As a fresh graduate in a Science course and a twenty year veteran of the highly regarded Singapore education system, I came to NIE with a confidence that I could explain much of what I learnt to students. I quickly found myself struggling to keep afloat amidst the many questions posed by lecturers that I could not answer. Even concepts that I was absolutely sure I could write a textbook on became challenging. It was like a proverbial nightmare. Content knowledge that was my bread and butter was now becoming a major bugbear. I was convinced that I was conceptually perfect and suddenly I am not so sure. It was humbling.
Becoming a Physics teacher
During my mid-term attachment, I had the opportunity to work with a brilliant Physics teacher. He always had very interesting things planned out for his classes and his students hung on to every word he says. And yet, when I finally had QCP lessons, among others, I realized that he did not have the best ideas. Rather, he applied what he learned during his time in NIE. In comparison to many others I saw who adopted largely traditional methods of instruction; he was leaps and bounds ahead. In my teaching, I modeled myself after him, having many demonstrations, interactive media and other fun activities to capture the attention of students.
The first lesson in class made me think: what really makes a good Physics teacher? Was it simply performing a "magic show" for the students every day? According to the Attributes of the 21st century professional, the V3SK framework seemed to have all the aspects covered. It seemed like no mean feat for a teacher to put on so many hats at the same time. In the perception survey, I leaned towards having great empathy for the holistic education of students and less towards the content portion of the scale. And along with my apparent lack of true understanding of Physics concepts, it dawned upon me that this was one of the areas I had to work on in order to become better. To have students interested is one thing but having true learning to take place is core as well.
Identity; realizing who we are and what can make us more effective takes time. And knowing what we do not have is a definitive first step in becoming a better Physics teacher.
The Nature of Science
Even before the lessons on the Nature of Science (NOS), I had a keen interest in popular science and the world around us. I believed that Science was absolute and unyielding, a direct result of the deterministic education I have had for the larger part of my life.
As I watched the wooden contraption roll up the slope, it was a bit unnerving. It seemed to be magic, against explanations my education in gravity could offer. We always knew that what goes up must come down, so what has changed? When asked to give my observation, I answered that the block rolled up the slope. Dr Yeo immediately picked up on what was "roll up the slope" and "with reference from where".
And of course with such brilliant colleagues, the whole idea of the centre of gravity came up and a reasonable explanation could be reached. We can probably know only what we have experienced. Prior knowledge dictates that the slope exercise was an incorrect observation. However, Science is not objective truth ; it is subject to our interpretation and evaluation.
By developing skills of inquiry and questioning the 'objective truth', students will have the ability to be savvy consumers of scientific knowledge and not be mere sponges. This scientific awareness will not just aid in their ability to understand Physics but also other disciplines, hallmarks of a universal skill set . The notion that Science is not 'hard and fast' would likely make students more inclined to think out of the box and not just suck it up.
The Language of Feesiggs
Back in Junior College, my whole class used to dread Physics lessons. And no surprise too, my Physics teacher was a boring person would explain questions by writing the answers on the board and droning on in a foreign language we affectionately called "physics talk". We could not understand him and therefore could only rely on our own abilities to interpret the textbook and notes. Fast-forward almost five years later, I was teaching a Physics class in my school and several of my students said they had no idea what I was going on about. After that class, I sat in the staff room and thought long and hard about how I have become that boring Physics teacher.
Sitting through the whole poem exercise, it dawned upon me what was going wrong. I was teaching my class as though talking to my peers. My vocabulary, terms and grammar was no more foreign that Greek to these students. They probably did understand more when I did the many demonstrations and group problem solving. I had unwittingly linked their physical world with the abstract one. Their perception of theories comes from their own experience. By allowing them the opportunity to make use of their own senses, they will be able to accept and understand abstract concepts that are now based on their own observations as well. Without the opportunity to touch, feel, see and hear, students can only guess at what Physics really is about.
I believe the notion that Physics is boring can be changed. Students find it tedious simply because they take forever to understand. If students can observe the phenomena, explain it and come to an agreement to Physics concepts, it would surely be less tiresome and thus less boring. By encouraging contextual and experience and discussion, students will find it less painful to do Physics.
Physics is not faith. Seeing is believing. (Sic)
Teaching Physics is not easy, especially in today's context where there is a shift from the hard rote learning approach to a more holistic, rigorous style. As teachers, I firmly believe that we need to move away from our own education in order to allow our students to embrace this new world order. QCY520 lessons thus far have reinforced my belief that educators must unlearn and relearn before our students can do so. Being receptive to new ideas can also ease our transition into future of Physics education.
My time during attachment proved to be very helpful in my growth as a teacher. In terms of learning, if I did not experience it for myself, it would have been very difficult for me to accept the contents of this module. I realized during the lessons that my students not being able to understand was down to my teaching of Physics. Well, if anything, at least now I know what I lack and what I do not know.
Alters, B. J. (1997). Whose nature of science? Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 34(1), 39-55. doi: 10.1002/(sici)1098-2736(199701)34:1<39::aid-tea4>3.0.co;2-p
DeBoer, G. E. (2000). Scientific literacy: Another look at its historical and contemporary meanings and its relationship to science education reform. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 37(6), 582-601. doi: 10.1002/1098-2736(200008)37:6<582::aid-tea5>3.0.co;2-l
Low, E. L., Taylor, P. G., Joseph, J., & Atienza, J. C. (Eds.). (2009). A teacher education model for the 21st century. . Singapore: National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University.