Learning Partnerships in Biology

As odd as it sounds, I became interested in science education after many years of teaching. What began as a peripheral interest has become a focus of some of my classes, and has evolved into using “Learning Partnerships” as teaching and learning tools. In these Partnerships, Bates students work with Lewiston/Auburn teachers to help teach biology to elementary, middle and high school students.

You learn something best when you have to teach it – when it goes beyond yourself and your own learning. When my students teach, they tell me how hard they have to work to really understand what they are presenting in order to be prepared to answer questions. They have to hone their presentation and communication skills. They have to think about the content, as well as how they will help someone else understand it. The process of teaching encourages them to think about science in new and exciting ways, exactly as it encourages my interest and informs my work every day.

Teachers are always grateful for genuine help. They might need to develop a lab, or plan a new lesson, or check out some internet sources. So when enthusiastic college students work with dedicated teachers and their classes, everybody gets something out of it.

The notion of “Learning Partnerships” suggests that this kind of arrangement can be good for everyone involved if we consider each other learners as well as teachers. The learning, of course, goes far beyond the science content that is always a central focus. I have learned that the Partnerships work best when the teachers tell us what they need, and we collaborate to formulate a plan to meet those needs. I have learned that when you help one teacher develop a lesson plan, you actually help many (because teachers talk). I have learned that there truly is some magical connection between young kids and college kids, and that a no-longer-a-kid (but a kid at heart) professor can become a part of that magic because it comes from a deep generosity of spirit and is there for the taking. And I have learned.

Education is in a period of rising standards and falling budgets. The salvation of education lies in its one limitless, renewable resource: the good work of dedicated teachers. Collaborating with our elementary, middle and high school teacher colleagues has been enjoyable and very rewarding from many perspectives. I can now honestly encourage my own students to consider teaching science as a career, and can introduce them to people who do it well. Establishing Learning Partnerships has become a regular part of my classes. More often than not, they are win-win situations.

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