Winnie Ho is a graduate of Golden Apple’s STEM Institute, having participated in both Introduction to Inquiry and Advanced Inquiry. She teaches at Everett Elementary on Chicago’s south side. Winnie has all the right stuff: a passion for teaching, a genuine rapport with her students, a solid knowledge base in science, the willingness to work hard, and the desire to become a really good teacher. I asked her to reflect on her experience as a brand new science teacher and offer some thoughts for others in her place.
1. What was it like to be assigned to teach science? What kind of background did you have for it?
When I was first handed the assignment to teach science I was both excited and nervous. I had only taught for one year and that was kindergarten. I knew there would be some challenges my first year teaching science, and I didn’t know if I was prepared to effectively teach it. However, I was interested to see what kind of new learning experiences I would have with my students. As a new teacher, I had a science endorsement and had taken a handful of science courses in college. This will be my third year teaching science. I’m currently teaching science (and all other subjects) in a self-contained fifth grade.
2. What was your biggest challenge, and how did you overcome it?
In the beginning, the biggest challenge was keeping students interested in Science and motivating them to ask questions about their Science investigations. I modeled questioning for them and piqued their interest in a particular activity or experiment. I would ask them, for example, what do you think we could have done differently? What could we change to get different results? I did that to give them a foundation for asking questions. I asked them questions that drew them to think about the variables, for example, in the hope that they would begin asking similar questions themselves on their own.
3. What was your biggest triumph? How did you know inquiry was working with your students?
I feel the biggest triumph is teaching Science Inquiry to my students, which has pushed them to want to learn and explore more in the field of Science. One student stands out in my mind. I’ve taught her for 3 years. Keeping a science journal has been invaluable for her. She knows how the process works, how to keep track of her data and observations, and she’s able to make the connection between her data and observations and her conclusions and to know what she could do next time in her experiments. I know she’s developed an interest and capacity to do science because she joined the after school science club we do in partnership with the Museum of Science and Industry. She even challenges me in my thinking. I’ve seen her develop over the years. The level of questions she’s able to ask now has advanced significantly, and she’s motivated the other girls around her to increase their own level of engagement in science.
4. You coach the after school science club. What is that like? Did Everett have a Science Club before?
They may have had it before, but there was a lapse, so I reintroduced it to the school. The eagerness of the students to join shows we have a student body that has a huge interest in science. Students were very excited to be in it and to do all the hands on activities. The NGSS engineering standards make it especially fun for them … the making and building … and working with things that have a real life connection for them. We are doing the MSI Science Minors program. I have 24 students who participate after school. That’s 10 % of our pre-K through 5th grade student population, and the club is only open to 3rd through 5th grade students.
5. What advice do you have for other young teachers of science?
It’s important to get students motivated and interested in Science, and it can be done through inquiry. There’s such a range of hands on activities. Be ready to go through trial and error your first year or so. There are moments when you will struggle with an activity but eventually you will find the activities that excite and engage your students. This is true because although we have a wide range of diverse learners in the classroom, once they get interested in something specific, you can use that to make a connection to every other thing that you want them to learn. It’s really trial and error. Be patient with that. It definitely does take time. It grows in time. It doesn’t just come to you.
And it’s good advice even for more experienced teachers. Skill in using an inquiry-based approach doesn’t develop overnight. Be patient with yourself. Try a few new things each year, reflect, tweak, and try some new activities the following year. Develop your own repertoire, but never consider yourself finished. That’s the philosophy that has served our STEM Institute faculty well all these many years. That, and have fun!
You can learn more about the Golden Apple STEM Institute here.