Teaching As Daily Experimentation

Harvard Education
Oct 3, 2016 · 3 min read


When I think of my role as a teacher, I consider my dual roles: a high-school science teacher and an instructor who prepares new teachers to teach science. These roles are very different, and each offers its own set of rewards and challenges. At the same time, I approach each with the same two mindsets: Teaching Is Learning and Teaching Is a Science.

I am a scientist by training. I am a constructor and designer by passion. I am a teacher and learner by profession. Lucky for me, I am in a position to exercise these three parts of myself and learn from my many brilliant colleagues and students at HGSE and in the Harvard Teacher Fellows program specifically.

Teaching Is Learning. Each time I lead a class, I position myself not only as an instructor, but also as a learner — notebook in hand, ready to jot down notes on what I learn or what I can do to improve the next class. I often tell new teachers that they will learn more from their students than they will in any course they take. I have joked that I learned more science from teaching my high-school science classes than I did in my undergraduate studies because of the way I was forced to break down each concept and prepare to answer the wide range of questions students would present in class. As a teacher, this is the lens that I use to reflect on my growth as a teacher — what have I learned and how can I use it?

Teaching Is a Science. To me, teaching is an exercise in inquiry — learning from experiences, reconstructing knowledge, asking better questions, and applying information in new ways. Teaching is an opportunity to be creative and explore new ways to meet the needs of different students so that what they learn from me is relevant, engaging, and informative. Teaching is a collection of daily science experiments where I design my lessons as mini-investigations, changing subtle variables, and measuring impact on student learning. Data collected (student feedback, responses, spontaneous, in-the-moment ideas, etc.) help me to identify what I can do to adjust my practice and challenge me to try new approaches to improve my practice. Collect data, rinse, repeat!

Through this kind of process, evolving as a teacher is similar to the Red Queen hypothesis in evolutionary biology — in which one’s teaching constantly adapts and evolves in order to continue to be effective.

As I continue to evolve in my practice, I love that I get to be both a teaching scientist and a scientific teacher.

Victor Pereira is Lecturer on Education and Master Teacher in Residence (Science) of the Harvard Teachers Fellows Program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. This essay is written as part of Teaching and Learning Week at HGSE.

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