Learning is best when it is self-discovered and chosen by the learner. Therefore, as a educator, I must challenge students to reflect on their understanding of the world and create situations where students respond and develop new ways of thinking based on these experiences. Students are gently brought out of their comfort zones with tasks that sometimes confuse and where solutions are not always apparent. I want my students to be risk takers and therefore learn how to deal with error and handle mistakes.
With a goal of changing my students, and after years of study on best practices, I have found that using a framework for instructional greatly improves my effectiveness. My own approach is based on “Five E model” (Roger Bybee) and the VESTED Approach” (Kolak). Both of these models share similar ideas that instruction should start with events that engage and provide insight; followed by an experiences where students explore the concept; and where later they discuss and apply what they learn.
Helping students transform into scientifically literate and global citizens is a task most effectively realized with the support and knowledge of others. My expertise has been greatly enhanced through networks such as the National Science Teacher List serve where I frequently go for advice and also share my own insights. Finding mentors, developing internships, and nurturing educational partnerships has also always been an important part of my approach to education. Working with practicing experts in the field of science can be a life changing experience. In Brownsville we initiated summer internships with university professors. In Laredo and Brownsville, Texas, I helped pair up science fair winners with research scientists. In Dalian, China I developed a summer internship, started an education outreach program, and developed student leaders through our partnership with the Thirst4Water organization.
For over ten years, in two different school districts I facilitated projects funded by the National Science Foundation of the United States focused on improving achievement in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Brownsville, Texas is ranked as the poorest city in the United States (US Census) and according to recent study the fourth lowest in adult education attainment in the US (WalletHub). Yet through our efforts to improve student achievement, our district was awarded the prestigious Broad Foundation Award for Top Urban School District in 2008.
Not only should all students achieve well in school, but they should also develop an enthusiasm for learning and a desire to know about the world in which they live. One way I measure success is by the fact that the science department, has become the largest department in our school. Most of our students graduate with at least one Advanced Placement science course and are enrolled in as many as three AP science courses. One student who has been my student for four years is graduating with 7 Advanced Placement classes, including AP Physics, AP Biology and AP Chemistry. Her average score on the AP exams is 4.4. Last year, I had more than one student graduate with three AP science classes. For a small school with less than 300 students, this is only possible through an innovative and carefully aligned course sequence.