I grew up in San Antonio, Texas and went to Edgewood district public schools.
Loma Park Elementary School
Truman Junior High school
Memorial High School
I then went on to undergraduate and graduate education:
BS Education (Spanish and Biology), The University of Texas at Austin
MEd Education Administration, Niagara University
Administration Certificate, Niagara University
I was a junior high science teacher at School 18, Buffalo, NY Clinical Faculty at S.U.N.Y Buffalo where I cotaught a science methods class. I am now teaching science methods for non-majors at the University of Lethbridge in Lethbridge, Alberta.
My teaching philosophy is built upon the foundations of my own educational experience. As a Mexican American growing up in San Antonio, I attended the Edgewood district schools as described in Kozol's book Savage Inequalities. There was a great disparity between my education deep in the west side and the education available to child on the northside of San Antonio. Still, I had parents and teachers who cared and encouraged me in my studies. Out my backdoor was a Texas grassland of mesquite trees, rattlesnakes and grasshoppers. I spent much time as a child exploring this habitat and grew to know it well. Insects were of particular interest to me as I spent sunny days chasing them and late nights pinning them. I read all that I could about them. On cold clear nights, the moon would hang in the dark sky and I would watch it through binoculars. Learning by actively participating in the search for knowledge is something I have always done. Solving problems, raising and creatively exploring new questions are central to my style of teaching.
As teachers and administrators, we classify students with a label we then put them on a bus where they go to a home without a label. The Hispanic, Black, recent immigrants and handicapped are no different in their need to understand and to know how to safely interact with their environment. They need to know basic nutrition, electrical safety, body processes, responsible sexual behavior and other science skills and attitudes. They especially need concrete experiences to assist in bridging possible linguistic or socio-economic barriers to understanding some scientific ideas. When we identify students with special needs of whatever kind, we are not pulling them out to forget about them. Regardless of their classification at school, students go on into the world of employment and society. All pupils at every grade level should be getting a good program in science. In these days of great social need, many students are overwhelmed with the stress and negativity. Many have problems with their parents, their love life, their self esteem, their appearance etc. They need to see beauty in the world and beauty in themselves. I believe that our young need to know that they are precious and are deserving of our attention. They need know that they are getting our best and are expected to give their best. Life sometimes is grim for our students, the science classroom should be a place where they can get away from their life and get on with the business of learning science. All students should have the chance for rigorous thinking and communicating what they know. So many are capable, interested and thrilled to be a participant in science.
The modern world is dominated by rapid changes in science and technology, at home as well as the workplace. I take my role as a science teacher very seriously. Out of the three years of science required for a high school diploma, two are taught in junior high. This is the maximum preparation in science that some students will get for their whole life. After graduation, most pupils eventually are "mainstreamed" into society . Some go on to higher education, but hopefully many go on to jobs. They become parents, workers, consumers and citizens. It is these roles that I feel I am preparing my students for. I want my pupils to be able to apply knowledge and skills gained in my classes to their lives. They should use this knowledge to guide them through to responsible ethical and informed behavior. I hope that my students will be clear eyed, creative problem solves when faced with a new problem regardless of their occupation. I want them to be positive and active participants in managing the events in their lives. I want their presence to impact on others in helpful and responsible ways. America needs this type of citizen especially now. Without some basic knowledge of science, Americans would be subject to even more needless death, injury, illness and suffering than is already occurring. Ignorance and superstition would flourish. Already, tabloids scream absurd claims about aliens, health cures and spread great misinformation. Americans all should be properly prepared in science. Every American should be informed about the environment, disease control, waste management as he/she will need to make decisions at the polls, in their neighborhoods, and in their homes.
One of our strengths as Americans is our multiculturalism. Our scientists work around the alongside scientists from other countries. Our world is full exciting questions to pursue and Americans with their diverse backgrounds can better communicate with others. Communication between us all is clearer when we use all of our many voices to speak. Our modern world has many problems that are awaiting solutions. You never know when and where the love for science will blossom and yield the fruit of innovation and new discovery. I have always felt passionately about the natural world and enjoy interacting with young people who curious about it. Acting in a stepwise manner in order to satisfy that curiosity does not come naturally, it is a set of skills that must be taught. Preparing students to think in terms of problems, experiments and solutions is vital if we are to continue as a resourceful and prosperous nation. I believe that good science instruction for all Americans is necessary in order to remain competitive in the world trade and job market.
