John Zuzenak, LMS Middle School teacher
I spent my first year teaching as an intern at Culver Military Academy. When I taught my first class in the fall of 1993, I thought being a good teacher meant standing in front of my students and simply regurgitating all my knowledge on the given topic: the more I told them, the more they would learn. However, the blank stares looking back at me after my first few lessons proved that I was wrong.
I focused on making my lectures more comprehensive, sure that I could reach my students through more thorough preparation. When those blank stares continued, I turned to my mentor for advice. All he said was, “You just need to remember, good science smells bad.” So, I began to pay more attention to my students during their laboratory activities. They were focused, making connections between concepts, smiling and enjoying their work – the blank stares were gone. Most importantly, they were actually doing science.
Sixteen school years later, after teaching several different courses and working with students ranging in age from 12 to 19, this fact still holds true: students who are given the opportunity to make their own discoveries develop a better understanding of their course material and are more apt to leave the classroom with an appreciation for science. The challenge for me now is designing different lesson plans, laboratory activities and projects that allow students to gather their own data and to reach their own conclusions – to “get their hands dirty.”
Science advances through careful observations of events and making conclusions based on these observations. While traditional lectures can provide students the knowledge required to make those conclusions, I believe that students learn better by doing – by being active participants in class discussions and by experiencing the “hands on” nature of laboratory activities. Students who do are more likely to make lasting connections in the subject and truly enjoy science. I also believe that by varying activities and using a combination of class discussion and laboratory work, students with different learning styles are able to succeed in my class. I know that not every student will continue in science after taking one of my classes, but by allowing them to truly experience science, I hope to show them all that science is fun and important to their everyday lives.
Looking back at my own grade school education, I cannot recall a single science lecture that made me love science. What I remember is what I did in class. I vividly remember the sensory overload that accompanied my first frog dissection: the sight of the frogs in their trays, the shocked sounds from my classmates and, most memorably, the overpowering smell of formaldehyde. Those memories came rushing back to me when my mentor reminded me, “Good science smells bad.” That dissection, and other activities like it, helped to develop my love for science. I strive to reach my students same way.