Open discussion in the classroom is valuable but often difficult to orchestrate when it comes to topics in STEM, according to Margaret “Peg” Smith, professor emeritus at the University of Pittsburgh. That’s what she addressed in her keynote presentation to more than 600 math and science teachers over the span of two days at the NC State Math Science Summit the NC State College of Education hosted Aug. 1-2.
One way to boost appropriate classroom discussion is to encourage productive discourse in the classroom to challenge students’ understanding and reasoning using math and science. In her talk, she shared how math and science teachers can create a teaching environment that welcomes discussion but not chaos.
“Making student-centered instruction more manageable begins by moderating the degree of improvisation required by the teacher,” said Smith.
She says thinking about and planning for different scenarios before stepping into the classroom can prepare teachers for whatever may happen once students begin to discuss a problem.
The two-day conference — attended by elementary, middle and high school teachers — included a keynote presentation by Smith and hands-on professional development opportunities to help teachers integrate STEM concepts to prepare future-ready students.
Some students benefiting from their teacher attending the summit include fourth and fifth graders at Estes Hills Elementary School in Chapel Hill. Derrick Douglas, a special education teacher, said he witnesses different levels of participation in his classroom when it comes to math and sciences. The participation is particularly skewed when it comes to students of color.
“This hands-on experience today will help me bridge the divide I see across different ethnic groups in my classes,” he said.
He also shared that by attending professional development opportunities like the summit, he acts as an ambassador from his own ethnic background. He believes demonstrating his dedication to learning and self-improvement shows that the value of education can last a lifetime.