The essay mentioned in Brad’s previous post did a very nice job of conveying some of the beauty and the mystery which, I would imagine for most of us, are what draw us to the immensely vast and wonderful study of life. It is this beauty that I know we strive to convey to our students, but I am afraid that many of us often miss the mark when we take away student exploration time and fill it with a rapid-fire barrage of facts (piles of stones, Robin Wright might call it) in hopes of “covering the material”. In our attempts to convey all that we think is important, I think students very often miss out on time to explore and fall in love with the subject we hold so dearly. I would venture to guess that most of us fell in love with biology by spending time outdoors and falling under the spell of the natural world, and not by conquering massive stacks of biological vocabulary notecards. So for many of us, why does our teaching more closely resemble the latter?
There is a method of teaching that embraces the idea of letting students experience the beauty and mystery of biology, and it can be called many things, but a common one is “inquiry teaching”. If one gas-guzzling SUV was removed from the road for each time I’ve been told that this approach is the best, I’m sure that global warming would screech to a halt. But for all of the times that I’ve been told this, not once have I ever seen a detailed curriculum that is deeply rooted in this form of pedagogy. If I’ve tried one way, I’ve tried a dozen, but I cannot seem to get anyone to sit down and discuss what a school year of employing this approach would really look like.
I would like to charge KABT with convening a group of colleagues to create a curriculum that would show any biology teacher in Kansas what a quality, inquiry-based approach would look like. I am not looking for the end-all, be-all one-size-fits-all curriculum, but rather one that would show teachers what a solid year of inquiry teaching would look like. Once teachers see a well put-together, collaboratively formed example curriculum, I think that teachers would run with it and the results would be tremendously rewarding, for teachers and their students alike. I would like to see us create a curriculum that is focused on “essential” concepts and vocabulary, and one that maximizes student engagement with ideas and organisms that can allow them to think creatively, to challenge them, and to expose them to the beauty and the mystery that we see when we look at our world. I have been told that this cannot be done, that teachers cannot agree on what’s essential, etc. To that, like Barack Obama, I say, “Yes we can”!
We need to stop talking about how great an inquiry approach is and start showing what it would really look like. To me, with feelings of anxiety to “cover material”, our current form of professional development (“cool” favorite lab-sharing) often feels like more on my plate. Instead, if I could teach from a curriculum focused on minimal, essential concepts/vocabulary, then I can open up more time for “cool” labs which would improve the classroom for students and myself. I would like for any teacher in Kansas to be able to access this curriculum (key vocabulary, activities, labs, and extensions), perhaps on the KABT web site, so that we stop trying to get teachers to reinvent the wheel. If teachers know how to teach in this manner, lets pull together what we know and create a year-long curriculum that any teacher in the state can use as they see fit.
I would be more than happy to facilitate such a meeting(s), and I think that there’s not one teacher in the state who could not benefit from looking over the end result of such a collaboration. If you have ideas, comments, or would like to share/participate, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org