Clarksville, Tennessee


Tricks of the trade

Answers start with questions for teachers and students




State education standards and student academic needs are different in the 21st Century.


Accordingly, teachers are retraining to learn different approaches in classroom instruction - especially in science, technology, engineering and math.


One recent local workshop spotlighted a method called "modeling" which essentially places the teacher as a facilitating guide to a student's quest for cause and effect.


Basically, instead of the teacher issuing facts via lecture for students to memorize and regurgitate for exams, modeling presents a style of learning where the student finds what educators call the empirical formula.


In other words, the student gauges an answer based on observation and experiment. Then because results from a variety of tests, experiments, formulas, and queries - all point to the same conclusion, the student confirms fact for herself - not relying on the teacher to affirm by saying yes.


In yesterday classrooms, teachers stressed 'who', 'what', 'when' and 'where.'


Now in the 21st Century, students need to know 'why' as they move into the real world looking to compete in an ever-widening global economy.


It takes time for students to acclimate themselves to not being spoon fed correct answers.


Lynda Meece from Northeast High said she incorporated limited modeling last year and many students were not very receptive.


"You answer a question with a question. They get flustered sometimes until you do it over and over again. Now, they're having to think on their own because they know most definitely she's not going to give us the answers," Meece said.


Thousands of Clarksville-Montgomery County School System teachers have attended various workshops during June and July updating their teaching styles and strengthening their abilities to move their students toward personal best.


"I have teachers who have spent four weeks in training this summer. I want people to know there are so many committed teachers who are doing extra because they want their students to achieve," said Dale Rudolph, district consulting teacher for high school science.


Shari Tharpe from Kenwood High and Tara Webb from West Creek High are two who have invested a month of their summer to learn more about the role 'modeling' plays in courses like physical world concepts and conceptual chemistry.


"It used to be that students would be 'you tell me and I'll remember it long enough for a test. Kids good at memorizing would breeze through as higher performing students, but now, higher and lower level performing students come at the problem from the same level. They start in the lab, see the experiment and then have to sit down and think. We have to leave them to their own understanding. They see the conclusions and they have to determine why," Tharpe said.


Webb added: "Science always builds, science is all about building blocks, one piece of information leads to another."


"Scientists don't start with the answer, they start with a question," Tharpe said.


Dennis Glass, a 24-year education veteran from Briarwood Christian School in Birmingham, Ala., has been teaching modeling workshops for six years.


He emphasized modeling skills can't be mastered in a few workshops: "It's a life long learning exercise."


"We start the modeling approach in seventh grade for our students. There is no reluctance from them in high school because they are used to exploring the perimeters." Glass said. He pointed out the 'modeling' approach is especially critical "because we've had so many scientific discoveries like DNA."


"In order for students to understand biology, you have to be grounded in chemistry and to understand chemistry you need to be able to manipulate data which is what you learn in physics," Glass said.


Nancy Saragusa from Rossview High is sold on the modeling concept.

"I like it because it's like a story. Through lab experiments, they have the evidence to build the story," Saragusa said.


Janet Ricker from Greeneville, Tenn. has notched 15 years teaching high school science courses.

"I like this modeling pedagogy because it is the student who takes ownership of learning, rather than just listening."