfortunately, many of those lessons included peanut butter. With so many allergic children in our schools right now, our books alas are collecting dust in our spare rooms.
When I moved to a new building in my district, one of my grade level partners wanted to teach the science, and I stepped aside. She did an amazing job before resigning this year for reasons totally unrelated to science. So here I am: back teaching science and so looking forward to it all!
I decided to try an activity yesterday which I’ve always done first thing just to assess kids’ attitudes about science and scientists. (Thinking if there’s a kid or three like me, maybe the attitude adjustment could begin in fourth grade rather than post-grad!) I asked my students in all three classes to open their science interactive notebooks and devote one page to showing what a scientist looks like and does. I first tried this activity in 1986. When we shared our labeled drawings today, I was amazed at how far we’ve come in the last 27 years!
Kids in 1986 mostly drew scientists as elderly Caucasian men with unruly grey hair, wearing goggles and lab coats, and holding up a beaker which was frothing over with an unidentifiable fun substance. Scientists to my students today now look more like each student herself or himself, with just a few Christopher Lloyds sprinkled in. Although most are still shown clad in lab coats and goggles, holding or standing near bubbling beakers and test tubes, enough to raise my hopes forever showed botanists, physicists, zoologists, geologists, archaeologists, biologists, and even two epidemiologists and one marine biologist.
My all-time favorite was a sketch of scientist looking exactly like his young creator next to an intricate display of labeled tubing and beakers combining toxic substances with benign ones, traveling through three different stages of mixtures, resulting in the bottom layer in “Mixture X: The Cure for Cancer”. I love my job! I think I’ll go back again tomorrow! (Pictures of these amazing drawings when I get permission from parents!)
Happy teaching, friends! She kinda' looks like me!