SSU Noyce Scholar Ginnie Chu Reflects on Conference Participation
A Sense of Perspective
by Ginnie Chu, SSU Noyce Scholar, and Science Teacher
At the recent NSF Robert Noyce Teachers Scholarship Conference, as I recounted some of my teaching experiences to a professor in attendance, he asked how long I have been teaching. When I responded that this was my first year, he exclaimed, “But you sound like such an expert!” I was caught a bit speechless, because I thought, “Of course I am an expert of my own experiences.” I realized that as I write this, I should ask you, dear reader, to bear in mind, my musings on my first year teaching come from a sample size of one…me.
- I just completed my first year teaching at a comprehensive and an alternative high school in Santa Rosa, CA. Both are high-needs public schools sharing one campus.
- 2) This is the first STEM education conference I have ever attended.
One of the many challenges I faced in my first year teaching was a lack of perspective for the diversity of new experiences in which I found myself living. I was constantly reflecting, asking colleagues for their perspectives, and then re-evaluating my own instinctual reactions to these new experiences because I lacked past experiences for comparison. One of best outcomes of attending the Noyce conference was the valuable perspectives and additional lens I gained for which to view my understanding and place in the larger world of education. While the conference provided me with rich layers of multifaceted learning, I will focus on three specific experiences.
The first one-hour workshop I attended was titled, “Social Media for STEM Educators: How to Build an Online Community Around STEM Ideas and Market Yourself as a Leader in the Field.” While I gained some tips and tricks, such best blogging sites and how to set up a Twitter account, sitting in this workshop forced me to consciously recognize that I am actively building my identity as an educator. I must exercise great intention in the process of creating my professional identity. This workshop emphasized the use of social networking tools in education. The idea of social networking tools spurred me to think deeper about the idea of education itself. Very few educators currently in classrooms today experienced the same learning environment of that of their students. The current learning environment is a very different landscape from which I was raised. The learning paradigm is shifting, and whether I choose to shift and adapt my teaching with it has significant implications for my students’ achievement. This is well illustrated in an exchange I had with a student I taught this year. The classroom was buzzing with a school scandal. When I asked the students what they were talking about, one student said to me, “Oh come on Ms. Chu. You know what we are talking about.” When I feigned ignorance, she responded, “Don’t you read the news? You need to go to Facebook.” While it hadn’t occurred to me that Facebook was a legitimate news outlet, it also had not occurred to me that I was not meeting my students where they were, both metaphorically and in the virtual places they congregate. Recognizing this leads me to ponder, how do I teach to most effectively engage today’s students in the act of learning?
Another workshop I attended was titled, “Using Concept Maps as an Assessment Tool to Close the Achievement Gap.” In this one-hour workshop, two professors presented a cursory introduction to concept mapping followed by practice creating our own concept maps. This workshop was unlike any other experience I had at the conference. Some audience members raised skepticism and expressed negative sentiment about the validity and effectiveness of concept mapping as an assessment tool. There was provocative and at times hostile debate throughout. From my participation in this workshop, as well as the conversations I had with other scholars in attendance afterwards, I have two conclusions to share. First, I was surprised by the controversy surrounding something as seemingly innocuous as concept making. This surprise underscores a greater philosophical debate about education. We as educators share a common goal; we want students to learn. That may be where the consensus ends. What we consider effective teaching, whether in theory or practice, expected learning outcomes, and how we assess those outcomes lie on a wide continuum. Just as students act in the way they see themselves, we act in the way we see our roles as educators. The controversy in which I found myself allowed me to realize this second point. The dialogue around me underscored the importance that I must form and articulate my own pedagogy in order to participate in both the larger conversation as well as in consensus building in the STEM education community. While this goes in tandem with building professional identity, I believe that when I can articulate what teaching and learning mean to me, I will find that identity. Or alternatively, how am I able to cross pedagogical lines if I don’t know where I stand?
Aside from attending workshops, I also had the opportunity to speak on a plenary panel discussing some of the trials and tribulations of my first year teaching. It was not the panel talk itself but rather the feedback I received that was so poignant and thought provoking for me. Teaching can be an isolating experience. In the concentric circles of inclusion, I am in the center. From there, my students, departmental colleagues, school faculty, and district occupy the outer circles roughly in that order. While I shared my experiences as a first year teacher in a high needs school, I falsely assumed that many in the audience would not be able to relate to the unique vagaries and challenges of teaching in Northern California, or more specifically, at my schools. For example, I believed that some would take offense to the idea that I see myself as both a science and language educator. After this plenary session, a first year teacher from Mobile, Alabama thanked me for the talk. This teacher expressed gratitude and appreciation for my words because, as she put it, “You articulated everything I was thinking and wanted to say.” From that brief exchange, I learned two new things. First, a teacher from Mobile, Alabama and one from Northern California shared similar teaching experiences. It suggests to me that our situations and experiences are far more alike than not. For one, we are attempting to teach scientific literary. While there are always nuances to each individual circumstance, teachers in high-need schools throughout the country share similar obstacles, needs, and student populations. If this is true, then there must be similar underlying root causes to these challenges we face. The second realization I made from talking to this teacher is that I am not as isolated as I think. As I attempt to make small ripples in my classroom, teachers all over the country are doing the same. And together, we are collaborating to generate a large wave of positive change while propagating social justice.
This conference was an invaluable opportunity for me to immerse myself in quality discourse. It challenged my own ideas of what it means to be an educator. And in a year when I was just treading water to stay afloat, this experience was a lifeline that brought me back to the raft of values that originally inspired me to teach. During my time in the SSU credentialing program, I felt indoctrinated to many of the visions contained within the School of Education Conceptual Framework. I understood what that meant on paper, but only now am I beginning to embody and understand what that means in action.