Darren Fix knows how to get students interested in science. His blog, voted a top 20 teachers blog, features video demonstrations of experiments that have helped many other teachers engage their students. But what underlies his “show and tell” approach is even more interesting: Fix’s philosophy on teaching science.
“The central philosophy that I first developed in the science credential program was to use practical constructivist approach,” Fix says. “Students naturally develop strong misconceptions about science as they progress in their education. They are very difficult to change unless they are forced to deal with them. Discrepant events as shown in demonstrations collide with their misconception. Students must rethink the concept and ultimately, they can build a stronger science foundation. “
Fix shares more on how his teaching philosophy has evolved over the years, along with some tips on how teachers can work together to solve problems.
Can you describe how your professional achievements have advanced innovation in education?
I think advances in teaching are omewhat similar to advances in science. There are incremental advances in knowledge built on the work of many in the profession. I think my videos of science instruction have added just a small portion to that shared knowledge.
Basically I started making the kind of videos that I wanted to use in the classroom that were not readily available at the time.
What has changed as a result of your efforts?
My thinking has changed over time. I originally thought that filming my videos of science demonstration were a way of breaking down concepts into digestible parts, like a John Madden [an American sports broadcaster] breaking down and analyzing a particular play during a football game. I wanted to aid in the understanding. Now I’m starting to shift away from that, and move toward the constructivist approach in learning, where the emphasis is having students confront their misconceptions as a way of learning concepts.
How can others facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?
Teaching in the past was, unfortunately, a solitary profession. Luckily teachers have abundant resources. Teachers can first start at the site level. There are many good teachers at their own site teaching varied subject matters that have terrific ideas. Start up a local “user group” at your school to share and experiment in your classrooms. It’s very empowering. Teachers then can use the larger outside professional learning networks via social networks like Twitter. It’s like science. See what is already known about the problem/question and then purposefully “experiment” in your class.
How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?
I use Collaborize Classroom to engage my students’ participation in my class. Students are presented a main question and then a piece of media (picture, video, written passage) that makes them confront their prior knowledge about a concept. Students then have to find and share media on how their thinking had or hadn’t changed. Students must share and interact with the rest of the class. It gives all students an equal voice and choice in the classroom.
What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to ensure students are receiving a quality education?
It’s important to keep the big picture in mind: “What is best for the students?” All the other obstacles that interfere don’t really matter.
What is your country/region doing right to support education?
Many districts have subscribed to the PLT/PLN (professional learning teams, professional learning networks) model. Not all schools have implemented this well, but I do think it is shifting the old model of the solitary teacher model to the team model.
What conditions must change in your country/region to better support education?
Our state, California, is near the bottom of the country in per pupil spending. Our students need lower class sizes and more counselors for help. It’s all about making connections with students. If students feel connected to their school in some way, they will learn. If they feel that they are just another number at the school, they have less desire to try.
What is the best opportunity for innovation in education?
We need to put the student at the center of his/her education. With the new common core standards, students will have the opportunity to seek out connections between concepts and make them apply more to their world—to make it more meaningful. Teachers will become more of a facilitator and less of the “sage on the stage.”
What advice would you give a new teacher (or to anyone wanting to make a difference in education)?
Follow your passion. Follow your inner geek. You have to be excited about what you are doing. It’s going to be a challenging job that requires great mental energy and stamina. Make sure that it’s one that you have an aptitude for and that you are going to enjoy.
What educational “trend” do you think is helping students? Is there a trend that is getting in the way of learning?
The new common core standards hopefully will emphasize deeper learning and less surface learning that current standards entail.
If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?
Hope and curiosity. Most kids at 2-5 years of age have this. Without it students won’t learn to their maximum potential.
About Darren Fix
Science Teacher, Spring View Middle School
Rocklin, California, USA
Darren Fix has been a science teacher for 14 years. He is currently teaching 7th and 8th grade science and serves as lead technology teacher for the school. A self-described “science and technology nerd,” Fix has created an extensive library of video demonstrations of science concepts and works to incorporate the latest scientific discoveries in his classroom. Fix has presented at numerous conferences, and shares his knowledge through his blog, voted one of the top 20 teacher blogs in the US.
Birthplace: Manteca, California
Current residence: Sacramento, California
Education: BS Anthropology, University of California at Davis, Masters of Educational Technology, California State University at Sacramento
Website I check every day: Verge.com
Person who inspires me most: Derek Muller (@veritasium – “element of truth”). His videos on YouTube inspire me to have my students confront the misconceptions they have about science.
Favorite childhood memory: Any warm summer evening playing with friends.
Next travel destination (work or pleasure): Field trip to Washington, D.C. and New York
When was the last time you laughed? Why? One of my students has a very quirky sense of humor and I can’t help but laugh.
Favorite book: October Sky/Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam, Jr.
Favorite music: movie scores of John Williams, Danny Elfman, James Horner
Your favorite quote or motto: “Of what use is ignorance?” I like to use that with my students