I have always taught both math and science, but this year I had to choose one or the other because it was decided that our test scores might improve if teachers specialized. I chose science. Why? Well, mostly because I love science, and it’s fun to teach – plus there are so many cool props to bring in and mess around with. Bones from a Merganser I found at the pond; a giant shelf fungus I found growing on the side of a tree; the swamp aquarium we keep running in the classroom, complete with leeches and, once, a small snapping turtle. We raise plants and butterflies and worms and do experiments on everything we can find.
But I love math too! I love puzzles and problems and teaching kids to become more logical thinkers. I love the elegance and simplicity of an algebraic expression. I especially love it when the light bulb goes off in a kid’s head, as s/he finally understands the concept of exponential growth or surface area.
But really, I chose science because I didn’t want to be in the pressure cooker that our math department has become. Every curriculum meeting is devoted, not to sharing lessons or group planning, but to poring over test results and planning “interventions” based on three multiple choice questions. Plus, we give the state math assessment to every grade in our school, which means that every math teacher has to drop everything to “get ready for the test,” and every math teacher knows that test scores will soon be used for performance evaluation.
The state science test is only given to 8th graders. This means that, while I have to take the science test into consideration, I don’t ever find myself in the position of stopping what we are doing so we can get ready for the test. Additionally, while I would love it if my students remember that mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell, or that respiration is the opposite of photosynthesis, it is not my responsibility (yet) to make sure they still show it on the 8th grade science test. I pity the 8th grade students (and their teachers) – they have to remember back to 6th grade when they studied earth science and astronomy, 7th grade when they studied the cell, ecology and the human body, plus what they learn in their current year: chemistry and physics.
For the time being, I am happy to be hunkered down in 7th grade science. Call it cowardice if you wish. I call it teaching.