In my years as a student at the University of Texas, I studied science instruction methods under Dr. John P. Huntsburger. In this course, he emphasized a hands-on method of science instruction. I have found that instructing students in science through hands-on methods allows for differing learning styles. It provides opportunities for verbal interactions, excitement and movement. I think that the learning of science should be a stimulating pursuit. I know that the students in front of me are not blank slates, they have received instruction from their previous teachers and have a positive outlook on their science studies. My students are eager to participate, but get so excited that care must be taken to train the students in good habits in the science room. One of my goals is that they transfer a sense of self respect and personal safety into their lives at home. Some young students have a life surrounded by drugs, solvents, guns, unsafe sex, alcohol and violence. School must be different place.
Throughout history, many have fled their homelands in successive waves of immigration to the United States. Their children go to our schools and become American. School 18 has a very diverse inner city population. My classes at are composed of Puerto Rican American, Italian American, Irish American, Black American, Native American, Arabian American and Lebanese American, Guatemalan American students, etc. Many of the students in the school come from disadvantaged families. Being poor doesn't mean you can't think, but it might reduce the opportunities for thinking at home in a crowded house. All children should have a lively hands-ons instruction in science. It allows for an educational experience that appeals to students with a variety of learning styles. Teaching science using a hands -on method is fun and rewarding but a challenge to pull off as often as one would like. Working closely with other teachers, we can share and support each other in our efforts to provide a good experience in science instruction.
At School 18, I work with a special education teacher that is especially excited by science hands- on methods. Now, we work together for several periods where several disabled students are included in my regular classes. Bill Laurie is a special education teacher who is in my room for two periods in a Physical science class and a life science class. Ideas for the next activity are often the subject of conversation between us.
As science mentor for the school it is my pleasure to encourage and support the instruction of science from kindergarten to grade six. Throughout my years at school 18, I have seen the kind of science taught that I believe in. School 18 is a small piece of America where I can have a direct influence. Every year I get around 100 students for science instruction. Every year around fifty of them go on to high school. They may not be a large group but I try to give them what they deserve in science instruction. Last August, while at a meeting in Hawaii I met a cricket biochemist that grew up and went to school two blocks away from where I teach. It is a small world indeed.
It is a characteristic of young people to explore their world. They have much energy and are naturally inquisitive. Without guidance, most would act to relieve themselves of boredom using the many distractions available to students today. TV, the radio, the phone, the stereo, the video games can occupy much of their time. This need to be mentally and physically engaged makes them potentially lively and enthusiastic science students. I believe my students need to manipulate materials, choose options and communicate their success in understanding scientific events and concepts. My students have an active imaginations that need to be channeled and focused into a systematic way of thinking. I support the teaching of hands-on science throughout the elementary school classes and in classes for the disabled. When a group of youngsters are on task doing an experiment it is an exciting thing to behold. Children are not so different from each other in this respect. A good science education program benefits the educationally and economically disadvantaged as much if not more than the average pupil. Many of my students will not go on to be scientists but most will go on to some employment. Those workers that can look at a system, isolate a problem and test a solution for it will have an advantage over others.
Besides process, there are certain reoccurring themes that form a framework upon which to hang current science instruction. Systems, classification, change are a few of the themes that occur in science instruction whether it concerns life, physical or earth science. These ideas are rather abstract when taught entirely by the book. Producing data makes it much easier to understand than reading a definition of it. Although, students need to be literate in science and require some reading and writing, hands on activities provide a stimulus for provoking a response to science related issues in the student's environment. To experience a worm is to know it is not a snake, this promotes the understanding of the idea of classification. To actually see grubs turn into beetles teaches the concepts of change and life cycles better than any diagram. Teaching like this takes lot of energy, is noisy, but it enhances student knowledge and generates a lively response. It is an excellent motivation for doing their homework. They come to class eager to see what they are going to do next. Some timid students unsure of their English start to count the swings of a pendulum with comfort when joined in a chorus with other voices.
My students should have the opportunity to gather information and come up with new decisions. Students need a basic set of skills in order to be an scientifically literate citizen. My students must to be able to measure their groceries when they buy in bulk. Administering the correct dosage as indicated on a prescription is also a science skill in measuring. They will have to make decisions on waste sites, pollution, recycling issues that may involve their community. Therefore, we hold class discussions from time to time to get a response on certain issues. I try to relate instruction to their experience by a series of questions that open the topic and elicit responses that demonstrate an understanding of the topic. I ask for their ideas and opinions and many times they raise some points that are different than mine.
