What makes a good science teacher?


For those of you who may be unfamiliar, over at Scienceblogs.com they have a weekly feature: Ask a Scienceblogger. Previous questions have included topics as diverse as “brain drain” and the future of the human race (you can view the archives here). This week’s question is one that I thought might interest folks here, as I and others regularly write about science education (and how to improve it). The question is (as noted in the title), “What makes a good science teacher?” I have my thoughts up over at Aetiology, and you can find other musings posted at this link for the next week.


I know what makes a *bad* one. My junior high school biology teacher’s method of, uh, teaching was to stand in front of the class and read straight from the textbook, in the most soporific monotone one could imagine.


Hey, that reminds me of the biology teacher *I* had back when I was in school.


The botany teacher I had in high school (this was in the UK where botany and zoology can be taken as different subjects in the last couple of years) was an enthusiast. He used to deliberately give us specimens to draw that were not like the examples in the book to make sure we drew what we saw. He would also tell us what was in the text book and what we were expected to know, then say ‘Once you get to university you’ll find it’s not that simple,’ and proceed to give us the more complicated version. This challenged us to think, it also made us feel both that he had confidence in our ability to handle it and that we were getting a higher level of education. Once we did get to university, we found the first year was fairly basic stuff, unlike most of the other students who found it rather a shock. I wish I could remember his name (Mike Whalley?).

The professor I had at university (JL Harper, an ecologist) did a good job of encouraging us to ask questions and to take nothing for granted. In seminars he’d ask questions, not to find out exactly how much the student knew, nor to show off his own knowledge, but because he wanted to know the answer. The questions often sounded simple but were not easy to answer, sometimes he’d ask one he should have known the answer to but he never let it bother him. As a result, us undergraduates felt comfortable asking questions that might turn out to be a bit silly - it was just accepted that if you ask enough questions every now and then one will be a bit stupid. A few years later a colleague said she could always identify students from that programme because they asked questions.

But as for my high school history teacher . … I once asked him why we only did political history and in all seriousness he said ‘Why, what other kinds are there?’

I’ve taught at the university level for 15 years, and from talking to students and colleagues the key ingredients seem to be: 1) know your stuff, 2) be enthusiastic about the subject, 3) be sincerely concerned that your students learn, and push them a bit, and 4) be fair.

I attended a small, rural high school in Indiana that offered somewhat slim pickings in terms of AP courses but fortunately had a fairly large number of science courses considering its size. Even so, my chemistry teacher allowed me to essentially borrow the college chemistry textbook the neighboring school, a significantly larger, fairly renowned school with IB and advanced science courses. He then allowed me to spend a year of independent study with the text, and then provided me with introductory organic chemistry materials when I exhausted the 25 chapters of initial material by spring break. It seems small, but to a high school senior with a thirst for chemistry and an awareness of the competitiveness of collegiate science, it was greatly appreciated. I’m now a BS Biochemistry/BS Biology undergraduate, Junior standing.

'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank Wrote:

I know what makes a *bad* one. My junior high school biology teacher’s method of, uh, teaching was to stand in front of the class and read straight from the textbook, in the most soporific monotone one could imagine.

I had “Ben Stein” too in 10th grade bio. 37 years later I can’t even recall if he mentioned evolution (which I 1st heard about ~2 years earlier).

Not sure if this applies to other subjects, but in science, and especially with regards to evolution, there’s a 0 to 10 scale for bad-to-excellent teachers, and also a 0 to -10 scale for bad-to-excellent at misrepresenting. A typical ID rube could be a -2, or even a +2 if his pro-ID nonsense is so mangled that it makes the science majors suspcious. Michael Behe was a -10, but like Dembski, he seems to be slipping of late.

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This page contains a single entry by Tara Smith published on June 22, 2006 3:00 PM.

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