By John Gensic
“You need to make sure you are teaching the details of the Krebs Cycle, glycolysis, electron transport chain, and oxidative phosphorylation,” said an instructor with whom I’m coordinating a dual credit high school/community college biology course for my high school seniors that allows students to simultaneously earn college credit while taking an advanced high school course. What I heard was, “Your students will need to memorize a bunch of complicated stuff so that you teach them everything I’m teaching. It will ooze out of their brains the next day.”
I love seeing students grow in their understanding of how the world works; that’s why I teach science. That’s why I continue to study graduate level science and effective, research-based teaching strategies that engage my students in constructivist strategies. I love watching them construct their understanding and not simply regurgitate information from a lecture. I’ve embraced the challenge of the new Higher Learning Commission (HLC) guidelines, which require teachers of dual credit courses to have a master’s degree in their subject area or a master’s in another area with at least 18 graduate credits in the subject they teach.
As a trained teacher who went through all of this learning to be dual credit-certified and grow as a learner, I felt ready to teach a college level course that challenged my students to think and grow.
The problem is, I am a teacher, not a lecturer. And there is a difference. Teaching means helping students wrestle with concepts, make deep connections, and act to improve their world. Ineffective lecturing, on the other hand, is about the futile attempt to fill what the lecturer views are the empty buckets of students’ minds. Students then go through the motions of learning, hold on to their preconceptions, and don’t deeply change their understanding of the concepts and the world. It’s frustrating to have to align my curriculum and student learning objectives to courses designed by lecturers while ignoring current best practices in teaching and learning.
College professors and instructors are not to blame for this. If they’re teaching first-year college courses, they are likely not required to have any teaching experience or training. And they often don’t need to know how to teach. But it is a disservice to high school students, who surely benefit from dual credit courses, to make those of us who know how to teach, teach more like poor college instructors. Teaching high school students requires additional skills like varying instructional activities, closely monitoring student progress, and inspiring students to persevere in their pursuit of higher education. Getting students ready for college should not mean, teach in a way that makes it hard for kids to learn.
Credentialed teachers can improve college instruction
There is a path forward. Institutions overseeing dual credit at high schools can embrace and use the educational expertise of high school teachers who meet the HLC guidelines. They can pay these teaching experts to consult and observe to spread effective teaching practices at their college. HLC credentialed high school teachers can offer PD on student learning to college instructors who lack any formal education training. This partnering could be a symbiotic relationship where both the dual credit teacher and college instructor improve. Most importantly, this partnership could help all of their students.
Don’t forget about the nature of science
Treating science education as lecturing a set of facts to be memorized and recited sets up the public to misunderstand and confuse scientific processes that can improve our world. Specifically, college science departments can look at the Next Generation Science Standards and incorporate and build upon the Science Practices and Crosscutting Concepts in their courses. These non-content specific practices and concepts help learners think like scientists and make sense of science as a broader human endeavor. Students hold deep misconceptions about many scientific concepts. Ignoring these prior ideas through direct lecturing is avoiding the more fruitful work of actually changing the way people think.
The new HLC guidelines pose a big obstacle for high schools to continue to offer the dual credit options that have greatly benefited their communities. When high schools and teachers rise to this challenge, they will be in a position to have great influence on the pedagogy and content that will best serve their students in the classrooms of today and the future.
John Gensic teaches 9th grade biology and 10th grade early college biology at Penn High School in Mishawaka, Indiana. He is Teach Plus Indiana Teaching Policy Fellow.