“Ah-ha” Moments in the Classroom

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One of my favorite parts of teaching is seeing the young people I work with “connect the dots” between what we study in the classroom and life outside of school.  These “ah-ha” moments, I find, have less and less to do with the world of academia, and more to do with real-world experiences, and life-long learning journeys.  The biggest memory of this “feel good” moment from this past year came during my sophomore 2 honors English class.

The focus of this course is World Literature—and we read novels, graphic novels, and memoirs written by authors from war-torn and conflict ridden countries.  To make connections between content and STEM explorations, I’ve designed resources that aid and encourage students to investigate the environmental impacts of war and conflict.  As we were reading Persepolis,  I had students watch news segments and interviews about and with people in the Middle East, Syria specifically, today.  Though situation are not at all the same, students were able to make geographical connections, and “see” people as more than characters I a novel.  With this, we studied the refugee crisis, and watched a short documentary about refugee camps.

During this film, a students asked, “but what about bathrooms?” It was in this moment an entire class of 15 and 16 year olds popped their heads up, mouths a gape, and said “oh yeah.” From here on, I was addressing and re-directing a barrage of questions like, “what about water?” “What about cooking?” “Are they worried about smoke?” “Where does the garbage go?” In this moment, I realized I was truly sparking student curiosity.  These young people began to study and explore what happens in these areas and to the landscape during times of war and conflict.  Additionally, they realized what they are privileged to experience on a day to day basis (indoor plumbing, stoves, garbage collection) isn’t a given for most people.  This kid of insight will serve them well as they continue their academic careers, and for understanding the “big picture” of the world in which they live.

I would’ve been hard pressed to get my classes thinking on a global scale like this without my work with the fellowship.  I redesigned a lot of my classroom content and curriculum after my externship at the EPA.  I incorporated more inquiry projects that encouraged students to explore their natural environments, and I know that this is what directly contributed to these young people asking real-life questions.  Furthermore, my time with the fellowship has provided the resources to point my students into more scientific fields or research and data collection resources.  I am more confident in my ability to share future STEM related careers with young people in my classroom.  Plus, I’m more comfortable reaching out to and collaborating with science teacher at my school, and asking specific questions to help grow student learning.  I am so grateful for my experience with the fellowship and my time the EPA, so that I can facilitate student learning in ways that I’ve not been able to before…connecting more dots than ever before.