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How Students Blew Up My Perspective on Science

Thursday, November 06, 2014

The best teachers are admired for their ability to convey their own passions to students. Think Willy Wonka: a mysterious man reveals a magnificent world of unending wonder hidden within a seemingly mundane factory. New questions arise around every corner, and those on the tour are left wanting more.

It is a fact that teachers do, indeed, have the ability to turn the average into the interesting and the exciting for their students, so that the students, too, develop a passion for the content material. Yet I've stumbled upon an extraordinary aspect of this phenomenon that too often goes overlooked. 

blog photo bWhat if this process of conveying passion from teacher to student is not quite as simple as we make it out to be? What if the student, despite only being recently introduced to the subject material, actually conveys the passion to us, the teachers? It may not seem like the most logical sequence, but my 4th grade science class provides me with evidence of its legitimacy.

I have never been much of a "science guy." I've never disliked it (with the exception of my high school sophomore advanced chemistry course, which still makes me shudder), but as I grew older and my schooling offered more choices between the sciences and the liberal arts, I usually chose the latter. But that's all changed.

In part, this change has occurred simply because I have been reintroduced to the material (so many forgotten facts from my 4th grade years!). Interestingly, though, science has become so important to me, but not because of the subject's facts. Rather, my newly found passion for science is fueled by my students' reactions to the content.

Plants use the carbon dioxide that we produce to make food? Earth's continents used to be one giant landmass? Salt is a mineral, and we eat it? A small paper wad can float between two liquids, due to differences in density? Sponges are animals? WHAT?

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In science class, ideas "click" and minds are "blown" throughout lessons as students grapple with ideas and concepts essential to our world. Through inferring, observing, measuring, communicating, classifying, and predicting, students (and myself!) are constantly seeing everyday objects and actions with new, amazing perspectives.

We learn from the classroom plant, a rusting gutter, clouds, and sand. And because science is essential to everything, astonishing connections are always being made: "Mr. Casey, I'd like to make a connection between religion and science. Mortal sins are like metal rusting, because the rust changes the metal until it breaks off. And mortal sins break our friendship with God." That really happened.

Ultimately, I believe the subject of science is important because it forces us to question the world around us, and through such engagement we live more fully within our world. Through the reactions of my students, I've realized the importance of my duty to provide students with the knowledge and resources to discover these miracles. And this is what drives my passion for teaching science.