What's your story?
It seems like an odd question to start with in a blog, but I was twice reminded of the importance of story this week.
This past week, the Library of Congress (LOC) held a professional development (PD) for the Einstein Fellows. As a science teacher, it's not a place I would have thought of for resources in my classroom, but it's made for science. A lot of sophisticated tools are used to analyze the documents and artifacts, including spectroscopy (determining elemental makeup), seeing how materials react to infrared and ultraviolet light, recreating inks and pigments from the 14th centuries and using chemistry to determine materials that are safe to use in exhibits. The employees we talked to in the preservation lab were all scientists by trade. We got to see incredibly rare books, including the 1st anatomy text by Andrew Vesalius which included detailed drawing of the human body he developed after dissecting numerous human cadavers. My favorite was a 1st edition of Darwin's Origin of the Species (worth $100,000).
At the end of this incredible PD, we have time for reflection and one of the fellows commented on the importance of story. The documents at the LOC (nearly all are digitized), can provide some much needed background for our stories. When you teach within the context of a story, the students are automatically more engaged. The story itself is the very backbone of teaching STEM. True STEM teachers are masters at exciting students about learning because of the way they weave story into learning.
A prime example of using story comes from my friend and amazing colleague, Susan Duffy. Hard to pick with so many incredible examples, but her unit on Henrietta Lacks stands out to me for the power of story. Collaborating with English and social studies teachers, the students read the book, "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks". Her story was analyzed by the students using lenses of English, history and biology. As a culminating project, they created a museum display that was open for teachers and parents to visit. The students learned so much about the importance of story, in particular, the importance of analyzing a story from many lenses to get a more complete picture.
My colleague Annette has also incorporated story into her physics classroom. Annette taught physics with me for a few years and has taken over the physics and AP Physics 1 classes this year while I am here in DC. This Tuesday, her physics students will be racing team constructed cardboard boats in a pool. Their boat has to tell a story with a theme and costumes and they have to show they understand the physics of how a boat floats. Building the boats requires a lot of hours of work outside the classroom and teaches the students collaboration skills.
Teachers also use story to connect with their students. I am not afraid to tell my physics student on day 1 that I dropped physics in high school at semester time. When I am doing my summer workshops for new AP Physics teachers, I tell them on day 1 that I started out teaching biology and chemistry and made fun of the physics teacher. Why let them in on my story? Because they can connect with it. Many students are scared of physics because its physics and a large portion of AP Physics teachers started out as biology or chemistry teachers. It's a point of connection- where our stories intersect- and it's powerful.
As a science teacher and lifelong educator, I have been inspired by colleagues like Susan and Annette to incorporate story into what I do in my classroom. They were here in DC visiting me this week and I realized how much I have missed working with them this year.
These 2 very special people (Annette on the left and Susan on the right) are part of my story. They, along with many other colleagues, family and friends have led me to where I am today They inspire me to be a better teacher and to fight for what is best for students. I have been privileged to work with so many incredible people, many who have changed the course of my career. For that, I am incredibly grateful. But my story is not yet complete. If I have learned anything these past few months, it's that my story is still being written. At the moment, I feel like an author with writer's block. I have a few ideas, but I am not sure where my story is headed. That's both terrifying and exhilarating. Stay tuned to hear the rest of the story....