I’ve learned so much in my life through my two primary roles: (1) as a parent, and (2) as an educator. And what I’ve found is that what I’m learning in either of these roles is often impacting what I am learning in the other role. I’ve told my husband so many times that when I get back into the classroom full-time down the road (when I don’t have 3 daycare-aged children) I will be SUCH a different teacher. Why? Because of what I now know about how learning happens.
Learning happens for high school students just like it happens for my preschool roommates. These favorite tiny humans of mine are like tiny sponges, soaking up and learning 239048234 things an hour. It’s truly amazing to watch their brains work and process what they are seeing and learning. And through observing them I’ve really seen that most learning happens through:
And like I said, this isn’t just for my 3 and 4-year-old. I can now see so clearly from this different perspective I have as a parent how much this applies to high school students as well.
Learning happens through ASKING QUESTIONS.
The nature of science is essentially:
- Making observations about the world around us
- Asking questions about those observations
- Gathering information to answer those questions
- Drawing conclusions and then most likely asking even more questions.
Asking questions is at the very core of the subjects that we all teach and love. You are SET UP as a science teacher to have a classroom culture that prioritizes question-asking.
And not only should it come naturally to you as a science teacher, it is also critical to do if we want our students to be at the center of their own learning. Sure, our students can learn from us telling them a bunch of stuff. I’ve learned a lot about football from hearing my husband talk about the games he watched and the articles he read in his favorite sports forums.
But I’ve learned a LOT more about football from actually watching the games for myself and asking questions about what I see happening. Why? Because I have taken an active role in engaging in the learning process. It is the same for our students! Learning happens best when they are the ones asking questions.
Learning also happens best through trial and error, and thus we have to get our students comfortable making mistakes.
Learning happens through MAKING MISTAKES.
Think about all of the labs you’ve done in your years as a student, as a teacher-in-training, and now as a teacher alongside your students. How many times have you gotten data or results you didn’t expect? How many error analyses have you written in your lifetime, or led your students through? Making mistakes (and learning from them) is at the core of what it means to be a science teacher and to do science with your students.
But it is also just how we learn in life. I remember when my dad was teaching me how to drive. Oftentimes he would pick me up from my dance classes that ended around 9 pm and let me drive home to practice because there weren’t many people on the roads. I remember one time specifically just being totally spent. I had gone straight from school to a 5-hour rehearsal. When I got in the car, I sort of went on auto-pilot driving home.
It wasn’t until we pulled into our driveway that my dad took a deep breath and said, “Hey Rebecca, remember when you took that left off of Tates Creek Road into our neighborhood? You turned left on a red light.”
I DID WHAT?!!
By the grace of God (and the fact that it was 9 pm on a Wednesday at the end of a road that was basically heading into farmland so it wasn’t very populated), there were no other cars around, so my mistake didn’t result in anyone getting injured. But OH MY GOODNESS did I learn from that mistake. In my head, I had processed the red light in the left-turn lane as I would have in the right-turn lane. I had stopped, looked both ways, saw no cars, and turned. You better believe the last two decades that I’ve been driving since making that mistake I have thought of that experience every time I’ve turned left.
I’m grateful my dad was willing to teach me to get out of my comfort zone (and his) so that I could learn to drive. It required stretching and growing my brain and skills even when I was really tired. There was a lot of trial and error and I made lots of mistakes, but because of that learning process, I now know how to drive, and up to this moment in time of writing this, have never been in an accident of my own doing.
Our students will learn best when they make mistakes and those mistakes become memorable learning experiences for them, too.
So how do we do this? How do we make this happen where we create classrooms and cultures where our students feel comfortable asking questions and making mistakes?
How to create a classroom where learning happens:
- Tell your students flat out that you want them to ask questions and make mistakes. Make it clear why – because this is how they will learn best! If they aren’t asking questions and they aren’t making mistakes, they really aren’t learning and stretching themselves as students. Heck, put this in your syllabus! Let them know from the start of the year that your job as their teacher is more about teaching them how to learn and not just about teaching them science content.
- Build relationships with your students and let them know you see them as both the student they are and also the people that they are. Keep these distinctions in terms of how you interact with them on a teacher-student level but also on a human-human level.
- Model what you hope to see in them yourself. If we want our students to be curious, engage in our content, and ask questions, WE need to be curious ourselves, engage, and ask questions. If we want our students to put themselves out there, try new things, and make mistakes that they learn from, WE need to put ourselves out there, try new things, and humbly own when we make mistakes and how we can learn from them.
How have you seen learning happen in your own life (as a teacher, as a parent, or just as a person) through asking questions and making mistakes? I would LOVE to hear about it. Shoot me a DM on Instagram and tell me!