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January 20, 2015

Science: A Call to Worship

Annamarie Door wants her students to respect and value the work of scientists.  She teaches them to think about the fact that many scientists have put their lives into their work.  At the same time she encourages students to not just accept the ideas of scientists.  "Their work is more than what we could know on our own; it is a springboard to our next big discovery . . .  They [modern scientists] are too used to mimicking the thoughts and assumptions of those before them to see things with new eyes and design new solutions.  I want my students to get comfortable with thinking things through for themselves  . . . [and] tell me something based on the evidence!  I want them to be excited with experiencing the scientific process of problem-solving for themselves."

Over the last couple of years, Mrs. Door has redesigned the science program for Oak Hill Christian School. She has done an excellent job teaching science to students on multiple levels. She has successfully incorporated a classical teaching method with a conventional schedule of teaching science. Some things she does naturally and has brought into the classroom include:
  • Letting students discover for themselves.
  • Taking advantage of students’ curiosity.
  • Relating lessons to personal experiences.
  • Connecting science to other subjects like math, art or history.
  • Making lessons fun!
  • Loving what she teaches.
  • Continuing to learn and discover as the teacher.
"I try to avoid making concepts seem obvious or simple. When students need to find answers for themselves, when they pursue discovering something, then they value what they discovered!  When information is handed to them  1) They don't learn how to think for themselves; they only learn how to swallow someone's opinion; and  2) They forget what they learned because they don't appreciate the effort that someone else needed to go through to learn it," she says.

Mrs. Door describes her teaching style, "My approach to teaching science is to place within my classroom opportunities to discover and a curiosity to know. If I can present a lesson in a way that allows students to draw personal connections, like how this relates to the food that they eat or the last time that they were sick, then I know that they will value what they learned and remember it in the future."

A typical week of science lessons include the expected: reading from a textbook, demonstrations, lab work, etc.  But students often have a chance to read outside of the text.   Mrs. Door has a list of suggested reading that students will choose from, giving them a chance to read original science writings.  After reading a book, students write a summary and have an in class discussion with others who have read the same selection.  Mrs. Door monitors the discussion, encouraging students to think further as she asks her own questions based on the reading.  Some reading selections for biology have been Beak of the Finch, Complications, and An American Plague.

She is well aware that students can learn from a book, but she prefers to have them learn in more than one way.  For example, in December her students completed a lab entitled Gingerbread Genetics.  She used this activity to teach Punnet Squares in a fun way.  The students decorated a mother and a father and at least one child gingerbread cookie.  The parents passed on traits such as eye and hair color, smile or frown, and circular or square buttons. ". . . every time my students see gingerbread cookies they are now going to remember dominant and recessive traits and the symbols used to express them."

Mrs. Door also incorporates testing students in creative ways.  After studying the structure of cells in Biology, students were assessed through a modeling project.  Each student had to build a model of a cell with detailed parts.  Each part had to be labeled (using a small numbered flag).  Students also had to explain the function of each cell structure.  Their models were works of art, scientific art.

All of these ideas would just be methods without a passion for what she does.  It is obvious that Mrs. Door has a love for teaching science.  "There is nothing that gets me more excited or reduces me to tears more quickly than looking at something so small and so complex as a butterfly or dragonfly and wrapping my mind around how something so beautiful exists. The more closely I look at it the more its beauty and complexity becomes apparent," she explains.

She is rewarded with her own observations.  She watches her students as they "slow down in their busyness" and see that the normal is amazing.  "When I can empower students to be more successful in making sense of their world whether that be the way water behaves or how soap works, the significance of enzymes to our bodies or why GMO's and organic produce are consistently encountered in their lives, I can believe that science is no longer just a required subject that they need to learn. Rather it is a delightful thing, something they can love to learn, an opportunity to bring them to a fuller appreciation of the One that created all things: A call to worship," she declares.

Mrs. Door spends time challenging her own thinking and learning from her peers so she does not become stagnant.  She understands that teachers and scientists thrive on sharing information with each other.  This past fall she attended a conference on Biology offered by the National Science Teachers' Association in Richmond.  The NSTA holds four conferences a year devoted to helping teachers understand the most recent scientific discoveries in each branch of science. She describes enthusiastically, "I learned new things; I saw topics from a different perspective (often from more of a student's perspective).  I got to PLAY and I made new "friends"! I played with bacterial strains that glow and designed my own experiments to test a hypothesis. I got to use the newest electrophoresis equipment and dream about what I could do in the classroom with them. I looked at the smallest of wisps on a butterfly's wing using the latest microscopic technology for the classroom and saw new models of amino acids and proteins that help explain and illustrate these challenging concepts in a more helpful way to students. I got my excitement about science stoked and created valuable relationships with other science teachers in the area so that I can be a better science teacher."

Annamarie Door is the middle child from a family of five. She grew up in a middle-class home in St. Louis, Missouri. She holds a B.A. in Elementary Teaching from Covenant College and a master's degree in Teaching Science from Walden University. She taught for three years in South America. Originally she dreamed of being an animal doctor but chose education instead, deciding it would be more challenging and rewarding.
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