Teachers in Harvard: Learning The Best Way To Teach High School Science And The Best Way to Teach Kids

By , UniversityHerald Reporter

In their first day for a summer workshop on Introduction to Teaching Science, students in the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) were faced with the "marshmallow challenge". Their instructor, master teacher Victor Pereira, Jr., thinks it's the best tool to help his students - who happened to be teachers themselves - understand the point he was trying to get across.

The marshmallow challenge was created by designer Tom Wujec to help design teams foster teamwork, leadership, collaboration and creativity. The exercise is for the teams to come up with the tallest freestanding structure made up of spaghetti noodles, string, tape and with the marshmallow placed on top within a given amount of time.

Pereira gave his students 18 minutes. The students hurriedly built their spaghetti towers and when the time was up, the towers wobbled and collapsed because of the marshmallows' weight.

"Everything you need to know about science instruction is in the marshmallow challenge." Said Pereira who is part of the Harvard Teacher Fellows Program and lecturer at the HGSE's Teacher Education Program, has 14 years of experience in teaching high school science in Boston Public Schools.

"Science is about problem-solving and collaboration," Pereira told his students. He then asked them if he could have done something to help, and one remark stood out in the conversation: the teacher's help would have limited the students' ability to learn.

There has been a long standing debate on whether freedom or structure is the best way to maximize learning. If it's best to allow students to discover things on their own or to hand it all down to them in one complete and shiny package. Pereira says, "There is room for both."

Pereira's Introduction to Teaching Science course focuses on "lesson planning, delivering science instruction, establishing a safe learning environment, and developing the reflective skills necessary to examine and improve upon practice."

The course is part of the Teacher Education Program which is designed to, according to the Harvard Gazette, "improve teaching in urban public schools and help students become independent learners and critical thinkers." The Program is open to both recent graduates and education professionals and focuses on other subjects like English, social science and history.

Pereira stresses that science should be made more relevant to students instead of asking them to memorize theories, facts and formulas because science is applicable to just about any field - observations, asking questions and finding patterns are skills which can benefit students their entire lifetime.

The experience-based learning they acquire performing the marshmallow test enabled the participants to discover things on their own. Teachers should allow their students to have the same moments of learning.

"Our future teachers are learning that they have to design instruction where students are in charge of their own learning. They have to let students be the navigators in the classroom instead of the audience." Said Pereira.

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