What made me a good science teacher… hurt me here

It took years to realize that my science teacher mindset was a problem. I had a great system for delivering science content. We had as much fun as possible while still preparing for the standardized test. I made every effort to interest my students in the concepts that we had to study. At the same time, we had to cover as much content as possible.

This is an important thing to understand.  Underneath my attempts to make the classwork interesting was a less-fun truth. We had to get through the content because this will be on the test. Students who didn’t find the content interesting needed to do the work anyway. State standards are clear: all students must learn these standards at this age.

Most students were not intrinsically motivated to do their 8th-grade science work. But that fact didn’t excuse students from the classwork. It was up to me to keep them learning, like it or not. I could teach my heart out and but some students still wouldn’t complete the classwork.

Our school system has created external motivators to deal with unmotivated students. We use grades and missing recess to keep kids learning the content. Parents can use grades as a generic motivator for their kids. It isn’t the worst system with good teachers and engaged parents.

I balanced all this as a teacher who needed to cover content. If a student isn’t working, their low grade was the result. I couldn’t let other students stop working, so I would have to ask, remind, and pressure the student to catch up. A subtle reminder would redirect a student who was not paying attention. If allowed, many more students would be off task.

In short, I was in charge and my students needed to be very productive. They needed to be busy regardless of their interest in the topic. It was my job to keep them learning and to grade them on their work. Positive relationships would help students produce more work and retain more information.

Teachers have to focus on covering content with everything else they want to do in the classroom. There are too many standards to cover. Every interesting tangent and spontaneous moment can be enjoyed, but not for too long since they won’t be on the test. I deeply regret that I discarded fun, in-depth projects to cover more content.

This was the mindset that I brought into maker education. It was a great mindset for getting kids ready for a standardized test. It was a terrible mindset for helping kids create.

A new vision for education

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