Next Generation Science
Education in a World Turned Upside Down
Author: Anna Van Dordrecht
“I have always believed, and I still believe, that whatever good or bad fortune may come our way we can always give it meaning and transform it into something of value.” Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha
Let me say first that this is not at all the blog I envisioned I’d be writing. I went to bed on Sunday, October 8th anticipating a busy week which involved traveling to a meeting for the California science education leads and both presenting and learning at the California Science Teachers Association’s annual conference. I eagerly anticipated gathering and sharing new information, resources, and strategies that would be helpful for local science educators. Then, early in the morning of October 9th, the world changed.
Like so many others, I was awakened by my incredible neighbors pounding on the door saying that there was a fire and we had to get out. The next minutes were chaos as we stumbled around in the dark (the power was out), packing valuable items, gathering pets, and trying to manually open the garage door.
Stuff. As the dust settles, we’re all grateful first for safety, and then our next thought is stuff. We are getting a new sense of which things are important to us. I am one of the very lucky ones who had a house to return to when all was said and done. As I begin to unpack, I’m taking stock of what I deemed valuable enough to grab. Among these items are a blue scarf with pigs on it and two books, The Martian and What Do You Do With An Idea?.
These might seem like odd choices, but all three items have great sentimental value as they were gifts from amazing students who have just been launched into the world. The scarf is from two students who knew that I love fashionable accessories and that the pig was our class mascot. This was their way of melding those together. The books both have notes from the students who gave them, sharing how they’re inspired that anything is possible and that with our ideas we can change the world.
These items are important to me not really as physical objects but because they remind me of the many reasons I’m proud of who these students have become and the hope they give me for our future. They are kind, generous, and compassionate. They are inspired to think outside the box and use what they learn creatively to change the world. They are ready to imagine new possibilities and make them a reality. The fact that I got to be a part of their journey in realizing this potential is infinitely more meaningful to me than any science lesson I ever created.
For all in Sonoma County, the world has been turned upside down. In the wake of these horrific fires, we are adjusting to a new reality and reexamining what’s important. Educators have an important role to play in defining what life looks like going forward. As students return to school, they are looking for structure, stability, and a safe place to process what’s happened. They’re also looking to teachers for how to respond in the face of such an overwhelming tragedy. And so every educator has a huge and important task ahead.
As I think about the enormity of this situation, I find myself returning to these student gifts and the people they represent. The fires have shown us the importance of kindness, generosity, and compassion and the great need to foster these tendencies in children. As we look ahead towards a long recovery with unprecedented challenges, we are most certainly in need of people who are creative and innovative and dare to dream of a reality we can’t yet see. Providing opportunities for students to do these things in school has become not just a nice suggestion but an imperative if we want the next generation to be able to address situations such as the one we face.
When we return to school, we have the chance to help students realize their own capacity and the great impact they can have on our community now and in the future. We are professionals, and yes, the content we teach matters. Among other things, in the coming months we will still need to look at how to implement NGSS and incorporate 21st Century learning. These are critical for our students’ future and that of our world. But we can’t simply go back to business as usual. In a world turned upside down, we have the chance as educators to create for our students a climate of support and possibility. We can give them creative ways to express what they’re feeling and empower them that they can be part of developing a new reality.
We are working hard at the county office to develop vehicles for doing this work so that we can support the efforts of teachers. We’re here to help teachers brainstorm and process and make possibilities a reality. Please look for updates in the coming days and weeks, and don’t hesitate to reach out with ideas big and small.
We are a community in crisis, but I have seen time and again in the last week that we are also a community with incredible capacity. Let us never forget that with our ideas we can change the world. We can’t will our county back to what it was before October 9th, but we can imagine a new community full of creativity and possibility. Let this, more than the horrors we've experienced, be our legacy.