I was a good kid in school, I didn't cause trouble and I earned high marks. My trick was that I had a very good memory and I loved to read. Teachers praised me, they told me how smart I was all through elementary and middle school. Then came high school, and the material became more and more challenging. I still did well, but I had a sense that I wasn't necessarily understanding the content, I was a good test taker, in fact I almost had a sixth sense for the right answer. Sometimes, I would try to tell a teacher that I really didn't understand "that problem or that concept" but they didn't seem to take me seriously and I didn't push too hard (after all I didn't want to disappoint them, they believed I was "smart" and what if I was dumb - being smart had become my identity?!). Not a single one indicated I should try more, work harder, or put a little more effort in, so I didn't. And then came college. It was like hitting a wall. My hippocampus was not going to be my savior...and my grades demonstrated that all too clearly. I had to learn how to work, how to put in the effort to learn, and in that moment, I knew what I hadn't learned in high school - the value of effort. Effort will take you further than talent, since talent without effort will not take you anywhere. When four of my six teams placed, they demonstrated the reward of effort, I don't have 20 students with photographic memories, but I do have at least 20 students who understand the value of hard work, preparation and a positive attitude. They inspire me. I hope I can emulate even a smidgeon of what they do every day.
Today I was gossiping with a colleague about another colleague. Not my best moment. My students have many "not my best moments" every day. You know, the days they curse during a conversation with you, forget to do their homework, make a disparaging remark about another teacher, vent their frustration over an administrative policy, interrupt you in the middle of something important, do the exact opposite of what you asked them to, and so on. We all make poor choices, saying or doing things we wish we hadn't, but when it matters most, who are we? I like to think when it matters most I have my best moments, without reservations, I can say my students had a best moment when it mattered most and it impressed me. My students exhibited professional behavior that many adults would have found difficult in similar circumstances. They showed a maturity in winning that was admirable, they didn't gloat and they applauded whole heartedly for the other teams at the event. They interacted courteously and amiably with event organizers and participants. So, a gentle reminder during someone's "not best moment" might be a highly effective means of insuring a best moment when it matters most. And teachers, it never hurts to admit when maybe you could've have done something differently or better, after all, that's a teachable moment, so teach professionalism, it's a key 21st century skill that will always benefit the learner (and maybe you as well).
Lastly, my students documented their knowledge of environmental science (oh let this be an oracle for the APES exam). On the one hand 30 students participated on our team, representing 12% of our high school student body. What about the other 88%? What is their environmental science know-how? I've got 30 wonks, but I'm pretty worried about the other 220. When are we going to require environmental science education for all students? We've been teaching Biology, Chemistry and Physics (although that number is dwindling thanks to few qualified teachers and even fewer interested students) for over a hundred years, but the world is changing and it's time to rethink what courses we require of students. We've entered the anthropocene period, a time of globalization, a 6th mass extinction, and a changing climate. Perhaps we should prepare our students? Not just the students that are already forward-thinking enough to enroll in an environmental science course, but all students so we can develop future leaders by teaching them the value of effort and professionalism in conjunction with content knowledge through innovative teaching and learning strategies with a real-world application.
So share your thoughts on environmental science, is it time to require it? What are the benefits of teaching environmental science? What topics do you think are crucial for today's students to explore? Put in a little effort, keep it professional and join the conversation.
Kerryane Monahan is a forever student, teacher of teachers, adventure-obsessed science educator who writes about science, education, leadership, teacher problems, student problems, curriculum, successes and anything else that skitters through her brain.