Summer is an odd time for teachers. It is somewhat vacation but I can never help but think constantly about next year. Now in my 13th year of summer’s I notice that each year the thoughts and planning are a bit different. This year I was wrestling with how to involve more choice in projects. As someone who likes detailed planning this feels a bit like launching off a cliff into the unknown. I know my students need scaffolding and guidance but I also know that choice will help their by-in and motivation so embracing both of those simultaneously is a challenge for my brain. I am reminded that in yoga we work to embrace the effort and ease in a pose simultaneously.
After not thinking about school for a few weeks of summer I have been incredibly inspired lately in the most unlikely of places. In a home-goods store in my hometown I saw this beautiful book “Biophilia” by Christopher Marley. After a night of delving deep into the Internet on the topic that I found this amazing interdisciplinary curriculum by Bjork connected to her album “Biophilia”. Then I read my Free Will Astrology Horoscope from last week and learned about Darwin’s book “The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms”.
Somehow these disconnected topics seemed to all come together. Science at its core is an appreciation of the natural world. Noticing the art in it, organizing it, observing infinitesimal changes made by worms in soil to allow mould and eventually all plants to grow in soil these are at the core of what science is all about. Starting with this will allow for choice. It will set the stage and hopefully inspire. It will be… (insert educational trend words of the moment) the big idea, the theme, the unifying concept, the essential question, the guiding principle.
Suddenly the beginning of the year is taking shape; for 9th and 10th grade biology begins with collecting seeds, bugs, leaves or other similar organisms or structures of organisms for an art project. Students will write a paragraph (curatorial comments) with their piece and how it is related to classification of living things. Maybe we will work on this with an elementary school class. Maybe we will hold an All-Island Art Show. Throughout we can reading excerpts from Darwin’s book as we are introduced to and practice the Reciprocal Teaching reading comprehension strategies we use throughout the year. Designing experiments on mould as we investigate soil science in the garden to understand the scientific method. My 11th grade chemistry class starts with soil science to understand properties of matter so this may spill over to their work as well.
Teaching is both an art and science and the more I teach the more the art part comes through. This is hard to explain, this planning is messy and not easy to replicate. It is not scalable or measurable and though it makes the scientist in me quiver maybe it is for the best.