Dr. Melodie Ting, who has taught chemistry and physical science at Browning for six years, recently received her Ph.D. from Columbia University. Dr. Ting is a member of the Kappa Delta Pi Honors Society and was nominated for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science Teaching. A Middle and Upper School advisor for robotics as well as a TedXYouth organizer, she also works after school with Lower School boys involved in LEGO Robotics and is a coach for both the Rube Goldberg team and Kangaroo Math.
Most people think that science has always been a passion of mine from a young age. Like many scientists, I was curious, asked a lot of questions and wanted to discover and understand different things observed in nature. My natural inclination for inquiry led to my current educational philosophy, but this was a stark contrast to my experience as a student growing up. George DeBoer in his book “A History of Ideas in Science Education: Implications for Practice” discussed the integration of science into the curriculum in the 19th century with the purpose of developing both inductive and deductive reasoning. As the advancement of science and technology progressed over the years, the educational system and its purpose also changed. The need to increase public literacy levels across the country and the need for common standards created a scenario where science was boiled down to memorization of a large quantity of facts that was summed up in a standardized test. This was the science I experienced growing up, where curiosity, creativity and deep thinking were discouraged, and the regurgitation of facts was equated to scientific literacy.
I remember disliking this system of what was taught as scientific thinking: memorization without clear understanding and this unrealistic expectation of knowing science fully without being able to ask questions. Einstein once said, “The value of education is not the learning of facts but training the mind to think.” I found that statement resonated deeply with how I formed my pedagogical approach. My teaching pedagogy is based on the Constructivist Learning Theory. This is a philosophical theory that focuses on how people learn through active construction of knowledge and its applications. Students come into the classroom with preconceived ideas about science, which come from prior experiences and observations. When students construct knowledge based on prior knowledge, they are shaping their ideas to align with those that exist in the scientific community. In the classroom, these come in the form of challenging questions, discussion of ideas and exploration of concepts that are not limited to actions but can also be generated through mental functions and problem-solving.
I find that the driving force behind my passion for teaching is remembering that discovery of what science is and wanting to share that excitement with the students. Chemistry is a subject of change and has the disadvantage of being the science where much of what happens cannot be seen with the naked eye. Experiments need to be designed purposefully and reactions thought out carefully; that being said it is also one of the more interesting sciences where it takes a great deal of imagination to create, discover and analyze. It provides a way for creativity to thrive within the rigid nature and structure of science. It also has the balance of the mathematical nature of physics and the critical thinking nature of biology. It provides you with a window to different fields of science while maintaining the uniqueness of being the science that attempts to explain the quantum mechanical nature of the unseen.
The real importance of chemistry as a science is that it allows students to take a peek at how the world works; in addition to that, it trains students to think. It enhances problem-solving skills, critical analysis, laboratory skills as well as research skills -- all very much needed and lacking in high school education. At the AP level, the problem-solving skills are much more pronounced, with students trained to sift through information and analyze statements to form conclusions based on their understanding of how molecules interact with each other. They are leaving the classroom with not just basic chemistry knowledge but with skills they can use and apply across different fields of specialization. This is where the true value of education can shine in training the mind not just to think but to generate a thirst to keep questioning and pushing the boundaries of what is known into the unknown and hopefully instilling a life-long love of learning.