Earlier this year, I was asked to participate (as a subject) in a research study examining teacher’s expertise as it relates to pedagogy, subject expertise, and inquiry (research) skills. During an interview, I was asked to recall a meaningful experience that influenced my teaching. I have orally told this story many times, but the researcher was recording and transcribing. I was fortunate to receive a copy of the transcript and am sharing it below:
Question: Can you recall what experiences informed your understanding of science teaching?
Yes! I can very much pinpoint the event that really helped focus and change my perception of myself as a science teacher. And it took place in March 1998. I was working with a teacher and he said, Frank you would really like this event, is called the Junior Science and Humanities symposium. It takes place at UConn and I really encourage you to go. I think you are going to get a lot out of it. Take a couple of students if you would like, and by the way, can you take my son too. He’s at the right age and I think it would be good for him to go. So I went to this symposium at the University of Connecticut. What I found were students presenting results from their research. It took place in 15-minute platforms: they did 15 minute talks followed by questions and answers from the audience. I was sitting in the audience utterly mesmerized by these students – how well they were presenting. I sat back and said what a fool I had been. As a neophyte teacher, I was teaching the way I was taught. Here I had my mind opened to remind me what really made a very positive influence in my development as a scientist and that was working in a research laboratory. Watching those students I realized what was meaningful to me – what made me a good student of science. It was not the didactic book knowledge but rather the meaningful exploration of science as a way to develop knowledge. So I walked away from that event saying this (authentic, applied research) is what I should be doing. From that point, I really started to shape my philosophy of education. At that point I did not know what inquiry meant or perhaps I had not defined it as well as I do today, but I understood the value of doing authentic research. The Junior Science and Humanities Symposium really shaped my whole philosophy of teaching – that we needed to move students towards the individualization and the authentic opportunities for them to do meaningful science. So I can confidently say that was the most important experience in my professional career to date.
There is so much more to the story too. At that symposium there were also students presenting posters. I went up to one of the students who has developed this device and it was basically a homemade spectrophotometer: it’s a device used to measure interference of light. He was using it for photosynthesis or some whatever reason. He was very proud of himself and I was chatting with him and his teacher happened to be there. The students was from Greenwich High School, which was the next town from where I was teaching. I met this teacher, we really got on very well, and he became a mentor for me to inculcate me to doing science research process with students. He really was a wonderful teacher and it was an amazing experience in the sense that I recognized what I valued in my education and also I met someone who shared the same values as I did. We both had extremely positive experiences doing research with students. He became a mentor for me.