Many parents appreciate a good local program that offers opportunities in instruction that will challenge their children. In a city with magnet school programs, some talented students leave the community school for the magnet schools. But, many parents prefer that their children attend the community school and have a right to expect that their children being taught by equally competent teachers. A good hands-on, inquiry based program should also challenge the brighter students to extend their knowledge on topics of their own interest through independent study and research like in science fairs. When the time comes for judging the science fair I turn to parents to decide the best projects. The School 18 parent teacher group has bought several laser disc players for use in science instruction throughout the school.
Putting on a hands-on program in a junior high school is challenging and requires many materials. I absorb some of the expenses personally. Fortunately, now that I am working with another teacher we can spread the cost of the program between us. We have to do science without expensive science kits and how to improvise with readily available materials. Students do most experiments in groups of four. We use informal cooperative group strategies to spread responsibility for the various steps around. We have group leaders who encourage the group to stay on task, recorders keep notes, speakers are the voice, and "gofers" who go for materials. I often present a problem to the class but first assign it to the groups to be discussed. Then I ask the speakers for their group answers. Sometimes, we will still use some textbook work to reinforce the written words of science. I still must support literacy a content area like science. I also use videos of selected science programs like Nova, Nature, National Geographic and American Frontiers from PBS. I use a laser disc player for the "Windows in Science" program to visually reinforce my teaching.
My classroom is also a place that requires attention on the part of the student. I keep plants on the window ledge for use in our botany studies. I also have some gerbils and hamsters that they must tend. This, I believe develops a capacity to nurture something small and gentle. Also with the various activities going on in my class and in the building, there are various materials that must be washed, delivered or put away. They can sit with binoculars and look for the trucks on the Peace Bridge bringing in solid waste from Canada. If a storm is really good we will raise the window blinds, turn off the lights and watch it for a awhile.
Part of my instruction involves the attitude of the student towards his/her community. Last year the students of the junior high walked to a local park by the Niagara river and picked up garbage during the Bag-A-Thon. Every year in December, I coordinate a food drive through the school. This community is badly depressed economically with the majority of the families on some kind of federal assistance. Many of my students come from single parent families. Still, the children think of others less fortunate than themselves and donate generously.
As I myself have done some work in illustration, so I also like to provide opportunities for other means of demonstrating understanding. I like to ask for a diagram, a drawing, even a mural to show a scientific idea like a particular biome. Once a year I challenge them to a science fair for several weeks, I have bread mold, volcanoes, electric lemons, crystals, and other models displayed with a library report and a poster. This is always a stressful, but happy time for me. This is always where I am pleasantly surprised by the efforts of my students. Considering their income base they are highly creative in their use of materials. I do not permit expensive ready made kits to be used.
As for my strategies in discipline, the most important thing is that my students are people who exist and who matter. I use Transactional Analysis in averting problems in my class. This involves working with my students on the affective level. I work to establish a relationship with each of my students and am successful more with some than with others. I work hard at increasing positive interactions in the classroom and averting or ignoring negative ones in order to shape attitudes and behaviors that are conducive to the goals of my instructional program.. We laugh as we work through the activities since there are many opportunities for mistakes in a class of junior high kids. I work to focus on when each pupil is doing well. I give them safe opportunities to be right in their responses. Eventually, they feel safe enough to venture into more uncertain areas where they must venture their own opinion. This is positive reinforcement of their attitude towards science. In this way, they learn that science is not only a subject but rather a way of thinking, solving the problems they encounter.
Part of my method is to encourage scientific inquiry. I use open ended questioning to allow the students to think out loud. I use guided questioning techniques to lead them to an understanding just within their grasp. The very process examining a situation and then formulating and raising a question is the very skill I wish to develop. I don't so much tell my students science facts, as provide opportunities for the students to acquire the concepts through a process that leads them to hunt for the answers by a variety of methods. Doing some of the work orally and in cooperative groups gets around some writing disabilities and increases science vocabulary use in small groups. They draw charts and record numbers. It is under these conditions, in the safety of their small groups, that they practice thinking and responding to problems presented. Here they can take a chance to be wrong which is very closely related to taking the chance to be right. How can a student learn to mull ideas over in their heads if they are not asked to do so. They need practice in reasoning and reassurance that they are proceeding according to a set of logical steps.
The scientific method is a useful tool that can be applied in many situations. Producing students who are familiar with the process of the logical investigation in search of answers to questions posed is a important to this nation. As science information continues to explode with the aid of computer assisted research, new technologies and new jobs continually will be created. Our students need the ability to be flexible and adaptable thinkers. They need to watch as new opportunities open up and be able to say, " I think I know how to solve that problem.". As a nation, we need to look forward to the future and have a population of Americans that can meet it's challenge.
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Sunday, May 31, 1998