A modeler’s tale…

I need to share a modeling success story.  Rich McNamara and Kelli Gamez Warble told us in their modeling course of a highly skilled and respected modeler who tells his students that his job is make himself “obsolete” by the end of the year.  I have adopted the same philosophical goal with my teaching as well.  It’s a lofty and worthy goal that will make me stretch, but is it attainable for others?

I now tell you – It is!  I was late about 10 minutes to my first period class because of an office meeting.  I walked in the back of the room and froze.  The class was a sophomore Chemistry class (not physics) reviewing stoichiometry, and the students had picked up right where we left off the day before.  One student was acting as moderator.  Teams had white boards.  They had created their own review problem and posted it on the front board.  I thought I was having an out-of-body experience.  The student moderator asked the class to raise their boards and prompted them to look for similarities and differences!  They proceeded to critique their own and other’s work!!!

I ducked next door without being noticed.  I grabbed my colleague and a flip cam.  We went back and eavesdropped for a moment.  Then I entered and shot a short video clip, trying not to interrupt their flow, and when they finished praised them for showing me that I’m “obsolete.”  I shared with them the fact that they had taken a huge jump toward becoming life-long learners independent of the quality of the “teaching” they received.  They were mastering critical analysis for themselves.

I didn’t stop there.  Of course my colleague with whom I’ve been sharing modeling techniques all year was impressed to see this. He could hardly believe at first that this wasn’t staged but immediately recognized the significance of the moment.   I shared the clip with my other colleagues.  Each one was impressed as well.

Later I shared the clip with my principal.  He said, “Is this Inquiry?”  I said yes – in part, and modeling, and lifelong learning, and critical thinking.  It’s all there!  I didn’t stage this – they did it on their own!  He was impressed nearly to speechlessness.

I never really expected to become “obsolete” myself.  I don’t regard myself a super-skilled practitioner.  I’m just a mature teacher polishing up new tricks.  My students are no brighter or slower than anyone else’s.  I must have been consistent in my modeling approach through the year to the point that my students internalized the collaborative processes and critical analysis skills and are now taking responsibility for their own learning.  No other explanation makes sense to me.  I can’t wait to see it happen again – maybe next year!

It really was a professional high point in my career.  Rich and Kelli and the other modeling instructors, regardless of content area, deserve the credit. (excerpted from the May 18, 2011 Modeling Listserv)

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