Alexandra Disney, Science Teacher
As I step away from the Klingenstein Summer Institute campus, my brain is overflowing with new knowledge. In my typical learner mode, my notebook is equally bursting in an effort to try to capture all that might be forgotten, overlooked, or swallowed by summer sun and the subsequent fall chaos. Although my notebook is filled with reflections on thought-provoking articles and various seminars, my last page represents me – bullet points of tangible goals, nearly a checklist. One reads, “Uncover misconceptions during expose of 7E model.” Another reads, “Change gradebook to Josh’s system.”
Graduate classes, whether through Columbia’s Klingenstein Summer Institute or Montana State University, are an attempt for me to think outside the box, a task seemingly easier for my squiggle colleagues than my square self. But, of course, upon completion of this intensive two-week program, I make a boxed list of ways to think outside the box – typical me. Now I sit in my office, taking my newly learned outside-the-box lesson ideas and chronologically organizing them into a notebook for the entire school year. Needless to say, I’m having trouble freeing myself from the box.
While the science discipline group meetings called into question all that I do as a science teacher, the diversity meetings seemed much more comfortable and compelling. How is it that I was more comfortable talking about my racial privilege than I was about how to best teach students the law of conservation of energy? I think this comes down to exposure. As a lover of the renowned activist and educator Peggy McIntosh, I’ve attended the White Privilege Conference and am involved in the Diversity Committee at Holderness, taking part in conversations about privilege and issues of diversity. But, I have never spoken to anyone about how to best teach the big understandings in science. As a constant learner, I am more comfortable with and better understand that to which I am most exposed. These takeaways from my two weeks as a student made me reflect on our students’ experiences as learners at Holderness and ask “what are they exposed to?”
So, here are my takeaways on intentional exposure with our students:
Be intentional with our time.
In my lesson planning, I give stoichiometry two weeks of my introductory chemistry curriculum and nuclear chemistry only one day. Do I really value stoichiometry more than nuclear chemistry? Likewise, how much do we value racial diversity or LGBTQ students and issues? Is simply celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. Day or the National Day of Silence enough?
Be intentional with our words.
Sara Chipps, an entrepreneur and engineer, notes in her blog that “The opposite of science isn’t girl,” in response to a parent who tells her, “I try to keep my daughter interested in science and technology, I don’t expose her to anything girly.” What do we mean by girly? What impression does this give females in our community? Unfortunately, we still live in a world that is gender binary and promotes heteronormativity. How does our dress code or the tradition of “walkbacks” reflect this? We can teach students in the history classroom about geography, in the language classroom about various cultures, and in the biology classroom about sex and genetics, but we are not serving our students if they do not leave Holderness as empathetic citizens with a deeper understanding of the beautiful complexity of this world.
Be intentional with our actions.
What do we do when we overhear someone say “that’s so gay”? An Asian student who feels pressured to perform well in math class is an example of stereotype threat. How do we counteract this? I am reminded of Sizer and Sizer’s The Students are Watching, where they write, “They watch us all the time. The students that is. They listen to us, sometimes. They learn from all that watching and listening. …We must honestly ponder what they see, and what we want them to learn from it.”
The Klingenstein Summer Institute gave me the tools to be a better educator. More importantly, it gave me the fire to be self-critical, the grit to encourage this of others, and the confidence to “fail forward” (as mentioned by Dr. Pearl Rock Kane) when I bottom out. The last page of my notes from the Summer Institute reads, “I am asking my students to be uncomfortable and take risks; I need to model this.”
Sources (by order in which they are referenced)
Chipps, S. (2015). Papas, please let your babies grow up to be princesses. Retrieved from https://medium.com/thelist/papas-please-let-your-babies-grow-up-to-be-princesses-7dc7c2ec7cd2
Sizer, T. and Sizer, N. (1999) The Students are Watching: Schools and the Moral Contract. Boston: Beacon Press.
Dr. Pearl Rock Kane and her infinite wisdom and inspiration